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Baylor Basketball

Five Storylines: The Big 12 Tournament hasn't been friendly to the South

March 11, 2020
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The Big 12 tournament begins tonight in Kansas City. In the 23-year history of the event, only five programs have won titles. Here’s a breakdown.

Kansas - 11
Iowa State - 5
Oklahoma - 3
Oklahoma State - 2
Missouri - 2

Only three teams—Kansas (5), Iowa State 94) and Missouri (1)—have won titles since the tournament made Kansas City its permanent home in in 2010. In fact, only these three teams have won the title since 2005.

Here are five storylines entering this week’s tournament:

1. Texas Tech and Texas on the bubble - Perhaps no game in any conference tournament—nationally—has as many bubble ramifications as Thursday’s quarterfinal showdown between the Red Raiders and Longhorns at 11:33 a.m. The prevailing thought is that the winner will be NCAA tournament-bound while the loser heads to the NIT.

Texas Tech (18-13, 9-9) has lost four straight but looked strong in its two most recent setbacks: a 71-68 overtime loss at Baylor and a 66-62 home defeat against Kansas. The Red Raiders’ only marquee wins are against Louisville and West Virginia. But it was also in position to win each of these five games: Kansas (twice), Baylor (twice) and Kentucky. Instead Chris Beard’s squad lost each of them a combined 17 points.

The point is that Texas Tech is a pretty darn good team, even if its record doesn’t show it.

Texas (19-12, 9-9) had won five in a row—including a 68-58 upset over the Red Raiders in Lubbock—before an embarrassing 81-59 home loss to Oklahoma State in Saturday’s regular-season finale. Shaka Smart has done an amazing job of getting his team to regroup after losing Jas Febres and Jericho Sims to season-ending injuries. But his job could be in jeopardy if Texas loses Thursday and fails to make the NCAA tournament.

2. Southern struggles - The last seven Big 12 tournaments—and nine of the past 10—have been won by either Kansas or Iowa State. The last time a team from the “southern” region of the Big 12 won the postseason tournament was in 2005, when Joey Graham led Oklahoma State to a victory over Texas Tech.

Also … no team from Texas has ever won the Big 12 tournament. Texas has appeared in the title game six times and Baylor has made it three times, losing to Missouri twice and Iowa State once.

Speaking of Baylor, the Bears have not fared well at the event in recent years, as they are 0-3—or “one-and-done”—the past three seasons. Baylor was blown out by Iowa State 83-66 in last year’s quarterfinals 83-66. In 2018 it was West Virginia that thumped the Bears 75-63. And in 2017 they lost to Kansas State 70-64.

3. Kansas chasing Baylor’s streak - The 23-game win streak that Baylor uncorked earlier this season was the most by any program in the 24-year history of the Big 12. It could be short-lived. Kansas enters this week’s event having won 17 straight games. That number will increase to 20 if the Jayhawks claim the Big 12 tournament title like so many people expect. Then they’d be in line to break the record by winning four straight NCAA tournament games and reaching the Final Four. The Jayhawks are expected to be the No.1 overall seed when the brackets are released Sunday.

4. Baylor’s health - Baylor’s success this weekend—and beyond—depends largely on the status of Mark Vital (knee tendinitis), Tristan Clark (lingering knee pain from meniscus surgery), Matthew Mayer (bruised hip), Devonte Bandoo (deep thigh bruise) and MaCio Teague (still recovering from sprained wrist).

Clark isn’t expected to play this weekend, but the rest of the Bears’ wounded warriors will continue to battle through pain to help the Bears advance as far as possible in the postseason. It will be interesting to see how a few days off earlier this week helped Baylor’s injured players, who desperately need to play and get some good mojo going in following a rough stretch that has seen the Bears drop three of their past five games.

5. Battle for seeds - Baylor has likely locked up a No. 1 NCAA tournament seed no matter what. A victory in Thursday’s quarterfinal against either TCU or Kansas State would absolutely cement it.

Kansas is in good position to receive the No. 1 overall seed, but it would be interesting to see if Baylor would be in the mix for that honor if it beats the Jayhawks in Saturday’s Big 12 tournament championship game. That would give Baylor two wins over Bill Self’s team, including one in Lawrence.

The No. 1 overall seed is a big deal because —for the first time ever—the school that receives it gets to choose the regional site it would be sent to if it advanced to the Sweet 16. Baylor would obviously prefer to play in the South Region in Houston, but there’s a prevailing belief that Kansas does, too. If the Jayhawks pick Houston, the Bears and their fans should prepare to go to either the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis or the East Regional in New York City. Gonzaga is all but assured to be in the West Regional in Los Angeles.

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Five Storylines: The Big 12 Tournament hasn't been friendly to the South

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