Big 12 Basketball is Still Elite, Despite Lackluster Finish


Big 12 Basketball is still elite, and Texas Tech has contributed to the bigger picture.

Each year, basketball analysts spanning the gap from ESPN to the know-it-all’s at the local dive bar make snap judgments about which conference is the best, based on the first weekend of the big dance.

The television talking heads have to fill their two-minute segments with something, and the drunks at the bar have to try to impress their fellow goons with futile attempts at knowledge despite the fact that the five men in the group have probably watched a combined 60 minutes of college basketball this entire season. The overwhelming sentiment coming out of the 2015 Tournament’s first weekend is that the Big 12 is over-rated as a basketball league. After shocking losses by Baylor and Iowa State and embarrassing performances by Texas and Kansas, the conference’s reputation is being run through the mud. In an article published in The Chicago Sun Times, Steve Greenberg writes, “What was so special about the Big 12?”

“It turns out the answer quite clearly seems to have been nothing.” Greenberg continued in his article. “If the early rounds of the tourney left America with one nagging issue, it’s that the Big 12 … must’ve been wildly overrated from the jump.” But the assertion that the Big 12 is not a great basketball conference should not be made based on only one weekend of games.
All year, the Big 12 has been atop of the Rating Percentage Index which is a formula to determine the strength of individual teams and entire conferences. This formula is important because it is not influenced by human bias like the polls are. The facts and numbers put into the RPI formula had the Big 12 at the top of the standings throughout the season. One weekend of games does not discredit a season’s worth of statistics.

The Big 12 proved to be a better conference top to bottom than the SEC, by winning the annual Big 12 – SEC challenge six games to four (including Tech’s victory over Auburn). The Big 12 also had the top non-conference record in the nation. In out-of-league games, the conference was 103-22 (an 0.82 winning percentage). The second best conference was the ACC with an out-of-conference winning percentage of 0.72. The Big 12 also had the toughest strength of schedule of any conference. Kansas (1), Baylor (3), Iowa St. (6), Oklahoma (13), Texas (16), Oklahoma St. (17), Kansas St. (18) were all ranked in the top 25 of toughest schedules this season. The fact that the Big 12 led the nation in RPI, out-of-conference winning percentage and strength of schedule should be more proof of the league’s quality than results from a tournament known for inexplicable outcomes.

In the final AP Top 25 poll before the NCAA tournament began, there were five Big 12 teams in the top 25, including Iowa State, Kansas, Baylor, Oklahoma and West Virginia. This number matches that of the ACC, and trumps the three teams from the Big 10, and the two entries from the Pac 12, SEC, and Big East.

People point to the early exits of the conference’s three top teams as a sign that the conference is not as good as many thought. However, this way of thinking is illogical. First of all, every tournament has upsets and unfortunately, this years’ upsets happened to Big 12 teams. Did anyone denounce the sacred ACC when Duke lost to Lehigh in 2014, or Mercer last year? And does anyone think that Georgia State would beat Baylor in a 7-game NBA-style series? Likewise, if Iowa State played UAB 7 times, who would you bet your mortgage on? (I do think that Wichita State could beat Kansas in a 7-game series because the Shockers are an excellent team.)

It is no secret that in the one-and-done NCAA tournament, higher seeds often are guilty of looking past lower ranked teams and looking forward to marquee matchups down the road. Meanwhile, the lower seeds see their first game as an opportunity to make a national statement.  After that statement is made, the low-seeded teams almost always fall in their next game.  Is UAB, or Georgia State anywhere to be found in the Sweet 16?  No, in fact UAB lost by 17 points to a UCLA team that most experts agree should not have been in the field of 68.

The problem facing the Big 12 is the lack of a title contender to grab the headlines. Kentucky is a sparkling 40-0 but who is the next best team in the SEC? No. 21 Arkansas and Georgia are the only candidates. Meanwhile, the Big 12 champions, Iowa St. had to deal with No. 10 Kansas, No. 13 Oklahoma, No. 16 Baylor, and No. 20 West Virginia twice during the conference season. The amount of top 25 games played between Big 12 teams is higher than the number from any other conference.

Now to the Red Raiders. Did they help the conference gain respect? In fact, they did. Tech won their game in the Big 12 – SEC challenge, and should have beaten NCAA tournament team LSU if not for a terrible pass in the final minute of the game. (Keep in mind, LSU took Kentucky to OT in Lexington and lost by one point to Sweet 16 team, the NC State Wolfpack. Tech also beat conference champion Iowa State and took Sweet 16 team Oklahoma to overtime. The Red Raiders also played No. 3 seed Baylor within 5 points in each matchup. Additionally, Texas Tech was 10-3 in out-of-conference games adding to the Big 12’s No.1 overall ranking.