Shaka Smart is acutely aware of how many days are left until Selection Sunday.
He knew how many days were left after Texas’ upset win over Texas Tech in Lubbock almost two weeks ago. He knew how many days were left after Matt Coleman hit a buzzer-beater to save Texas’ season against Oklahoma last week. And he knew how many days were left after Texas got blown out by eighth-place Oklahoma State in the season finale.
Little did Shaka know that Texas’ blowout loss would send the Big 12 standings into chaos. Texas and Texas Tech’s losses, paired with wins by West Virginia and Oklahoma, caused a four-way tie for third place in the Big 12. So there’s good and bad news for Texas.
The good news is that, after a complicated tie-breaking system, the Longhorns managed to finish fourth in the conference with a 9–9 record. The bad news is that the Longhorns, in desperate need of a win to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive, drew Texas Tech in the first round. But as worried as Texas fans may be, the players seem undaunted.
“I feel like every team is fatigued, emotionally and physically,” sophomore guard Courtney Ramey said. “At this time of year, it’s the teams that separate (from) that and have the fortitude to keep playing that makes a team great.”
But Texas isn’t the only team looking for a run in the conference tournament. With its win over the Longhorns on Saturday, Oklahoma State’s confidence is at an all-time high. After starting 0–8 in Big 12 play, the Cowboys finished their season by winning six of their last eight, a mark only beaten by conference champion Kansas.
“The first half of the Big 12 season, we were not buried,” Oklahoma State senior guard Thomas Dziagwa said. “We were planted. Now we’re blossoming at the right time.”
So what does bottom-dwelling Oklahoma State’s blossoming mean for the Big 12 Tournament?
It means throw away regular-season records and conference seedings. Because this is March.
Less than two weeks into March, the Big 12 has already seen a miracle buzzer-beater, a top-four upset and a four-way tie for third place.
“You know how in the NBA, they say, ‘Where amazing happens?’” Texas junior guard Matt Coleman said after his buzzer-beater against Oklahoma. “In March, that’s where amazing happens as well.”
Coleman couldn’t be more right, especially in the Big 12. While perennial powerhouse Kansas has historically dominated the regular season, winning 15 of the last 17 regular-season titles, the Big 12 Tournament has had a bit more parity. The conference has had five different postseason champions in that same span, including Iowa State, who currently sit at ninth in the conference rankings.
This year, the title is as up-for-grabs as ever. Only two games separate eighth place from third place, and the top eight teams have wins against top-25 opponents. Teams previously written off, like Texas, made late NCAA pushes in the final weeks of conference play.
Whether it’s Kansas going for its third Big 12 Tournament win in five years, Texas desperately needing a victory Thursday against Texas Tech or Oklahoma State resting its NCAA hopes on a Big 12 Championship, one thing is certain — no team is safe in March.