We’ve heard from fans and pundits alike this season that the Big 12 is the best conference in college basketball. SB Nation’s Mike Rutherford decided to do some homework on that discussion and released some findings in a piece he published on Monday afternoon. Before you get out your pitchforks and torches, though, Rutherford brings some strong evidence to suggest that maybe the conference is not all it’s cracked up to be. He samples the seven teams that have been ranked in the AP Top 25 during conference play — Kansas, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, West Virginia and Oklahoma State — and averaged out each team’s win/loss margin whenever a match-up between two ranked opponents occurred. For instance, in the eight games where a ranked Oklahoma team has faced a ranked Big 12 opponent, the Sooners’ combined average margin of victory (or defeat) was 14.6 points per game.
Rutherford then calculated the other average margins (accurate as of tip-off of the Kansas-West Virginia game) — Iowa State (7.9 PPG), Kansas (8.4), Baylor (10.4), Oklahoma State (12.0), Texas (17.4) and West Virginia (17.8) — and then argues that the scoring margins should be a lot closer that they actually are (aggregate scoring margin: 12.6 PPG). In this context, Rutherford is right. Big 12 basketball can be quite boring. But is that the fault of the teams? Some of it is, but the pollsters deserve the lion’s share of it. Many AP pollsters who don’t primarily cover college basketball sometimes paste together their Top 25s by skimming over how teams did the previous week. While that is clearly an important factor to consider, there are others at play too, such as performances earlier in the season or the severity of some losses. Case in point: Oklahoma was ranked #16 in the AP poll during the week of January 5 but the Sooners would go on to lose four of their next five games. In the January 26 poll released three weeks afterward, Oklahoma dropped from #16 to #24. Often a team that loses twice in a week is poised to completely fall out of the rankings, but the pollsters only punished the Sooners by eight spots following such a rough stretch. Another example is Texas, a team that dropped six of eight games at an early point in league play, falling from #10 to #25 in the AP poll over four weeks. Rankings are ultimately an exercise in aggregating how different people view the world around them, and speaking of which, here’s this week’s Big 12 Power Rankings.