Another Year, Another Doughnut: What’s Wrong With the Big 12?Posted by Kory Carpenter on April 10th, 2014
The Big 12 has a problem. It spent most of the regular season perceived as the best conference in the country but went another year without a national champion. Since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1984, only two Big 12 teams have won the national title. Both teams were Kansas (1988 and 2008). That represents fewer titles than any other Big Five conference and just one more than UNLV. In the last decade, in fact, Kansas is the only school to make a Final Four appearance as a member of the Big 12 (West Virginia made the Final Four in 2010 while still in the Big East). Since then, the ACC has sent five schools to the Final Four, the SEC seven, and the Big Ten eight. Even the one year-old American Athletic Conference has had a national champion, thanks to Connecticut. This is partly a Kansas problem, as the Jayhawks have missed good opportunities for Final Fours at least four times in the last 10 years. But without the Jayhawks the rest of the Big 12 would resemble Conference USA. It has been full of teams that were good but never considered great, and there is no better example of that than this season.
Kansas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, and Texas spent time together in the Top 25 this season, but only the Jayhawks were considered legitimate threats to go deep in March. Iowa State, for example, cruised to a 13-0 start with a few good wins over Michigan and Iowa, so when they lost to Oklahoma, it meant the Sooners must be good. Or so we thought. And after Kansas State — which lost to Northern Colorado and Charlotte in November — beat a couple of ranked teams like Oklahoma State and Texas, people thought the conference was full of really good teams beating up on one another. But after another disappointing March, it’s time to realize that the Big 12 has one great program and a bunch of other ones capable of playing well for a few weeks at a time. Michigan State has Ohio State, Michigan, and Wisconsin. North Carolina has Duke and Syracuse. Kentucky has Florida. Kansas has a handful of teams capable of upsetting them in their building and disappearing a week later. This is most evident in the fact that Kansas has won 10 straight regular season titles. Bill Self is a future Hall of Fame coach and is on one of the best regular season runs we have seen in decades, but would he have 10 straight titles in any other major conference? Not a chance. And with Self’s prowess on the recruiting trail lately, it’s hard to see any Big 12 team ending the Jayhawks’ run of conference titles.
Texas is probably the best candidate to do so. The Longhorns’ core of Jonathan Holmes, Isaiah Austin, Javan Felix and Cameron Ridley should all be back next season. All but Holmes were underclassmen this season and all four players led the Longhorns in scoring. They are also a finalist in the Myles Turner sweepstakes. Turner, a five-star center from Bedford, Texas, is reportedly considering the trio of Texas, SMU and Kansas. A frontcourt of Turner and Holmes could challenge Kansas (Cliff Alexander and Perry Ellis) as the best starting tandem in the Big 12. Oklahoma should be better as well. The Sooners finished second in the conference this season and earned a #5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They return all five starters and head coach Lon Kruger is one of the best X’s and O’s coaches in the league. Leading scorer Buddy Hield (16.4 PPG) was only a sophomore this season and should continue to improve. On the other hand, Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg will be in rebuilding mode after losing seniors DeAndre Kane and Big 12 Player of the Year, Melvin Ejim. Oklahoma State will be in a similar spot without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. Kansas State loses senior guards Shane Southwell and Will Spradling, and the rest of the conference is a few years away from making noise. As of now, next year looks to be much more of the same for the Big 12. Kansas will hold up the conference in March or it will be lapped by the rest of the country again.