Archive for Wednesday, March 12, 2008

End of high school season signals start of March Madness, KU’s run to Final Four

March 12, 2008

Thor Nystrom

With high school basketball over, it is time to turn our complete attention to the college game.

This is just in time for the Big 12 Tournament, which should be at its most intriguing level in years.

The tournament will start my basketball odyssey. I expect to follow the Jayhawks around the country for the next month, from the Big 12 Tournament to hopefully the Final Four. It's my senior year and it's the least I can do.

But let's start with the Big 12 Tournament, which will starts Thursday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. Here are five interesting questions that I am excited to see answered this weekend.

1. Which teams are going to differentiate themselves from one another and prove to be NCAA Tournament worthy? Look, the Big 12 is good. Really good. It is ranked second as a conference in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). But how many teams is this league going to send to the tournament? If the selections were made today , only two teams would be mortal locks: Texas and Kansas. Oklahoma, Baylor, Kansas State and Texas A&M all are in need of boosts to their resumes. I would have to believe that all of those teams would make it, but the latter four are at least on reasonably shaky ground and can't afford an embarrassing early-round exit.

2. Is Baylor the best story in college basketball? Yes. Scott Drew's team has had an amazing comeback from the near collapse of the program under former coach Dave Bliss. They are one of the most entertaining teams in the nation to watch.

3. Can an underdog pull off the Herculean feat of winning on four straight days to win the Big 12 Tournament?

In a word: no. It has never happened, as the lowest seeded team to ever win the whole thing was third. But three teams have come close: Missouri in 1997 (sixth seeded), Oklahoma State in 1999 (fifth seeded) and Missouri in 2003 (fifth seeded) all made it through the grueling schedule to the championship game. Baylor and Texas A&M (fifth and sixth seeded, respectively) will both give it a valiant effort, though. The Bears and Aggies are capable of playing with anyone and could sustain a hot streak through the weekend.

4. Are Kansas' potential opponents to the championship game a potential disaster or just what it needs to conquer to spur a March Madness run? The Jayhawks have the most intriguing path to the championship of any team, arguably, in the history of the tournament. After a first round bye, the team could potentially play three hated rivals in less than 72 hours: Missouri, Kansas State and Texas (this rivalry has gone from nonexistent to ho-hum to heated to simmering to hated in the last four years). When also considering that K-State could possibly be playing for their NCAA Tournament lives and Texas will be out to avenge the fact that they have lost the last two Big 12 title games to KU, the storylines surrounding this team will be in abundance.

5. Is the Sprint Center everything it has been billed as?

This will be my first venture into the relatively new complex. I've heard good things and I am curious to see how it stands up after hosting the huge event that is the Big 12 Tournament.

2007-08 has proven to be a good year for the Big 12. When the teams congregate in Kansas City this weekend, it should be among the more competitive and wide-open conference tournaments in recent memory. I can't wait.

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