Baylor coach Scott Drew can attest to the difficulty of trying to make a run through the Big 12 tournament without the advantage of having the first day off.
His Bears put up three surprising upsets to reach the championship game last season, only to run out of gas against a fast-paced Missouri team that benefited from a first-round bye.
“I know we’ve tried it the other way — without the bye — in years past, and we’d like to try the bye and see how that works,” said Drew, whose team holds the tiebreaker for the No. 3 seed heading into the final week of the regular season.
“Especially this year with the parity, any game you play is just a war and if you can have one less game and get one extra day of rest, I think every coach realizes how important that is,” he said. “There’s a reason no team has won the tournament that hasn’t had the bye yet.”
No. 5 Kansas State (24-4, 11-3) can take the tournament’s top seed away from No. 2 Kansas (27-2, 13-1) — if it wins the head-to-head matchup on Wednesday night, the Jayhawks lose at rival Missouri on Saturday and the Wildcats win a coin flip.
But behind those two, there’s a five-team scramble for the final two byes in this year’s Big 12 tournament in Kansas City, Mo.
At 9-5 in Big 12 play, the 21st-ranked Bears have a tiebreaker over No. 23 Texas A&M and Missouri. Texas (9-6) moved within a half-game of that trio with an 87-76 win over Oklahoma on Monday night, and Oklahoma State (8-6) is a full game behind with two to play.
Since the first Big 12 tournament in 1997, no team has won it without getting a first-round bye. And Baylor — which was seeded ninth last year — became only the third team to even make it to the championship game without a bye, joining Missouri’s teams from 1997 and 2003.
“I think the numbers speak for themselves in why it’s so tough to play four games, especially with this kind of competition and the energy that it takes to win a Big 12 tournament game,” said Drew, whose Baylor program is the only Big 12 team never to get a first-round bye.
All seven of the teams in the running for a top-four seed entered the week in the top 40 in the RPI and Oklahoma State — which would currently be the seventh seed — bolstered its NCAA tournament resume with an upset of then-No. 1 Kansas on Saturday. The Big 12 has never had more than six teams make the NCAA bracket, although that has occurred six times — including the last two years.
“The league is probably better than what we probably even thought it would be. There’s seven teams going to go to the NCAA Tournament out of our league, and that’s a minimum,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
“If one of the other teams gets hot and wins the tournament or something, that could be eight. But I think we’re a solid seven, without question.”