NCAA Bids May Be Hard To Find In Big 12

Sunday, February 18th 2007, 3:57 pm
By: News On 6

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ Days in the Big 12's regular season are dwindling to a precious few, and NCAA tournament bids may be going with them.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the conference seemed assured of at least five invitations when the selection committee emerges bleary-eyed on March 4 from its weekend of seclusion.

Many coaches were bravely hoping even for six, a Big 12 record last achieved in 2004-05.

But now with two regular-season weeks and the conference tournament to go, a more accurate prediction might be four. And that would tie for the worst the league ever did.

Co-leaders Kansas (23-4, 10-2) and Texas A&M (22-4, 10-2) are assured of not only bids, but good seeds as well. Texas (19-7, 9-3), even though super freshman Kevin Durant seems to be cooling off a bit, is probably a cinch to nab its ninth straight bid under coach Rick Barnes.

After that, however, things start to get interesting.

The Kansas State Wildcats under first-year head coach Bob Huggins go into their Big Monday matchup against the ninth-ranked Jayhawks with eight conference wins, the most they've had since the Big 12 was formed. At 19-8 and 8-4, they're solidly in fourth place in a league where they've never finished higher than seventh.

No doubt, CBS would love to have Huggins in the tournament. And Kansas State does have a couple of marquee wins for the committee to ponder, including one at Texas. The Wildcats could get another Monday night by upsetting Kansas at home.

But the way things keep getting jumbled week after week in the Big 12, very little seems certain.

No. 18 Oklahoma State (19-7, 5-6), considered an NCAA lock when it was 15-1, has gone into freefall and could get locked out.

Texas Tech (17-10, 6-6) has won two straight to creep back into the picture after losing five in a row and seemingly dropping out.

Tech has some bad losses against its name. But Bob Knight's Red Raiders have also gone 3-0 against the league's two best teams, Kansas and Texas A&M, which is certain to impress the committee.

Missouri, too, is on the upswing. The Tigers under first-year coach Mike Anderson are guaranteed a winning season after shocking Oklahoma State 75-64 in Gallagher-Iba Arena on Saturday. They have three conference road victories and their first win over a ranked team in more than a year.

Also in the picture at this point is Oklahoma (15-10, 6-6). The Sooners under first-year head coach Jeff Capel lost their second in a row Saturday, a 56-49 setback to Texas A&M.

But before that, they'd won four straight, and they head into an important game Tuesday at Missouri within hailing distance of the upper division. Like several of their Big 12 brethren, a fast finish, including a victory or two in the Big 12 tournament, could squeeze the Sooners in.

Losing to Missouri dropped Oklahoma State to below break-even in the league with a 5-6 mark. It was the fourth loss in five games for the Cowboys and their first at home since Feb. 13, 2006. Plus, the Cowboys are winless in conference road games, something the committee is sure to frown upon.

``We're not in it,'' said senior Mario Boggan, who had 16 points on Saturday. ``Right now, we're looking at it as if we're not in there.''

Coach Sean Sutton called the loss to Missouri ``one of the least-inspired performances that I have ever seen one of our teams play in this arena in 17 years.''

Missouri, with only a little prodding, might dream of sneaking into the NCAA for the first time since 2003.

``We've got four (regular-season) games left and whatever happens in the end, happens,'' said Keon Lawrence, a freshman guard who had 18 points at Oklahoma State after scoring 24 against Baylor.

Said Anderson, ``We control our own destiny. It's going to be a possession here, a rebound there, a loose ball there.''

The best thing any of the so-called bubble teams could do would be to beat Kansas or Texas A&M between now and selection Sunday. Huggins' Wildcats will get a chance to do that Monday night in Manhattan, where the Jayhawks have won an incredible 23 in a row.

Bramlage Coliseum is sure to be jumping, probably crackling with more enthusiasm than it's seen since the building was opened in the late 1980s. It will be the Wildcats' first chance to break that demoralizing Jayhawk streak since Huggins arrived and began pumping new life and hope into a program that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1996.

``People expect Kansas State to lose, but I think that this year is a little different,'' said Wildcats guard David Hoskins. ``The fans are going in expecting us to win, and we expect to win.''