A strong showing in the Big 12 tournament will not provide No. 1 Kansas much of a jolt in its dance routine.
But then, neither will fan support.
Big 12 administrators decided Wednesday that remaining rounds in the event will restrict followings to 125 tickets per team at Kansas City, Mo. That decision followed the NCAA announcement Wednesday that fans would not be permitted to attend the NCAA Tournament because of concerns over the coronavirus.
“It’ll be the highest-rated television tournament that anyone has ever seen,” Kansas coach Bill Self said of the NCAA Tournament.
No matter how the No. 1 Jayhawks (28-3, 17-1 Big 12) fare without their usual partisan crowd at the Big 12’s postseason gathering, they are a presumptive lock for the top seed in the NCAA Tournament when pairings are announced Sunday.
They might be the only clear-cut choice for the ranking after setting a Big 12 record with 17 league wins and becoming the first team to go 9-0 in conference road games.
Winners of 16 straight, Kansas drew the No. 1 seed in the Big 12 tournament for the 16th time. It will open play in the quarterfinal round Thursday against eighth-seeded Oklahoma State (18-14, 7-11), a 72-71 first-round winner Wednesday over Iowa State.
“If you’re dominant in the regular season, that’s good, and that’s a good goal, but it’s postseason time, so it’s all back to square one,” said point guard Devon Dotson, who led Big 12 scorers with an 18.1-point average and needs 14 points to become the eighth Jayhawk to record 1,000 points in his first two seasons.
Oddly enough, senior center Udoka Azubuike will participate in the Big 12 tournament for the first time.
He comes in with impressive credentials after being the named the conference player of the year, having led the Jayhawks’ title run by averaging a double-double. His 74.8 shooting accuracy is tops nationally.
Wrist injuries curtailed Azubuike’s freshman and junior seasons, and a sprained knee kept him from playing in the Big 12 tournament as a sophomore. By remaining healthy this season, Azubuike backed up his selection as the league’s preseason player of the year.
“I didn’t know if I was going to live up to the expectations,” he said. “It all comes down to my teammates and my coaches. They did an unbelievable job, and me winning (player of the year) wasn’t just about me. It was about them too.”
It’s possible that Self could expand his rotation and use Silvio De Sousa in Kansas City. The 6-9 forward drew a 12-game suspension for his role in a brawl with Kansas State players on Jan. 21. He was reinstated prior to the Jayhawks’ last conference game at Texas Tech.
Marcus Garrett, the Big 12 defensive player of the year, twisted an ankle at practice Tuesday. He will play in the tournament but will not be at full strength.
Isaac Likekele posted 21 points, including the game-winning layup in the final seconds, and nine assists as Oklahoma State rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half.
“We just never doubted ourselves,” Likekele said. “We just kept working hard. Every Big 12 game we’ll take the win. It’s a credit to our staff. They never gave up.”
–Field Level Media