The Bubble, er, Big 12 Tournament begins Wednesday at the Sprint Center.
Nine teams arrive in Kansas City this week believing they have a shot at NCAA Tournament inclusion. Seven is the league’s high water mark.
The tournament champion will automatically qualify. Last year that team was Iowa State, which enters this year’s field as the 10th seed and the only one that doesn’t carry NCAA at-large aspirations.
NCAA seeding is the primary topic for the top three teams — Kansas, Texas Tech and West Virginia. The Jayhawks are in the hunt for a No. 1 seed, and the Red Raiders and Mountaineers could be top-four seeds.
The rest of the Big 12 contenders look alike in records and other credentials as two games separate fourth through ninth place, meaning they’ll be fighting each other for NCAA bids along with schools from other conferences.
Fourth-seeded Kansas State appears to have built a strong enough case for NCAA inclusion, although a weak non-conference schedule could push their seed to a double digit.
TCU, the No. 5 seed, matches Kansas State’s 21-10 overall record. But the Horned Frogs have been projected safely off the bubble, and seek their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998. TCU and K-State meet in a quarterfinal at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
The other Big 12 hopefuls are tightly bunched with factors working for and against them.
Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma each have 18 victories and tied for sixth in the Big 12 with 8-10 records. The best RPI in the group belongs to the Sooners, at No. 37 entering Monday, but they’re also the coldest team with seven losses in their last nine games heading into their tournament opener against the Cowboys on Wednesday. OU, ranked as high as fourth in the Associated Press poll this season, is the No. 9 seed.
Helping Oklahoma is a 6-8 record against the best teams on its schedule: A group that includes home games against top 30 RPI teams, neutral-site games against the top 50 and away games against the top 75. Those are called Group 1 opponents.
Oklahoma State is 5-10 in those games and became the first conference team to sweep Kansas in a regular-season series since 2001. Jayhawks coach Bill Self has no doubt the Cowboys belong in the tournament, despite a No. 88 RPI.
“To ask if they’re a tournament team, my answer is an emphatic yes,” Self said.
No. 7 Texas, which meets Iowa State on Wednesday, appears to have slightly better credentials than sixth-seeded Baylor, except in one category that could help separate the teams: The Bears beat Texas twice this season.
Still, Bears coach Scott Drew said this will be a restless week until Sunday’s selection show on TBS.
“All along I’ve said 8-10 in the Big 12 this year … it’s been by far the best conference in the 15 years I've been here," Drew said.
The Big Ten wrapped up its tournament on Sunday but all other multi-bid conference tournaments will take place this week. The Big 12 has as much as stake as any of them.
NCAA Tournament projections
Through March 4 games; *denotes automatic bid
- No. 1 seeds: Villanova, Virginia, Xavier, Kansas
- No. 2: Duke, Purdue, Michigan State, Cincinnati
- No. 3: Tennessee, Auburn, North Carolina, Michigan*
- No. 4: Texas Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Arizona
- No. 5: Gonzaga, Clemson, Ohio State, Florida
- No. 6: Kentucky, Miami (Fla.), Houston, Nevada
- No. 7: TCU, Texas A&M, Seton Hall, Arkansas
- No. 8: Missouri, Rhode Island, Creighton, Oklahoma
- No. 9: Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, Florida State, Butler
- No. 10: Kansas State, Arizona State, Saint Mary’s, St. Bonaventure
- No. 11: Texas, Southern California, UCLA, Providence, Alabama, Baylor
- No. 12: Loyola (Ill.)*, New Mexico State, Middle Tennessee State, Buffalo
- No. 13: Murray State*, Louisiana, South Dakota State, Vermont
- No. 14: UNC Greensboro, Charleston, Montana, Bucknell
- No. 15: UC Davis, Pennsylvania, Wagner, Wright State
- No. 16: Lipscomb*, Radford*, Iona, Hampton, Arkansas Pine-Bluff, Nicholls State
- Last four in: Baylor, Alabama, Providence, UCLA
- Last four out: Syracuse, Utah, Oklahoma State, Louisville