BY JOHN ROHDE
March 3, 2017
Kansas and Oklahoma State are the only two teams to already have clinched their seeds for the Big 12 men’s basketball tournament next week at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
It just so happens these same two teams close out the regular season by meeting at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
By virtue of winning their 13th straight Big 12 regular-season crown, the No. 1-ranked Jayhawks (27-3 overall; 15-2 in Big 12) have locked the No. 1 conference tournament seed while the surging Cowboys (20-10; 9-8) have secured the No. 5 seed. Heading into Friday night’s Iowa State at West Virginia game, no other Big 12 seeds had been determined.
OSU will play the No. 4 seed at 11:30 a.m. next Thursday. KU will follow that contest by facing the No. 8 vs. No. 9 first-round winner around 2 p.m. If the Cowboys and Jayhawks both win, they’ll meet in a tournament semifinal at 6 p.m. Friday.
So, with next week’s schedule already locked in place for the Cowboys and Jayhawks, why does Saturday’s game in Stillwater even matter? Plenty of reasons:
Momentum: With the arrival of March, every college team in America longs for Big Mo. With OSU and KU bound for the NCAA Tournament in two weeks, a Saturday loss by either team would cause little damage overall. However, a loss would put the Cowboys on a two-game losing streak while a setback might leave the Jayhawks still one victory shy of clinching a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament, which in turn would place them in the Midwest Regional at the Sprint Center just 40 miles from the KU campus.
Big 12 Coach of the Year: Bill Self is among the 10 Naismith Coach of the Year national semifinalists, who were revealed Friday morning. Also on the list were West Virginia’s Bob Huggins and Baylor’s Scott Drew. Though Brad Underwood won’t win the Naismith, he appears to be a legit candidate for Big 12 Coach of the Year. After an 0-6 start in league play in his first season at OSU, Underwood’s team has since gone 9-2 in conference play. Impressive as that is, Self’s team has gone 15-2 in Big 12 play and potentially could win the league title by four games in the nation’s top-ranked conference, according to the Sagarin Ratings.
Alma mater mojo: Self played at OSU (1981-85) and is 15-8 against his alma mater as KU’s coach, but he has lost three straight at Gallagher-Iba Arena and is 3-6 overall there (3-8 if you include 0-2 while coaching Oral Roberts). KU point guard Frank Mason, the leading candidate for national player of the year, and fellow seniors Landon Lucas and Tyler Self have never won in Stillwater. Mason is averaging 8.6 points and shooting 26.9 percent (7-for-26) from the field in three games at OSU. Self’s last win there was Feb. 20, 2013, in overtime (68-67). Win on Saturday, and Underwood keeps the positive home mojo flowing against the Jayhawks, who are 33-34 all-time in Gallagher-Iba.
Perseverance: After losing their first six conference games, the Cowboys won 10 of their next 11 games overall before a three-point loss at Iowa State on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Self’s squad somehow was able to tie UCLA’s all-time record of 13 consecutive conference titles despite a flurry of off-court distractions, which are detailed here. The Jayhawks also overcame losing a huge post presence in 7-foot, 280-pound freshman center Udoka Azubuike to a season-ending injury to his left wrist on Dec. 20.
In terms of Big 12 tournament seedings, Saturday’s regular-season finale at Gallagher-Iba means nothing to OSU and KU. But internally, success would provide each team a healthy shot of adrenaline – and what team wouldn’t want that in early March?