The Big 12 Conference is well-represented in the NCAA tournament, with six of 10 teams earning a spot in the big dance.
Conference champion Kansas is the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, and the No. 2 seed overall. They will play the winner of North Carolina Central and UC-Davis in the first round, after the two square off in a First Four matchup on March 14 to be the region’s No. 16 seed.
Should the Jayhawks advance, they will play the winner of No. 8 Miami and No. 9 Michigan State. The Hurricanes finished 21-11 and seventh in the ACC. Their quality wins include home victories over North Carolina, Virginia and Duke. The Spartans, meanwhile, finished 19-14, with wins over Michigan, Wisconsin and Northwestern.
Two other Big 12 schools found themselves placed in the Midwest, the first of which is Big 12 tournament champion Iowa State. The Cyclones are the region’s No. 5 seed, and will face the high-scoring No. 12 seed Nevada in the first round. If they advance, they could potentially face No. 4 Purdue before a theoretical rubber match with Kansas in the Sweet Sixteen.
Also in the Midwest region is No. 10 Oklahoma State. The Cowboys will face No. 7 Michigan in their first game, and Wolverines enter enter as one of the country’s hottest teams. If the Cowboys advance, a potential matchup with No. 2-seed Louisville looms in the second round.
The inclusion of three Big 12 schools in one region is a bit unusual. While it makes sense to group them all within the Midwest, it paved the way for several potential rematches in later rounds, should the teams advance. Kansas coach Bill Self was surprised to see the region unfold the way it did.
“I was really, really surprised,” Self said. “Not saying [it was] wrong, but I was really, really, really, really, surprised.”
Kansas senior center Landen Lucas acknowledges the appeal of a potential rematch with either Iowa State or Oklahoma State, but says the team is trying to remain focused and not look ahead too much.
“Yeah, that would be fun,” Lucas said. “Like I said earlier, it's cool to look at everybody in your bracket to see who you could potentially play. But we know in order to play any of those guys, we've got to make it out of weekend one, and we've got some tough match-ups.”
In the East region, Baylor locked up the No. 3 seed. The Bears finished third in the Big 12, but received the second-highest seed of any conference member. They will face New Mexico State in the first round, and sit in the same region as both the No. 1 overall seed Villanova and No. 2 Duke, which it could potentially face in the Sweet Sixteen.
The Big 12’s second-place finisher, West Virginia, received the No. 4 seed in the West region. It will face No. 13 Bucknell in the first round, a program whose most notable claim to fame is its upset of Kansas in 2005, when Bucknell was a No. 14-seed and a Kansas was a No. 3.
If the Mountaineers get past Bucknell, they could potentially face No. 5 Notre Dame before possibly getting a chance to knock off No. 1 Gonzaga.
It was uncertain entering Selection Sunday whether or not Kansas State would earn a spot, but the Wildcats secured a play-in berth as one of the final at-large selections. They will square off with Wake Forest in the First Four, fighting for the chance to be the region’s No. 11 seed. If the Wildcats win, they will face No. 6 Cincinnati, before a potential matchup with high-powered No. 3 UCLA.
Despite the rivalry between the two schools, Self was happy to see Kansas State make it in.
“I was really happy to see, and I know you may not believe this, but I was actually [happy] to see our league get another team,” Self said.
In the play-in, the Wildcats will face a Wake Forest team coached by former Kansas legendary forward and assistant coach Danny Manning. The narrative is hard to ignore.
“The fact that … [Kansas State coach Bruce Weber] gets the chance to play Danny makes for a little interesting twist as well in that play-in game,” Self said.
Kansas State’s First Four matchup will kick off things for the conference on March 14. Iowa State and West Virginia will follow next with their first games on Thursday, March 16, with Kansas, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State (if it advances) playing on the following day.
— Edited by Frank Weirich