The Big 12 felt the love from the NCAA Tournament selection committee, with seven of its 10 teams in the men’s bracket for the second straight year.
What’s more, the seeding makes a strong case for the Big 12 as one of the two strongest conferences, with five teams among top-five seeds. Only the Atlantic Coast Conference matches that status.
But the seeds create expectation, and the Big 12 hasn’t lived up to the hype recently. Over the last two years the Big 12 is a collective 9-12 in NCAA Tournament games, with no team reaching a regional final.
During 2006-12, at least one Big 12 team reached the Elite Eight, with the 2008 and 2012 Kansas teams advancing to the national championship game.
Now, after perhaps its most successful year based on victories against non-conference opponents and computer and poll rankings, the Big 12 looks to live up to its reputation when the NCAA Tournament begins.
“You can’t take away that the league had a great year,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “I do think we need to validate what everybody has said about us all year long.”
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford said after an intense 18-game round-robin schedule and a high-level conference tournament, the teams can take pride in each other’s success.
“You’ve beaten up and battled each other for more than two months and now you’re really pulling for each other,” he said, “unless you play each other.”
Coaches understand better than anybody the random nature of the NCAA Tournament, and how matchups are more meaningful than seeds. It’s why some hesitate to place emphasis on March Madness as the league’s ultimate measuring tool.
“Sometimes what gets lost in the excitement of this month is that we’ve already played 30 games,” West Virginia’s Bob Huggins said. “I don’t think we have a lot more to prove. We’ve proven it over time.”
But this time, over the next three weeks, ranks among the most consumed and wagered sports events of the year. Success and failures are magnified, especially for the better-seeded teams.
Kansas, the regular-season champion, is a No. 2 seed. Big 12 Tournament champion Iowa State, Baylor and Oklahoma are No. 3 seeds and West Virginia is a No. 5 seed.
There has been some speculation about the tournament worthiness of Oklahoma State and Texas, but the Cowboys are a No. 9 seed and the Longhorns are a No. 11 that wasn’t assigned to the opening round in Dayton, Ohio.
By seed, the Big 12 should get four teams to the Sweet 16. That’s happened once in Big 12 history — in 2002, when the league advanced Kansas and Oklahoma to the Final Four.
But unpredictability is one of the attractions of the tournament. Last year, Baylor, as a No. 6 seed, defeated third-seeded Creighton and national player of the year Doug McDermott in the round of 32. But second-seeded Kansas and fifth-seeded Oklahoma were bounced out by double-digit seeds.
“It’s why it’s a great time of the year, because it’s the unknown,” Ford said. “The NCAA Tournament is so much about matchups, and it takes a little bit of luck at some point.”