NORTH TEXAS (AP) – The only certainties about the Big 12 are that Kansas will finish in first place and TCU will be last.
For everyone else, the final week of the regular season represents a chance to either improve their postseason positioning or win over the NCAA tournament selection committee.
Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas State were tied for second place at 10-6 after the weekend’s games with the Big 12 tournament set to begin on March 12. Baylor and Oklahoma State sit squarely on the at-large bubble, and even West Virginia has an outside shot at an NCAA tournament bid if it can get hot.
With so much on the line, the last week of the Big 12 play could also be the most competitive one.
“Every team has two games left. None of them are easy,” Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s going to go right down to the wire.”
In theory, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the second and fifth seeds for the upcoming league tournament. The four teams currently stuck in a second-place logjam will likely get first-round byes and play a NCAA tournament-quality team in the quarterfinals no matter where they’re seeded.
But the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds would avoid a potential matchup with Kansas until the championship game.
Oklahoma (21-8) and Kansas State (20-9) held those tiebreakers for the second and third spots on Monday, and the Sooners appeared to be in the best position to keep it. Oklahoma hosts West Virginia (16-13, 8-8) on Wednesday night and closes at TCU (9-19, 0-16) on Saturday.
Should the Sooners win out, they’ll clinch the No. 2 seed and perhaps push Lon Kruger’s bid to become the Big 12 Coach of the Year over the top.
“He’s done a great job with these guys,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of Kruger. “It’s not a surprise that they’re 10-6 in our league. But I think to most people from the outside looking in, if you told people before the season that this is where they’d be I think everybody would agree that Lon and his staff have done a terrific job.”
The Longhorns (21-8) are in good shape, too, since they host TCU and finish at Texas Tech (13-16, 5-11).
The path isn’t nearly as easy for Iowa State or Kansas State.
The Cyclones (22-6), who on Monday ranked last among the second-place teams because of tiebreakers, get Baylor (19-10, 7-9) on the road and Oklahoma State (19-10, 7-9) at home on Saturday.
K-State has the opposite schedule, with Oklahoma State on the road on Monday followed by Baylor at home.
To the Bears and Cowboys, a win over the Cyclones or Wildcats would be a huge boost to their NCAA tournament hopes. Oklahoma State had won three in a row since Marcus Smart returned from his suspension, a stretch that included a 72-65 win over Kansas on Saturday.
Baylor has won five of its last six after a brutal start to Big 12 play.
“How we’ve approached the last six games has been…we gave ourselves a chance to win. And as long as we’re playing, we control our own destiny,” Baylor coach Scott Drew.
Though West Virginia is a somewhat surprising .500 in the league, it’s a long way from NCAA tournament consideration. But the Mountaineers play Oklahoma and host Kansas, and if they sweep those teams they could move into position to an at-large bid.
Such a scenario might sound implausible. But the depth and quality of the Big 12, along the huge implications of these final games, figures to make for an interesting end to an entertaining regular season.
“It’s a grind because of how good the Big 12 is. It’s made every game such a battle that it’s made it more difficult. But that’s a good thing,” Kruger said.
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