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NCAA’s March Madness: Who will uphold the Big 12’s honor?

With seven teams in the big dance, who’s going to carry the flag for the Big 12 Conference?

NCAA’s March Madness: Who will uphold the Big 12’s honor?

As previously stated, this is a blog devoted to Big 12 football. So, please indulge me while I talk more about basketball.

The Big 12 has been propped up by the RPI gods as the best conference in the country, and that position was rewarded last Sunday with 7 teams making it to the NCAA tournament. In addition…

 

That’s right…four of the seven teams were #3 seeds or higher. Pretty strong stuff. Unfortunately, the rubber must now hit the road.

Last season was no different, with 7 entrants from the Big 12 (OU, OSU, K-State, Iowa St, Texas, KU, Baylor) and a reputation as one of the top basketball conferences. That came quickly crashing to the ground with 3 exits in the Round of 64 (OU, OSU, K-State); 2 more exits in the Round of 32 (Texas, KU); and the final departures came in the Sweet Sixteen (Iowa St, Baylor).

In 2013, it was 5 teams (OSU, K-State, KU, Iowa St, OU), with only 2 getting out of the Round of 64, and just one making it to the Sweet 16 before going home. In fact, the last time a Big 12 team made it past the Sweet 16 was 2012 (Baylor to the Elite Eight, KU lost to Kentucky in the finals).

The last national championship for the conference was Kansas in 2008.

The real drop-off, however, seems to have happened in 2011. From 2007 thru 2010, the Big 12 placed 23 teams in the Dance. Of those, 19 made the round of 32 (82.6%); 9 made the Sweet Sixteen (39.1%); and seven teams made it to the Elite Eight (30.4%), with the Jayhawks’ 2008 title squad the only one to advance to at least the Final Four.

Since then the production has gone dramatically south. From 2011 through 2014, 23 teams again were invited to the NCAA tournament. Of those, only 13 got past the Round of 64 (56.5%); 6 made it to the Sweet 16 (26.1%); and only two made it as far as the Elite Eight (8.7%). Kansas was again the only team to advance to at least the Final Four. If that’s hard to compare, let’s look at it this way:

Round of 64 Round of 32 Sweet 16 Elite 8 Final 4 Finals National Champ
2007-2010 23 19 (82.6%) 9 (36.1%) 7 (30.4%) 1 1 1
2011-2014 23 13 (56.5%) 6 (26.1%) 2 (8.7%) 1 1 0

It’s time for the conference to make some headlines, and 2015 looks to offer at least a couple of opportunities. Let’s start at the bottom…

Texas…#11 seed in the Midwest

Believe it or not, this half of the bracket sets up for a team with plenty of talent, but not much coaching. If the Longhorns get hot, after Butler, they would likely face either Kansas or Wichita State.

That’s very doable, in my opinion. Not likely, but doable.

Oklahoma State…#9 seed in the West

The Cowboys Round of 64 matchup is the very definition of de ja vu…OSU gets the Oregon Ducks, a rematch of 2012, when the Ducks got hot late and ran through the Pac 12 tournament. Oregon’s #12 seeding was highly controversial, and it showed as they handled the Cowboys with ease.

The same thing happened this time, without the seeding drama. Oregon has won 13 of their last 16 games and lost to #2 seed Arizona in the Pac 12 finals. This will be a tall task for Travis Ford’s group to advance, and if they do, their reward will be #1 seed Wisconsin.

All done.

West Virginia…#5 seed in the Midwest

This will be the first NCAA tournament for the Mountaineers under the Big 12 banner. The boys from Morgantown have a pretty good recent past in the Dance, missing only twice since 2005, and only going one-and-done twice.

This year’s trip hinges largely on the health of  Sr guards Juwan Staten and Gary Browne. After missing a number of games at the end of the regular season, both have been pronounced fit for the tournament. Their contributions could be extremely important, as their Round of 64 opponent, Buffalo, has been a favorite “Cinderella” pick for a 5-12 upset. The Mountaineers SHOULD take care of business, but then they get Maryland (27-6), whose only loss to a non-tournament team was a road trip to Illinois (19-13, 9-9 Big 10).

Very likely a short trip for Bob Huggins’ group.

Baylor…#3 seed in the West

Quite frankly, I think the Bears are over-seeded, but I think that for most of the Big 12 teams. Seeding can be everything, though, and it definitely plays to Baylor’s advantage.

Scott Drew and company shouldn’t have too much issue in dispatching Georgia State, although the Round of 32 matchup could be interesting, with Xavier taking on the winner of BYU/Ole Miss. None of those will be slouches, but it still gives the Bears a pretty solid shot at the Sweet 16, where they would very likely face Pac 12 champ Arizona.

That would probably be the end of that, but it would be another Sweet 16 for Scott Drew, who gets knocked around a bit for his coaching.

Oklahoma…#3 seed in the East

The Sooners have a similar, if not slightly easier (IMO) path to the Sweet 16, but what they might run into once they arrive is not necessarily in stone.

Virginia carries the #2 seed, but will probably face Michigan State. The Spartans have been a bit inconsistent this year, but despite some bad losses to poor opponents, Tom Izzo’s squad has a number of marquee wins over tournament teams, including two over Maryland.

That won’t be an easy task either way for Lon Kruger. I’m betting the Sweet 16 will be the end of the road for Oklahoma.

Iowa State…#3 seed in the South

Many folks thought the Cyclones should have received a #2 seed instead of Kansas, but I wouldn’t complain if I were The Mayor.

In my opinion, out of all the Big 12 teams, Iowa State has the best setup for making a run deep in the tourney. Although the Round of 32 matchup could be a little dicey, after that the road is NOT paved with juggernauts. Gonzaga is not a scary #2 seed, and the 7-10 game is #7 Iowa vs #10 Davidson. If the Cyclones can avoid an early round hiccup, a trip to the Elite Eight is well within reach, and the other half of the bracket shouldn’t scare Iowa State fans.

If the chips fall right, this could be a special tournament for the Cyclones.

Kansas…#2 seed in the Midwest

The Jayhawks have stumbled home, relatively speaking, as they went 7-5 over their last 12 games, with injuries and slumping guard play taking its toll. Add to that a pretty tough half of a bracket that has Kentucky waiting on the other side, and Kansas will not be marking this down as one of those seasons to remember.

Assuming they get past New Mexico State, they’ll have either Indiana or Wichita State waiting. If I’m Bill Self, I’d be rummaging through my voodoo doll collection for the Shocker mascot, because the last thing I would want is a cross-state rival who isn’t happy that we won’t play them in the regular season. Manage to navigate that, and they’ll face Butler or Notre Dame, who is fresh off an ACC tourney championship. Even if you get an upset and Texas makes it through, I still wouldn’t want any part of a third meeting.

Fight their way out of that mess, and here comes Kentucky.

Which Big 12 team do you think will advance the farthest in the NCAA Tournament? Let us know in the comments!

– Cover Photo Credit: Big 12 Court – Denny Medley – USA TODAY Sports

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