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Does the Big 12 still deserve eight bids for the NCAA Tournament?

March Madness by the numbers: Costs, profits, gamblers and traveling fans

The NCAA Tournament is upon us, but the madness of March goes beyond the court. The amount of money the TV industry, its advertisers and fans spend on the tournament are pretty crazy too.
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The NCAA Tournament is upon us, but the madness of March goes beyond the court. The amount of money the TV industry, its advertisers and fans spend on the tournament are pretty crazy too.

It’s never been done before.

No league in the history of the NCAA Tournament has sent 80 percent of its members to the Big Dance, but the Big 12 could become the first on Sunday.

The conference is the best in the country and has eight teams with cases for entry. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby didn’t argue that this may be the deepest the conference has been in its history.

“It’d be hard to make a case to the contrary,” Bowlsby said. “We’re pretty good top to bottom.”

Just look at the bottom two teams -- Oklahoma State and West Virginia.

Oklahoma State boasts a non-conference win over No. 9 LSU, and closed the season by winning two of its final three. West Virginia, meanwhile, had wins over Kansas and Iowa State in regular-season conference play, and then stunned Oklahoma and Texas Tech to reach the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament.

West Virginia is the first 10-seed in tournament history to reach the semifinals in 20 years. The Mountaineers haven’t given up on their NCAA dreams yet, either, hoping to win two more to get the Big 12’s automatic bid.

West Virginia dancing may be a pipe dream, and if it happened could cost another league team a bid, but the tournament selection committee will be in an interesting spot with the Big 12.

They could set new precedents multiple ways with the highest percentage of a league’s teams getting in, and possibly handing an at-large bid to a .500 team in Texas.

“We do not look at conference necessarily,” said Bernard Muir, Stanford’s athletics director who is serving as the tournament selection committee chair. “We’re looking at a team’s overall body of work. I know you heard that committee speak before. But truly we’re not looking within a conference to see how well did they do necessarily. We’re looking at the games played. In some conferences, there might be more Q1 games or Q2 games than others.

“We’re really looking at it on a team-by-team basis. There’s no maximum or minimum number of at-large bids based on a particular conference in our minds.”

The Big 12 has five teams locked in the tournament -- Texas Tech, Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State and Baylor. The general belief is that at least two of the three from TCU, Oklahoma and Texas, will also make it, and West Virginia is still alive.

TCU has won two of its final three games and reached the 20-win mark, but went just 7-11 in conference play.

Oklahoma also had a losing record in conference and sits at 19-13, but has non-conference wins over schools such as Florida, Wofford and Creighton.

And Texas is at the .500-mark, but has the best ranking in the NCAA’s NET system of the three programs with non-conference wins over schools such as Purdue and North Carolina. Texas seems far-fetched at the moment, though, considering it lost five of its last six games.

But there’s a chance the Big 12 sends eight into the field come Sunday.

“It’s never been done before,” Bowlsby said. “To have eight of our 10 in the tournament would be extraordinary. It just speaks to how good the league is from top to bottom. There’s just no days off. I’ve felt sorry for some of our teams in the second division because wins are so hard to come by. It’s a zero-sum game. Who’s going to lose in order for you to win?”

Bowlsby acknowledged he had been skeptical of the conference landing eight teams in the Big Dance two weeks ago, but that changed with the “bubble” teams winning in the stretch run.

Texas beat Iowa State; TCU beat Texas; and Oklahoma beat Kansas.

“I was skeptical because the wins had to be distributed in a very specific way in order to make that happen,” Bowlsby said. “Over the last two weeks, it’s sort of broken that way. I really thought we would probably be more like six just cause the same people would lose and that’s not what happened. The bottom of our league had eight wins.”

And now maybe eight teams in the Dance.

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