Kansas can’t stop Texas in the Big 12 tournament title game, but should still be the No. 1 pick in the NCAA tournament

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Give it to them. Pass NCAA Tournament #1 overall to Kansas. Do it now and spare us any drama.

Give it to them like Jerry Palm does and don’t look back. The CBS Sports Bracketology Expert didn’t blink Saturday night. He still has the Kansas Jayhawks ranked #1 in his prospective NCAA tournament bracket, even after a 76-56 loss to Texas in the Big 12 Tournament Championship Game. So does KU guard Dajuan Harris.

“It’s a game,” said the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year after an embarrassing loss. “We have 17, 18 Quad 1 wins. I think we deserve to be an A.”

In some industries, these claims will border on the outrageous. Kansas collapsed in the second half and was passed 20-12 as the Longhorns shot 53%. The 20-point lead marked Kansas’ worst loss ever in the Big 12 tournament (since 1997). Texas has beaten the Big 12 Goliaths by a total of 36 points on consecutive Saturdays.

But for astute observers of bracket and conference tournaments, such conclusions would also mark normal operations. The Is A game. If the selection committee wanted to spare themselves some sleep, they could have the seeds mapped before Saturday night.

It didn’t take a Saturday night to determine if Kansas is still No. 1. The only question is whether it will be rewarded by being the overall No. 1 seed for its work, a legitimate advantage in the NCAA tournament. The committee began ranking the number 1 in 2004. Since then, the number 1 has reached the national championship game a total of five times, winning three of them.

It would not be a breach of duty. The reigning national champion reached this place and won 27 games, 17 of them against the best competition. Those Quad 1 games that Harris was referring to meant wins against the top 30, neutral site wins against the top 50, and road wins against the top 75.

Kansas was the best at it, and it wasn’t close. That is if you don’t include Texas’ 14 Quad 1 wins, which rank second nationally. Baylor was No. 3 at 11. Turns out the best conference in the country was having one heck of a season (again).

“Man, it’s a great day to be alive,” said Rodney Terry, interim coach for the Longhorns.

Back to the point. KU has played and won more Quad 1 games (24) than anyone else in the country. Before Saturday’s games, UCLA (8) had won less than half than Kansas in that category. Compare that to other top seed candidates. The majority of Houston’s wins – 16 of 30 – have come against opponents from Quad 3 and Quad 4. Purdue and Houston combined (16) had one Quad 1 win fewer than Kansas.

So should this broad work triumph over one of the season’s worst performances?

“I’m not really worried about that,” said KU’s Jalen Wilson, the Big 12 Player of the Year, who put 24 points and a lot of heart into the effort. “If they give it to us, great. But we’ll still be a No1, I reckon. No matter where we play, it wouldn’t be any easier here. Even if we played here.” Getting to the Final Four is still basketball.”

Finding a way back “here” – T-Mobile Center, 45 miles from campus – in two weeks for the Midwest Regional is the goal. Playing close to home is a selection committee reward. It’s said to be home field advantage, lubricating the path to the championship.

Yeah, but where did Kansas go on Saturday? Where did the Jayhawks go when they last played here at the Midwest Regional? That would be a loss for Oregon in the 2017 Regional Finals.

A lot has happened since then. Kansas has won 168 games, at least a share of three Big 12 regular-season titles, been in two Final Fours and won it all last season.

The future starts now.

“March Madness is a third season,” Harris said. “You have to shake that off.”

Texas will wallow Saturday night as long as Terry lets it. The Longhorns have won two of the last three Big 12 tournaments and look like a solid No. 2 themselves next week.

Starting Saturday, there can be no more Kansas excuses. Missing starter Kevin McCullar Jr., one of the nation’s top defensemen, suffered from muscle spasms. But Texas was missing elder forward Timmy Allen with a leg injury. It made no sense for either team to risk further injuries when more important games were ahead.

That alone indicates the relative unimportance of a game.

“After the Big 12 tournament, everyone will be relieved that we won’t have to play Big 12 teams for a while,” Kansas’ KJ Adams said earlier this week. “It really prepares you for March. Once you get out of that league and get ready for March Madness, you feel more like a breather than heartbreak.”

The game will at least stick with an asterisk. For the first time in 19 years, two interim head coaches faced each other. Bill Self of Kansas is staying away after being hospitalized with an undisclosed illness on Wednesday night. Terry managed to make a big push to get the solid gig.

The veteran Texas assistant is 19-7 since replacing Chris Beard. A broadcaster has already named him national coach of the year. There must be growing sentiment for Terry to get the full-time job.

“Look at the game we just played,” said Texas forward Brock Cunningham.

Maybe a game on Saturday meant a hell of a lot.


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