With nine of the conference’s 10 teams in Joe Lunardi’s latest NCAA Tournament bracket on ESPN.com, the Big 12 is flexing its muscles.

The lone Big 12 team not currently projected in the field, Oklahoma State, is among the “first four out” with a big chance to improve its position heading into a matchup with No. 4 Kansas on Saturday in Lawrence, Kan.

Kansas (11-1) is firmly on the top seed line as the Jayhawks carry a five-game winning streak into both teams’ conference opener. The defending national champions were not picked to win the Big 12 (second behind Baylor).

Jayhawks coach Bill Self, who played at Oklahoma State in the 1980s, thinks the league is as sound as it’s ever been, including his alma mater.

“I’d say there’s absolutely not one bottom-tier team,” Self said of the Big 12. “I watched Oklahoma State the other day. They had a heck of a win at Wichita State. Not many people are going to win there. They are 8-4 and they lost to Virginia Tech in the Top 25 on the last possession. Oklahoma State is good.”

The key for Self is finding a rotation he can count on. He’s got four certainties, including the Big 12’s leading scorer, Jalen Wilson (21.1 points per game). Gradey Dick is ninth in the conference at 15.4 and Kevin McCullar is inside the top 20 at 11.9. Point guard Dajuan Harris is second in the league in assists (6.6) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.3).

Filling in the gaps is up to Self’s imagination. Until then, he will hope that his team can count on experience to persevere.

“The key to having great seasons is not winning when you played great, it’s winning when you don’t play great,” Self said after the Jayhawks defeated Harvard 68-54 on Dec. 22 in their last game. “This team did exactly what we’re supposed to do on a night we didn’t make shots.”

The Cowboys (8-4) will be looking for their third straight victory. They used balanced scoring in an 81-58 victory over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Bryce Thompson led with 13 points, with Tyreek Smith (12), Moussa Cisse (12) and Avery Anderson (10) joining him in double figures.

“I was pleased with the effort on both ends of the court, particularly defensively at the beginning of the game,” Cowboys coach Mike Boynton said after the game. “We played in attack mode. Offensively, we’re getting better. We’re starting to move the ball better. Our assist numbers, the number of baskets that are assisted, are off the charts.

“We have a lot of guys who are capable of making shots, and we showed that today.”

Anderson leads the Cowboys in scoring at 12.2 points per game. Thompson is averaging 11.5. But as Boynton said, there are plenty of options. Five other players average at least 7.0 points per game. Cisse (8.6 points per game) is pulling down 10.8 rebounds per contest.

Kansas has won three straight matchups in the series and eight of the past nine.

–Field Level Media