Big 12 Week In Review and Look Ahead: Don’t Mistake League’s Competitiveness For SuperiorityPosted by Brian Goodman on February 21st, 2014
The Big 12 may be one of the most competitive conferences in the country, but this week hasn’t been the most glowing endorsement for the league’s case as the best conference in the country. Monday’s game between Baylor and Oklahoma State was supposed to be a battle of teams in the top half of the conference (if we go by preseason expectations), but instead was a fight for ninth place that only went to overtime because of a sequence that was, well, very fitting of a ninth-place battle:
The next day, Texas squared off against Iowa State in a game with major implications for the Longhorns’ Big 12 title chances, but they were able to lead only within the first five minutes. While Texas kept the game interesting with a run early in the second half, the Cyclones pulled away to hold serve at home.
Meanwhile, 925 miles south, Kansas needed another miracle from Andrew Wiggins at the end of regulation to get past a salty but mediocre Texas Tech team in Lubbock:
The only other game this week saw Kansas State quietly beat TCU by 12. The Wildcats’ two best players, Marcus Foster and Thomas Gipson, paired up for 29 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, but they also combined to shoot 34.6 percent from the floor and turned the ball over nine times. As a team, Kansas State had a staggering 18 turnovers at home against the worst power conference team in the country, needing a second half run to get away for good.
If you want to argue that the Big 12 is the most competitive league in the country, there’s definitely a case. The league projects to send half its membership to the NCAA Tournament, and when the eighth-place team can push a top-ten team to the brink, it certainly fits that descriptor, and an abundance of other close finishes have made for a thrilling two months of conference action. But that competitiveness shouldn’t be mistaken for superiority when discussing the Big 12’s place among the nation’s conferences, at least when you look at trusted advanced metrics.
Kansas is currently the Big 12’s only team with a spot in KenPom.com‘s top 25. By contrast, the Big Ten claims five of Pomeroy’s top 18 spots, and zooming back out to the top 25, the ACC has five teams in that subset, while the SEC claims three. The Pac-12 and even the AAC have more teams than the Big 12 in Pomeroy’s top 25, with two and three, respectively. From that perspective, it’s hard to argue that the Big 12 has been slightly overrated. That’s due in some part to the disappointing seasons of Oklahoma State and Baylor, but that’s a topic for another day.
If you aren’t a fan of computer rankings and prefer to instead determine a conference’s quality by the standings, that’s fine, but you’ll still have trouble making a reasonable argument for the Big 12’s superiority. That’s what brings us to this weekend’s slate, specifically the headlining tilt between first-place Kansas and second-place Texas (6:30 CST). The Jayhawks currently sit in first place with Texas trailing by two games. This is a very good, deep conference, but how good can it really be if the race can effectively be decided before the final week of February?
With a win tomorrow, Kansas would have a three-game cushion with four games left. As clear favorites at home, the odds will be in Kansas’ favor, but a victory isn’t a given. Last month, Texas soundly beat Kansas in Austin with big offensive games from Isaiah Taylor and Jonathan Holmes and a stifling performance on defense from Cameron Ridley. Texas’ chances of sweeping the Jayhawks will rely on the Longhorn guards making good decisions and Ridley being a factor once again. Guard play will be something to watch for on Kansas’ side as well after Naadir Tharpe and Wayne Selden played poorly against the Red Raiders. Even if Texas upsets Kansas, though, the Jayhawks’ one-game lead, plus a difference in the quality of remaining schedules will keep them ahead as the favorites, while a Texas loss would essentially eliminate the Longhorns’s hopes of ending Kansas’ dominant streak of consecutive Big 12 titles.
Here’s what else to watch for on Saturday:
- Texas Tech at Oklahoma State (1:30 CST): Marcus Smart returns to the floor, coincidentally, against the last team he faced as a fully-participating member of the Cowboys. Oklahoma State’s disaster of a season means that this game won’t have a major impact on the standings, but the Cowboys are pinning their hopes on Smart to kickstart a stretch run that gets them off the bubble and into the NCAA Tournament. Texas Tech will have something to say about that, especially if they’re able to get into the paint as consistently as they did against Kansas on Tuesday.
- Baylor at West Virginia (1:30 CST): It’s been seven weeks since West Virginia lost at home, and in that time, the Mountaineers have revived their NCAA Tournament chances with wins over Kansas State, Oklahoma, and Iowa State. Juwan Staten has built a strong case for Big 12 Player Of The Year, and he’ll figure to do a lot of the heavy lifting in this one as well. Meanwhile, the Bears have needed extra time to win their last two games and get back to the bubble themselves.
- Kansas State at Oklahoma (4:00 CST): The Wildcats and Sooners are in similar positions in that both would be in the Big Dance if it started today, but neither are locks. However, a win Saturday is slightly more important for Kansas State than it is for Oklahoma, as Saturday begins a stretch where the Wildcats play three out of four games on the road, whereas the Sooners’ remaining schedule following tomorrow’s game (at Kansas, home against Texas and West Virginia, at TCU) is a bit friendlier.
- Iowa State at TCU (4:00 CST): Don’t expect any surprises as the Cyclones look to pad their position in the league’s hierarchy against the cellar-dwelling Horned Frogs. Fred Hoiberg should have an opportunity to get his supporting cast more involved after players not named DeAndre Kane, Melvin Ejim or Georges Niang scored only 18 of Iowa State’s 85 points against Texas on Tuesday.