We’re going to find out a lot about the Kansas Jayhawks’ character starting with tonight’s Big 12 Conference Tournament opener against Texas.
Unlike most years, where KU is a lock for a No. 1 or 2 national seed, the Jayhawks currently are staring down the barrel at no better than a No. 5, maybe a 6, unless they make some noise this week.
This is a year unlike any other for KU coach Bill Self. His team had won or shared 14 straight Big 12 titles, but this year it encountered a spate of distractions. There was the injury to Udoka Azubuike, the ineligibility of Silvio DeSousa, the injury to Marcus Garrett, the departure of Lagerald Vick and the inability of Quentin Grimes to meet perhaps over-hyped expectations.
The Jayhawks now have the chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of their rabid fans as well as the national detractors. Self has had some extensive practice time leading into the tournament and it will be interesting to see how his team responds.
The first upset of the tournament occurred during Wednesday’s play-in round as No. 10 seed West Virginia stunned Oklahoma and you have to wonder what that will do to the Sooners’ chances of making the NCAA Tournament. It was thought their late-season win over Kansas would be enough to get them in, but losing to the conference bottom-feeder with so much on the line certainly has to be a strike against them.
In today’s quarterfinals, the best game will be the first as Iowa State and Baylor match up. I’ve been high on Iowa State all year, but it didn’t finish very strong, nor did Baylor for that matter. Both teams, though, are in the Big Dance.
Next up is Kansas State and TCU. The Wildcats are Wade-less as All-Big 12 Dean Wade is expected to miss the weekend. K-State, to me, probably has a No. 4 seed locked up and needs only one win to stay on that line. I know some bracketologists have the Wildcats as low as No. 6, but I can’t see it. They don’t like K-State’s pre-conference softie of a schedule, but I think more should be paid attention to its stellar road record in Big 12 play.
Texas Tech should have little trouble with West Virginia, which burned up a lot of emotional energy in the upset of Oklahoma. While KU should get past Texas, nothing surprises me about the Jayhawks this year and I’ll hardly be shocked if they lose.
I think Iowa State gets past Kansas State in the semifinals as the loss of Wade can’t be overstated. And I like Texas Tech to beat Kansas, and then win the title on Saturday as the Red Raiders could get as high as a No. 2 national seed.
ESPN expert analyst Jay Bilas isn’t high on the Big 12, outside of Texas Tech, which he has as the 10th-best team in the country. He has Kansas State at 18, KU at 21 and Iowa State at 25. He also has Baylor, Texas and TCU getting in, but Oklahoma is on the outside looking in.