TEMPLE, Texas — As a college basketball fan, March is like Christmas every year. This season is no different.
Monday night, we got an incredible buzzer-beater from Chattanooga to clinch the NCAA Tournament bid from the SoCon, taking Furman's first NCAA berth in 40 years with one shot. So much excitement and the month is just getting started.
Starting Wednesday, the Big 12 Conference should add to the entertainment value this month. Not just in men's basketball, but with both the men's and women's tournaments.
Start on the men's side, an always-exhilarating tournament that's sure to be the same this year.
The Big 12 was wackier than normal in 2022, with only four men's teams finishing at or above .500 in conference play: Kansas, Baylor, Texas Tech and Texas.
That means of the nine teams in Kansas City (remember, Oklahoma State is ineligible for the postseason), as many as three could hurt or help their NCAA Tournament chances and/or seeding: Iowa State, TCU and Oklahoma.
ESPN's Joe Lunardi, CBS's Jerry Palm and Bart Torvik (developer of the NCAA-recognized Torvik computer projections) all agree in that the Sooners are on the outside looking in heading to KC.
On recent episodes of CBS Sports' Eye on College Basketball podcast with Matt Norlander and Gary Parrish, the pair stated they believe Baylor is a lock for No. 1 seed and the Big 12 could get two on the top line if Kansas plays well in Kansas City, depending upon what happens in the other conference tournaments.
If either Kansas State or West Virginia, who play Wednesday in the first round, were to upset Kansas and continue on to steal the Big 12's automatic bid, that could shake up the conference's footprint on the bracket Sunday, too.
The top four seeds in the Big 12 have stubbed their toes against teams in the bottom half this season. Kansas was swept by the Texas schools on the road, Baylor lost to Oklahoma State at home, Texas lost to Kansas State and Iowa State & Texas Tech struggled away from Lubbock all season, losing on the road against each team that finished in the bottom half of the regular-season standings.
I say all that to point out the parity in the conference as the postseason heats up. Think about Thursday's quarterfinals:
- Texas swept TCU, but TCU has been playing better since the second matchup and upset Tech at home
- Kansas was down 17 to Kansas State at one point in Manhattan
- Baylor struggled to pull away from Oklahoma at home in January before eventually getting a pair of double-digit wins against the Sooners
- Tech split with Iowa State, with both teams winning at home
On the women's side, the Big 12 is deeper than it's been in recent memory.
As of Tuesday morning, ESPN's Charlie Creme has six Big 12 teams in to the field. That would tie 2017 for the most in five NCAA tournaments.
The needle has been moving toward that direction in the Big 12 in recent years. In 2020, TCU was a No. 2 seed in Kansas City for the first time.
That offseason, Texas hired two-time Final Four head coach Vic Schaefer.
Kansas' Brandon Schneider was just named the first Big 12 Women's Basketball Coach of the Year from KU since 1997.
Nicki Collen became the first coach not named Kim Mulkey to win a Big 12 regular-season championship at Baylor.
More so, the Big 12 champ has more losses in the conference regular season than any Big 12 champ since Baylor started its tear of a dozen straight, proving how competitive the league in this season.
Translated: the parity is there, too.
In the top five seeds at the women's tournament:
- Baylor split with No. 6-seed Kansas State and was swept by No. 4-seed Oklahoma
- Iowa State swept everyone except No. 3-seed Texas and No. 1-seed Baylor, which swept the Cyclones
- Texas split with No. 5-seed Kansas and Oklahoma
- Oklahoma was Jekyll & Hyde this season, splitting with Kansas State, Texas, No. 8-seed Texas Tech and Kansas
- Kansas got swept by Baylor and Iowa State, split with Oklahoma, Texas & Kansas State but swept the bottom four in the league
Although basketball isn't played on paper, both Big 12 Tournaments are poised to be incredibly interesting in 2022.
And the first mostly-normal basketball season in two years couldn't be a better time to have it.
So, starting Wednesday, let's all unwrap the presents that March has to offer before our brackets get torn to shreds in the first two days of the NCAA Tournament next week.
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