If the Kansas basketball team wins the Big 12 tournament title Saturday in the Sprint Center, it earns its fifth NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed in six years, and nothing is left to chance.
But what if Kansas doesn’t win it? More specifically, what if Missouri defeats the Jayhawks in the title game? Does that mean the Tigers get a No. 1 seed and Kansas a No. 2?
That’s a tough call, a scenario that could leave supporters on whichever side of the Border War that doesn’t get a top seed feeling cheated.
Kentucky and Syracuse will get two of the top seeds, and the next two likely will go to the team with the top resume from the ACC and the Big 12, although if one of the Big Ten’s regular-season tri-champions wins the conference tourney, it looms as a threat to take the last top seed.
In an attempt to gain some insight as to how the selection committee would handle the Kansas/Missouri close call in the event the Tigers defeat KU in the conference tourney final, I hopped on conference calls to put the question before committee chairman Jeff Hathaway and then ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
Before hearing that question, Hathaway, former UConn athletic director who succeeded former Kansas AD Lew Perkins in that job, was asked about how much weight the RPI carries.
“I think there’s a lot of criteria,” Hathaway said. “And, unfortunately, I think a lot of people go immediately to RPI or go to one or two criteria, when there really is a litany of criteria that we look at.”
“Head-to-head competition, common opponents, road records. As we all know, any coach in any league will tell you it’s difficult to win on the road. Overall strength of schedule. Obviously, we look at competition against top-quality teams. And we all know what the bottom-line premise has been of the committee over the past years, and that is: Who did you play? Where did you play them? And how did you do?”
So what would the committee do if Missouri defeated Kansas in the title game?
“We would look at Kansas, and we would look at Missouri, and we would look at those other handful of teams that we believe are due consideration for the first line and the second line, and we would compare them all with each other,” Hathaway said. “So it goes back to what I alluded to, and that is head-to-head competition is a factor that’s considered. Common opponents is a factor. Right down the list. We’ll look at the full body of work. One game … one game is not going to determine, be the sole determinant for where they’re going to be seeded.”
I asked Lunardi who would be higher on the S-curve if Missouri won a close title game against Kansas. Same question if the Tigers won by double digits.
“I think if Missouri beats Kansas two out of three, they’re higher,” Lunardi said.
Even though Kansas finished two games ahead of Missouri in the regular season?
“It’s definitely a factor,” Lunardi said. “You know, that’s a big win. That’s a big win, and they would have a bigger win in the semis than Kansas would have.”
He didn’t close the door on the possibility of KU’s No. 1 seed surviving a close loss.
“I’ll be honest, I only look at it side-by-side after it happens, so it could be that you’re right,” he said. “It could be that Kansas stays ahead of Missouri if Missouri wins a close game, like the other two have been. If (the Tigers) beat them by double-digits in Kansas City, that’s got to count for something. Why play the game then?”
Easy. To make money. It seems the best way to make the call, in order to preserve the value of the regular season would be to give Kansas the nod in the event of a close outcome and push Missouri ahead only in the event of a convincing title-game victory.
Then again, it’s entirely possible Iowa State wins the Big 12 tournament title, even though it would have to go through Missouri and Kansas to do it.