Seven is considered a lucky number. But luck had nothing to do with the Big 12 Conference placing seven of its 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament bracket announced Sunday night.
The Big 12 spent most of his season ranked No. 1 in the Ratings Percentage Index – one of the measurables used by the Division I men’s basketball committee to select and seed the bracket. That power along with performances from the seven teams – Kansas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Baylor – helped the Big 12 match the most teams it has ever placed in the bracket.
And no conference has a higher percentage of its teams in the bracket.
The lowest-seeded Big 12 teams are Oklahoma State and Kansas State, both No. 9 seeds. That means that the Big 12 has seven of the top 36 teams seeded in the 68-team field. The Big 12’s peer conferences all had teams seeded lower than No. 9.
Ron Wellman, athletic director at Wake Forest and the chair of the Division I Men's Basketball Committee, emphasized that the committee doesn’t keep track of how many teams from any conference makes the bracket. But he did say that playing in the top RPI league is an advantage.
“Individually it certainly is a factor, and a result of playing in a strong conference is going to elevate their overall strength of schedule,” he said. “So from that vantage point, yeah, having a great conference is going to help you in terms of strength of schedule. (It) might hurt you in your wins and loss, but it certainly helps you develop a strong schedule overall.”
The Big 12’s highest seeded team is Kansas. The Jayhawks are the No. 2 seed in the South Regional. Kansas won its 10th consecutive regular-season title but lost to Iowa State in the semifinals of the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship.
The Jayhawks were without freshman Joel Embiid, the Big 12 defensive player of the year, in Kansas City and he might miss the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
“We have been in close contact with Kansas and they've been very transparent about what Embiid's situation is and his possible availability,” Wellman said. “Kansas has had one heck of a season. … We believe that Kansas, even without Embiid, is very deserving of a two seed with the season they have had.
“They have more top‑50 victories, more top‑100 victories than anyone on the board. They also have nine losses, which probably kept them out of consideration for the No. 1 line.”
Kansas coach Bill Self said Sunday that Embiid is feeling better and “responding very favorably” to treatment.
For me to be optimistic about this weekend would not be an accurate statement,” Self said. “I'm not saying it couldn't happen, but I don't feel optimistic about it.”
Here’s a capsule breakdown for the Big 12’s seven NCAA Tournament teams, focusing on their opening opponents.
3:10 p.m. Friday, St. Louis
No. 2 Kansas (24-9) vs. No. 15 Eastern Kentucky (24-9)
Opponent FYI: Eastern Kentucky won the automatic bid from the Ohio Valley Conference, knocking off No. 1 seed Belmont in the tournament championship game. The Colonels’ last NCAA appearance came in 2007 when they lost to North Carolina in the first round. Eastern Kentucky thrives from the 3-point line (39 percent, 23rd in Division I) and has three players making 40 percent or more from behind the arc. The Colonels also do a good job taking care of the ball with an astounding +6.5 turnover margin. There’s no one on the roster taller than 6-8 and coach Jeff Neubauer relies on a six-man player rotation.
What’s next: Winner plays on Sunday against the winner of No. 7 New Mexico and No. 10 Stanford.
8:50 p.m. Friday, San Antonio
No. 3 Iowa State (26-7) vs. No. 14 North Carolina Central (28-5)
Opponent FYI: North Carolina Central is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance after winning the automatic bid from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. The Eagles have an experienced team as the top seven players are junior or seniors. North Carolina Central won at North Carolina State (which is in the bracket as a No. 11 seed) and lost by 11 at Wichita State, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Regional. The Eagles, who have a 20-game winning streak, like to use pressure defense to force turnovers and they average forcing 16 per game.
What’s next: Winner plays on Sunday against the winner of No. 6 North Carolina and No. 11 Providence.
3:40 p.m. Friday, San Diego
No. 9 Oklahoma State (21-12) vs. No. 8 Gonzaga (28-6)
Opponent FYI: Gonzaga was a No. 1 seed last year but was upset in the round of 32 by No. 9 seed Wichita State. The Bulldogs are making their 16th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament. Sam Dower, a 6-9 senior forward, is the team’s top inside threat. He averages 15 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. Guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. combine to average 25 points a game. Senior guard David Stockton is the son of former Gonzaga player and NBA hall of famer John Stockton. Gonzaga beat West Virginia and lost to Kansas State in non-conference play.
What’s next: Winner plays on Sunday against the winner of No. 1 Arizona and No. 16 Weber State.
6:27 p.m., Thursday, Spokane, Wash.
No. 5 Oklahoma (23-9) vs. No. 12 North Dakota State (25-6)
Opponent FYI: The last time North Dakota State made the NCAA Tournament was 2009 and the Bison lost to Kansas, the defending national champion, in the first round. Taylor Braun, a 6-7 senior guard, was the Summit League player of the year. He averages 18 points per game but scored 30 or more points four times. He shoots 41.2 percent from 3-point range. Marshall Bjorklund,a 6-8 senior forward, averages 13.6 points per game and makes 63.9 percent of his shots. North Dakota State leads the nation in field goal shooting at 50.9 percent.
What’s next: Winner plays on Saturday against the winner of No. 4 San Diego State and No. 13 New Mexico State.
11:40 a.m. Friday, San Antonio
No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 11 Nebraska (19-12)
Opponent FYI: In the preseason poll, Nebraska was picked to finish last in the 12-team Big Ten. The Cornhuskers finished fourth with an 11-7 record. Terran Petteway, a 6-6 sophomore forward, led the Big Ten in scoring with 18 points per game. After losing at Michigan by 29 points in early February, Nebraska has bounced back to win eight of its last 10. The Cornhuskers are making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1998 and are seeking the school’s first NCAA victory; they’re 0-6.
What’s next: Winner plays on Sunday against the winner of No. 3 Creighton and No. 14 Louisiana Lafayette.
8:40 p.m. Friday, St. Louis
No. 9 Kansas State (20-12) vs. No. 8 Kentucky (24-10)
Opponent FYI: Kentucky starts five freshmen and four average in double figures – Julius Randle (15.4 points per game), James Young (14.6), Aaron Harrison (13.5) and Andrew Harrison (10.8). Randle also averages 10.6 rebounds per game. One of Kentucky’s losses came to Baylor in December at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Kentucky is making their 54th trip to the NCAA Tournament and their 111 NCAA wins are the most of any team. Kentucky lost three of its last four heading into the Southeastern Conference tournament and lost to Florida in Sunday’s championship game.
What’s next: Winner plays on Sunday against the winner of No. 1 Wichita State vs. either Cal Poly or Texas Southern; both are No. 16 seeds and face off in the First Four Wednesday in Dayton.
8:40 p.m. Thursday, Milwaukee
No. 7 Texas (23-10) vs. No. 10 Arizona State (21-11)
Opponent FYI: The Sun Devils finished in a five-way tie for third place in the Pac-12 and are skidding into the postseason having lost three in a row and five of the last seven. Sophomore Jahii Carson, a 5-10 guard, averages 18.9 points and 4.5 assists per game. He is quick and explosive, particularly in the open court. Senior center Jordan Bachynski is 7-2 and leads the nation with 4.2 blocks per game. He also averages 11.2 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Coach Herb Sendek has five 20-win seasons at Arizona State; in the 26 years prior to his arrival, the Sun Devils had four 20-win seasons.
What’s next: Winner plays on Saturday against the winner of No. 2 Michigan and No. 15 Wofford.