To the surprise of approximately zero college basketball fans, Kansas continued its reign over the Big 12 in the 2016-17 season.
Led by Frank Mason III, the Jayhawks grabbed their 13th consecutive championship. Now, they're looking to secure the eighth Big 12 tournament title of this impressive run.
Kansas will meet formidable opposition during the tourney, since four more Big 12 programs are destined for March Madness. Baylor and West Virginia have been ranked for most of the year, Iowa State recently moved back into the Top 25 and Oklahoma State (20-11, 9-9) has earned its way off the bubble.
But that status results in being a target. Those teams will attempt to avoid an upset by one conference foe in desperate need of a marquee win to enhance its own resume.
The tournament begins March 8 and will run through March 11 at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.
Big 12 Conference @Big12Conference
OFFICIAL: The @Phillips66Gas #Big12MBB Championship bracket is set. We'll see you in KC next week. 🏀 Release: https://t.co/ZYZOLXp2ee https://t.co/yQI8zJrDh82017-3-4 23:18:56
|Big 12 Tournament Schedule|
|Wednesday, March 8||1||First Round||No. 8 TCU vs. No. 9 Oklahoma||7 p.m.||ESPNU|
|Wednesday, March 8||2||First Round||No. 7 Texas Tech vs. No. 10 Texas||9 p.m.||ESPNU|
|Thursday, March 9||3||Quarterfinals||No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State||12:30 p.m.||ESPN2|
|Thursday, March 9||4||Quarterfinals||No. 1 Kansas vs. Game 1 winner||2:30 p.m.||ESPN2|
|Thursday, March 9||5||Quarterfinals||No. 2 West Virginia vs. Game 2 winner||7 p.m.||ESPNU|
|Thursday, March 9||6||Quarterfinals||No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 6 Kansas State||9 p.m.||ESPNU|
|Friday, March 10||7||Semifinals||Game 3 winner vs. Game 4 winner||7 p.m.||ESPN/ESPN2|
|Friday, March 10||8||Semifinals||Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner||9 p.m.||ESPN/ESPN2|
|Saturday, March 11||9||Finals||Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner||6 p.m.||ESPN|
Team With the Most to Gain
Bid-stealers in conference championships will be a problem for Kansas State (19-12, 8-10), which may find itself on the doorstep of March Madness but only be allowed to look inside.
Winning the Big 12 tournament would push the Wildcats into the field, of course. However, could they snatch one of the final at-large spots with one victory against Baylor?
An ugly loss at Oklahoma (11-19, 5-13) is Kansas State's biggest concern, and a weak nonconference schedule doesn't help. As it stands, the Wildcats need previous wins over Baylor and West Virginia to hold up in the committee's eyes.
Kansas State—unlike Texas Tech (18-13, 6-12) and TCU (17-14, 6-12)—is at least in position to sweat out Selection Sunday. Grabbing one or two Big 12 tourney wins would boost the Wildcats' resume and make the committee's decision tougher.
Top Non-Favorite Contenders
West Virginia (24-7, 12-6) and Baylor (25-6, 12-6) are the highest-ranked programs behind Kansas, and most college basketball fans are aware of the teams. Iowa State (20-10, 12-6) didn't garner much attention but finished tied for second in the Big 12.
Iowa State has the toughest road because of a potential semifinal matchup with Kansas (28-3, 16-2), while Baylor and West Virginia should meet on the opposite side of the bracket. The only guarantee with potential matchups like that is entertainment.
As Benton A. Smith of KUsports.com notes, Kansas coach Bill Self is ready for a thrilling tournament.
Benton Smith @BentonASmith
Self: Big 12 Tournament is gonna be "as wild as can be." #kubball2017-3-2 18:26:19
West Virginia grabbed the No. 2 seed thanks to an 87-76 victory over Iowa State in the regular-season finale. The Mountaineers have an efficient and balanced offense, but defense is their calling card. They lead the nation in steals per game.
Two of Kansas' six worst shooting performances this year came against West Virginia, and two more were opposite Baylor. The Jayhawks won those two matchups by a combined seven points, so the Bears have proved they're capable of staying with the Big 12 champs. Final-minute execution is the key.
Iowa State used an overtime victory at Kansas to shake a rough January and finish the campaign on a 7-2 run. Since the Cyclones also knocked off Baylor, talent isn't the question. Consistency eluded them earlier in the year, though. It's possible that trouble finds Iowa State again as the season reaches nothing but high-pressure games.
Tournament Favorite and Predicted Winner
With the guiding hand of Mason at point guard, the Jayhawks are cruising to a No. 1 seed in March Madness. They'll make a quick stop to cut down the Big 12's nets first.
Kansas will open the conference tourney with TCU or Oklahoma, both of which Self's team defeated twice during the regular season. Should Iowa State win its quarterfinals matchup, the semifinals will be intriguing because the Cyclones forced 38 turnovers in the earlier meetings.
But the Jayhawks will exact some revenge on Iowa State and advance to the championship round. Unfortunately for Kansas State, we're not projecting a much-needed run for the bubble-dwellers. Instead, Kansas will edge West Virginia for the title.
The lack of frontcourt depth may plague Kansas in the NCAA tournament, but Mason and Devonte' Graham will carry the Big 12 powerhouse to another conference title.
Follow Bleacher Report Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.