By KEVIN LONNQUIST
Big 12 Insider
It’s March and now the only thing anyone is talking about right now is who is going to make the field of 68 of the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The Big 12 is pretty much going to have five in the field in Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Iowa State and Oklahoma.
Baylor would need a miracle run right now to keep its fading hopes alive.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s try and project the seeding each of these five should receive when the selections come out on March 16. A lot can change over these next eight days but the picture is also becoming more and more clear.
KANSAS: The Jayhawks wobbled with their first three-game losing streak in eight years about a month ago. But now, they look like a different team. Freshman Ben McLemore has elevated his game. Elijah Johnson is now in control of the offense and center Jeff Withey is one of the top five big men in the country.
The Jayhawks can also pad wins over Ohio State, Temple and Colorado to their resume. Yes, there was the bizarre loss to TCU but this team has moved on. Credit coach Bill Self for finding their focus.
Projected seed: 2
KANSAS STATE: Bruce Weber’s arrival in Manhattan raised a lot of eyebrows. Now, he’s one win away from the Wildcats enjoying their first conference championship in 36 years (1977) and likely being named Big 12 Coach of the Year.
Really, this team has five quality losses to Kansas twice, Michigan, Gonzaga and Iowa State. Weber has a super soph in guard Angel Hernandez. That growth helped build a resume that included a win over Florida.
Projected seed: 4
OKLAHOMA STATE: With freshmen you never know. But Cowboys’ boss Travis Ford felt like he had a great incoming class with Marcus Smart and Phillip Forte. Junior Markel Brown has been the constant for this team, leading it in scoring and shooting about 75 percent at the free throw line.
The Cowboys have solid out-of-conference wins against North Carolina State and Tennessee and came within seconds of knocking off now No. 1 Gonzaga. If this group holds together for the next couple of years, the Cowboys can win a conference title.
Projected seed: 8
IOWA STATE: Personally, I kept wondering when the Cyclones were ever going to show up and win big games. Prior to a win over Kansas State, they had lost all of those defining matchups. They also know they let two wins get away against Kansas, dropped a confusing game at Texas Tech and lost in double overtime at Austin.
However, they had quality wins over Oklahoma State and Oklahoma and will finish with a winning record in the conference. That goes a long way with the selection committee.
Projected seed: 12 (First Four)
OKLAHOMA: Lon Kruger is about to become the only coach in NCAA Tournament history to bring five different programs to The Dance. The other four are Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV.
He’s steadily built the Sooners from last season. The Sooners could finish in a tie for third place, hold wins over Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Junior forward Romero Osby is having an excellent season, shooting over 52 percent.
Projected seed: 11
BIG 12 WEEKEND
A look at the card for the final day of the 2012-13 regular season. Seeding is at stake in several cases. All times are central
12:30 p.m. Saturday (Big 12 Network)
The skinny: A win clinches a share of the Big 12 title for the Wildcats, who are no worse than the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Rodney McGruder is making a case for Player of the Year.
Oklahoma State needs a win to secure the No. 3 seed. Marcus Smart could be Freshman of the Year if not for KU’s Ben McLemore.
12:30 p.m. Saturday (Big 12 Network)
The skinny: The Cyclones are pretty much the No. 5 seed in the tournament. They’re in the NCAA Tournament at this point,but a loss in Morgantown could land them back on the bubble.
ISU leads the country in made 3-point field goals. West Virginia is simply trying to make the most of senior day.
3:00 p.m. Saturday (Big 12 Network)
The skinny: In his six games since returning, guard Myck Kabongo leads the Longhorns in scoring (16.7) and assists (5.0). A talented point guard makes the difference.
The Longhorns are trying to get to .500. Texas Tech is two games away from beginning a coaching search.
4:00 p.m. Saturday (FOX Sports Southwest)
The skinny: The Sooners are basically trying to flip their conference seasons. They went 5-13 last year and could finish 12-6.
Senior guard Sam Grooms is quietly having a great run, averaging more than five assists in the last six games.
5:00 p.m. Saturday (ESPN)
The skinny: A win clinches at least a share of the Jayhawks’ ninth consecutive Big 12 championship.
Defensively, this group is getting better. Opponents are shooting only 35 percent against them.
Baylor has lost its identity and is 1-5 since beginning conference play at 7-4.
There is no guard play to support senior Pierre Jackson.
NEWS & NOTES
Barring anything really odd taking place in the finale against Kansas, Baylor senior guard Pierre Jackson will pull off the rarity of leading the conference in both scoring and assists. Jackson was named pre-season Big 12 Player of the Year.
Of its 22 victories this year, Oklahoma State has 16 of them by double figures. The Cowboys also have a three game winning streak over Texas after sweeping them for the first time since 2004.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins has his first losing conference season as a coach since going 6-10 in 1985, his first year at Akron.
1. Kansas – Elijah Johnson really turning it up.
2. Kansas State – Rodney MaGruder is a first-team Big 12 player.
3. Oklahoma State – Loss at Iowa State not the worst thing.
4. Iowa State – Cyclones must win at West Virginia to feel better about NCAA chances.
5. Oklahoma – Sooners already at 20 wins.
6. Baylor – A team that needs a miraculous run to make the NCAA.
7. Texas – Longhorns have a chance to earn Big 12 tournament No. 7 seed.
8. West Virginia – No player averaging more than 11 points per game.
9. Texas Tech – Red Raiders Big 12 highlight is season sweep of TCU.
10. TCU – Trent Johnson hoping 2013 recruiting class can inspire 2013-14 turnaround.
Projected NCAA tournament teams: Kansas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Iowa State
Projected NIT tournament team(s): Baylor