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Big 12 Conference expects to land seven teams in NCAA Tournament

Conference riding high after strong showing in regular season.

Posted: March 15, 2014 - 9:47pm  |  Updated: March 16, 2014 - 12:17am
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Iowa State guard DeAndre Kane (50) celebrates following an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas in the semifinals of the Big 12 Conference men's tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Friday, March 14, 2014. Iowa State defeated Kansas 94-83. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)  Orlin Wagner
Orlin Wagner
Iowa State guard DeAndre Kane (50) celebrates following an NCAA college basketball game against Kansas in the semifinals of the Big 12 Conference men's tournament in Kansas City, Mo., Friday, March 14, 2014. Iowa State defeated Kansas 94-83. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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They don’t call it madness for nothing.

This March is sure to be as infuriating as ever in the college basketball world with ranked teams falling across the country and mid-majors gearing up to wreck everyone’s bracket in the dreaded five-seed vs. 12-seed matchup in the round of 64.

Today at 5 p.m. on CBS, 68 schools will punch their tickets to the NCAA Tournament.

Thirty-two of them received automatic bids after winning their conference tournament, while the other 36 at-large teams will be announced today.

Last year, only five teams from the Big 12 advanced to play in the Big Dance — Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State.

This season, the conference expects to lead the nation with seven teams advancing to the tournament — Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas. Texas Tech will not be one of them after a 14-18 finish and winning only six conference games.

After beating Kansas in the final regular season game, West Virginia had an opportunity to play its way into the NCAA Tournament with a solid performance in the Big 12
Championships; however, a terrible loss to Texas in the quarterfinals, 66-49, has more than likely placed the Mountaineers in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT).

“With what we saw West Virginia do to us, how are they not considered in the (NCAA Tournament) field at 9-9 in this league?” Kansas head coach Bill Self said. “There’s no league out there with this type of depth.”

The Big 10 comes in at a close second to the Big 12 with six teams hopeful to go to the Big Dance — Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa.

“It’s the best (conference) I’ve seen as far as depth and talent in one conference,” Tech head coach Tubby Smith said. “Where there are 12 or 14 teams in a conference like the SEC or the Big 10, it’s not watered down but they may not get to play everybody. The Big 12 is a real round robin. That’s why this league is so much better than any other league.”

Realigned for the better

As little as four years ago, the Big 12 didn’t feature round-robin play during the regular conference season.

With 12 teams in the conference, play was split between the north teams and the south teams.

Every other year teams from the north would play teams in the south and vice versa.

Now with only 10 teams in the conference, each team plays everybody else twice in the regular season.

“It prepares you for postseason play to go up and prepare for the same teams twice,” Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg said. “No one team has the better advantage over another. It’s great to be able to do that. I played in the old Big Eight days. It’s awesome to play elite teams twice the same year for the ultimate goal in college basketball as preparation for postseason play and the tournament.”

Round-robin play started in the 2011-12 season, after Colorado left for the Pac-12 and Nebraska went to the Big Ten.

Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech made up the Big 12 for that season.

Missouri and Texas A&M left for the SEC at the end of that academic year; TCU and West Virginia were added to the Big 12 to keep the total number of teams at 10.

“From the time I got here 16 years ago, I never thought divisional play was what it should be,” Texas head coach Rick Barnes said. “All the conference realignments started and I had conversations with (then-UT athletic director) DeLoss Dodds about it. We both thought by staying small, it would benefit basketball more than anything. We play a true round robin and I can tell that in this short time, rivalries — every other year north teams would play down here — rivalries are building and that makes it that much better for the league.”

Big 12 in the rankings

Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber doesn’t think the Big 12 received enough respect in the polls this season.

“If you go on the road and lose to a really good team, all of the sudden the teams in our league, we lose our spots,” he said. “Iowa lost six out of seven games and still stayed in the polls. Our league, hopefully, if we want to back it up will prove it and win games in the tournament to show that we really are the number one conference.”

Seven out of 10 Big 12 teams have been ranked in the AP Top 25 this season with more total teams nationally ranked this year than any other conference.

The depth of the conference was put on display the past five days in the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championships.

For the first time, a one, two or three seed did not win the conference tournament.

In terms of RPI, a team’s strength of schedule, the Big 12 is the No. 1 conference with seven teams in the top 47.

When compared to the major conferences from 1985 to 2013, the Big 12 has had success in the round of 64 to begin the tournament but struggled to make it out of the Sweet 16.

With their 10 straight regular season conference titles, it’s safe to say that Kansas has carried this conference in the postseason — winning the national championship in 2008, advancing to the Final Four in 2012 and the Elite Eight in 2011.

Final Four in North Texas

With the parity in college basketball this year, it’s hard to say which four teams will end up in AT&T Stadium in Arlington with hopes of bringing home the national championship.

This is the second time in five years the state of Texas has hosted the event (Reliant Stadium in Houston in 2011).

“People in this state do love basketball and do a great job in Dallas getting ready for the Final Four,” Barnes said.

With top-notch facilities to host the Final Four, it’s amazing to think that only one team from Texas has ever won the NCAA men’s basketball national championship — Texas Western (now UTEP) in 1966.

“There’s not a lot of emphasis on basketball in the state of Texas,” Barnes said. “UTEP winning back in the day was incredible. We all know the significance of it and what it stood for. ... I’ve watched basketball change in 16 years here and think that as you look around, the formation of the Big 12 has done wonders.”

Only two teams from Texas have advanced to the Final Four in the past 35 years: Texas in 2003 and Houston (better known as Phi Slama Jama) in 1982, ’83 and ’84.

The furthest a team from Texas has gone in the tournament in the past five years is Baylor with two trips to the Elite Eight (2010, 12).

krista.pirtle@lubbockonline.com

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Big 12 NCAA Tournament appearances in last 10 years

■ Baylor: 3

■ Iowa State: 3

■ Kansas: 10

■ Kansas State: 5

■ Oklahoma: 5

■ Oklahoma State: 5

■ TCU: 0

■ Texas: 9

■ Texas Tech: 3

■ West Virginia: 7

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