Kansas can’t stop Texas in Big 12 Tournament title game, but should be NCAA Tournament No. 1 seed

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Give it to them. Hand the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to Kansas. Do it now and spare us any drama that may arise from Sunday’s many reveal teases.

Give it to them, like Jerry Palm does, and don’t look back. The CBS Sports Bracketology expert didn’t blink Saturday night. It still has the Kansas Jayhawks as the No. 1 overall seed in the projected NCAA Tournament even after a 76-56 loss to Texas in the Big 12 Tournament Championship. So is KU guard Dajuan Harris.

“This is a game,” the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year said after a loss that bordered on embarrassment. “We have 17, 18 Quad 1 wins. I think we deserve to be a one-seed.”

In some areas, these claims will border on the outrageous. Kansas was outscored 20-12 in the second half as the Longhorns shot 53 percent. The 20-point margin marked Kansas’ worst loss in the Big 12 Tournament (since 1997). Texas has beaten the Big 12 Goliaths by a combined 36 points on back-to-back Saturdays.

But for astute observers of the bracket and conference tournaments, such conclusions will also mark business as usual. This is a game. If the selection committee wanted to save sleep, they could have mapped the seeds before Saturday night.

It didn’t take Saturday night to determine if Kansas is still a No. 1 seed. The only question is whether he is rewarded by being the overall No. 1 seed for his body of work, a legitimate advantage in the NCAA Tournament. The committee began ranking No. 1 seeds in 2004. Since then, the overall No. 1 seed has reached the national championship five times, winning three of them.

It would not be dereliction of duty. The national champions reached this spot by winning 27 games, 17 against the best competition. Those Quad 1 games Harris referenced mean 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 are second nationally. Baylor was No. 3 with 11. Turns out the best conference in the country had (another) hell of a season.

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

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

So should this wide body of work triumph in what ranks as one of the worst performances of the season?

“I’m not really worried about it,” said KU’s Jalen Wilson, the Big 12 Player of the Year who poured 24 points and much of his heart into the effort. “If they give it to us, great. But we’re still going to be the No. 1 seed, I guess. Wherever we play, it wouldn’t be any easier here. Even if we were playing here to go to the Final Four, it’s still basketball.”

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

Yeah, but where did this Kansas go on Saturday? Where did the Jayhawks get the last time they played the Midwest Regional here? That would be a loss to Oregon in the 2017 regional final.

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

The future begins now.

“March Madness is in its third season,” Harris said. “You have to get over this.”

Texas will sink on Saturday night as much as Terry will let them. The Longhorns have won two of the last three Big 12 Tournaments and look like a solid No. 2 seed next week.

There can be no excuses for Kansas starting Saturday. Starter Kevin McCullar Jr., one of the nation’s top linebackers, was missing with muscle spasms. But Texas was without senior forward Timmy Allen with a foot injury. It did neither team any good to risk further injury with more important games to come.

That alone shows the relative insignificance of a game.

“After the Big 12 tournament I think everybody will be relieved that we don’t have to play any other Big 12 teams for a while,” KJ Adams said in the Kansas post earlier in the week. “It really sets you up for March. Once you get out of that league and get ready for March Madness, it feels like a little bit more of a breather than a heartache.”

The game will hold up with an asterisk, at least. For the first time in 19 years, two interim coaches faced each other. Kansas’ Bill Self remains out after being hospitalized Wednesday night with an undisclosed illness. Terry managed to make a big push to get the permanent gig.

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

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

Maybe one game meant an entire Saturday.


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