Now that the smoke has finally settled from the near-apocalyptic blowup of one of the nation’s most powerful conferences in the money sports, we can sift through the wreckage and take a gander at what it all means to college basketball. Yesterday we discussed the numerous possibilities that may still exist in the pipeline as more strategic moves are considered and ultimately made, but a wholesale re-working of the collegiate map in the nation’s breadbasket is not coming (at least not this year).
Instead, we’re left with a Big 12 conference that suddenly looks much stronger in the sport of basketball than it has since the good ol’ Big 8 days of yore. Consider that in the last seven years of Big 12 conference play and in twelve of the fourteen years of its existence as a twelve-team league, BOTH of now-departed Nebraska and Colorado failed to make the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Colorado only made the Big Dance twice (1997 and 2003) over that period, while the moribund Huskers only took part once (1998). The two teams combined for a single NCAA win (CU in 1997) in that span, and generally neither school did much to scare the likes of Kansas, Mizzou, Texas or Oklahoma on the recruiting trail or in the arena (Nebraska averaged 6.4 wins in the Big 12 on an annual basis, while the Buffs averaged an even paltrier 6.2 wins per season). Put simply, these are two of the worst BCS-level basketball programs in America, and now the Big 12 has fortuitously shed themselves of their depressing RPIs and general albatross-ness.
Imagine how much better the SEC’s profile would look if it could drop Auburn and Georgia in basketball, or if the ACC could do likewise with NC State and Miami (FL). Suddenly, those #7 and #8 teams fighting for NCAA attention look stronger because their RPIs are not being dragged down by multiple games (and an occasional loss) with the bottom-feeders. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon already gets it:
Nixon suggested that the loss of Colorado and Nebraska might be good for MU and the rest of the conference, at least in one sport. “When you drop the two weakest basketball programs in Colorado and Nebraska, it makes the conference better,” Nixon said. “Our RPI will improve.”
Consider what’s left. Kansas is a top five historical program who will always be good. Texas is currently a top ten program with the resources and recruiting base to remain there for years to come. Missouri has a long tradition of excellent basketball and will continue to excel under Mike Anderson. Texas A&M will play tough-minded defensive basketball for Mark Turgeon and can also tap into the recruiting riches of the Lone Star State. Ditto for Baylor and Scott Drew. Oklahoma State and Oklahoma have strong traditions as well, and will continue to get good players and make NCAA Tournaments. Frank Martin’s Kansas State is on the verge of becoming a powerhouse of its own to rival KU and Mizzou in their backyards. The only two dogs of the group are at Iowa State, who hasn’t been able to get its act together since Larry Eustachy was in town, and Texas Tech, who is clearly still feeling the effects of the Bob Knight era. But eight of ten good to great programs is not freakin’ bad, folks.
You Have to Resurrect Tyronn Lue to Find a Good Nebraska Hoops Team
Last season the Big 12 already had the best conference RPI in the land by a slight margin over the Big East. If we remove CU and UN from the mix, the Big 12′s conference RPI would have risen by a full 0.14 ratings points, making it quite clearly the strongest league in 2009-10. Seven teams already got into the Dance last year — with the additional slots that the 68-team Tournament will now provide, it is conceivable that the Big 12 could see eight of its ten teams advancing to the NCAAs in a particularly strong year. While all of these moves were driven by the pigskin dollars, it may be that the biggest beneficiary in terms of success on the playing surface are the remaining basketball programs.