When it comes to bracketing the NCAA Tournament, the top 16 teams typically get a regional advantage.
As it pertains to Tulsa, it means the BOK Center is likely to see Kansas and Houston in March — as long as they continue to take care of business.
The Jayhawks and Cougars are both projected 3-seeds right now, according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi.
If either team falters, Texas Tech or Iowa State — projected no. 4 seeds — could steal a place among the eight teams coming to Tulsa.
But with four weeks until the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament, here’s who Lunardi is sending to Tulsa:
3. Kansas (20-6, 9-4 Big 12) vs. 14. South Dakota State (22-7, 12-2 Summit)
The Jayhawks are still a game behind Kansas State in the Big 12 title race, but they’ve won three in a row to keep the pressure on the Wildcats. They play Saturday at Texas Tech in a pivotal game for both the league and for seeding.
After Saturday, KU finishes the regular season with two home games and road trips to Oklahoma State (March 2) and Oklahoma (March 5).
Meanwhile, South Dakota State should be a familiar program to local college basketball fans. The Jackrabbits are the favorites to win the Summit League Tournament for the fourth consecutive season. They beat Oral Roberts in Tulsa 86-80 on Jan. 31. Star Mike Daum averages 25.8 points and 11.9 rebounds per game.
6. Mississippi State (19-7, 7-6 SEC) vs. 11. Arizona State (18-8, 9-5 Pac-12)
The Bulldogs are on track to reach their first NCAA Tournament since 2009. Their resume includes quality wins over Auburn, Florida, Cincinnati and Wofford. Their coach, Ben Howland, once made three consecutive Final Fours with UCLA.
Arizona State is the Pac-12’s best — and perhaps only — chance to get a second team in the field, depending on the result of the Pac-12 tournament. The Sun Devils lost in a play-in game last season. Their coach, of course, is Duke legend Bobby Hurley.
3. Houston (25-1, 12-1 AAC) vs. 14. UC Irvine (23-5, 11-1 Big West)
Houston is the nation’s only one-loss team and would be the highest-ranked team coming to Tulsa if the season ended today. Kelvin Sampson’s team already has been to Oklahoma twice this season, beating OSU in December and Tulsa in January.
The Cougars were a buzzer-beater away from defeating eventual runner-up Michigan last season and advancing to the Sweet Sixteen, and could be playing even better basketball this season.
UC Irvine, meanwhile, is the only NCAA Division I team to be nicknamed the Anteaters. Why? According to the school website, when the campus was established in 1965, a pair of water polo athletes proposed the anteater idea because they were fans of the comic strip “B.C.,” which featured an anteater who cried “Zot!” The name won with 56 percent of a vote. This year’s squad is trying to be the second to make the tournament in program history.
6. Kansas State (20-6, 10-3 Big 12) vs. 11. Seton Hall (16-10, 7-7 Big East)
Is there enough room in Tulsa for both KU and K-State? It certainly would add to the arena’s atmosphere. And a game between K-State and Houston in the second round could be one of the marquee tilts of the first weekend.
K-State is showcasing the form that helped it to the Elite Eight a year ago, with 10 wins in its past 11 conference games. The Wildcats are one of the most experienced teams in the nation, led by Barry Brown and Dean Wade.
Seton Hall defeated Kentucky earlier this season. The Pirates, coached by Kevin Willard, are attempting to reach a fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament after missing the previous nine.