The Big 12 again has seven teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Regular-season champion Kansas is a No. 2 seed, and the No. 3 seeds in three of the four regions are from the Big 12 — tournament champion Iowa State, Oklahoma and Baylor. The league also has the nation’s top cumulative RPI and five top-20 teams in this season’s final AP poll.
“We’re arguably the best conference in the country,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said Monday. “Still, we need to validate that with some tournament wins and some teams advancing.”
This is the second year in a row with seven NCAA teams, making the Big 12 the only league that can boast 14 bids in that span. But only Baylor and Iowa State made it past the opening weekend of the tournament last March, then both lost in the Sweet 16.
“I think it is time for our league to step up, and last year was an off year, and we certainly contributed to that by losing in the first weekend, the second game,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We do need to do something as a league to validate what everybody else has said about us all year long.”
The Jayhawks are the only Big 12 team to make the NCAA Final Four the past 10 seasons, beating Memphis for the national title in 2008. They lost to Kentucky in the 2012 championship game.
Big 12 teams made up half the Final Four in 2002 and 2003, with Kansas in both times — joined by Oklahoma in 2002 and Texas the next year. Oklahoma State got to the Final Four in 2004.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, whose team is in its third Big 12 season, isn’t sure the league has to prove anything in the NCAA Tournament.
“Sometimes what gets lost in the excitement of this month is that we’ve already played 30 games. We’re the No. 1 RPI league in the country,” Huggins said.
“It’d be great if four of our teams end up in the Sweet 16, or seven of them, really, but ... everybody says well, let’s see what happens with the test of time. I think we have kind of shown what we do over the test of time.”
Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford, like the rest of the coaches, takes pride in the Big 12 doing well in March. But he doesn’t believe the NCAA Tournament is a true indication of how strong a team or a league is based on what happens in those games.
“I don’t care what happens from this point ... we have the best league in America from top to bottom,” Ford said.
“It would nice to see our league take a step forward,” Self said. “I also think this. I don’t think you take away that our league’s had a great year. Just like was the SEC the best league in football this past year? Absolutely. They had a bad bowl season.”