Selection Sunday is just a weekend away, and that means casual college basketball fans will emerge to proclaim they know exactly what should put teams in or out of the NCAA Tournament, in the Big 12 or anywhere else.
Among the various bubble dramas to consider on March 17, the Big 12 is providing some of the most contextually significant and complicated ones.
I am writing this piece at 3 p.m. Eastern time on Saturday afternoon, meaning that I am writing this before Oklahoma’s game at Kansas State Saturday night. Even in its very best seasons, Oklahoma has had a very rough time in Bramlage Coliseum, so I would expect this year’s OU team to lose in Manhattan, Kansas. Maybe the Sooners will surprise us all and win, but let’s say for the sake of argument that they lose.
Here would be the reality in the Big 12 bubble picture:
The conference has five NCAA Tournament locks. In the sixth through eighth spots in the league, the Big 12 would have these teams:
— Texas, at 16-15, but with wins over North Carolina, Arkansas, Purdue, Kansas State, Kansas, Baylor, and Iowa State. Texas would share some common ground with bubble-hugging Indiana, another team with a ton of losses but a better grouping of high-end wins than many other bubble teams across the country.
— Oklahoma, at 7-11 in the Big 12, but with an excellent non-conference profile which includes wins over Wofford, Creighton, Florida, Dayton, and a lot of road or neutral victories. That 12-game non-con slate is why OU’s 7-11 in the Big 12 isn’t immediately disqualifying. The Wofford win has gained unexpectedly high value. OU’s win over Kansas is a significant poker chip on a resume as well.
— TCU, at 7-11 in the Big 12, with sweeps of Iowa State and Texas and wins over Baylor and Florida.
Of these three teams, Oklahoma is clearly the safest. Losing at Kansas State to fall to 7-11 in the Big 12 wouldn’t hurt OU in terms of selection, only seeding.
Now let’s get into the deeper aspects of these three situations.
If indeed Oklahoma loses at Kansas State, Texas would be seeded sixth at the Big 12 Tournament. OU would be seventh, TCU eighth. This means Texas would get a bye in the first round and would move directly to a Big 12 quarterfinal against the third seed. That might seem to be a good thing for Texas. Usually, teams on the bubble want to avoid a first-round game which drags down the computer numbers, even with a victory. However, Texas — being at 16-15 — might have wanted a chance to win a game to move to 17-15 and ensure that even with a quarterfinal loss in the Big 12 Tournament, it would have a winning record.
I know we’re not supposed to get bogged down in discussions about overall records. I have mentioned that conference records are not primary metrics when considering at-large teams. (You might not like that, and I respect the fact that you might not like it, but it is a reality.)
HOWEVER: There has never been a .500 team selected as an at-large participant in the NCAA Tournament. Would the selection committee really choose Texas as its first 16-16 team? Texas will become a HUGE talking point on Selection Sunday if it loses in the Big 12 Tournament (to a very good team) and falls to 16-16.
What would complicate the Texas situation even more is that if Texas is 16-16 on Selection Sunday, in a Big 12 where TCU and Oklahoma are both 7-11 in the league, you know that a firestorm would ensue if the committee selected all three teams. Even two of the three getting in would create a fair amount of debate, with an added argument about why one of the non-OU teams got in (TCU or Texas) and the other one got left out?
If Texas is excluded, Longhorn fans would rightly wonder why the wins over North Carolina, Purdue, Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State would be ignored.
If TCU is excluded, Frog fans would wonder why the committee took a .500 team (16-16) over the Frogs, even with TCU’s relatively weak non-conference profile.
If a mid-major such as the loser of the Murray State-Belmont Ohio Valley Tournament final did not get in, but two or three of these Big 12 bubble teams get in, Twitter will melt down on Selection Sunday.
This won’t necessarily mean that Texas DIDN’T deserve to make the Big Dance, but the problem would be — as it always is in these conversations involving high majors and mid majors — that Texas had 15 to 20 more chances to win high-end games than the small-conference team did. At what point should 16 losses matter?
Buckle up for the Big 12 bubble firestorm. It’s coming… and the league might have a hard time getting all three of its bubble teams in (creating an overall bid haul of eight bids for the NCAA Tournament).
What month is it again?
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