Big 12 Tournament 2014: Storylines to Follow That Will Culminate in Kansas City

Steven CookFeatured Columnist IVMarch 4, 2014

Mar 1, 2014; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma State Cowboys guard Marcus Smart (33) passes against Kansas Jayhawks guard Wayne Selden, Jr. (1) during the first half  at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Oklahoma State beat Kansas 72-65. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

There is still plenty left to figure out in the Big 12 as we approach the conference tournament in Kansas City, with a number of teams fighting for a NCAA tournament bid while others jostle for favorable seeding.

While No. 8 Kansas has put its stamp on yet another regular-season title, many other pieces have still yet to fall into place across the conference. Some teams have put together resumes worthy of NCAA acceptance, while others have already fallen short and are in need of help in the conference tourney.

An exciting, entertaining regular season has set the stage for the Big 12 tournament to once again reign as one of the top conference tourneys in March Madness. Let's break down the biggest storylines heading into it.


Can Anyone Unseat Kansas from the Throne?

Mar 1, 2014; Stillwater, OK, USA;  Kansas Jayhawks head coach Bill Self reacts to a call during the first half against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, let's be real—even the Jayhawks falling early in Kansas City wouldn't unseat them from their perch atop the conference. They've just been that dominant in league play this season.

But regardless of bubble talk amongst some teams, the top storyline heading in will undoubtedly be whether Bill Self's squad can handle the tests they will face and head into the NCAA tournament with momentum and a high seed. 

With a high volume of teams—No. 16 Iowa State, No. 23 Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and more—serving as serious contenders, it will be far from easy for the Jayhawks to stroll to another championship in Kansas City.

Kansas learned that firsthand in a loss over the weekend to Oklahoma State:

Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will need to prove they want a lasting legacy and come up big in March for the Jayhawks if they want to end their college careers cutting down nets. 


Will Big 12 Lead All Conferences in NCAA Bids?

Feb 24, 2014; Lawrence, KS, USA; Kansas Jayhawks forward Tarik Black (25), Oklahoma Sooners guard Je'lon Hornbeak (5), forward Cameron Clark (21) and forward Ryan Spangler (0) battle for the ball during the first half at Allen Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Heading down the stretch of the regular season, the chance remains that the Big 12 could actually end up leading all conferences in total NCAA tournament bids.

ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently has seven teams from the Big 12 in the field, which is tied with the Pac-12 for the most for one conference. The Big Ten could also reach the seven-team plateau if Nebraska—right on the outside of Lunardi's bubble—gets in. 

Of course, it will take a few teams from the Big 12 holding onto tightly contested spots on the bubble for that to happen.

Baylor is still listed as a team in the field by Lunardi even after sputtering to a 7-9 conference slate. Oklahoma State is on the bubble but is playing its way into a lock as of late with a recent emergence. 

Should both of those teams find success in Kansas City, it's likely that the Big 12 could end up being the top dog in March Madness. 


Did Oklahoma State Save Its Best for Last?

Mar 1, 2014; Stillwater, OK, USA; The Oklahoma State Cowboys and fans storm the court after defeating the Kansas Jayhawks at Gallagher-Iba Arena. Oklahoma State beat Kansas 72-65. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The story of Oklahoma State's 2013-14 season is one of the more remarkable ones in college basketball this season, or any. After starting 12-1 and emerging as a national title contender, the Cowboys ended up faltering later and lost seven straight in conference play, falling out of the NCAA field.

Since Oklahoma State got Marcus Smart back, however, it has been a different animal. The Cowboys have won four straight since ending that seven-game skid—including a huge win over Kansas—and have put their names back into Lunardi's field.

There's no doubt that this team has the pieces there. Smart can be one of the best players in the nation when he's clicking. Markel Brown gives them consistent star power at the guard spot—a must come March. Le'Bryan Nash is a versatile swing forward, and Kamari Murphy has been controlling the paint.

If those factors continue to come together like they have in the past few weeks, Oklahoma State could do much more than end up sealing its tournament bid. If the Cowboys find their early-season form, they could make some serious noise in March.