How important is the Big 12 tournament?
It's a pretty big deal and a nice showing could help a team enter the NCAA Tournament riding high ... but does it matter?
The ultimate goal for every team in the Big 12 is to go deep in the NCAA Tournament.
Typically, it's only a realistic goal for Kansas and a couple of other schools each season. This year, nine teams think they could get hot and go on a run in the Big Dance.
That includes TCU, of course, which has finished as the fifth seed and will play No. 4 seed Kansas State at 11:30 a.m. Thursday at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo.
Except for last-place Iowa State and perhaps No. 9 seed Oklahoma State, the other eight teams appear to be locks to earn bids. So except for earning the automatic bid with a tournament championship, how important is winning the tournament?
The tournament is a great event, sure, and the success of the Big 12 as a league has stoked more interest across the country. There will be more national media members on hand than usual. TCU coach Jamie Dixon will coach in his second Big 12 tournament after leading Pittsburgh to four Big East tournament championship games in 13 seasons (including the last three in the Atlantic Coast Conference). He was impressed at how well-attended the tournament was a year ago. TCU has sold out its allotment of 675 Big 12 tournament tickets for the second consecutive year.
"There's a new level of excitement around here, there's no question about it," Dixon said. "You want to be playing your best basketball but they can give you a million teams that won the tournament in the Big East and didn't perform in the NCAA Tournament as one might expect. There is no pattern."
Of the 42 teams that have reached the Big 12 championship game since 1997, 22 of them have reached the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. Ten of those teams reached the Elite 8 and three of them lost in a Final Four semifinal game.
Only twice has a team in the Big 12 championship game reached the NCAA National Championship. Kansas won the Big 12 tournament in 2008 and 2013. The Jayhawks won the title in '08 and lost the title game in '12.
A team that played in the Big 12 championship turned around and lost its first NCAA Tournament game seven times. The '97 runner-up Missouri didn't even earn an NIT bid after finishing below .500.
"You can be playing well and then come out in the NCAA Tournament and lay an egg. You never know," Dixon said before referring to an old fallback he used to use when he was coaching Pittsburgh.
"If you win it, it's real important," he said with a smile. "If you lose in the first round, it's not."