Big 12 scrambles for spots at Dance

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The conference only has three teams that are a lock for the NCAA tournament.

AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma are slam dunks for the NCAA tournament. How about the rest of the Big 12?

With only a week left in the regular season before the conference tournament, teams like Colorado and Texas A&M must make a big push if they hope to earn an at-large bid.

"I think we'll get at least four with a shot at five" teams in the NCAA tournament, Kansas coach Bill Self said Monday. "Some teams in contention need to play well."

Um, coach, would that include the Buffaloes beating the Jayhawks on the road Wednesday night?

Of course, any team can earn an automatic NCAA bid by winning next week's conference tournament. But the clear favorites to do that would be the Big Three, leaving the others to try to scrap out a quality win or two or three to get noticed by the selection committee.

Texas A&M (18-7, 8-6) and Colorado (18-7, 8-6) are tied for fourth in the league and have chances to do just that. The same night Colorado travels to Kansas (20-7, 11-3), the Aggies host Texas (24-4).

"I don't study that stuff as much as everybody else does," Aggies coach Billy Gillispie said of his team's NCAA tournament chances. "I know that we have to really play well. Just a win on Wednesday probably wouldn't do it."

Self, whose team trails Texas by a game after losing 80-55 to the Longhorns on Saturday, thinks it would.

"I think that right there would be something to put Billy's crew in," Self said. "They may still be on the bubble, but to my eyes (a win) would be the thing to put them over it."

The Aggies finish the season at Texas Tech.

Colorado at least stays home the rest of the regular season. Even if they lose at Kansas, the Buffaloes host Iowa State (15-12, 5-9) with a chance to finish above .500 in league play.

"If we come back and take care of our home court, that gives us 19 wins, maybe tied for fourth place in the league, and we'll have had a really good season," coach Ricardo Patton said.

Sinking to a new low?

Even so, this could be the year the Big 12 gets only three teams into the tournament, a new low that would not be a good way to celebrate the league's 10-year anniversary.

Only twice since its inception has the Big 12 had only four tournament teams. Six teams, half the league, have made the field five times -- 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2005.

And only three teams with winning league marks -- Nebraska (10-6) in 1999 and Texas Tech and Missouri (9-7) in 2004 -- were not invited.

The Big 12 has three ranked teams in No. 6 Texas, No. 18 Kansas and No. 19 Oklahoma (19-6, 10-4), leading some analysts to declare that the league deserves only those tournament bids.

"I wouldn't pay a lot of attention to what they say," said Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson. "If I were putting together a 64-team (field), I think it's almost impossible to say Colorado does not deserve it."

Texas coach Rick Barnes isn't sweating getting in the tournament, but he faces questions of whether his team can earn a No. 1 seed.

The Longhorns can clinch a share of their first Big 12 title since 1999 and the top seed in the conference tournament with a win over A&M. The Longhorns close the regular season at home against Oklahoma.

"It's a great league, and if you can win it, you've accomplished something," Barnes said.

He said it's too early to tell if his team will get top billing in the NCAA tournament.

"You could probably make a case today. [But] there's too many games this week. It's an important week for a lot of people," Barnes said. "It depends on what we do these next couple of games."

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