KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Big 12 has bragged the past few years that it’s the toughest conference in college basketball, and its brutal double-round robin format has consistently produced strong RPI ratings.
When March Madness rolls around, the league keeps coming up empty.
After qualifying seven of its 10 teams for last year’s NCAA Tournament, conference aficionados were aghast when none reached the round of eight. No. 3 seeds Baylor and Iowa State were upset by 14-seeds in their openers, and second-seeded Kansas was bumped the opening weekend by Wichita State.
Might that dubious track record come into play Selection Sunday?
With conference tournaments beginning in just a couple of weeks, the Big 12 has more than half of its schools in the Top 25, led by second-ranked Kansas and No. 3 Oklahoma. West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas and Baylor give the conference a virtual certainty that it will qualify six for the field of 68 teams.
But sitting firmly on the bubble is Texas Tech, which is going through a renaissance under Tubby Smith. The Red Raiders knocked off the Sooners on Wednesday night to improve to 16-9 overall, and they still have winnable games remaining against TCU and Kansas State, and opportunities in Kansas and West Virginia to make another strong statement to the selection committee.
“At the beginning of the season, we didn’t close out those games like we needed to. I think we’re starting to mature,” senior guard Toddrick Gotcher said. “We’re growing up.”
But the Red Raiders (6-7 Big 12) haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2007 and may be hurt by the perception that the Big 12 is overrated when it comes to March Madness.
“We’ve been underdogs for quite a few games,” said Smith, whose team has won three straight against ranked teams. “We have the incentive to get to postseason play. It’s at hand and a possibility for us.”
Indeed, the Red Raiders appear on the way up.
Here are some others changing the bubble outlook:
ON THE RISE
• Alabama: The Crimson Tide (16-9, 7-6 SEC) have won five straight, including victories over Texas A&M and LSU, to give first-year coach Avery Johnson a legit shot at the dance. That ugly stretch of five losses in six league games earlier this year? A distant memory.
• Ohio State: Thad Matta’s crew has been playing catch-up ever since losing four straight to non-conference opponents. But the Buckeyes (17-10, 8-5 Big 10) have rattled off three straight wins, and can make a big statement with a strong finish. They play Nebraska before home-and-home games against No. 8 Michigan State sandwiched around a visit from fourth-ranked Iowa.
• Houston: Nobody has ever doubted that Kelvin Sampson can coach. After winning 13 games in his first season, the Cougars (19-7, 9-5) are on the precipice of 20 wins. They’ve also climbed onto the NCAA Tournament bubble along with fellow AAC foe Tulsa thanks to six wins in seven games.
• Wichita State: The Shockers can take the drama out of Selection Sunday by winning the Missouri Valley tourney, where they’ll be heavy favorites. But after a rough, injury filled start to the season, the Shockers (20-7, 13-2) have made a compelling at-large case with 15 wins in 17 games.
• Florida State: The Seminoles (16-10, 6-8 ACC) are led by a brilliant bunch of youngsters, but consecutive losses to Syracuse, Miami and Georgia Tech have hurt their NCAA Tournament hopes. They still have games against top-20 teams Duke and Notre Dame to turn things around.
• Marquette: Is there a more difficult team to figure out than the Golden Eagles? They won nine straight to enter Big East play, but a poor conference record may doom them. Marquette (16-10, 5-8) has lost three of four, though their lone victory did come against then-No. 20 Providence.
• Washington: The Huskies (15-11, 7-7 Pac-12) had a solid non-conference win over Texas, swept UCLA and nearly beat Arizona. But nearly may not be enough. Lorenzo Romar’s team has dropped five of its last six, including one to fellow bubble team California on Thursday night.
• Oregon State: Another Pac-12 team on the bubble, the Beavers (15-9, 6-7) had things rolling with three straight wins before stumbling at Cal. Their finishing kick begins Saturday at No. 16 Oregon, a good opportunity to prove they are still worthy of the NCAA Tournament.