After fuming for years that an East Coast bias hurts their league, Big 12 Conference coaches have picked up a credible ally.
Jeff Capel, who played at Duke and coached in Virginia before becoming head coach at Oklahoma, says they’re right.
“Many people look at this part of the country as football,” said Capel, whose Sooners are seeded No. 2 in the South Region. “I was there until I came here, and that’s what I thought when I lived there.”
The Big 12 got six teams into the NCAA field this year, as many as the Pac-10 and only one fewer than the ACC, Big East and Big Ten.
But it’s their seeding and bracketing that has some Big 12 teams upset. For example, ACC powers Duke and North Carolina get to play their opening-round games in Greensboro, N.C. But neither Kansas nor Missouri, the Big 12’s regular-season and postseason champions, respectively, were assigned to Kansas City for their first games. The Jayhawks are in Minneapolis, while Missouri is at Boise, Idaho.
Oklahoma, which lost to both Kansas and Missouri head-to-head, is the Big 12 team that gets to open in Kansas City’s Sprint Center.
“You can’t sit there and cry about it,” Missouri coach Mike Anderson said. “We’re excited to be a part of it, and the seeds are what they are. It would have been nice to have been in Kansas City, no question about it, being closer to home. But Oklahoma got the nod and now we’ve just got to move forward.”
The Big East got three No. 1 seeds. But Oklahoma, as a No. 2, is the highest among Big 12 teams. Kansas, the defending NCAA champion and regular-season Big 12 winner, is a No. 3 seed in the Midwest, while Missouri is a No. 3 in the West. Texas A&M; is seeded No. 9 in the West Region. In the East, Oklahoma State is No. 8 and Texas is No. 7.
Nobody is more unhappy than Kansas State’s Frank Martin, and not just because his Wildcats, who were seeded No. 4 in the Big 12, were left out of the NCAA field.
“The seedings that Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and those other teams have gotten, it’s kind of unfortunate they’ve gotten the lower seeds and been sent places that are so far away from home, unlike the winners of those (other) leagues,” Martin said.
“It continues to be the lack of respect this league receives on a national basis. We have to figure out a way to be more forceful in how we sell our league. If you look at the history of the NCAA Tournament over the last nine or 10 years, there’s not another league that’s been better than ours. And for us to continue to get disrespected the way we do is a crying shame.”
The Big 12 has plenty of arguments in its favor. Six of its teams were in the top 41 of RPI, more than any other league but the Big East. In addition, the Big 12 was second in the nation with 137 nonconference victories and has eight teams with 20 or more wins, the most of any other conference.
Capel and others think one problem facing the Big 12 is the East Coast background of many ESPN and other national commentators.
The passion East Coast residents feel for basketball is another reason, Capel figures, that national commentators may overlook the Big 12’s basketball prowess.
“And I can say this, because I was like that: Until you come out here, until you see a game here, until you go to an Iowa State and see the passion there, until you go to a Kansas State and see the passion there ... you won’t appreciate it,” he said.
“This region is known for football. In the East, it’s all basketball. That’s really all anyone cares about.”
Kansas winning the Big 12’s first national championship last year didn’t do much to help the league’s image, Capel said, because “the only school in this region that people think of as basketball is Kansas.”