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Diversity Of Teams May Give Big 12 An NCAA Edge

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ In science class, it's called ``biodiversity'' _ an environment teeming with different species and varying forms of life.

In the Big 12, it's more like hoops diversity. Half the league's coaching staffs turned over this year, infusing the conference with fresh styles and creative thinking.

It's made for an interesting season. And now it may give the league an important NCAA tournament edge.

There has been the rough-and-tumble defense of Bob Huggins' resurgent Kansas State team, the hurried, high-pressure offense and defense Mike Anderson brought to Missouri, the time-honored motion offense that Bob Knight has been using at Texas Tech to become the winningest college coach of all time.

There's hardly any style of offense or defense a Big 12 tournament team will encounter in March that it didn't already have to deal with in January and February.

``We've got a true Missouri Valley guy that had great success in the Valley beating high majors in (Iowa State's Greg) McDermott,'' said Kansas coach Bill Self. ``We've got a guy down the road (Missouri's Anderson) that certainly has brought a fast-paced pressing game that can get you out of rhythm and is difficult for teams to deal with.''

Wait. Self isn't finished.

``Coach Huggins has obviously done a great job on pressure, in-your-face, man-to-man,'' he said. ``Oklahoma will play a style that's comparable to teams that you'll play in the (NCAA) tournament. I think our league is as well-versed as any league in America as far as having multiple styles to go against. If somebody runs motion in the NCAA tournament, they're not going to run it better than Texas Tech.''

Encountering different styles in a one-and-done postseason fracas has been a problem, especially for Kansas. Although highly favored, the Jayhawks were shocking first-round NCAA victims each of the past two years when they ran into unfamiliar mid-major underdogs and were unable to adjust.

But a trip through the Big 12 during the 2006-07 season has produced just about every imaginable challenge.

``You're going to play tough man-to-man, you're going to play against soft man-to-man,'' Self said. ``You're going to play against triangle-and-two, you're going to play against box-and-one, you're going to play against mini zones.

``You're going to play against teams that control the shot clock, against teams that play motion. You're going to play tough teams that are very physical and some teams that rely solely on speed and quick hands. I think it's pretty diverse, more so than last year.''

Headed into the final regular-season week, no team in the Big 12, perhaps no team in the country, seems hotter than Self's No. 6 Jayhawks. Shrugging off the absence of point guard Russell Robinson, they belted Iowa State Saturday night 89-52 and remained tied with No. 8 Texas A&M at 12-2 in the league. And with No. 1 Wisconsin and No. 3 Florida losing last week, the Jayhawks could even start dreaming of a No. 1 seed.

The Aggies, no doubt hoping for a No. 1 seed themselves, kept pace behind Acie Law's season-high 31 points with a 97-87 victory over plucky Baylor.

The Bears, one game ahead of last-place Colorado, will have one more chance to break their 24-game conference road losing streak when they play Wednesday at Texas Tech.

No. 19 Texas got 32 points from Kevin Durant in a 68-58 victory Saturday over the slumping Cowboys of Oklahoma State and are virtually assured of an NCAA bid.

The Longhorns could also be the deciding factor in the regular-season title run.

On Wednesday they host Texas A&M. Then they finish the regular season with a 11 a.m. tipoff Saturday at Kansas.

Kansas State now seems almost certain to capture its first NCAA bid since 1996, and make Huggins' inaugural season with the Wildcats even more memorable.

An 87-71 victory at Colorado put Kansas State at 20-9 overall and solidly in fourth place in the Big 12 at 9-5. The Wildcats are in great shape to get one of the four byes in the conference tournament, and no Big 12 team with a conference tourney bye has ever failed to acquire an NCAA bid.

``It's a big deal,'' said guard Blake Young. ``It lets everybody know we're serious that we want to get to the NCAAs.''
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