If I were to say the Big 12 is the best conference in the nation in Division 1 Men’s Basketball, most years I would get laughed at.
Not this year. The Big 12 has the most ranked teams in the nation inside the AP top 25. Yes, basketball, not football.
Surprising? Some would say yes. But in truth the Big 12 has become a superpower in college basketball in recent years. It has produced Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Andrew Wiggins. All are current NBA stars.
The conference is finally getting the recognition it deserves.
The most surprising teams this season have been Iowa State and West Virginia. Each is ranked inside the top 15 in both the AP and Coaches Polls. As is the case with most Big 12 teams this year, they have gotten there with excellent offensive play.
The Cyclones rank among the top teams in the league in field goal percentage and assists per game. Iowa State is for real and will go deep into this year’s NCAA tournament.
As usual, the Kansas Jayhawks top the Big 12, ranking 8/9 in the nation. After embarrassing losses to Kentucky and Temple, Kansas seems to have settled in.
Bill Self’s team, which beat Iowa State by 13 points at Lawrence on Monday night, has only one conference loss this season, on the road to Iowa State. Kansas will have an easier conference schedule down the stretch, facing just two ranked opponents on the road while hosting four at home.
I like the Jayhawks to win their 11th straight Big 12 title with their customary tough, disciplined defense.
The Texas Longhorns are perhaps the most disappointing of the bunch, beginning the season ranked 10th in the nation and generating perhaps the most buzz of any team in the Big 12. Now the Longhorns (4-6 in their last 10 games) find themselves in 8th place in the conference and on the verge of dropping out of contention.
Texas holds a conference record of 3-5. I see the Longhorns bouncing back as they did last year, but if the shooting struggles continue they are bound for an early round exit this March.
As for the national landscape, the usual suspects are still prominent. Louisville, North Carolina and Duke are among the top 15 in the nation, and each is a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
While the ACC is the most formidable conference in collegiate basketball, boasting five teams in the top 12, it lacks the depth of the Big 12.
We can expect, as in most years, several 1 and 2 seeds for this year’s NCAA Tournament to come out of the ACC.
I have to concede it is very unusual to think of the Big 12 as a basketball conference, but that really is what it has come down to. After years of building momentum and through the rise and fall of several fantastic teams, (Baylor 2011-2012, Texas 2007-2008 and multiple Kansas squads), the Big 12 has finally arrived on the scene as a basketball power-conference.
Like the SEC in football, the Big 12 will topple each other this season and it may not be pretty in the final weeks of the regular season. It will not be until March that we will see the true improvement of the conference compared to national opponents. I believe the Big 12 will be up to the task.
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