The biggest storyline in the Big 12 Tournament revolves around a 28-to-1 long shot to win the event.
The Big Three of top-ranked Kansas, No. 9 Baylor and No. 11 West Virginia have surprisingly little at stake in Kansas City, Mo., this week, at least relating to the NCAA Tournament.
Iowa State and Oklahoma State are locks to hear their names called this Selection Sunday, too.
Kansas State, now that’s where the action is.
The Wildcats (19-12, 8-10) hover right on the bubble. Planting The Seeds, the American-Statesman’s projections, has them as the last team in the field. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi places the Cats second among his “first four out.” CBS’ Jerry Palm lists the Cats as one of his “last four in.”
Clearly, K-State is living on the edge, which makes Thursday night’s quarterfinal against Baylor perhaps the biggest game of the tournament, short of the championship bout.
“With our league’s computer ratings, if we’ve gotten the word out well enough nationally, you would think eight wins in conference play is enough,” said the Wildcats’ Bruce Weber, who also may be coaching for his job. “I can’t imagine 36 (at-large) teams better than us.”
The Big 12 is the country’s top league, according to the Ken Pomeroy index, and No. 2 to the ACC in the Ratings Percentage Index so six NCAA invitations is hardly a reach. The Big Ten, rated No. 4 in the RPI, is expected to grab at least seven bids.
“Don’t forget, K-State lost a couple close games because of controversial calls,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, referring most notably to Kansas’ 90-88 win in which an obvious traveling violation was missed on the game-winning layup.
An upset of Baylor likely would seal the deal for this veteran K-State team led by Wesley Iwundu. The senior forward from Houston Westfield paces the well-balanced Wildcats in scoring (12.6) and rebounding (6.6). The Bears and Cats split their season series, each winning on the road.
The computers at teamrankings.com give the Wildcats only a 2.3 percent chance of winning the Big 12 Tournament, but anything more than a Bears takedown is a bonus.
Should K-State lose, it’s fate depends on the performance this week of a bevy of bubble teams, including the Big East’s Seton Hall (20-10) and Providence (20-11), the Pac-12’s California (19-11) and Utah (20-10), the Big Ten’s Iowa (18-13) and Rhode Island (21-9) of the Atlantic 10.
TCU and Texas Tech, squarely in the NCAA conversation a few weeks ago, are now hopelessly lost. Their only path to the NCAAs is to win this tournament.
The eighth-seeded Horned Frogs, who open the Big 12 event Wednesday night against Oklahoma, are 40-1 in Las Vegas and have a 0.8 percent chance, according to teamrankings.com.
The seventh-seeded Red Raiders, who face Texas in Wednesday’s late game, are 33-1 and hold a 1.3 percent lottery ticket.
Naturally, Kansas, with its 13 consecutive regular-season titles, is the heavy favorite, but the Jayhawks don’t always win this thing. They’ve taken four of the last eight Big 12 Tournament titles.
“We’ll have our crowd there, it’s a championship and we want to win it,” KU coach Bill Self said. “You prepare for the rest of March by playing in high-leverage situations like this.”
West Virginia is actually the favorite, according to teamrankings.com, at 34.3 percent to KU’s 31.7, and Vegas lists the two with nearly identical odds.
Baylor carries 5-1 odds and a 14 percent chance. The Bears appear locked in as an NCAA two seed unless neither of the three top-10 Pac-12 teams win that tournament.
“We’re excited because we could be the first team at Baylor to do a lot of things,” said Bears coach Scott Drew. “Like the first to win the Big 12 Tournament and the first to get a No. 1 or 2 seed, depending what happens around the country.”
Want a good long shot? Try Oklahoma State at 12-1. The run-and-gun Cowboys, eighth in the nation in scoring, are 10-3 since mid-January.
“I think they’d win a lot of leagues,” Beard said.
BIG 12 BASKETBALL POWER POLL
Rnk (prv) Team;W-L (conf.);Next opponent;Postseason outlook
1. (1) Kansas;28-3 (16-2);vs. TCU/Oklahoma winner, Thu., 2 p.m.;Win or lose in KC, Jayhawks will be No. 1 seed in Midwest Region, conveniently in, yep, KC.
2. (2) Baylor;25-6 (12-6);vs. Kansas State (19-12), Thu., 8:30 p.m.;Bears appear anchored as No. 2 seed in South or East, barring crazy developments.
3. (3) West Virginia;24-7 (12-6);vs. Texas Tech/Texas winner, Thu., 6 p.m.;If Mountaineers win this tournament, they could rise to No. 2 seed. More likely, 3 or 4.
4. (4) Iowa State;20-10 (12-6);vs. Oklahoma State (20-11), Thu., 11:30 a.m.;Surging Cyclones, who’ve won 6 of past 7 with senior cast, look like solid six seed.
5. (5) Oklahoma State;20-11 (9-9);vs. Iowa State (20-10), Thu., 11:30 a.m.;Comeback kids: After 0-6 conference start, Cowboys in position to grab No. 7 NCAA seed.
6. (8) Kansas State;19-12 (8-10);vs. Baylor (25-6), Thu., 8:30 p.m.;Bubble trouble? Wildcats riding the fence, might need to upset Bears to punch their ticket.
7. (6) Texas Tech;18-13 (6-12);vs. Texas (10-21), Wed., 8:30 p.m.;Red Raiders, old team that never consistently put it together, will have to be content with NIT.
8. (7) TCU;17-14 (6-12);vs. Oklahoma (11-19), Wed., 6 p.m.;Three weeks ago, NCAA bid looked so promising. Seven-game losing streak torpedoed that. NIT bound.
9. (9) Oklahoma;11-19 (5-13);vs. TCU (17-14), Wed., 6 p.m.;A win over free-falling Frogs possible, perhaps likely, before quarterfinal date with Kansas. Good night.
10. (10) Texas;10-21 (4-14);vs. Texas Tech (18-13), Wed., 8:30 p.m.;One of only five 20-loss seasons in 111 years and, statistically, every bit as bad as record.