As coach of an injury-plagued team staring up at peers from the bottom of the Big 12 men’s basketball standings, TCU’s Trent Johnson can testify to the talent of rivals from the nation’s top-ranked league in RPI.
“Everybody that knows anything about basketball knows there is seven NCAA Tournament teams here. There’s seven, make no mistake about it,” Johnson said while reflecting on the presence of former top-10 teams Baylor (21-10) and Oklahoma State (20-11) in today’s opening games at the Big 12 conference tournament.
“Two weeks ago, Oklahoma State was ninth in this league. A week before that, it was Baylor. I know this: I’d like to have this team I have right now go play in somebody else’s league. We wouldn’t be oh-for-the-world, I can tell you that.”
Instead, TCU (9-21) will carry its 18-game losing streak against Big 12 foes into Wednesday’s 8:30 p.m. matchup against Baylor at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
The Horned Frogs, the first Big 12 team to post an 0-18 record in league play, join Texas Tech (14-17) as the only schools in the 10-team tournament that enter with losing records and without at least an outside hope of landing an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday.
The latest bracket projections by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi and CBSSports.com’s Jerry Palm show the Big 12 with seven NCAA teams, all seeded between No. 2 (Kansas) and No. 10 (Oklahoma State). West Virginia (17-14), which posted a 9-9 record in league play and earned the No. 6 seed in the Big 12 tournament, is not projected as an NCAA participant by either analyst.
But the Mountaineers could change that in Kansas City. West Virginia, which scored a Saturday upset of regular-season champ Kansas, could earn the league’s automatic NCAA berth by claiming the Big 12 tournament title. Advancing to Saturday’s finals might place the Mountaineers in at-large discussions.
Bottom line: Baylor coach Scott Drew predicted Monday that seven teams, including his Bears, could win this week’s conference tournament. That figure might be low, based on records and seeds heading into Wednesday’s matchups between Baylor-TCU and Oklahoma State-Texas Tech.
The reality is that, for the first time in years, every school has a compelling reason to shine in Kansas City to solidify an NCAA berth or boost its seed when the 68-team field is announced Sunday. That includes TCU and Tech, two schools that must cut down the nets at the Sprint Center to extend their seasons past this week.
Asked what his team, with three players lost to season-ending injuries and one to academics, must do to beat a Big 12 opponent, TCU guard Kyan Anderson said: “Just stay positive and keep fighting. ... These teams are really good and they’ve proved this is one of the premier conferences in the United States.”
In order of Big 12 tournament seed, here is a look at what each school has on the line in Kansas City: