KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There is plenty of Big 12 flavor in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament.
Start at the top with No. 1 seed Kansas, which was rewarded for its 13th straight regular-season conference championship by getting to play the opening round just down the road in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Jayhawks face the winner of a play-in game between North Carolina Central and UC Davis.
Big 12 Tournament champ Iowa State is the fifth seed in the region while Oklahoma State earned an at-large bid and will face Big Ten Tournament champion Michigan as the No. 10 seed.
“I was really, really surprised,” Kansas coach Bill Self said, “not that they put Iowa State with us — I think that’s fine — but they did it if both teams advanced it could happen in the Sweet 16.”
The selection committee changed its guidelines a few years ago so teams from the same conference are not supposed to play each other before the tournament’s second weekend.
“So I guess they followed their guideline,” Self said.
The four teams advancing to the regional semifinals will meet at Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City, where the Big 12 just wrapped up its tournament. And you can bet local fans, restaurants, hotels and bar owners are salivating at the idea of Kansas and Iowa State meeting there.
Louisville earned the No. 2 seed despite its early loss to red-hot Duke in the ACC Tournament, and Oregon was given the No. 3 seed after losing the Pac-12 title game to Arizona on Saturday night.
The Big Ten was well represented in the region with fourth-seeded Purdue joining the Spartans and Wolverines. Creighton earned the No. 6 seed despite struggling down the stretch, when an injury to star point guard Mo Watson forced coach Greg McDermott to shuffle around minutes.
For all those teams, there’s a good chance the road to the Final Four goes through Kansas.
The Jayhawks were positioned for the No. 1 overall seed before losing to TCU in the quarterfinals of the Big 12 Tournament. But they played that game without star forward Josh Jackson, who was serving a one-game suspension for a traffic incident. The freshman phenom and likely NBA lottery pick will be back on the floor when Kansas begins pursuit of its sixth national title.
“The biggest thing about getting the seed we got is we’d be playing in Kansas City,” the Jayhawks’ Landen Lucas said. “We’re all looking forward to playing in Tulsa and seeing our fans out there.”
FAMILIAR FOES: Kansas and Miami have never met in the NCAA Tournament, but the Jayhawks and Spartans have plenty of history. Along with meeting regularly in the Champions Classic early in the season, they split two previous regional semifinals.
MORE SECOND-ROUND MUSINGS: Imagine a matchup between Louisville and Michigan State for the right to advance from Indianapolis. Remember, the Cardinal overcame a halftime deficit to beat the Wolverines four years ago in a dramatic national title game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
Then there’s the chance Oregon coach Dana Altman gets to face his former team. Before turning the Ducks into a perennial Pac-12 contender, Altman did the same thing during 16 years at Creighton. The Bluejays went to seven NCAA Tournaments and won more than 300 games with him on the sideline.
PLENTY OF STAR POWER: Kansas boasts not only Jackson but Frank Mason III, the front-runner for national player of the year. They are joined by Purdue standout Caleb Swanigan, Oregon guard Dillon Brooks, Big 12 Tournament MVP Monte Morris of Iowa State and Louisville sophomore Donovan Mitchell in giving the Midwest Region arguably the best collection of talent in the dance.
STYLES MAKE FIGHTS: There are intriguing clashes of style throughout the region with rough-and-tumble teams such as Michigan State and Purdue — quintessential Big Ten bruisers — in line to play fun-and-gun teams such as Kansas and Iowa State.
“The NCAA Tournament probably has a lot to do with match-ups,” said Danny Hurley, whose No. 11 seed Rhode Island will play Creighton. “I think we’re built to compete.”
BEYOND THE COURT: The Jayhawks have had a slew of legal problems that have threatened to become a distraction, while the Cardinal are back after serving a postseason ban for their escort scandal.
A more heartwarming story line involves the Wolverines, who escaped disaster last week when their plane destined for the Big Ten Tournament skidded off the runway before takeoff. The No. 8 seed went on to win the tournament and take any drama out of the selection process.
“We got a lot of confidence,” the Wolverines’ Derrick Walton said. “I think we’re a really dynamic team. We can score in a lot of different ways. We think we pose a huge threat against other teams.”