USA TODAY US Edition

March Madness nearing: Blue bloods, Big 12 and more

- Scott Gleeson

Potential for an NCAA bracket lacking some of the biggest names, plus strong Big 12.

When Kansas is the sixth-best NCAA Tournament men’s team in a basketball league it has won 15 of the last 16 seasons, two storylines emerge.

First, the Jayhawks are having an off year and will not secure a top-four seed for the first time since 2000. Second, the Big 12 has been moving toward being a top-tier conference beyond its poster child member and 2020-21 is the year it’s blossoming.

Kansas’ lack of dominance this year has as much to do with the Big 12’s strength as it does the Jayhawks’ struggles. If the season ended today, the Big 12 would secure five teams with top-four seeding: Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Texas. Kansas is right behind with a projected No. 5 seed, while Oklahoma State has vaulted to a No. 6 seed.

Those seven teams will make it to the tournament, and the league’s overall strength is part of the reason there are zero bubble teams hailing from the Big 12.

While the Big Ten has had a strong season, posting the best NET score among power conference­s and leading the projected bracket with nine bids, the Big 12’s strength shows more at the top of the bracket’s seeding: Baylor is a No. 1 seed, West Virginia a No. 2, Oklahoma a No. 3 and Texas Tech and Texas No. 4s.

Texas Tech’s three-game losing streak – all setbacks to one of those six other teams – is a great example of how potent the league is, as the Red Raiders barely fluctuated in their projected seeding despite the skid.

Selection Sunday is March 14. The tournament tips off March 18.

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