Will Sprint Center deliver its historic home building advantage this week?
The 23rd annual Big 12 Tournament begins on Wednesday with two first-round games and concludes with Saturday’s championship. The stakes don’t change over the years. Front-runners look to build on regular-season credentials, the NCAA Tournament hopefuls seek to improve their standing, and the bottom teams hope to stick around for more than a day.
Elevating this tournament over others is the environment. Most sessions after the first day are played before packed houses, and the championship game has always drawn a capacity crowd at Sprint.
One reason for that: This will be the 11th final played at Sprint Center, and each of the first 10 have included a local draw in the final, including the great traveling fan base of Iowa State.
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Since the first Big 12 event at Sprint in 2008, Kansas has played in seven finals, Iowa State three, Kansas State and Missouri one each.
Their fans created an advantage when playing other teams but things are a little different this time.
For the first time since 2008, the Jayhawks aren’t the top-seeded team. They’re the No. 3 and open against sixth-seeded Texas around 8:30 Thursday night.
“From a neutral-site standpoint, we should approach that like it being a home game for us,” KU coach Bill Self said.
The Jayhawks have done that through the years, winning six tournaments at Sprint Center.
Kansas State is the top seed, but coach Bruce Weber said Monday that All-Big 12 big man Dean Wade is doubtful for competition this week.
“It’s day to day,” Weber said. “I’d probably doubt he’ll be in the Big 12 Tournament but you never know.”
Iowa State also has been dealing with an injury to a star player. All-conference guard Marial Shayok aggravated a toe injury in Saturday’s loss to Texas Tech but coach Steve Prohm expects him to play in Thursday’s 11:30 a.m. opener against Baylor.
The Cyclones are cold, having lost five of six. They’re looking to rekindle some Kansas City magic. The fifth-seeded Cyclones have won three of the previous five tournaments, twice coming out of the 4-5 game in that span.
Second-seeded Texas Tech, Big 12 co-champion with Kansas State, is sizzling. The Red Raiders have won nine straight, are the league’s highest-ranked team in The Associated Press poll at No. 7, and could become the league’s best-seeded team in the NCAA Tournament with a strong performance in Kansas City.
Entering this week, most NCAA Tournament projections suggest Tech as a third seed and Kansas State and Kansas as No. 4 seeds. Also safely in the field appear to be Baylor and Iowa State with Oklahoma on the right side of the bubble.
Less certain are the NCAA aspirations of TCU and Texas.
The Horned Frogs had been reeling, losing five of six, until a resounding season-ending victory Saturday at Texas, an outcome that might have punched TCU’s ticket.
The Longhorns have the profile of a NCAA Tournament bubble team, including a No. 39 ranking in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rating system that takes into account offensive and defensive efficiency, scoring margin, win percentage adjusted by result and location, and other factors.
But a strike against Texas is its record. The Longhorns are 16-15 and would drop to .500 with a loss to the Jayhawks. The worst winning percentage to be selected as an at-large team in the history of the NCAA Tournament is .533 (Villanova in 1991 and Georgia in 2001 were 16-14).
Texas will get a starter back this week. Coach Shaka Smart said guard Kerwin Roach, who averages 15.0 points and 3.1 assists, will come off a suspension and return to action this week. Texas went 1-4 while he was out.
This could also be a year when one of the teams that plays on the first day makes a run. The tournament opens at 6 p.m. Wednesday with TCU, seeded eighth, taking on No. 9 Oklahoma State, followed by seventh-seeded Oklahoma facing 10th-seeded West Virginia.
The Cowboys won their final two games, including a triumph at Baylor. The Mountaineers won two of their final four including a blowout of Iowa State.
Big 12 championship games at Sprint Center
2008: (No. 2 seed) Kansas 84, (1) Texas 74
2010: (1) Kansas 72, (2) Kansas State 64
2011: (1) Kansas 85, (2) Texas 73
2012: (2) Missouri 90, (4) Baylor 75
2013: (1) Kansas 70, (2) Kansas State 54
2014: (4) Iowa State 74, (7) Baylor 65
2015: (2) Iowa State 70, (1) Kansas 66
2016: (1) Kansas 81, (2) West Virginia 71
2017: (4) Iowa State 80, (2) West Virginia 74
2018: (1) Kansas 81, (3) West Virginia 70