Every Big 12 team that has ever qualified for the NCAA Tournament shares at least one thing in common.
By KELLIS ROBINETT
The Kansas City Star
None of them had a losing record in conference play.
That could change in a few weeks.
Two teams with ugly conference records are currently pushing for a spot on college basketball’s biggest stage. Baylor, 18-9 overall and 6-8 in the Big 12, has won four straight and is coming off an impressive double-digit victory at West Virginia. Some online bracket projections think the Bears will comfortably make the field of 68. Oklahoma State, 17-10 and 5-9 entering Monday, ended a seven-game losing streak over the weekend when Marcus Smart returned from a suspension and led the Cowboys to an easy win over Texas Tech. Many think they will narrowly make the NCAA Tournament.
Both teams are in the midst of disappointing seasons. A month ago, both teams were ranked in the top 10. Today, they are hoping strong finishes can save their seasons.
A trip to the NCAA Tournament would certainly serve as redemption. Both teams own quality victories — Kentucky, Kansas State and Colorado for Baylor and Memphis, Texas and Colorado for Oklahoma State — and have top-50 RPIs.
The main thing holding down their resumes: a losing conference record. Of course, there is nothing in the NCAA Tournament manual that says a team must own a winning record within its conference to receive an invitation. Teams from other conferences have been earning at-large bids with losing records for years.
The Big 12 has never been this strong. Heck, a handful of teams have made the NIT with winning conference records. That won’t be the case this season.
“There is precedent for that,” Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said. “When you look at the best league in America, the Big 12, that is going to happen. You are going to get some strange looking records in there, because there is some really good basketball being played. But if you look at the overall picture, we are still very strong.”
The Cowboys may want to win a few more games, to be sure. They close with TCU, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State. Three victories would boost their odds significantly. Two wins would leave them with work to do at the Big 12 Tournament.
Baylor is in better shape, but it has work to do, too. It finishes with Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech and K-State. Three victories would clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
“When you start to lose and people start pointing the finger that doesn’t help anything,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “The upperclassmen and the leaders on the team never did that. They said, ‘We need to get better and work harder.’ They practiced a little big longer and a little bit better and never became divided. That’s the only way you can turn around a season when you start losing.”
The turnaround is underway. It may not require a winning conference record to reach completion.
Blair Kerkhoff’s Big 12 rankings
2. Iowa State
5. Kansas State
7. Oklahoma State
8. West Virginia
9. Texas Tech
• Big 12 player of the week: Baylor forward Cory Jefferson averaged 20 points and 12.5 rebounds in the Bears’ victories over Oklahoma State and West Virginia.
• Big 12 newcomer of the week: Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane picked up his fifth weekly award of the season, third as top newcomer, after averaging 21 points, 6.5 rebounds and five assists in victories over Texas and TCU.
Blair Kerkhoff’s SEC rankings
10. Texas A&M
13. South Carolina
14. Mississippi State
• SEC player of the week: Kentucky freshman Julius Randle had double-doubles in victories over Mississippi and LSU, averaging 16.5 points and 14 rebounds.
• SEC freshman of the week: Against Missouri and Auburn, Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones averaged 16.5 points. He tied a season best with 19 points against Mizzou.
Blair Kerkhoff’s NCAA Tournament projection
|Seed||South (Memphis, Tenn.)||West (Anaheim, Calif.)||East (New York)||Midwest (Indianapolis)|
|3.||Virginia||San Diego State||Villanova||Creighton|
|4.||Saint Louis||Michigan||Cincinnati||Iowa State|