In a nutshell, here is how things stand after a chaotic, upset-filled opening 96 hours of March Madness: Kansas played exceptional basketball for one half over two games and is moving on to the the Sweet 16. Iowa State could have and should have won its third-round game Sunday against No. 2 seed Ohio State and should be playing Arizona Thursday night in Los Angeles.
Instead of advancing to the round of 16, though, Iowa State joins the three other Big 12 teams that made the least out of their opportunity after making the 68-team NCAA field for this year’s second season in college basketball. It’s harly fair to lump the Cyclones with the likes of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Kansas State, all of whom looked like a proverbial band of deer in headlights when it came time to take the court in the NCAA Tournament.
If you’re a Kansas State fan, perhaps you can take small consolation from the fact that 13th-seeded LaSalle, two-point victors over the Wildcats in an opening-round game in the West Region, beat Ole Miss Sunday for the Explorers’ third win in less than a week, making them the second lowest-seeded team still left in the tournament. Just think, had Kansas State not gotten caught up in LaSalle’s Philadelphia-style, up-and-down street game and not fallen so far behind early, it would have been a different story this coming weekend.
What could have been: How about an all-Kansas second game at the Staples Center Thursday night, with the Wildcats facing Wichita State, which shocked the world, first by knocking off Pittsburgh, followed by the West Region’s No, 1 seed, the Gonzaga Bulldogs. There is no reason, the way Kansas State played all season in winning 27 games, that the Wildcats should not still be playing on as the four seed in the West. They even had the benefit of having a home-court atmosphere with their opening NCAA Tournament game played in Kansas City. Instead, they get to watch the rest of the tournament back home in Manhattan, contemplating what could have been.
These kind of surprise, even schocking, outcomes are what make the NCAA Basketball Tournament what it is. The single-elimination format makes it possible for anything to happen almost anywhere. How else can you explain a No. 15-seeded Florida Gulf Coast toppling a two-seed, Georgetown, and then riding the momentum of that huge victory to a third-round tournament win on Sunday over San Diego State.
Perhaps the Oklahoma fans should be grateful that their team bowed out with hardly a whimper, losing to San Diego State and not having to go up against upstart Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday. That might have been even more depressing than watching the Sooners miss shot after shot in about a seven-minute dry spell in the second half Friday against the seven-seed Aztecs.
In all due respect to coach Lon Kruger and the marked improvement of his Sooner basketball team this season, OU did on Friday what it has done all year, and particularly in losing three of its last four games to end the season. The Sooners allowed the defense to take them out of their offensive rhythm and comfort and couldn’t hit shots when they needed them the most. That cost Oklahoma an overtime loss at Texas, in a game in which they held a 22-point lead with just under eight minutes left. It cost them dearly in falling 20 points behind in the opening 20 minutes at TCU, and it cost them a game against Iowa State in the Big 12 Tournament, when they blew a 12-point second-half lead.
Oklahoma State also went quietly in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, losing to Oregon, a 12-seed that would have been more realistically seeded as a five or six seed. The Ducks eliminated the Big 12’s third best team in the regular season, and then ousted St. Louis University on Sunday to survive and advance to the Sweet 16, where overall top seed Louisville will be waiting at Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday.
So just like that, four of the five NCAA Tournament-bound Big 12 schools are out of the tournament – three in the ominous category of one and done – and only Kansas plays on. But wait, aren’t we forgetting about one other conference men’s team that has not ended its season yet. The NCAA Tournament selection committee may have forgotten about Baylor in extending invitations to the Big Dance, but the Bears are still dancing, thank you, as a No, 2 seed in the National Invitation Tournament. The Bears are one win shy of advancing to the NIT semifinals to be held next week at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
No team wants to be left out of the action under the big tent come postseason tournament time in March, but while only 16 of the original 64-team field in the NCAA Tournament still are in the hunt, teams like Baylor are still playing games that mean something in March. And the better your record or seeding is, the better chance you have of playing those games on your home court, which is not something that happens in the NCAA Tournament. All things considered, though: I’ll bet Baylor would still prefer to be playing in the NCAA tourney rather than the NIT. They’re not, but they’re making the most of it.
Follow how the Big 12 men’s and women’s teams are doing in postseason tournament action in FanSided’s coverage of the Big 12 Conference.