March 12, 2003

By JAIME ARON
AP Sports Writer

DALLAS (AP) - Texas coach Rick Barnes would be disappointed if the Big 12 doesn't receive two No. 1 seeds when the NCAA tournament field is announced later this week.

It's easy to see why.

Each of the past three years, two of the four No. 1 seeds have gone to teams from the same conference. The Pac-10 started the trend, then the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference kept it going.

With Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma all ranked in the top six heading into the start of the conference tournament Thursday, Barnes and Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson expect the new tradition to continue.

"I will be disappointed if our league doesn't have two No. 1 seeds," Barnes said.

"I'd probably be more surprised than disappointed," Sampson said. "I think we will have two No. 1 seeds because we've earned it."

Barnes pointed out that the big three in the Big 12 were considered among the nation's best from start to finish. Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas were ranked 2-3-4 in the preseason poll. Now, it's Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma at 3-4-6.

"I don't think there's any question this is the best basketball league in the country this year," Barnes said.

Kansas coach Roy Williams took a more humble approach, saying all three schools still have work to do in the conference tournament.

"If the seeds hold true to form, then I think we have a great chance of getting two No. 1 seeds," he said.

The Jayhawks are the top seed in the Big 12 tournament because they won the regular-season title. The Longhorns are second, Sooners third and No. 23 Oklahoma State is fourth. All earned a first-round bye and don't play until Friday.

In opening-round games Thursday, Iowa State plays Texas A&M, Nebraska plays Missouri, Kansas State plays Colorado and Baylor plays Texas Tech - the first game since Red Raiders coach Bob Knight refunded the school his $250,000 base salary because he didn't feel he earned it.

Knight said Wednesday he won't change his mind if the team plays well this weekend and makes the NCAA tournament.

"My whole deal was on the season. I felt that way," Knight said. "We just haven't been able to get the thing over the hump. I have some responsibilities, I think, to see that get done."

The NCAA field has had two No. 1 teams from the same conference just eight times.

The SEC was first in 1980 with LSU and Kentucky. It happened again in 1982 (ACC, North Carolina and Virginia), 1985 (Big East, St. John's and Georgetown) and 1993 (Big Ten, Michigan and Indiana).

Then came a spurt of four times in five years: 1998 (ACC, North Carolina and Duke); 2000 (Pac-10; Stanford and Arizona); 2001 (Big Ten, Illinois and Michigan State) and 2002 (ACC, Duke and Maryland).

Should Kansas make the Big 12 final Sunday against Texas or Oklahoma, the winner would be a lock to get a No. 1 seed. The bigger question will be what happens to the runner-up.

Sampson doesn't even want to try reading the minds of committee members. He thought the Sooners would get a No. 1 seed last year when they beat the Jayhawks in the conference final. Instead, Kansas did and Oklahoma was slotted second. Both ended up in the Final Four.

Barnes said whatever happens this weekend shouldn't overshadow the last four months.

"I'd love to one day be able to sit in that room and see what goes on behind those doors," he said. "I truly believe when they go in that room, they go back to the start and take everything into consideration."

This is the seventh postseason tournament since the Big 12 was formed and the first time it's not being held in Kansas City.

A top-four seed has won every title, with only one of the bottom-eight even reaching the finals - Missouri, seeded 10th, in the inaugural event in 1997.

"No team has won four games - we're aware that's a tall order," Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. "That's a goal we have. ... To win four games in four days would have a very positive impact on your (NCAA) seeding."

The Big 12 has put six teams into the NCAA tournament the last three seasons. Snyder's Tigers, seeded fifth, and sixth-seeded Colorado - which beat Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State and Missouri this season - are the frontrunners to join the four ranked teams.

If the Red Raiders can't work their way in, Knight has said he would accept an NIT bid.