Hoops Heritage: KC's Love Affair with the Big 12
Looking back at the Big 12 Tournament's history in Kansas City, and looking ahead to the 2015 edition March 11-14 at Sprint Center
2014 Big 12 game between Iowa State and Baylor at Sprint Center
College basketball owes a debt of gratitude to Kansas City.
This sport and this town have such a symbiotic relationship that the College Basketball Experience and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame are located right next to Sprint Center. They're so intertwined with one another that at one time Kansas City was ostensibly the home of the NCAA Tournament, hosting nine Final Fours from 1940-1964 and another in 1988.
But the joint really gets jumping for the Big 12 Tournament, in which the Power & Light District is inundated with college basketball fans from across the league. This is where March Madness really begins — inside Sprint Center and at the fan-fueled parties in between games.
"It's really one of the highlights of my season," ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla says, "because Kansas City is a great sports town and it's a great college basketball town. The Big 12 Tournament is well-supported not only by the city and the Kansas City community, but by all the schools that come to Kansas City. It's a great weekend every year to be a college basketball fan, and we have a great seat."
Kansas City hosted every Big Eight Tournament from its inception in 1977 until the league expanded to 12 teams in 1996. The epic tussles at Kemper Arena featured legends like Kansas' Danny Manning and Oklahoma's Wayman Tisdale, and coaches like Norm Stewart, Larry Brown and Billy Tubbs.
This Big 12 Tournament is the 14th held in Kansas City. Kemper Arena was the venue for seven of them, and this marks the seventh Big 12 Tournament at Sprint Center. The Big 12 Tournament has been staged in Oklahoma City and Dallas before, but in those years it just wasn't the same.
"Although I wasn't born in the region — I'm a New Yorker by birth — I was enamored with Big Eight basketball and Kemper Arena and Missouri, KU, Iowa State and Kansas State," Fraschilla says. "So I appreciate what Kansas City has meant to college basketball and what it's meant to the Big Eight and Big 12 Tournaments. I'm a traditionalist; I'm a basketball purist. I love the fact that it's in Kansas City."
And this year, the Big 12 is so crazy that it definitely is anybody's tournament to win. Back in January, seven teams were in the same Associated Press Top 25 poll, and every team but Texas Tech has received votes in the polls. Among the teams vying to supplant Kansas as the toast of the Big 12 is Oklahoma, with its efficient offense and great leadership from top scorer Buddy Hield. West Virginia is pressing every square inch of the court to great effect for coach Bob Huggins. Iowa State lost key pieces, but just plugged in new guys that can spread the floor and beat you at every position. Texas has rebuilt itself with the help of freshman Myles Turner. Kansas State played some of its best basketball against conference foes after stumbling in its non-conference slate. And Kansas has been wildly uneven, sometimes within the same game, in its quest for an 11th straight Big 12 regular season title, but they're getting good contributions from freshmen Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, Jr.
Some college basketball analysts like Iowa State to repeat as the Big 12's conference tournament champion.
"They're a team that can always score," says Miles Simon, who called Big 12 basketball games every Tuesday night for ESPN. "And I think this year they're a little bit better defensively, and the biggest reason is Jameel McKay, a guy that can block shots and has great energy and runs the floor. So now they have legit size underneath the rim. And in three games in a row, they can put the ball in the hoop, and sometimes that's just not what a lot of teams can do across the country."
With all due respect to the other leagues, the most entertaining conference tournament before Selection Sunday is in Kansas City. Get ready for four exciting days of basketball.
"These fans come in droves and color-code the arena," Simon says. "The fans love their league. I can feel the energy in the arena even when I'm watching it on TV, and I think that's what makes it really special, aside from it being highly competitive and having so many great teams and players on the floor."
Seven Memorable Championship Games in the Big 12 Tournament
March 9, 1997:
No. 1 Kansas 87, Missouri 60
The first championship game in the history of the Big 12 Tournament was a Border War mismatch. Missouri had beaten three higher-seeded teams to reach the final, but Kansas raced to a 51-26 halftime lead and coasted to its first conference tournament title since 1992. Paul Pierce had 30 points and Jacque Vaughn dished out 12 assists for KU, which had one of its best teams in school history and won its three tournament games by an average of 22 points.
March 10, 2002:
No. 4 Oklahoma 64, No. 1 Kansas 55
Coach Roy Williams' 2002 Kansas team was the embodiment of the up-tempo style he favors. Posting a perfect 16-0 record in the Big 12, the Jayhawks averaged nearly 95 points a game in league play that year. But they could do nothing offensively against the hard-nosed Sooners, who would join Kansas in the 2002 Final Four. Nick Collison and Drew Gooden each had double-doubles for the top-ranked Jayhawks, but Hollis Price's clutch three-pointers helped fend off KU's attempts at rallying in the second half.
March 13, 2005:
No. 6 Oklahoma State 72, No. 24 Texas Tech 68
In the last Big 12 Tournament game ever played at Kemper Arena, Oklahoma State successfully defended its Big 12 Tournament crown by defeating coach Bob Knight's Red Raiders. In an excellent basketball game, Texas Tech's 22-4 second-half run erased a 49-37 deficit, and the Pokes countered with a 14-4 spurt of their own to regain the lead. "This arena's been good to the Cowboys," said Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, "and I think it's been good for college basketball."
March 16, 2008:
No. 4 Kansas 84, No. 7 Texas 74
Before it won the 2008 national championship, Kansas won the first Big 12 Tournament held at Sprint Center. The Jayhawks didn't play their best basketball in their first two games against Nebraska and Texas A&M, but they beat seventh-ranked Texas in massively entertaining fashion, making 15 three-pointers and getting 30 points from NCAA Tournament hero Mario Chalmers. Said coach Bill Self: "That was one of the best games I've ever been a part of."
March 13, 2010:
No. 1 Kansas 72, No. 9 Kansas State 64
Several strong teams coached by Frank Martin rekindled Kansas State's interstate rivalry with Kansas, and it was a Sunflower Showdown for the ages with the Jayhawks beating the Wildcats in a matchup of Top 10 teams in front of a rowdy Sprint Center crowd. The gritty Cats pulled within two points in the second half on a Denis Clemente basket, but the Jayhawks found some offensive rhythm and stretched their lead to 12 with 4:50 to play.
March 10, 2012:
No. 5 Missouri 90, No. 12 Baylor 75
Mizzou was far and away the best team in the tournament in 2012, beating its three opponents by a combined 47 points and never really getting challenged by 12th-ranked Baylor in a black-and-gold Sprint Center. Kim English scored 69 points in three wins, the most by any Tiger in the Big 12 Tournament, and was 29-for-40 from the field. The Tigers shot 54 percent for the game, and five of Missouri's seven guys who played would score 15+ points.
March 15, 2014:
No. 16 Iowa State 74, Baylor 65
Iowa State fans flock to Kansas City in force for the Big 12 Tournament, and Sprint Center turned into Hilton Coliseum last season as the 16th-ranked Cyclones held off Baylor for an emotional tournament title. Coach Fred Hoiberg's celebratory fist pump to red-clad fans was an homage to his college coach at Iowa State, Johnny Orr, who had died the previous December. Baylor scored 11 of the first 12 points and owned a five-point halftime lead, but Iowa State outscored the Bears 33-16 down the stretch in the second half.