Back when collegiate athletics went through seismic shifts in realignment, schools were coming and going at warp speed. So much upheaval took place that you (at least I) needed a scorecard to keep track of who was now where.
The Big 12 Conference was certainly not immune to the changes going on, in fact, did you know that the conference doesn’t even consist of twelve teams anymore? Today, just ten schools comprise the Big 12 Conference: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU, Texas Tech, and West Virginia. Now that we have that cleared up, there is one thing about the Big 12 that there is no confusion over; it is bar none college basketball’s best conference!
What makes it the best conference you ask? Well, it has three things going for it, great teams, players, and coaches. Here is brief closer look at each:
- Top Teams – In this week’s AP Top 25 rankings, you will find six Big 12 teams. Three of them – Oklahoma, Kansas, and West Virginia are in the top 10. Oklahoma and Kansas have both spent time ranked as the #1 team in the country. Night in and night out, conference games are steel caged rock fights. Home or away, it doesn’t seem to matter, the teams are all so good that they can win any time anywhere. Talk about parity, Texas Tech is 7th in the conference standings with only 5-7 record, but has wins against #13 Iowa State, #21 Baylor, and #24 Texas.
- Star Players – The best player in the nation, not named Ben Simmons, is Oklahoma Sooner guard Buddy Hield. The senior from Freeport, Bahamas is the land’s leading scorer at 26 points per game. Unless you have been living under a rock, you have seen highlights of him hitting game winning shots, because he does it seemingly just to stay in shape. Buddy Hield is well heeled to win the John R. Wooden Award (given to the nation’s most outstanding player), at season’s end as well as being an NBA Draft lottery selection. Iowa State’s Georges Niang is an All-American too, and he is also my favorite player in the conference. Not blessed with overwhelming athleticism, Georges excels because of his smarts and his incredible motor. Niang, who plays with a smile on his face, is also at his best when games are on the line. Perry Ellis, it feels, has been at Kansas for 10 years, and he has been the Jayhawks driving force for all of them. The experienced forward is among the conference’s top 10 in scoring and rebounding – not too shabby. These are just three of the top performers, but there are more, too many to highlight here.
- Great Coaches – Does the name Bill Self ring a bell? How is this for dominant, his teams at KU have won eleven straight Big 12 regular season championships! His record at (Phog) Allen Fieldhouse is 202-9, and his overall record is 368-81. It is amazing that he only has won one NCAA Tournament title however. Bob Huggins has been storming the sidelines as a head coach since 1980, and he once again has his alma mater (West Virginia) playing at a very high level. “Huggy Bear” demands that his teams play hard, and they directly reflect him with their frenzied play on the court. Oklahoma head coach, Lon Kruger, has been a winner everywhere he has been in college (Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV). His two and a half years with the Atlanta Hawks, not so good. The 63 year-old has already taken a team to the Final Four (Florida), and he has his Sooners primed for a big March. When Texas hired Shaka Smart away from VCU, they hit the jackpot. Keep an eye on the Longhorns, they will not be longshots to make deep NCAA tournament runs any longer. Once Smart recruits his guys into the program, look out!
I invite you to check out a conference game some time soon, I promise you will not be disappointed. Also, make sure you advance a bunch of Big 12 teams through your brackets in a few weeks.
And that is My 2 Sense for this week.