The Atlantic Coast Conference, Pac-12 and Kentucky had huge nights at the NBA Draft. The ACC and Pac-12 each had 14 players selected in the two rounds and three Wildcats were picked among the top 14.
But it wasn’t a bad night for the Big 12’s draft reputation.
First-rounders Josh Jackson of Kansas and Texas’ Jarrett Allen joined four selected in the second round: Kansas’ Frank Mason, Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu, Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans and Iowa State’s Monte Morris.
It appeared the league would send its entire all-conference team into the draft for the first time since 2000, but that didn’t happen because Baylor’s Johnathan Motley surprisingly wasn’t selected.
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Still, it was a productive evening that will allow the conference to crow. That’s 20 out of 21 years of league history that it has produced at least one first-rounder and the 16th year a player was taken in the top 10.
Add to that the Big 12’s regular-season success: the conference is 5-1-1 in challenge series against the Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference since 2007, won 59 percent of its games against the other power five conference last season, had all members ranked or receiving votes in a major polls and was the No. 2 RPI league in 2017.
Plus with Mason following Buddy Hield, the conference has had the last two consensus national players of the year.
It only adds to the NCAA Tournament frustration that’s been building for years.
For all of the accomplishments, the Big 12 can’t find ultimate achievement in March Madness.
It does well enough. There have been two straight years of overall winning records in the postseason, two straight years of teams reaching the Sweet 16 plus Oklahoma’s trip to the 2016 Final Four.
But the bottom line remains one national championship and an 8-16 record in Elite Eight games since the conference started in 1996-97.
When measuring a conference it all matters. Nonconference games, challenge series, the NBA Draft. No conference has a more intense league season than the Big 12 with its complete round-robin.
It all makes it difficult to explain why a battle-hardened, well-exposed, next-level talent conference falls short when it matters most.
League bell cow Kansas amplifies the trend. The Jayhawks have been a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in 10 of the past 11 years and have reached the Final Four twice. The 2008 national title is the ultimate trump card, but Kansas fans can readily recite the lost opportunities, the most recent at the Sprint Center three months ago.
Kansas has shaken up its recipe for success by joining the transfer world. The 2017-18 roster includes six players who started their Division I career elsewhere, and three will be eligible this season.
With 13 consecutive Big 12 regular-season championships and its history of NCAA Tournament seeding, the Jayhawks could hardly be more successful from the beginning of the season through the end of the conference tournament. And the program often shines on NBA Draft night as it did on Thursday.
So did the Big 12. Top recruits, and now transfers, should continue to find their way into the conference. The league looks strong again next season, and the only way to change fortune in the NCAA Tournament is to keep amassing the type of talent that walks on stage on a late June evening and dons an NBA cap.