As expected, the Big 12 turned the nation’s highest conference RPI rating into seven NCAA men’s basketball tournament berths on Selection Sunday.
The next step, league coaches said Monday, is to win enough games during March Madness to validate season-long claims that the Big 12 is the nation’s strongest basketball league. A good start, said Kansas coach Bill Self, would be to get at least one team back to the Final Four for the first time since 2012.
That year, the Jayhawks lost to Kentucky in the national championship game and Baylor reached the Elite Eight. No league team has advanced that far in the tournament since those schools in 2012.
“There is something to validating what people have said and to show our league is as good as we know it is,” Self said during Monday’s media teleconference with Big 12 coaches. “Having multiple teams do well and advance validates that nationally.”
Heading into Thursday’s games, all seven NCAA-bound teams from the Big 12 will be the higher-seeded participant in their opening matchups. That list includes Kansas (30-4), the tournament’s top overall seed, as well as No. 2 Oklahoma (25-7), No. 3 West Virginia (26-8), No. 4 Iowa State (21-11), No. 5 Baylor (22-11), No. 6 Texas (20-12) and No. 8 Texas Tech (19-12).
Technically, that makes all seven teams the favorite — based on seeds — in their opening matchups. Could the Big 12 sweep all seven games?
“I think everyone in our league has the opportunity to do that,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said.
There is something to validating what people have said and to show our league is as good as we know it is.
Kansas coach Bill Self
In terms of getting at least one team back to the Final Four, Baylor coach Scott Drew said: “We’re looking forward to having a better March this year. All of us are tired of answering that question. Hopefully, we step up and have a better showing.”
More for Ridley
Texas coach Shaka Smart said he is “hopeful” that he can use center Cameron Ridley, who missed most of the regular season because of a broken foot, for up to 15 minutes in Friday’s NCAA opener against Northern Iowa (8:50 p.m., TBS).
Ridley played only two minutes in last week’s loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament, his first action since December. In the season’s first 11 games, Ridley averaged 12.7 points and 10.0 rebounds for the Longhorns.
“We’re hopeful he’ll be able to give us significant time,” Smart said, citing the 15-minute mark as a likely top-end estimate. “He’s a good player. He changes your approach around the basket as a scorer and shot-blocker.”
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who left Kansas State to oversee the Mountaineers’ program, will match wits against one of his former K-State assistants when the Mountaineers meet Stephen F. Austin in a Friday contest (6:10 p.m., KTVT/Ch. 11).
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The Lumberjacks (27-5) are led by Brad Underwood, who has posted an 88-13 record and won three Southland Conference championships at the school in Nacogdoches. Underwood, 52, looms as a potential candidate for the vacancy at TCU.
“He’s obviously done a great job,” Huggins said. “I knew Brad well before I hired him at K-State. I’ve got great respect for him and his ability to coach basketball.”
Small but ready
Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith said the Red Raiders will look small physically during Thursday’s matchup against Butler (21-10) in the Midwest Region (11:40 a.m., truTV). Then again, that’s nothing new for a team making its first NCAA appearance since the Bobby Knight era (2007).
9 Years since the last NCAA Tournament appearance for Texas Tech, which opens Thursday against Butler
“They’re big and bulky. That’s our real concern,” Smith said. “Every game this year, we’ve been outsized and people have been bigger than us.”
In terms of ending the school’s nine-year drought in NCAA play, Smith said: “We really were missing it, so we’re excited to be back.”