It's championship week in college basketball around the country as tournament champions will be crowned in all of the major conferences and high seeds awarded for the Big Tournament and the madness that will permeate the land for the duration of the month and culminate March 31-April 2 at the Final Four in New Orleans.
One of those locations is right here in Kansas City. The Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City, Mo., will be a hotbed of activity, particularly Thursday through Saturday, for the annual Big 12 Basketball Championship. As many as six of the ten conference teams could receive an NCAA Tournament bid in what easily could be the most hotly contested men's tournaments in recent memory.
This year's Big 12 tourney will be different from all of the preceding years in that the bracket will contain only 10 teams. And it also will be the final Big 12 Tournament for both Missouri and Texas A&M. Missouri, whose affiliation with the Big 12 goes all the way back to the early part of the last century, has been a fixture in Kansas City at this tournament for 65 years, both as a postseason tournament and as a holiday tournament played in December prior to the start of the conference schedule.
With the bracket made up of ten teams this year, six teams received first-round byes (instead of four as it had been previously). As a result, the bottom four teams in the regular-season league standings tip off the tournament on Wednesday night, with what amounts to two play-in games.
Oklahoma, the No. 8 seed, will play No. 9-seeded Texas A&M in the first game Wednesday evening for the right to meet conference-champion and No, 1-seed Kansas. The OU-Texas A&M tilt will be followed by Oklahoma State, the seven seed, vs. Texas Tech, the last-place team in the league in the regular season. The winner of that game will advance to play Missouri, the conference runner up and No, 2 seed in the tournament.
Entering the Big 12 Tournament, Kansas is projected as one of the four top seeds in the NCAA Tournament, a spot that is not unfamiliar to the Jayhawks, and Missouri looks to be a solid two seed and could even pull off a No. 1 seed if they were to win their second Big 12 Tournament championship and if things fell in their way in the other major conference tournaments being staged this week. Iowa State, Baylor and Kansas State appear to be in the Big Dance this year despite how they do in the Big 12 Tournament. Texas, however, finds itself on the dreaded NCAA selection bubble and in a must-win situation for one and possibly two rounds in Kansas City.
Baylor's so-called body of work throughout the season, reflected in its RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) of nine, will likely earn the Bears a No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the NCAA Championship. Iowa State (22-9, 12-6 in the conference) with a 30 RPI and Frank Martin's Kansas State team (21-9, 10-8), with a 42 RPI, are probably looking at NCAA seeds in the six to eight range.
Texas, which has one of the youngest teams in the conference with six freshman on its roster, finished sixth in the conference in the regular season and will play third-seeded Iowa State in the late game Thursday night. The two teams split during the regular season, with the Cyclones winning by six at Iowa State and Texas claiming a seven-point win in Austin. The X-factor in this one may be the fan support. Iowa State travels well, especially for this tournament, and the Cyclone fans typically show up in large numbers to support their team.
Texas has much more to play for, with its selection for this year's NCAA Tournament still very much in doubt, than Iowa State, but Iowa State is playing very good basketball right now and at just the right time. It's going to be a very stiff test for the Longhorns to get by Iowa State and get that must win they have to have if they want to assure their inclusion in the NCAA Tournament for a 14th consecutive year.
Kansas is the favorite to win its ninth Big 12 Tournament. No other conference school has more than three (Oklahoma: 2001, 2002, 2003). The Jayhawks also have won four postseason tournaments when it was the Big Eight Conference and 13 Big Eight Holiday Tournaments, all but two of the 25 tournament titles when the event was played in Kansas City.
The women's tournament is also being played in Kansas City this week at the old Municipal Auditorium, where the Big Eight held its December men's holiday tournament for almost three decades. The women's tournament will move to Dallas next year, but the men's basketball championship will remain at the Sprint Center in Kansas City for the next several years.
Here is how I predict the bracket will play out in this year's Big 12 men's and women's basketball championship:
Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament
Oklahoma (8) over Texas A&M (9)
Oklahoma State (7) over Missouri (10)
Kansas State (5) over Baylor (4)
Kansas (1) over Oklahoma (8)
Missouri (2) over Oklahoma State (7)
Iowa State (3) over Texas (6)
Kansas (1) over Kansas State (5)
Iowa State (3) over Missouri (2)
Kansas (1) over Iowa State (3)
Big 12 Women's Basketball Tournament
Texas (8) over Texas Tech (9)
Oklahoma State (7) over Missouri (10)
Kansas State (5) over Iowa State (4)
Baylor (1) over Texas (8)
Oklahoma (2) over Oklahoma State (7)
Texas A&M (3) over Kansas (6)
Baylor (1) over Kansas State (5)
Texas A&M (3) over Oklahoma (2)
Baylor (1) over Texas A&M (3)
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