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  • The Big 12's greatest teams in history have plenty of Kansas representation. How high can the Red Raiders climb on the list?
By Michael Shapiro
April 03, 2019

Only one Big 12 team has won the national title since the conference began play in 1997, with Kansas snagging the lone championship in 2008. The conference hasn’t been completely out of the national championship picture over the last two decades, though, sending nine teams to the Final Four from 2002–18. Texas Tech will be the Big 12’s 10th Final Four squad when it faces Michigan State on Saturday.

The Red Raiders have largely cruised through the NCAA tournament, advancing to the Final Four following three double-digit wins and a six-point victory over Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. They are now the fifth Big 12 school to reach the Final Four, joining five Kansas teams, Texas in 2003, Oklahoma State in 2004 and Oklahoma in 2002 and 2018.

In anticipation of Saturday’s matchup in Minneapolis, we compared this year’s Texas Tech team to the Big 12’s nine other Final Four squads. Could the 2018–19 Red Raiders become the best team in Big 12 history?

Tier 1: The Champs

Even a national championship on Monday night is unlikely to place Texas Tech over Kansas’s 2007–08 team. The Jayhawks ended the season 37–3, blitzing No. 1 seed North Carolina with an 18-point victory in the Final Four. Mario Chalmers is the most famous 2008 Kansas alum to reach the NBA, but former pros Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur, Cole Aldrich and Darnell Jackson also played for the Jayhawks’ national title team. Chalmers’s miracle three secured Bill Self’s legacy in Lawrence, and vaulted the 2008 Jayhawks above any team in conference history.

Tier 2: Jayhawks Fall Just Short

The two other Big 12 teams to win a Final Four game also came from Lawrence, with the Jayhawks losing the national title game to Kentucky in 2012 and Syracuse in 2003. Anything short of a championship will slot Texas Tech below the 2003 Jayhawks. Kansas demolished Dwyane Wade and Marquette by 33 in the Final Four, and could have won the national title if not for Hakim Warrick’s wingspan. Kirk Hinrich and Nick Collison went on to long NBA careers after their final run with Roy Williams, with the latter earning a jersey retirement from the Oklahoma City Thunder. Chris Beard and Co. can’t compete with such a résumé without a national title.

Texas Tech could have a better case against Kansas’s 2012 team with one Final Four victory. The Jayhawks lost by eight to Anthony Davis and Co. in the national title game, and they won their second-round and Sweet 16 matchups by just three points each. Thomas Robinson was the 2012 squad’s lone NBA player, and Jarrett Culver should have a stronger pro career. If Texas Tech wins against Michigan State and loses on Monday, it should be historically sandwiched between Kansas’s 2003 and 2012 squads.

Tier 3: Semifinal losers (non-Kansas edition)

How should we compare Texas Tech the the non-Kansas portion of our field? For one, the Red Raiders stack up pretty favorably against both Oklahoma teams. The Sooners didn’t have a single All-American or NBA draft pick on their 2002 squad. They also failed to win the Big 12 regular season title, later losing to Indiana in the national semifinal. The 2016 team did feature lottery pick Buddy Hield, but a 95–51 loss to Villanova slots them below this year’s Red Raiders. Barring a blowout loss on Monday, Tech should hold the edge over the Crimson and Cream.

Texas Tech will need a win on Saturday to climb over Texas’s 2003 team and Oklahoma State’s 2004 squad. The Cowboys likely have the best argument as the top non-Kansas team in Big 12 history. Eddie Sutton’s squad won the Big 12 regular season title and conference tournament, then defeated No. 1 St. Joseph’s (led by Jameer Nelson and Delonte West) in the Elite Eight. Oklahoma State’s season ended in a two-point loss to Georgia Tech in the Final Four. Perhaps Tony Allen and John Lucas could have taken down Connecticut. The Longhorns didn’t win either the conference regular-season or tournament crown, but T.J. Ford was a worthy Wooden Award winner and consensus All-American. Culver could exit Lubbock with a similar résumé.

Tier 4: Semifinal losers (Kansas edition)

Kansas lost in the national semifinal in 2002 and 2018, with Williams and Self each taking a defeat. The 2002 crew won the Big 12 regular-season title at 33–4 and boasted impressive NBA talent including Collison, Hinrich and Drew Gooden. Kansas blew out Oregon in the Elite Elight, then lost to Juan Dixon and Maryland in the Final Four.

A barrage of threes buried Kansas last year against Villanova, ending the run that included a Big 12 regular-season title, a Big 12 tournament title and an Elite Eight win over Duke. Neither the 2002 nor 2018 exits are particularly shameful, though they’re a touch forgettable compared to three appearances in the national title game. Texas Tech’s 2019 run will be remembered more fondly.

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