Three teams are locks for the tourney — Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma. Common sense would dictate that the Texas A&M Aggies have the best shot at gaining a fourth berth after they finished fourth in the conference with a 20-7 overall mark and 10-6 conference record. The Aggies also beat the fifth-place team, Colorado, and upset a top 10 Texas team late in the season.
But what if Colorado upends the Aggies Friday when the two teams meet in Dallas in the second round of the Big 12 Championship tourney? Would that be enough to sway the NCAA selection committee's vote toward Boulder and the Buffaloes?
There's recent precedence.
In 2004, CU finished fourth in the conference standings and beat the fifth-place team, Texas Tech, at home during the regular season. But the Buffs fell to the Red Raiders in the second round of the conference tournament, and Bobby Knight's team went to the NCAA's while the Buffs went to the NIT, despite finishing better than TTU in the conference race.
CU coach Ricardo Patton wondered aloud often — and rightfully so —how the NCAA passed on the fourth-place Buffs that year and took the fifth-place regular-season finisher. Ironically, Patton now finds himself the coach of a team that — if the NCAA does indeed take just four from the Big 12 — is trying to leapfrog the fourth-place finisher.
Then there's the Feb. 8 game between the Buffs and the Aggies. TAMU won, 61-58. But, in CU players and coaches' minds, the game was marred by some questionable officiating calls in the final moments. Despite some head-scratcher calls, Colorado had the chance to win at the end, but CU sophomore Richard Roby missed the front end of a game-tying one-and-one and CU went home with a loss.
The Aggies used the emotional victory to go on a seven-game win streak to end the regular season (and word is the selection committee likes teams that are hot at season's end). The Buffs finished the season by losing five out of their last nine.
Here's a look at both teams' résumés:
Texas A&M: 20-7
Texas A&M: 16-2
Texas A&M: 4-5
NEUTRAL SITE RECORD
Texas A&M: 0-0
Texas A&M: Texas (this was HUGE).
BAD LOSSES(losing badly to teams they shouldn't have)
Texas A&M: none
RPI (Kenpom.com, as of March 9)
Texas A&M: 48
Colorado: The Buffs went 10-1 in what would be considered an average non-conference slate were it not for the team's final three opponents in December. Scheduling Mercer (9-19 record), Dartmouth (6-21) and Savannah State (1-26)— three of the weakest teams in the NCAA this season — really hurt the Buffs' strength of schedule. CU'S SOS is currently ranked 273 (Kenpom.com), second-worst in the Big 12.
Texas A&M: Gillaspie gambled by keeping his team at home for all except one non-conference game (a loss at Pacific). The gamble seems to have paid off, because the Aggies were able to manage 10 conference wins. A&M beat a couple of really weak teams early in the season (Mississippi Valley St., Texas Southern, Savannah State). At 250, their SOS isn't much better than CU's.
STYLE POINTS UP or DOWN
Colorado: This is where CU is really suffering compared to A&M. It's one thing to lose on the road in a tough conference like the Big 12. It's another to play embarrassingly bad away from home as CU did in six of its seven conference road losses. National broadcasts of some of those games helped shaped the national perception that Colorado is a horrible road team, even though the Buffs won four roadies this season, including clutch victories at Missouri and Oklahoma State.
Texas A&M: People like a good story, and Billy Gillaspie looks to have turned around an ailing A&M program in two seasons. (The last time TAMU hit the 20-win mark was in 1980.) Plus, as mentioned before, it's always good to end up strong — like winning your final seven conference games — when trying to impress the committee.
Colorado: The Buffs have been to The Dance twice since the Big 12 was formed, in 1997 and 2003. They've also been in the NIT twice. Before that, 1969 was the last time CU made much noise on the national level.
Texas A&M: The Aggies are one of the only teams in the conference with a less glamorous history than CU. Prior to this season, the highest TAMU was ever seeded in the Big 12 tournament was No. 7. They've won 18 league games the past two seasons under Gillaspie, after winning 25 the eight seasons prior.