Commentary

Big 12 has message for committee

Teams don't want to be shortchanged at tournament because they beat each other up

Updated: April 8, 2010, 1:40 PM ET
By Jeff Caplan | ESPNDallas.com

Heading into the final five games of the regular season, the Big 12 is poised to put seven teams in the discussion for an NCAA tournament bid. A hot streak by Texas Tech or Oklahoma could expand it to eight or nine.

When's the last time more than six Big 12 teams got in?

Never.

The Big 12 can claim the country's No. 1 RPI, the best head-to-head record against the other power conferences (28-12; the ACC is second at 24-21), the nation's No. 1 team (Kansas) and a former No. 1 (Texas), and five teams currently ranked (tied with the Big East for most). With those credentials, is this the season the Big 12 will get seven selections -- or more?

"I would hope so," said Frank Martin, coach of the No. 7 Kansas State Wildcats. Martin and his Big 12 coaching brethren stood up one by one during Monday's coaches teleconference to defend the quality of the league and, without actually saying it, to implore the NCAA tournament committee to look beyond conference records.

[+] EnlargeFrank Martin
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesWhen it comes to picking the NCAA tournament field, Kansas State coach Frank Martin said, "Our league should not get discredited in any way, shape or form because teams are beating each other up in our league."

The league has been so competitive that beyond Kansas' 11-0 record, second-place Kansas State (8-3) owns the longest current win streak at four.

"It's the whole body of work. It's what you do in conference and in nonconference. It shouldn't be about the first 10 [games] or the last 10; it should be about what you do the whole year," Martin said.

"And our league should not get discredited in any way, shape or form because teams are beating each other up in our league. On the contrary, our league should be applauded because as a whole we had so much success in the nonconference schedule against all the quality teams across the country."

Martin knows nine conference wins aren't always good enough. The Wildcats were one of four Big 12 teams to finish 9-7 last season but were the only one left out of the field of 65. Texas A&M in 2008 became the only Big 12 team to get in with an 8-8 record.

Baylor, Missouri and Texas A&M entered the weekend tied for third at 7-4. All three, along with locks Kansas and Kansas State, are presumed to be in. Texas and Oklahoma State are next at 6-5, with the Longhorns figuring to get in, even at 8-8. If the Cowboys close at 8-8, hold your breath.

"There's at least seven [Big 12] teams that are right there," ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said. "A lot of it is going to come down to how the teams at the end of the line compare to other teams down the line."

A strong finish by Tech or Oklahoma, both 4-7, could leave a pocket of teams with records between 7-9 and 9-7. Seven teams are likely to have 20-plus overall victories heading into the Big 12 tournament. Big 12 coaches are quick to point out the league's impressive RPI and dominant record over the other five power conferences.

"Some people say it's the best conference in America, and others have other opinions," Baylor coach Scott Drew said, "but to me it's pretty much an open-and-shut case this year."

No Big 12 team has received an NCAA invite with seven wins, although eight teams in the past seven seasons have made it with a losing conference record. Only two of them -- Syracuse in 2006 and Maryland in '04 -- earned the automatic bid by winning its conference tournament.

While Tech and Oklahoma are viable candidates to go 3-2 down the stretch and finish 7-9, others could fall back. Take the Aggies. They've won four conference games by five points or fewer. Ahead are road games at Iowa State (Saturday), Baylor and Oklahoma and home games against Texas and Oklahoma State.

There's not a sure thing in the bunch.

Baylor must travel to Oklahoma State (Saturday), Oklahoma and Texas Tech and is home against A&M and Texas. And what if the Longhorns go 1-4 during a finishing stretch that includes games at Texas Tech (Saturday), A&M and Baylor and home contests against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma?

Sounding a bit like his legendary father, Texas Tech coach Pat Knight said you never know how the selection committee will sort things out.

"If you look back, ACC teams have gotten in with below-.500 records. Teams keep beating up on each other [in the Big 12]. I won't be surprised if someone gets in at 7-9, but eight's a good bet," Knight said.

"It depends who's on the committee, that's the problem. The committee is human beings, so everybody has their favorites and everybody has people they're trying to get in."

Since 1985 when the tournament expanded to 64 teams, 53 have gone in with .500 conference records and 33 with losing records. (Interestingly, Iowa State did it three times in the old Big Eight).

"I'm a big believer in the basketball committee. If they make a mistake, it's only after splitting a lot of hairs," ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla said. "The conference records don't impress me only from the standpoint that because of unbalanced schedules in every league, teams in the [Big 12] South don't play Kansas but one time and won't see Kansas State more than once either, arguably the two best teams in the league right now.

"The overall bodies of work are going to be such that the Big 12 is going to have seven or eight teams in the conversation for NCAA bids, and it wouldn't surprise me if six or seven get in."

Jeff Caplan covers colleges for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

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