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With bubble teams aplenty, Big 12 tournament should deliver madness

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) takes off with the ball after picking off a pass to Oklahoma State guard Kendall Smith (1) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Devonte' Graham (4) takes off with the ball after picking off a pass to Oklahoma State guard Kendall Smith (1) during the first half, Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

The words March and madness so easily roll off the tongue because postseason college basketball so often delivers the upsets and wild finishes fans crave.

Those searching for such chaos in the days ahead need look no further than this week’s Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo.

The conference’s depth means more intriguing matchups, for sure. But the atmosphere Wednesday through Saturday at Sprint Center figures to benefit even more from the fact so many of the league’s teams need a win (or wins) to cement their invitations to the Big Dance.

Entering the week, eight of the Big 12’s 10 teams project as NCAA Tournament worthy, according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi, with a ninth painfully close to joining the fray.

What’s more, half of the Big 12 field is comprised of bubble teams, so the results will directly impact their postseason livelihoods.

Solidly in the field

  • Kansas (24-7): No. 1 seed, West

  • Texas Tech (23-8): No. 4 seed, South

  • West Virginia (22-9): No. 4 seed, East

  • TCU (22-10): No. 6 seed, East

Some work left to do

  • Oklahoma (18-12): No. 10 seed, Midwest

  • Kansas State (21-10): No 10 seed, South — 1 of ESPN’s Last 4 Byes

  • Baylor (18-13): No. 11 seed, South — 1 of ESPN’s Last 4 Byes

  • Texas (18-13): No. 11 seed, West — 1 of ESPN’s Last 4 In

  • Oklahoma State (18-13): 1 of ESPN’s Last 4 Out

Kansas coach Bill Self wouldn’t go as far Monday as to say the Big 12 tournament will be unpredictable, but he wasn’t about to rule it out, either.

“I will tell you this. I think it’s going to be predictable in this sense, that you will have teams playing harder this weekend than they’ve played all year long,” Self said, “and this is a very hard-playing league.”

While Self’s Jayhawks, Texas Tech, West Virginia and TCU all will use the Big 12 stage to try and improve their seeding for the national tournament, players from Oklahoma, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas and Oklahoma State all enter with sufficient incentive to show the NCAA selection committee they deserve invites to the 68-team field.

2018 Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament Bracket

2018 Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament Bracket

Saturday in Stillwater, Okla., the Jayhawks experienced firsthand what a team playing for its postseason life looks like. The Cowboys had to complete a regular-season sweep of Kansas just to get into the NCAA Tournament conversation.

KU, the 14-time defending league champion, will face either OSU or Oklahoma on Friday, in the Big 12 quarterfinals.

“They’re going to play harder — whoever we play — than Oklahoma State did against us on Saturday,” Self predicted.

Such intensity should show up in every Big 12 tournament game this week, particularly when considering how evenly teams match up.

Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, who square off Wednesday in the first round, split their regular-season series. Same for Kansas State and TCU, who meet up Thursday.

KU split with OU and was swept by Oklahoma State. Texas Tech, which will take on either Texas or Iowa State in the quarterfinals, went 1-1 against both.

The outcomes are uncertain, but it’s safe to expect heated games and at least a little mayhem.

“There’s something about getting groups together and playing amongst your peers in one setting like that that drives the competitive spirit of everyone,” Self added. “I certainly think it’s going to be off-the-charts good.”

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