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March 8, 2007

Big 12: Kansas stands apart

The top seed: Kansas (27-4, 14-2) has climbed to No. 2 in the nation and is riding an eight-game winning streak. That includes a conference championship-clinching 90-86 victory over Texas in which the Jayhawks rallied from a 16-point deficit.

The Jayhawks have balanced scoring with Brandon Rush (13.7 ppg.), Mario Chalmers (12.1 ppg.), Julian Wright (12.0 ppg.) and Darrell Arthur (10.5 ppg.) all averaging in double figures. However, coach Bill Self's defense sets Kansas apart. The Jayhawks have held every opponent to less than 50 percent shooting and limited opponents to fewer than 60 points in 14 games.

Next best bet: Second-seed Texas A&M (25-5, 13-3) has lost just three times in 2007 and they were all by two points. The Aggies are solid defensively, allowing Big 12 opponents to shoot just 39.8 percent. A&M also led the conference in rebounding. Point guard Acie Law (18.2 ppg.) is a clutch three-point shooter, guard Josh Carter has hit 80 3-pointers and Joseph Jones is a strong slow post scorer. The Aggies have never won the Big 12 Tournament, and the way this season has gone that might actually work in their favor. This season they won at Kansas and at Oklahoma for the first time ever and defeated Oklahoma State in Stillwater for the first time since 1923.

Dark horse: Doesn't the Red Raider always ride a dark horse? Fifth-seed Texas Tech (20-11, 9-7) has won five of its last six, beat Texas A&M twice and dealt Kansas one of its two Big 12 losses. Don't ask how the Red Raiders did against Texas. The bracket would call for the Raiders to start against Colorado (which they beat 95-74) and then face Kansas State (which they beat 62-52). That would likely lead to a rematch with Kansas in the semifinals and a possible game with A&M in the final. Senior guard Jarrius Jackson has scored 22 points and 26 points in his last two games. Freshman forward Decensae White has hit double figures in two of his last three games, and the Red Raiders have Bob Knight on the bench. However, no team seeded lower than third has ever won the Big 12 Tournament.

NCAA locks: Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M

What others must do to make NCAA Tournament:

Kansas State: The Wildcats have a 21-10 record, victories over Southern California and Texas and a fourth place finish in the Big 12. That combination almost makes the Wildcats a lock. But Kansas State is No. 59 in the RPI and is just 6-4 in its last 10 games. One victory in the Big 12 Tournament should be enough to settle the issue. Two victories should remove all doubt.

Big 12 Tournament Schedule
All games at Oklahoma City
Thursday, March 8
No. 8 Iowa State vs. No. 9 Oklahoma, 11:30 a.m.
No. 5 Texas Tech vs. No. 12 Colorado, 2 p.m.
No. 7 Oklahoma State vs. No. 10 Nebraska, 6 p.m.
No. 6 Missouri vs. No. 11 Baylor, 8:20 p.m.
Friday, March 9
No. 1 Kansas vs. Iowa St./Okla. winner, 11:30 a.m.
No. 4 Kansas State vs. Texas Tech/Colo. winner, 2 p.m.
No. 2 Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma St./Neb. winner, 6 p.m.
No. 3 Texas vs. Missouri/Baylor winner, 8:20 p.m.
Saturday, March 10
Friday afternoon winners, 1 p.m.
Friday evening winners, 3:20 p.m.
Sunday, March 11
Championship, 2 p.m.
Texas Tech: Their body of work is impressive enough that the Red Raiders shouldn't be wall flowers for the Big Dance. They've got a 20-11 record, a No. 42 RPI rating, victories over Arkansas, Bucknell and Kansas and two wins over Texas A&M. The Red Raiders have even won five of their last six. But despite their recent streak they're still just 5-5 in the last 10. A loss to lowly Colorado in the Big 12 Tournament could tighten the collar a bit. The Red Raiders are probably in anyway, but by knocking off Colorado - which they beat by 21 points two weeks ago - they can breathe easy on Sunday.

Oklahoma State: By even suggesting the Cowboys can still earn at at-large big is at most a large dose of optimism. Although 20-11, Oklahoma State is just 2-8 in its last 10 games and finished 6-10 in the Big 12, which has never sent a team into the NCAA Tournament without a winning conference record. However, the Cowboys' résumé does include victories over Pittsburgh (No. 5 RPI), Texas (No. 28), Missouri State (No. 38), Texas Tech (No. 42) and Syracuse (No. 50). If they can reach the Big 12 final – which would require a win over Texas A&M and probably another one over Texas – the Cowboys will have a shot to get in without getting the automatic bid.

Must win tournament: Baylor, Colorado, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Missouri

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More Conference Tournament previews: ACC | Big East | Pac-10 | Big Ten | SEC

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