The loss of the NCAA Tournament and March Madness got you down? At Heartland College Sports, we get it. We’re down about it too. Well, leading up to the night that would have been the 2020 national championship game, April 6, we will rewind what happened to the Big 12 in March Madness for each year of its existence. Today, we dissect 1998.
The Big 12 in 1998
With the Big 12 now a year old, some things didn’t change. Kansas, once again, went through the rest of the league like a buzzsaw, winning 15 of its 16 league games (and, once again, lost to Missouri in league action). The Jayhawks finished undefeated at Allen Fieldhouse, won more than 30 games and went 4-1 against the AP Top 25. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State each went 11-5 in the Big 12, finishing four games behind the Jayhawks. The only other team with a winning league record was Nebraska, which improved itself by three wins in league play under head coach Danny Nee.
The conference had significant transition at the bottom. Iowa State head coach Tim Floyd piloted the Cyclones to a 5-11 league record and left after the season to take over the Chicago Bulls. Texas head coach Tom Penders managed the Longhorns to a 14-17 season in his final year at the helm, as he was let go after the season.
The Big 12 Tournament was, once again, at Kemper Arena in Kansas City. And, once again, the Jayhawks dominated. It outlasted Kansas State, destroyed Nebraska and pummeled Oklahoma in the finale. Once again, Jayhawks guard Paul Pierce was the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Raef LaFrentz made the All-Tournament team for the second straight year, as did Oklahoma’s Corey Brewer. Oklahoma’s Evan Wiley and Nebraska’s Tyronn Lue — yep, the one that coached the Cleveland Cavaliers to an NBA title — also made the team.
First Round 1998 NCAA Tournament
Just four teams made the NCAA Tournament in 1998 — Kansas (which was a No. 1 seed), Oklahoma State (No. 8), Oklahoma (No. 9) and Nebraska (No. 11). While Kansas and Oklahoma State advanced rather easily, the Sooners and Cornhuskers failed to get out of the first round. Nebraska fell to Arkansas, 74-65. It would be the Cornhuskers’ last NCAA Tournament berth until 2014. Oklahoma fell to Indiana in overtime, 94-87. Brewer ended the season averaging 20.8 points per game, while Evan Wiley and Eduardo Najera each averaged 10 points per game. In the loss to Indiana, Brewer led OU with 22 points.
Second Round 1998 NCAA Tournament
The runs of both Kansas and Oklahoma State would end on the tournament’s first weekend. Oklahoma State ran into a No. 1 seed, Duke, in the second round, and fell, 79-73. That Cowboys team featured four players that finished the season in double figures — Adrian Peterson (17.7 ppg), Brett Robisch (15.4 ppg), Desmond Mason (14.6 ppg) and Joe Adkins (12.6 ppg). Mason would eventually find his way to the NBA. The team also feature future Cowboys head coach Doug Gottlieb (I kid, I kid). Duke held Mason to eight points that afternoon and had a 45-38 lead at the half.
The Jayhawks found themselves upset, 80-75, by No. 8 seed Rhode Island. The Jayhawks were littered with players that had NBA futures — Pierce (20.4 ppg), LaFrentz (19.8 ppg), guard Billy Thomas (13.6 ppg) and guard Ryan Robertson (8.3 ppg). Pierce would leave for the NBA after the loss, while LaFrentz and Thomas were seniors.
Pierce and LaFrentz combined for 45 points against Rhode Island, but it wasn’t enough to lead them past the Rams. Future NBA guard Cuttino Mobley led the Rams with 27 points, one of three players in double figures.
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