Decisions for the NCAA Tournament selection committee are always difficult at the end of the at-large list. The final teams in and the first ones out generate the bulk of discussion and debate.
That will be the case this year, with Big 12 teams involved. But the committee also has work to do at the top of the bracket.
Selection committee chair Bernard Muir said earlier this week that seven teams were in consideration for a No. 1 seed. A guess at the leaders: Virginia, Duke, Gonzaga, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Michigan State.
Some of the teams could have made things easy by winning their conference tournament. But Virginia, the ACC top seed, fell in a semifinal to Florida State. Gonzaga lost the West Coast Conference title game to St. Mary’s.
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Meanwhile, Tennessee topped Kentucky in a SEC semifinal.
Still, look for Virginia and Gonzaga to remain top seeds, along with Duke and Tennessee.
Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan and Michigan State look like leaders for No. 2 seeds.
The Big 12 once again looks to advance a majority of its teams into the 68-team field. Since becoming a 10-team conference in 2011-12, the Big 12 has never sent fewer than half of its team to the NCAA Tournament, and it’s been seven in four of the past five years.
Over the last few weeks of the regular season, the conference talked about pushing eight teams in, but that doesn’t seem likely.
Seven seems like the right number, but a couple of programs will be sweating out the selection show, which begins at 5 p.m. on CBS, none more than TCU.
The Horned Frogs could be one of the last teams selected to the field with Oklahoma also perhaps becoming a double-digit seed.
Texas presents an interesting case. The Longhorns meet several of the criteria for an at-large team and owns victories this season over North Carolina, Purdue, Kansas and Kansas State.
But Texas comes up short in one major area: record. The Longhorns are 16-16 and no team with as many losses or a .500 record has ever been an at-large selection.
No top seed awaits a Big 12 team and a second seed is a stretch. The Big 12 has had a team seeded first or second in all but one of its 22 years.
The best seed for a Big 12 team figures to be a No. 3, and Texas Tech and Kansas look like the top candidates. The Jayhawks’ loss to Iowa State in the conference tournament final may have ended that possibility. Look for Kansas State as a No. 4 or 5 seed.
Tech and K-State were Big 12 co-champions. Kansas finished third but played one of the nation’s most difficult schedules.
Coaches like to say the league’s schedule — every opponent home and away — prepares its teams for the NCAA grind, and it proved last year with Kansas reaching the Final Four and K-State and Tech getting to the Elite Eight.
Iowa State coach Steve Prohm shared sentiment he heard from Kansas State’s Bruce Weber to explain the Big 12’s readiness.
“We may not have a top five team in the country, but when you go through our league home and road, 18 times, that’s tough,” Prohm said. “This is as good a league as there is in the country.”
As for regional sites, the better the seed the better chance a team has of remaining close to home. Des Moines, Iowa, and Tulsa, Okla., are first- and second-round sites. Kansas City is the site of the Midwest Regional semifinals and final. But it might not see a Big 12 team. The regional is set for March 29 and 31 and is the fourth NCAA Tournament played at Sprint Center. The first three included at least one Big 12 team.
Top four seed projections
Projected Big 12 teams in NCAA Tournament and seeds
3: Texas Tech
4: Kansas State
6: Iowa State