My ‘Three Thoughts’ on the Big 12 and the NCAA Tournament, now that the bracket for the tournament was released on Sunday.
1. The Potential for Seven (in the Sweet 16)?
Remember a few weeks ago when we were hopeful that all seven Big 12 teams might be among the Top 24 teams in the bracket, meaning all of them would be No. 6 seeds or higher? Well those hopes were dashed on Sunday when we saw the bracket. Six of them did make that cut, with Oklahoma being the lone outlier at No. 8. From a bracket standpoint, the committee did manage to avoid any potential second-round matchups between Big 12 teams. That would seem to keep the door open for all seven teams reaching the Sweet 16. But let’s be realistic. Oklahoma will have a difficult road with a potential second-round matchup against Gonzaga. I think Texas has a difficult road, and I think that Texas Tech has a difficult road. If I’m a betting man, I’m thinking four Big 12 teams reach the Sweet 16, with an outside chance for a fifth. I don’t think the Big 12 will catch the six teams the ACC managed to put in the 2016 Sweet 16. On Monday, I’ll publish my rankings of the Big 12 teams that have, in my opinion, the easiest and hardest roads to the Sweet 16.
2. The Potential for three (in the Final Four)?
The NCAA did a really good job of making sure that none of the Big 12 teams could meet each other before the Elite Eight. That ensures that none of them will be picking each other off like they were in conference play. Still, you have to do a bit of projecting to see if three teams could make it to the Final Four, which has never happened in Big 12 history. Things working in the Big 12’s favor? Texas is in a region by itself, No more than two Big 12 teams are in any region, Kansas has a reasonable road to the Sweet 16, and Baylor is a No. 1 seed. Working against the Big 12? The NCAA Tournament. This event doesn’t lend itself to three teams from the same conference making the Final Four. It’s only happened once, back in 1985, when the Big East’s Georgetown, St. John’s, and Villanova reached the Final Four in Lexington, Kentucky. Villanova won that championship. I think two Big 12 teams have the ability to reach the Final Four. But then again, I think Gonzaga has that ability, and I think at least two Big Ten teams could make it too. See where I’m going? Too many teams, not enough spaces. We should be thrilled if two Big 12 teams could get into the Final Four. I think that’s the conference’s ceiling now that the bracket is out.
3. The Potential for a (National) Champ?
I won’t give you a prediction for the NCAA champion just yet, but I will say that the Big 12 is well equipped to have a team in the title game. That team doesn’t necessarily have to be Baylor, even though the Bears are the conference’s only No. 1 seed. There are three other teams that I think have the goods to get to the Final Four, and I will talk a bit more about those teams as we get ready for the first round. But this is one of those years where the Big 12 is a big player for the national title. Obviously, if you’re in the bracket opposite of Gonzaga, your chances improve just for that reason and that reason alone.
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