Tournament preview: Big 12

Who has a dartboard handy? Maybe a hat to choose from? The person who thinks he or she has the Big 12 tournament predicted should head directly to a Powerball ticket counter because there is no way anyone can know for sure what will happen this week in Kansas City.

Other than that it will be entertaining, that is. It has to be, based on what we’ve seen so far. The Big 12 has brought us wild finishes (Juwan Staten coast-to-coast-to-coast to score a game winner and stop Perry Ellis' game-winning attempt), controversial court storming (Kansas State) and even a pseudo brawl (Baylor and Texas).

In the end, two games separated the first- and fifth-place finishers in league play, and no one emerged unscathed or even with a pretty record.

Of course, out of the chaos emerged the same old, same old, with Kansas claiming the regular-season title and running its ownership of the league hardware to an absurd 11 years. That run of dominance doesn’t always get the attention it deserves -- maybe folks have become immune to so much success -- but it is an accomplishment worth applauding.

That, plus a bit of a home-court advantage, will make the Jayhawks the favorite to win the Big 12 tournament title too.

But there’s a but. Ellis is nursing a sore knee, Cliff Alexander is out indefinitely because of NCAA issues, and Brannen Greene apparently is in the doghouse, so it’s not like KU doesn’t have issues and concerns of its own.

The margins for both error and success are wildly slim for virtually anyone in the Big 12, which ought to lead to some entertainingly wild games.

What’s at stake?

NCAA tournament seeding. The Big 12’s biggest problem this season has been its sameness -- the teams have beaten one another up with such consistency, it’s hard to distinguish one from the other. That has made for a mighty competitive and entertaining league but not easy work for the selection committee.

Iowa State and Oklahoma, for example, split their head-to-head games. Both have less-than-appealing Big 12 losses -- the Cyclones to Texas Tech, the Sooners to Kansas State. Which should be seeded above the other?

Although one week’s worth of games shouldn’t decide a season, the Big 12 tournament at least should clarify things when it comes to NCAA seeding. It’s not necessarily a winner-take-all, but it is a a winner-take-more situation.

Even Kansas has something at stake. The Jayhawks emerged from the mayhem with their run of conference regular-season titles intact, but let’s be honest: This hasn’t exactly been a steamroll to the crown. Consequently, Kansas could still be duking it out for a secure 2-seed -- and more importantly, a secure 2-seed that isn’t in the bracket that features Kentucky as the No. 1. No matter how much better the Jayhawks are now than in November, one can’t imagine they are in a hurry to see the Wildcats again any time soon.

And don’t discount Kansas State or Oklahoma State trying to mess this whole thing up. Both are more than capable of going on a run.

Team with the most to gain

Texas. No one has spent more time on and off the bubble than the erratic Longhorns, whose NCAA tournament fate seems to change hourly.

Right now, most would agree they are in the tournament, but they also are in the uncomfortable position of hoping there aren’t major, bid-stealing upsets elsewhere.

Because the reality is while Texas has a schedule stacked with games against top opponents, it has only three wins against ranked teams to show for it -- against UConn (when the Huskies were ranked), West Virginia and Baylor. The Longhorns have also lost four of their past six and sit below .500 in the league.

The best way to eradicate all that discomfort? Play well in Kansas City. Texas is good enough to beat pretty much anyone in the Big 12 ... and, yes, unreliable enough to lose to anyone.