KANSAS CITY – After a regular season spent atop all of the Ratings Percentage Index categories and with the anticipation that seven teams are headed to the NCAA Tournament, the Phillips 66 Big 12 Men’s Basketball Championship could surpass any of the previous 17 editions in terms of drama, excitement and uncertainty.
“I think we've always had competitive Big 12 tournaments but this one looks really wide open,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “It's gonna be a pretty special weekend.”
Wednesday’s two first-round games at the Sprint Center feature No. 7 seed Baylor and No. 8 seed Oklahoma State. Both teams spent time ranked in the top 10 in late December/early January, each went through struggles but each has 20 victories.
Only three times has a No. 7 or No. 8 seed gone into the Big 12 Championship with 20 victories. The Cowboys did it three times as a No. 7 seed (2007, 2009 and 2010).
– a total not usually associated with teams seeded in those spots.
That means that if the seeds hold, the top-seeded Jayhawks will face the Cowboys and No. 2 seed Oklahoma would face the Bears. Typically, being seeded one and two is considered a “reward.”
Kansas has won 10 consecutive regular-season titles and its nine Big 12 Championships are the most of any Big 12 teams. But the Jayhawks will head to K.C. without the services of Joel Embiid. The 7-foot center, the first freshman to be named Big 12 defensive player of the year, will be sidelined with a stress fracture in his back.
“We’re all very disappointed for Joel,” Self said. “He’s worked so hard and improved so much. He’s been one of the most improved players in the country in such a short amount of time. The most important thing is for Joel to get healthy. We were hopeful, Joel was hopeful, the doctors were hopeful that his body would respond more rapidly to rehab and that has not been the case.”
Embiid’s absence makes it a wide open championship.
“You can name seven teams that can win it,” said Scott Drew, coach of seventh-seeded Baylor. “I can see that.”
The lowest-seeded team to win the Big 12 Championship and the accompanying automatic NCAA Tournament bid has been a No. 3 seed on five occasions, the most recent coming in 2009. No. 6 seed West Virginia (17-14) needs three victories to make history and the Mountaineers are coming off a 92-86 victory over Kansas in the regular-season finale.
Self, though, thinks West Virginia should get strong consideration for an NCAA bid regardless. "After what they did to us, how are they not considered for the NCAA field? Going 9-9 in this league?"
The four quarterfinal games Thursday could feature some great matchups. The four days in Kansas City gives the Big 12 a chance to hone its showcase skills before the NCAA Tournament.
“To put it quite simply, it's the best conference in the country," Texas coach Rick Barnes said.
Team by team previews:
No. 1 Kansas
Game info: The Jayhawks face the winner of the Oklahoma State-Texas Tech game at 1:30 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
Thus far: 23-8 overall, 14-4 Big 12.
Coach: Bill Self.
Big 12 Championship history: 35-8; championships in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013.
Probable starters: Naadir Tharpe, 5-11 Jr. G; Wayne Selden, Jr., 6-5 Fr. G; Andre Wiggins, 6-8 Fr. F; Tarik Black, 6-9 Sr. C; Perry Ellis, 6-8 Soph. F.
You need to know: Joel Embiid, the first freshman to be named Big 12 defensive player of the year, will miss the Big 12 Championship with a stress fracture in his back. … Kansas has won 10 consecutive regular-season titles and is seeking its 10th Big 12 Championship. … Andrew Wiggins was named Big 12 freshman of the year. Wiggins is averaging 18.4 points over the last 13 games. His 41 points against West Virginia in the season finale is a freshman record for KU. … The Jayhawks are 23-4 in the Sprint Center including winning the 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013 Big 12 Championships in the building.
No. 2 Oklahoma
Game info: The Sooners face the winner of the Baylor-TCU game at 6 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
Thus far: 23-8 overall, 12-6 Big 12.
Coach: Lon Kruger.
Big 12 Championship history: 20-14; championships in 2001, 2002, 2003.
Probable starters: Ryan Spangler, 6-8 Soph. F; Cameron Clark, 6-7 Sr. F; Jordan Woodard, 6-0 Fr. G; Isaiah Cousins, 6-4 Soph. G; Buddy Hield, 6-3 Soph. G.
You need to know: OU is the only Big 12 team with six players who have each made at least 20 3-pointers. The Sooners lead the Big 12 with their 8.7 3-pointers per conference game. … Oklahoma is the only team in the country to start the same lineup every game this season and for much of the season all five starters averaged double figures in scoring. … OU reached the 80-point mark seven times last season. This year’s Sooners have already hit 80 points in 18 of 29 games.
No. 3 Texas
Game info: The Longhorns face No. 6 seed West Virginia at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
Thus far: 23-7 overall, 11-7 Big 12.
Coach: Rick Barnes.
Big 12 Championship history: 22-17.
Probable starters: Jonathan Holmes, 6-8 Jr. F; Cameron Ridley, 6-9 Soph. C; Javan Felix, 5-11 Soph. G; Demarcus Holland, 6-2 Soph. G; Isaiah Taylor, 6-1 Fr. G.
You need to know: Texas is 11-3 in quarterfinal games with Rick Barnes as the coach. … The Longhorns played two games in the Sprint Center during the CBE Hall of Fame Championship. They lost to BYU and defeated DePaul. … Barnes was selected as Big 12 coach of the year for the fourth time. … Texas is 10-3 this season in games decided by seven points or less. … The Longhorns average 6.1 blocked shots per game; that ranks 15th in Division I. … Texas has out-rebounded 25 of 31 opponents and owns a 7.6 edge in rebounding margin for the season.
No. 4 Iowa State
Game info: The Cyclones will face No. 5 seed Kansas State at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
Thus far: 23-7 overall, 11-7 Big 12.
Coach: Fred Hoiberg.
Big 12 Championship history: 8-16; championship in 2000.
Probable starters: Melvin Ejim, 6-6 Sr. F; Georges Niang, 6-7 Soph. F; Dustin Hoge, 6-6 Jr. F; DeAndre Kane, 6-4 Sr. G; Monte Morris, 6-2 Fr. G.
You need to know: Fred Hoiberg has won more games (85) in his first four seasons than any coach in Iowa State history. … Iowa State won 10 or more conference games for the third consecutive season, a first in school history. … The Cyclones are one of just three schools in Division I with three players averaging 16 or more points per game. … Iowa State is the only school in D-I to score at least 70 points in every game. … The Cyclones have eight victories over teams in the top 50 of the RPI. Only Kansas, Arizona and Michigan have more.
No. 5 Kansas State
Game info: The Wildcats will face No. 4 seed Iowa State at 11:30 a.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
Thus far: 20-11 overall, 10-8 Big 12.
Coach: Bruce Weber.
Big 12 Championship history: 11-17.
Probable starters: Will Spradling, 6-2 Sr. G; Marcus Foster, 6-2 Fr. G; Wesley Iwundu, 6-7 Fr. F; Thomas Gipson, 6-7 Jr. F; Shane Southwell, 6-7 Sr. F/G.
You need to know: Bruce Weber has won more games (47) in his first two seasons than any coach in K-State history. He surpassed current OU coach and K-State alum Lon Kruger. … Freshman guard Marcus Foster: 1st freshman in K-State history with 450 points, 100 rebounds, 75 assists and 40-plus 3-pointers (he has 75). … K-State gave up 70 or more points in four games; it has a 2-2 record in those contests. … The Wildcats have shown balance with seven different players leading the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. Nine players have at least one double-figure scoring game.
No. 6 West Virginia
Game info: The Mountaineers will face No. 3 seed Texas at 8:30 p.m. Thursday in the quarterfinals.
Thus far: 17-14 overall, 9-9 in Big 12.
Coach: Bob Huggins.
Big 12 Championship history: 0-1.
Probable starters: Devin Williams, 6-9 Fr. F; Remi Dibo, 6-7 Jr. F; Nathan Adrian, 6-9 Fr. F; Eron Harris, 6-3 Soph. G; Juwan Staten, 6-10 Jr. G.
You need to know: Juwan Staten is the first WVU player with more at least 500 points, 150 rebounds and 150 assists in a season. His totals are 571 points, 182 rebounds and 184 assists. … As West Virginia’s coach, Bob Huggins has wins over 23 ranked teams and nine wins over teams ranked in the top 10. … Huggins has won 10 conference tournament championships in four different conferences. … West Virginia has won 82 of its last 99 games when scoring 70 or more points in a game. … The Mountaineers have allowed 50 percent shooting just 35 games out of 235 with Huggins as coach.
No. 7 Baylor
Game info: The Bears will face No. 10 seed TCU at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the first round.
Thus far: 21-10 overall, 9-9 Big 12.
Coach: Scott Drew.
Big 12 Championship history: 11-16.
Probable starters: Cory Jefferson, 6-9 Sr. F; Isaiah Austin, 7-1 Soph. F; Kenny Chery, 5-11 Jr. G; Brady Heslip, 6-2 Sr. G; Royce O’Neale, 6-6 Sr. F/G.
You need to know: This is the first time Baylor has faced TCU in a conference tournament game since the 1992 Southwest Conference Tournament. … Over his last five games, junior point guard Kenny Chery is averaging 15 points per game and has a four to one assist/turnover ratio. The Bears are 7-1 since he returned to the lineup after suffering from turf toe. … Only three teams nationally have more top-50 RPI wins this season than Baylor’s 8 – Kansas has 12, Arizona has 10, Iowa State has nine. … Eight of Baylor’s 10 losses are to teams ranked in the RPI top 35.
No. 8 Oklahoma State
Game info: The Cowboys will face No. 9 seed Texas Tech at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the first round.
Thus far: 20-11 overall, 8-10 Big 12.
Coach: Travis Ford.
Big 12 Championship history: 22-15; championships in 2004, 2005.
Probable starters: Le’Bryan Nash, 6-7 Jr. F; Kamari Murphy, 6-8 Soph. F; Phil Forte III, 5-11 Soph. G; Markel Brown, 6-3 Sr. G; Marcus Smart, 6-4 Soph. G.
You need to know: Nine of Oklahoma State’s 11 losses have been by two or fewer possessions (two in overtime). … The Cowboys lead the Big 12 in turnover margin (plus 3.5). … Oklahoma State leads the Big 12 and ranks 12th nationally in scoring margin, outscoring opponents by 11.5 points per game. … The Cowboys also lead the Big 12 in free throws attempted (28.1 per game) and made (20.3). … In the five games since returning from suspension, Marcus Smart is averaging 19.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 6.4 assists and 4.4 steals. Smart was named first team All-Big 12.
No. 9 Texas Tech
Game info: The Red Raiders will face No. 8 seed Oklahoma State at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the first round.
Thus far: 14-17 overall, 6-12 Big 12.
Coach: Tubby Smith.
Big 12 Championship history: 13-17.
Probable starters: Dejan Kravic, 7-0 Sr. C; Robert Turner, 6-3 Jr. G; Toddrick Gotcher, 6-4 Soph. G; Jaye Crockett, 6-7 Sr. F; Jordan Tolbert, 6-7 Jr. F.
You need to know: Veteran coach Tubby Smith, the program’s fourth coach in four years, has Texas Tech trending upward. The Red Raiders have beaten two ranked teams, and Kansas needed a last-second basket to escape Lubbock with a victory. … The Red Raiders won six Big 12 games for the first time since 2008. … Senior forward Jaye Crockett leads the team in scoring (13.7 points per game) and rebounding (6.4 per game). … Texas Tech is 1-5 in games decided by five points or less and 6-10 in games decided by 10 points or less.
No. 10 TCU
Game info: The Horned Frogs will face No. 7 seed Baylor at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday in the first round.
Thus far: 9-21 overall, 0-18 Big 12.
Coach: Trent Johnson.
Big 12 Championship history: 0-1.
Probable starters: Kyan Anderson, 5-11 Jr. G; Brandon Parrish, 6-6 Fr. G; Hudson Price, 6-6 Fr. F; Jarvis Ray, 6-6 Sr. F; Karviar Shepherd, 6-10 Fr. C.
You need to know: The lowest seeded team has twice one its opening round game. Colorado beat No. 5 Baylor in 2 OTs in 2008, Nebraska beat No. 5 seed Missouri in 2010. Both teams lost in the quarterfinals. … TCU first team to go 0-18 in Big 12 history. Texas A&M (2004) and Baylor (1999) each went 0-16. … The Horned Frogs are down to seven scholarship players and has had more players miss games due to injuries than any team in Division I. … In two losses to Baylor, TCU was outscored 179-120 and out-rebounded 99-43.