KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The dream of the Big 12 Conference placing 90 percent of its teams in the NCAA Tournament quite likely died during Thursday’s quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
Three teams on the bubble lost when they needed to win. Oklahoma State couldn’t beat top-seeded Kansas for a third time, Baylor couldn’t prevent being swept in three games by third-seeded West Virginia and Texas didn’t have enough to knock off Texas Tech, the No. 2 seed.
The coaches and players in the Big 12 are convinced that every team but for Iowa State should be included in this year’s bracket. Unfortunately, those who are tasked with being objective analysts disagree.
“It’s beyond optimistic,” Jerry Palm, the bracket expert for CBSSports.com, said in a telephone interview. “There’s no way all nine make it. No way. I can’t imagine a scenario where nine get in. There are too many on the bubble that won’t be able to get done what they need to get done.”
Palm lists Oklahoma as one of his last four in. Oklahoma State, which beat the Sooners twice, failed to answer when opportunity knocked with a three-game sweep of the regular-season champions. Palm thinks that loss ends any talk of the Cowboys earning a bid.
Fran Fraschilla, working the Big 12 tournament for ESPN, says that while Oklahoma and Texas might have a better resume than Oklahoma State, the “eye test” indicates that the Cowboys are playing better than the Sooners or the Longhorns.
“I think eight Big 12 teams are getting in, I just don’t know who will be seven and eight,” he said. “It’s about eyes, ears and numbers. The numbers are the analytics, the eyes are what the committee sees and the ears are what they’re hearing from the people they trust in the basketball world.”
The Cowboy were picked to finish last. One of their nonconference victories was over Pitt (a game scheduled two years ago) and the Panthers went 0-18 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. First-year coach Mike Boynton believes that his team is the victim of preconceived notions.
“No way they’re going to be good,” he said of how his team was assessed before the season. “No way they can win eight games in the Big 12. We finished with the 6th best record in the best league in America. It’s confirmation bias in some ways that people just can’t accept what they see because then it invalidates what they said a long time ago.”
The aptly named BracketMatrix.com compiles 80 bracket projections. In its last update Thursday morning, there were eight Big 12 teams seeded 11th or higher – Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas and Baylor. Oklahoma State was listed in the “first four out” and didn’t help their cause by not reaching the semifinals here.
Kansas coach Bill Self made a significant campaign contribution to his alma mater.
“I’ve watched them, the win at Florida State early on, the way they finished the league even though… you go 6-4 down the stretch in the league, people may say that’s not a real hot team,” he said in a backstage hallway at the Sprint Center.
“In our league, as good as it is, if you go two games above .500 the last 10, you’ve played your butt off. So I don’t think there’s any doubt they’re a tournament team. I’d be really disappointed for them and our league if they don’t get in. I know there’s a lot of teams out there would really dread that first round matchup, because they can score and they are ridiculously athletic and there’s as tough as any team in the league.”
The top-seeded Jayhawks were able to win convincingly without sophomore center Udoka Azubuike, who is out with a sprained knee. His replacements – Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa – combined for 14 points and 14 rebounds. KU is projected as a No. 1 NCAA seed but Azubuike’s injury could influence the committee to drop Kansas to a No. 2 seed.
“I think Kansas is between a one and a two anyway,” Fraschilla said. “They’ll either be a one seed in the West or a two seed in the Midwest (in Omaha). I actually think they’d be better off out West. But Kansas is in great shape. They showed today they can be good without Azubuike. If they win the Big 12 tournament, that just boosts that.”
TCU is safely in and the school will make its first NCAA Tournament appearance in 20 years. Second-year coach Jamie Dixon admits that it “doesn’t seem plausible” that nine Big 12 teams will be in the 68-team field. But he believes the argument can be compelling.
“You need a lot of things to factor in, what happens in nationally in other conferences will decide it. But the numbers don’t lie, you can’t hide for the facts – what the league did in the nonconference, the fact that a team didn’t run away and the wins were more evenly distributed. “
Robbie Hummel manning the mic
Robbie Hummel couldn’t stay healthy as a player but he’s keeping busy as a rookie broadcaster.
The former Purdue player, whose college career was limited by two ACL knee injuries in an eight-month span, had brief careers in the NBA and overseas. A year ago, he was playing in Moscow and realized he no longer had the passion or work ethic he believed was necessary to justify playing.
He turned to broadcasting and this year has split time between the Big Ten Network and ESPN. He is sharing analyst duties for ESPN’s telecasts of the Big 12 tournament.
“This year at ESPN we’ve had two new guys – Robbie and Tom Crean – who have been absolutely great,” said Dave Flemming, who along with Hummel did play-by-play on Wednesday’s first-round games at the Sprint Center. “They have made it look easy. Robbie’s really good at the editorial part. He doesn’t say stuff that doesn’t fit. Some new guys say stuff just to be talking.”
Hummel says he’s “had a blast” this season, especially when it comes to visiting different campuses and venues. Earlier this season, he worked the second Bedlam game in Stillwater.
Hummel’s biggest adjustment has been doing what he did as a player – finding a rhythm. Knowing when to speak and then convey a cogent thought succinctly has required repetition.
“This has made basketball fun again,” he said two hours before Bedlam Three. “I’ve been able to do some really cool stuff. I’ve always watched a lot of basketball so the prep work for that has come naturally. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you get exposed pretty quickly. The announcers and the producers have all been great in giving me pointers and advice.”
At 28, Hummel is manning a mic at a time when several of his peers are making NBA millions. According to Flemming, that youth serves him well.
“It’s a big advantage for him,” Flemming said. “One of the biggest stories in media this year was Tony Romo. He could say, ‘I played against this player or this coach.’ Robbie in a lot of ways can do the same things with coaches. He’s recently been in the shoes of a player. There’s a freshness to him.”
Quote of the day
Kansas State redshirt freshman Cartier Diarra on the Wildcats playing top-seeded Kansas in Friday’s semifinals:
“This is what we want. Kansas is the team to beat. We can’t let them beat us a third time. We just have to be ready to ball. I like challenges. I want pay back.”
Stat of the day
319: Number of 3-pointers made by Kansas this season, breaking the record of 318 made threes set last season. The Jayhawks, who 8-of-20 from three in their quarterfinal victory over Oklahoma State, also have set a school record of 802 3-point attempts.