Top-seeded Kansas favored in Big 12 Tournament

Marcus Denmon (left) of Missouri and Nebraska’s Brandon Richardson tumble while going for a loose ball in the second half of a game earlier this month in Omaha, Neb.

Marcus Denmon (left) of Missouri and Nebraska’s Brandon Richardson tumble while going for a loose ball in the second half of a game earlier this month in Omaha, Neb. Photo by The Associated Press.

KANSAS CITY (AP) — Top-seeded Kansas goes into the Big 12 tournament favored to win but with much to lose.

Colorado and Nebraska, in the final hours of their Big 12 membership, both have much to gain.

For fired-but-still-working Pat Knight, the four-day event in downtown Kansas City is an opportunity to extend his time as Texas Tech’s coach by at least one game.

And besides all that, the last Big 12 tournament that will actually have 12 teams should be wide open.

“Certainly this year, there’s so many teams out there with so much to play for, it should be as competitive as any tournament we’ve had,” said Kansas coach Bill Self.

The No. 2 Jayhawks (29-2), the conference regular-season champions for the seventh year in a row, figure to already own a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney. But if they should stumble and lose Thursday morning to the winner of tonight’s Nebraska-Oklahoma State match, they could get pushed down a line, depending on what happens at other conference tourneys.

“To me, the conference tournaments aren’t as important as the regular season,” Self said. “What it does is give everybody hope. It gives everybody incentive to play for. I know it’s not the most important thing, from our standpoint, as the NCAA tournament. But still yet, it is our league and it is our conference championship and any time you lace ’em up you want to try to play your best.”

Knight was fired Monday by Texas Tech after going 50-60 in three seasons. The Red Raiders (13-18) will have a bevy of seniors line up against sixth-seeded Missouri (22-9) in the last game tonight. As soon as they lose, Knight and all his staff are unemployed.

“This is about the seniors,” Knight said. “Hopefully, I’m going to coach again. But we’ve got some seniors, and this could be their last game or last couple of games. So it’s about them. I walked in and told them, ‘Fellas, they got me this morning. I’ve been fired. I’m kind of like the seniors. This is my last week.’”

Senior guard David Tairu said the team was stunned.

“It kind of shocked all of us,” he said. “It was kind of strange timing for us. We didn’t even know he was talking about getting fired. We were just focused on getting ready for the tournament.”

The favored Jayhawks lost only to Kansas State and Texas in the regular season and are powered by the Morris twins. Markieff led the league in rebounds and Marcus was Big 12 player of the year.

Colorado (19-12), which is headed to the Pac-10 next year, is led by all-conference swing man Alec Burks and could nail down an NCAA bid with a victory over No. 12 seed Iowa State (16-15) today. The winner of that one advances to meet fourth-seeded Kansas State (22-9), which has won eight of its last nine and comes in as the league’s hottest team.

Coming out of high school in Grandview, Mo., in the Kansas City area, Burks was barely even noticed by Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State. But after a breakout sophomore season when he averaged almost 20 points, the smooth 6-foot-6 playmaker is making a triumphant return to his home area.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” Burks said. “A couple of years ago, nobody knew about me except in Grandview. Now everybody knows about me. It’s a blessing.”

He’s not worried about putting on a show for the local schools that spurned him.

“I’m just going to go play my game,” he said. “I don’t have to prove nothing now.”

If the Buffs win, they’ll face a Kansas State team they swept in the regular season but is hardly the same now. After switching offenses and finding their touch, the Wildcats won their last six and had victories over Kansas and No. 10 Texas. Fueled by all-conference senior guard Jacob Pullen, the Wildcats are finally playing like the team that was predicted to win the regular-season race. Pullen needs 62 points to overtake Mike Evans for Kansas State’s career scoring record.

After struggling last Saturday to beat Iowa State, Martin agrees that’s it’s going to be a very unpredictable week.

“Iowa State is seeded No. 12 in the league, and you saw what a hard game that was,” Martin said. “Every game in this league is hard.”

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