KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas State and Kansas tied for the regular-season Big 12 title.
That doesn’t mean they feel very good about themselves entering the league tournament.
The Wildcats lost a road game against Oklahoma State on Saturday, while the Jayhawks were routed by Baylor a few hours later in a game that would have given them the outright title.
Consider it proof that the Big 12 tournament, which starts tonight at Sprint Center, promises to be among the most intriguing and unpredictable in conference history.
“I’ve never seen the league better, with more teams that can win your league tournament, than we have now,” said the Jayhawks’ Bill Self, whose team has won five of the last seven editions.
“Not very often you go in and say, ‘Well, I think that team can positively win three games in a row,”’ Self said, “and there are six teams that can win three games in a row.”
Maybe more. Maybe even some that can win four in a row.
Seventh-seeded Texas, which is 0-6 in Big 12 tournament title games, faces league newcomer TCU on the opening night. The Longhorns have won three of their last four after a disastrous start to the season, their improved play coinciding with the return of star guard Myck Kabongo.
“I think this tournament may be the most competitive we’ve ever had, because there’s a lot of team that go into it thinking, ‘We have to do some work,”’ Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “We know what’s there. We need to win, it’s plain and simple, and not just one game. For us to do what we set out the year to do, we have to win the tournament.”
That’s the same situation that Texas Tech and league newcomer West Virginia are in as they prepare to play the other Wednesday night game. The winner advances to play top-seeded Kansas, while the Texas-TCU winner gets No. 2 seed Kansas State in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
The other quarterfinals are already set.
Third-seeded Oklahoma State faces sixth-seeded Baylor, which is coming off that eye-opening victory over the Jayhawks. But at 18-13 overall, the Bears are still desperately chasing marquee wins if they want to reach the NCAA tournament for the third time in four years.
“All season long, I’ve said there is parity in college basketball,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Our team can beat anybody in the nation, and as everybody has shown in college basketball, anybody can lose to anybody. We just need to keep the execution going.”
No. 4 seed Oklahoma and fifth-seeded Iowa State are sitting more comfortably than Baylor on the NCAA tournament bubble, but nevertheless, a win in their Thursday matchup would take much of the pressure off them come Selection Sunday.
“I like the rhythm we’re playing with right now,” said Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg, whose team has gone eight years without winning a game at the Big 12 tournament.
“We’re going to go down there and approach it like it’s a very important game, which it is,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to go down there with the right mindset.”