The NCAA Tournament-bound teams started falling on Thursday. Kansas State first, then Oklahoma State and, finally, Oklahoma.
But as they returned home for additional days of rest before Selection Sunday, they did so with disappointment. But they’re also buoyed by the knowledge that it’s unlikely any team they draw next had to march through anything like the Big 12 season.
With seven Big 12 bids expected, the teams moving on will have played a dozen conference games against NCAA Tournament-caliber competition.
That was before the Big 12 Tournament, so add one more quality opponent to the list for the Wildcats, Cowboys and Sooners. Include the nonconference opponents who are NCAA-bound, and more than half of the schedules played by most Big 12 teams this year were against the field of 68 to be unveiled.
Kansas’ overtime victory over Oklahoma State pushed the Jayhawks’ total of games played against the RPI top 50 to 18. KU has played 32 games.
And everybody headed to the NCAA Tournament from the Big 12 has defeated other top teams from the conference. Nobody should lack confidence when they see their NCAA opponent revealed.
“We’ve faced a lot of different styles,” said K-State’s Bruce Weber, who rattled them off.
The size and length of Kansas and Texas. He forgot Baylor, the league’s longest team.
The free-wheeling offense of Iowa State and Oklahoma.
The toughness of likely NIT-bound West Virginia, and he could have added Oklahoma State to that group.
“We played with the best in the country,” Weber said. “And we can go out and beat anybody.”
Kansas State did that in the Big 12, defeating every conference team at least once, except Baylor.
“It has to prepare you well,” Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger said. “Every night out you line up against a really good team. The balance, the depth of really good players in this league, it’s tough every night. We know when you go through the NCAA Tournament it’s tough, but we’ve also been through that grind and hopefully will benefit from it.”
College basketball is loaded with good teams, and other conferences will have a higher concentration of better seeds. Why? The Big 12 spent January and February knocking each other around.
For everybody but Kansas, which went 14-4 in the Big 12, it was a chore to post an undefeated week. That’s why Big 12 teams disappeared from the polls. Baylor was in, then out. K-State went in, out, in and finally out. Same with Oklahoma and Texas.
In other conferences, stringing together a few perfect weeks wasn’t as taxing.
This should serve the Big 12 well in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas figures to be a No. 2 seed that could play its way into a No. 1 with Villanova’s loss on Thursday.
Iowa State looks to be a No. 3 or No. 4. Oklahoma, despite the loss, shouldn’t drop below a No. 6. Texas is in that range.
Oklahoma State, Baylor and Kansas State all look to be in the 8-10 range, which means at least 30 teams will be ranked ahead of them by the selection committee to begin the seeding process.
After watching the Wildcats shoot 54 percent against in their 91-85 loss to the Cyclones, and Oklahoma State push a motivated Kansas into overtime, and Baylor play phenomenally for 25 minutes, there aren’t 30 teams in college basketball better than those three.
But Weber put it best. For all of the excellence of the Big 12, the season won’t be remembered for its great games, the rankings, and the level of athlete unless it has success starting next week.
“Now,” Weber said, “we have to prove it.”