No team with a 10-6 record or better in Big 12 Conference play has missed the NCAA Tournament. Colorado, which finished 10-6 this season, could usually be confident of its chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
That might not be the case this year. When the Big 12 Tournament starts this afternoon, the conference will hope to make up for a disappointing regular season that, when compared with the relative strength of the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences, might have cost it an NCAA bid or two.
The Buffaloes (18-9) took advantage of the down year, going 7-1 at home in conference play and finishing fourth in the league. That earned them a first-round bye and a second-round meeting with Texas Tech (21-9) at 2:20 p.m. Friday.
Colorado expects at-large invitation
The Buffaloes have no notable nonconference wins and their best victory came against the Red Raiders in Boulder. Even with their solid conference mark, the Buffaloes would remain questionable to reach the NCAA Tournament without another win against Texas Tech.
Colorado coach Ricardo Patton found it difficult to explain why many consider his team on the bubble.
“I guess the question for me is, how can you finish fourth and there still (is) a question about whether or not you get in?” he said. “I guess the selection committee is supposed to take one, two, three and skip to five and six.
“I think it’s unfortunate for the program that it’s even a question at this point.”
Texas Tech boasts 21 wins, tough non-conference schedule
The Red Raiders’ bid might not be in question. Texas Tech’s results are similar to Colorado’s; it played well at home (7-1 in the Big 12) but struggled away from Lubbock.
The Red Raiders beat three Big Ten Conference schools, Iowa, Minnesota and Ohio State. Those three struggled in league play and will not reach the NCAA Tournament without winning the Big Ten Tournament.
Still, Texas Tech reached the 20-win mark and is likely to receive an invitation unless the Buffaloes manhandle it Friday. A Red Raider win would solidify and improve their NCAA Tournament seed.
Coach Bob Knight, though, said he did not see the game as an opportunity to prove his team belongs.
“The tournament plays out however it plays out,” he said. “I never spend any time worry about what could be or what might have been.”
Of Missouri, Texas Tech and Colorado, two are likely to earn NCAA bids. If all three reach the semifinals, the Big 12 could send six teams.
While those three hope to solidify their place in the tournament, three other teams have nailed down an NCAA berth.
Eddie Sutton and Oklahoma State could be No. 1 seed
Oklahoma State (24-3) is the only team in the conference worthy of consideration for a No. 1 seed. The Cowboys cruised through conference play at 14-2 and solidified their spot as the best team in the league with a 76-67 win against Texas on March 1.
Oklahoma State will face Iowa State or Kansas State, teams that struggle away from home, in the second round Friday afternoon. Coach Eddie Sutton noted the strength of the bottom half of the conference and was wary of an upset.
“There are so many good teams in there,” Sutton said. “Even the teams in the lower half of the conference have the ability to jump up and beat someone.”
Despite ending the regular season with back-to-back losses, Texas (21-6) has wrapped up an NCAA bid, likely a No. 4 seed or better. With Kansas, the Longhorns are the only team in the conference to stay in the Associated Press poll all season. A win or three would improve their position.
Texas coach Rick Barnes said, despite the difficulty of winning four games in four days, he could see a team make a run to the finals without a first-round bye, securing a sixth or even seventh NCAA seed for the Big 12.
“We all know March is the time for madness,” Barnes said. “Coaches and players always believe something magical can happen if they catch lightning in a bottle.”
Kansas’ situation is similar to the Longhorns’. Despite back-to-back losses in early February, the Jayhawks (20-7) responded by winning five of their last six regular-season games, including an 84-82 win against the Tigers to close Hearnes Center on Sunday.
Because a No. 11 seed has never won a Big 12 Tournament game, Missouri is favored to beat Texas A&M tonight. That creates a troublesome scenario for the Jayhawks, who would play back-to-back games against the Tigers.
Kansas coach Bill Self said equaling Missouri’s emotion would be necessary to win.
“I think it’s obviously a difficult assignment,” Self said. “Both teams have a lot left to play for. Missouri will have a ton of motivation and we have to match that motivation. That will be the challenge.”