Plenty at stake at Big 12 tourney Print
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Tuesday, 10 March 2009 10:16
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 KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -Most years, the Big 12 tournament has just a handful of teams with a realistic chance win it, usually starting with Kansas and Texas.
The Jayhawks and Longhorns have plenty of company this year - and they're not even the favorites.
While a wild and unpredictable regular season is over, the Big 12 shifts to its season-ending tournament in Oklahoma City, where there's sure to be a few more unexpected turns before Saturday's championship game.
``This is a crazy, crazy year and the most complete the field has ever been,'' Kansas coach Bill Self said. ``Whatever you think before the season, in large part never plays out exactly to be that way.''
That's for sure, especially this season.
Oklahoma (27-4), the overwhelming preseason favorite to win the conference, finished second in the regular season at 13-3, yet is the favorite to win the conference tournament.
Kansas (25-6) was supposed to be in a rebuilding year after losing six players from last year's national championship team to the pros.
pair of lopsided losses and finished 14-2 to win a fifth straight Big 12 title.
Texas (20-10), picked by the Big 12 coaches to finish second, had an up-and-down year to finish fifth at 9-7. Baylor (17-13), coming off its first NCAA tournament in 20 years, was ninth at 5-11 after the coaches slated the Bears for third.
And what about Missouri and Kansas State?
Written off as also-rans before the season, the Tigers (25-6) and Wildcats (21-10) surprised nearly everyone - maybe even themselves - by finishing in the top four in the conference, earning a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
All those surprises have turned what was supposed to be a rebuilding year in the Big 12 into its most competitive. The conference had eight teams finish .500 or better for the first time in its 14-year history and had seven win at least 20 games, matching the Big East for most in the country.
It sets up a conference tournament that is hard to predict.
``That's what makes college basketball so exciting,'' Baylor coach Scott Drew said. ``You make a couple of plays here and there, you get on a roll and anything's possible.''
The possibilities for Baylor, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Colorado, at least in terms of making the NCAA tournament, are limited: Win to get in.
For the other eight teams, the Big 12 tournament will go a long way to determining seedings, whether certain teams get in.
Kansas, the three-time defending conference tournament champion, along with Oklahoma and Missouri should be a lock. The Sooners could get a No. 1 NCAA seed by winning the conference tournament, while the Jayhawks and Tigers will likely be near the top of their brackets with a good showing.
M and Oklahoma State figure to have a good shot after winning at least 20 games and finishing 9-7 in conference. Nebraska, at 18-11 and 8-8 in conference, could still get into the NCAA tournament by winning a couple of games in the Big 12 tournament.
There is some uncertainty: Seven times a Big 12 team has finished 9-7 or better and failed to get into the NCAA tournament, including three that were 10-6.
Chances are, though, that at least five Big 12 teams will get into the NCAA tournament, and it'll probably be more. Not too bad for a down year.
``People were talking a couple of weeks ago that we'd only get three or four, but I think we've got a solid six now and we're closer to seven than we are five,'' Self said. ``But there's still some work to be done.''
That work starts on Wednesday, a change from previous years.
When the Big 12 coaches met in the offseason, they decided to start the conference tournament a day earlier, so it would finish on Saturday instead of Sunday, when NCAA berths are announced.
The extra day will give the NCAA selection committee another day to look over the conference's resume, which the coaches believe will lead to better seedings. It'll also give teams, particularly the two in the championship game, another day to prepare for the NCAA tournament later in the week.
``As coaches, it was probably unanimous that we move to the new format,'' Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. ``We're not still playing when they're making the selections, making all those decisions. That information is already there. It's known.''

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