Put KU on the top line, make Kansas State a No. 4 seed, and place both in Kansas City.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Perhaps the NCAA Tournament selection committee has done just that, rewarding the Big 12 tournament champion Jayhawks and regular-season co-champion Kansas State after KU’s 70-54 triumph at the Sprint Center on Saturday night.
Seems like an easy call from here, giving a short drive to the top two teams of a highly rated conference.
Kansas is a lock to return to Kansas City this week and attempt to make it 8-0 at the Sprint Center this year. Either as a No. 1 or a No. 2 seed, when the committee begins placing the better seeded teams in opening-round regional sites, Kansas City will be available.
The question is, assuming Kansas State is a top-four seed — and a No. 4 seed may be underrating the Wildcats — will Kansas City be available to the Wildcats?
It appears a better-than-even proposition.
The committee will rank the top 16 teams. In the next column are the eight early-round sites. They’ll begin placing teams by proximity to the site, and better-ranked teams get first dibs on the closest sites.
The sites: Kansas City; Philadelphia; Lexington, Ky.; Dayton, Ohio; Auburn Hills, Mich.; Austin, Texas; Salt Lake City; and San Jose, Calif.
The hope for K-State fans who want to party at the Power & Light is to have the second Kansas City spot unoccupied when the Wildcats are considered by the committee.
Every year presents a different set of challenges, and this year brings the usual bubble mysteries. On Saturday afternoon, committee chairman Mike Bobinski took a break from his meetings to say the group was considering 13 teams for the final two to six at-large spots.
Some, like Mississippi, have helped themselves in league tournaments this week. Others, like Baylor, hurt chances with early bounce-outs.
The committee will consider one of the most interesting at-large candidates in history. Middle Tennessee State stands 28-5 with a 29 RPI. Typically, that’s slam-dunk territory for inclusion. But look closer at the Blue Raiders. They’re 1-3 against the RPI top 50. They were 0-3 in those games until Mississippi, by continuing to win, jumped to No. 50. Middle Tennessee beat the Rebels.
Still, one victory over the top 50 is paltry compared with other bubble teams, such as La Salle, which is 4-7 against the top 50.
One thing is certain. There is no heavy favorite in this year’s tournament like Kentucky last year.
“That’s been college basketball all year,” KU coach Bill Self said. “I think it will be great. There are a couple of teams out there that you think if they play their best they’ll be difficult to deal with, but I don’t know if there’s anybody who’s played their best for six games.”
Are the No. 1 seeds set?
I think three are certain. Gonzaga, with the nation’s best record at 30-2, established its credentials with victories over Kansas State and Oklahoma State and should be seeded first in the West.
Louisville gets the call in the East for sharing first place in the top-heavy Big East and beating Syracuse in the league tournament title game.
Indiana, despite its brain-lock against Wisconsin, should be the top seed in the Midwest. The Hoosiers just have to hope not to see the Badgers, whose victory in Saturday’s Big Ten semifinal was the 12th straight in the series.
The fourth No. 1 may be the toughest call.
Despite falling in the ACC quarterfinals to Maryland, Duke remains the top RPI team, and only Kansas had more RPI victories entering Saturday’s games.
But the Jayhawks’ triumph in the Big 12 title game gives them 13 top-50 victories, easily college basketball’s standard.
Kansas also has an outcome no other top-seed candidate has — the loss at TCU, which stands as perhaps the biggest of the season.
When it comes to separating teams for the top line, the committee will look for distinguishing marks and may have to measure the number of high-quality victories against the horrid loss.
The top line is important in one sense. We know a No. 1 seed has never lost a NCAA Tournament opener, although crazy upsets were abundant this season — TCU over KU, Penn State over Michigan, Mississippi State over Mississippi.
The Jayhawks seemed to manage as a No. 2 seed last year, but assign the top line in the South to KU with a path to the Final Four in Atlanta going through the Sprint Center and Cowboys Stadium.