Big 12 men’s basketball is coming off a typical weekend. Kansas won and moved into first place by itself. Two contenders lost.
Six weeks remain in the regular season, plenty of time for the Jayhawks to fall. But there’s enough history here — 10 straight outright or shared conference titles — to give Kansas a strong benefit of the doubt. (One for the toe?)
What does this mean for the Big 12? It’s been suggested that the weekend results don’t bode well for the league, that a conference in which a last-place team topples a leader and in which only one team dominates is detrimental. Since the KU streak started in 2005, no other Big 12 team has reached a Final Four.
I’ll buy some of it. But Iowa State’s upset loss to Texas Tech on Saturday was as likely to happen in the Big 12 as anywhere in the country.
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said Monday that the team had good practices and was emotionally ready for the trip to Lubbock. He was stunned by the Cyclones’ performance. Monday night they rebounded and beat Texas.
What shouldn’t surprise anybody is that Texas Tech, led by a coach with a national championship ring, hadn’t given up on the season. Tubby Smith’s team beat Texas and won at Oklahoma last year. He can scheme and prepare, and recruiting will be his ultimate test. But no other power conference bottom-feeder is coached as well.
The Big 12 has become the nation’s top-rated conference based on its nonconference success, not just by Kansas and Iowa State but from nearly every team. When coaches talk about the league’s parity or the weekly grind or no easy victories, the victories in November and December are the basis.
The Big 12 had plenty of solid victories but went 0-4 against top 10 teams, and Kansas lost to Kentucky by 32.
The conference could get seven teams in the NCAA Tournament, and if Kansas State gets to 11 or 12 league victories, eight wouldn’t be out of the question. Confetti would fly at the home office in Irving, Texas, if the league gets 80 percent in the tourney.
But if the season ended today, there would not be a No. 1 seed, no favorite to reach the Final Four. The conference would get left out, again.
It’s a troubling trend for the Big 12. In Kansas’ decade of consecutive regular-season conference titles, only the Jayhawks have represented the Big 12 on the final weekend. But this is less cause and effect and more a matter of a lousy batting average.
During the KU run, nine other times a Big 12 team has reached a regional final and lost. Not all regional finalists are created equal, but a 2-9 record, including four losses as the better-seeded team, means the Big 12 has experienced more than its share of bad bounces.
In the eight years of the Big 12 before the Jayhawks’ streak, the league went 5-5 in regional finals, including an all-Big 12 title game of Oklahoma and Missouri in 2002.
In those eight years, league teams finished in The Associated Press final top 10 a total of 10 times. The Jayhawks had four of those finishes.
In the streak decade, Kansas has seven of the league’s 17 top-10 finishes, about the same percentage.
Also, the best players in league history have competed in the Big 12 during Kansas’ run: Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin and Michael Beasley. The best NCAA finish by any of their teams was a regional runner-up for Griffin’s Oklahoma Sooners in 2009.
Kansas’ decade of success isn’t as much a failing by the rest of the Big 12 as much as it is a remarkable stretch of sustained excellence by one program. TCU coach Trent Johnson said Monday that what he admired most about coach Bill Self’s program is its “competitive toughness.”
That was on full display in Saturday’s victory at Texas.
During’ Kansas streak of titles, the rest of the league has performed about the same as it did before the streak, except in regional title games.
Had the league won a couple of those, if say Texas and LaMarcus Aldridge hadn’t fallen to LSU in overtime in 2006, or Kansas State and Jacob Pullen had defeated Butler in 2010 — both losers had better seeds — the Big 12 would seem less like a one-trick pony.