Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Opinion: Big 12 better than it seemed


It happens every mid-March. College basketball coaches across America talk up the strength of their conferences often in hopes that their subliminal messages will lodge in the brains of NCAA Tournament selection committee members dispensing the berths and seeds.

Such talk usually sounds contrived. Not this year in the Big 12. Coaches don’t need to oversell because it’s obvious the league is loaded, so much better than it looked during the nonconference season.

To appreciate the strength of the league, reflect back on the play in which Baylor’s Pierre Jackson used a cross-over dribble to get around Elijah Johnson in the lane and finish with a dunk. Jackson busted that highlight move Saturday in an 81-58 rout of Kansas on his way to 28 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. He made 11 of 13 shots from the field, including two of three three-pointers.

Jackson was named the Big 12’s preseason player of the year. He led the conference in scoring and assists, so it can’t be said he had a disappointing season. He met expectations, but the elite-talent pool in the Big 12 was deeper than anybody could have imagined.

How deep? So deep that the Big 12 coaches didn’t vote Jackson onto the five-man first team. Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey of Kansas, Kansas State’s Rodney McGruder and Oklahoma’s Romero Osby beat out Jackson. (The media gave Jackson the nod over Osby).

A check of two websites — and — that chart top draft prospects reveals that when Oklahoma State and Baylor meet, five players who are ranked among the top 40 prospects on one or both lists will share the floor. Again, Jackson is not one of them. Smart, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash of Oklahoma State and Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson of Baylor are listed ahead of Jackson.

When that much talent is on the same floor, it usually means it’s a semifinal or final of conference tournament. In the Big 12 tourney, the schools meet in a quarterfinal game.

“The Big 12 conference is a league that has gotten much better as the year has gone on,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said when asked about his team’s chances of getting a bid with a 9-9 conference record. “There were several teams that were younger putting teams together. The Big 12 is as tough as it gets this year. Our nonconference record might not have reflected that.”

Drew also pointed to a victory at Kentucky early in the season as a point in favor of the Bears, the No. 6 seed in the conference championship that gets under way Wednesday in the Sprint Center for the bottom four seeds, Thursday for the top six.

“Personally, I’ve never seen the league better with more teams that can win our league tournament than we have right now,” 10th-year Kansas coach Bill Self said. “You go into the tournament in the past and you could say, ‘You know what? This team could win a couple of games,’ or, ‘This team could do well,’ or, “This could be an upset,’ but not very often do you go in and say, ‘I think that team could positively win three games in a row.’ And there are six teams that could win three games in row.”

Self added that he thinks Myck Kabongo’s return has made Texas a much better team and that West Virginia and Texas Tech are playing better. And he noted that TCU’s two conference victories (Kansas and Oklahoma) came against NCAA Tournament teams.

It’s a stretch to think any of the bottom four teams could win the four in a row required to make the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma doesn’t quite have as much talent as any of the other five teams that earned a first-round bye, but this is a wide-open conference tournament that should result in several close games.


KULA 7 years, 2 months ago

Well the Big 12 is certainly a better conference than the ACC, PAC 12 and the SEC. Heck, the Mountain West and the Atlantic 10 are better than those conferences.

nostradavid 7 years, 2 months ago

Good analysis, Keegs. You get the helix halo award!

It focuses orgone energy.

It focuses orgone energy. by nostradavid

Michael Luby 7 years, 2 months ago

Another good one TK. Excited and nervous for the Big 12 and NCAA tourneys

Kent Richardson 7 years, 2 months ago

I'm not sure about how highly motivated each of the shoo-in schools will be (probably somewhat dependent on matchups). If it comes down to coaching and site advantage then OU or KU wins the Big 12. I can see deep runs by Hawkeyes, Cowboys, Bears and Jayhawks in the NCAA. Can we still hope for a Mizzou slugfest ancd would it take the starch out of the winner?

Kip_McSmithers 7 years, 2 months ago

Hawkeyes?? Did we expand and Tait not tell us?

Steve Reigle 7 years, 2 months ago

If site advantage means proximity to the Sprint Center, then Kansas State is the second closest, not Oklahoma. Iowa State is the third closest, Oklahoma State is fourth and Oklahoma is fifth closest.

jhox 7 years, 2 months ago

I don't buy it. Every coference out there, except the Big 10, feels they're underrated and unrespected. The TV guys like to talk about "the eye test" and I don't see many Big 12 teams passing my eye test. I also think college basketball, in general, is way down this year.

I believe the physical style of play in the Big 12 will hurt teams that can't adapt to tighter officiating in the NCAA tournament. One reason low level teams compete with high level teams in the Big 12 is the mugging style of defensive play conference officials allow. That will be a tough adjustment for Big 12 teams in the tournament, having to play with a little more finesse.

I think KU, OSU and KSU all have potential to go deep into the tournament, but far from locks to do that. Baylor, OU and ISU will likely be gone before round 3 if those schools make it in.

yates33333 7 years, 2 months ago

This assessment of college ball this year may be correct, but that refereeing is tighter in the NCAA playoffs isn't. You think they allow mugging in the Big 12, which the refs do, wait until the big tent games. You'll see big time mugging.

Cody Stumma 7 years, 2 months ago

What's this Round 3 you speak of? I refuse to acknowledge those Play-in Games as "Round 1".

JayHawkFanToo 7 years, 2 months ago

I completely disagree on the refereeing. In the past the Big 12 games were called very tight and it hurt the teams that made it to the big dance, where refereeing was much loser and teams from conferences such as the Big 10 took advantage as it was closer to what they were accustomed than teams from the Big 12.
If you think the Big 12 is physical, you obviously have not watched Big 10 games.

jgkojak 7 years, 2 months ago

I know if Baylor is a 13 seed and I'm a 4, I really don't want 'em.

Jonathan Allison 7 years, 2 months ago

The Big 12 should win the Most Improved Conference award for the teams that have gotten better from start to finish this season.

thjhawk 7 years, 2 months ago

Where in the world is the complete bracket with start times? If KU wins Thursday, when would they play on Friday?

magaggie 7 years, 2 months ago

I cracks me up that so many people feel the need to tell Keegan when he does a good job or a bad job. Seems like he has been working long enough to know when his work is solid or he puts in half and effort.

Jack Jones 7 years, 2 months ago

Agreed. But, as you know ~ the "life-blood" of this site is opinions ~ and like a major anatomical feature ~ everyone's got one.

Rick Arnoldy 7 years, 2 months ago

The trouble is he still gets published when he gives half an effort.

Jonathan Allison 7 years, 2 months ago

I was reading an article about how various basketball coaches utilize advanced statistics in scouting their opponents, and Brad Stevens had a good quote that even advanced statistics only tell you part of the story about an opposing team of player. They tell you what that player usually does, but they don't tell you what a team or player is capable of.

When coaches scout opposing teams, especially if you are a team that always has a target on your back, you have to be conscious of what the opponent is capable of, because you are likely going to get their best shot.

Take Baylor for example. Cory Jefferson's scouting report likely didn't say that you have to guard the three point line. Or look at Elijah Johnson and his performance against ISU. EJ's offensive rating was abysmal. His shooting charts were scary, but coaches know that he's a player who's capable of putting up big numbers and they have to prepare for him.

That's how I feel about the Big 12. When you try to pin down how strong the conference is as a whole it's tough to do, because most of the teams have been fairly inconsistent for much of the season. But when you look at the potential of the league, it's a strong league with a lot of talented players and coaches, and they are capable of big things.

The RPI may not list the big 12 as a top 2 or 3 conference in the nation this year, but there are 4 or 5 teams in the big 12 who are capable of beating any team in Division 1.

LakeShawnee 7 years, 2 months ago

And here I thought this league was a race for 2nd...

mikehawk 7 years, 2 months ago

Yes. Have I said how upset that made me? I am trying to drop it.

Kyle Seiwert 7 years, 2 months ago

You guys aren't going to let Keegan forget that column, are you? Look, I'm a KSU fan and when I read that column, I thought he was dead on, except I thought he had given KSU way too much credit in our chances to finish second. I looked at the Kansas schedule and didn't see a single loss, let alone 4, especially when you've got a group of 27 year old 9th year seniors that's have been through the conference so many times. I would suggest calming down.

nuleafjhawk 7 years, 2 months ago

You sounded like a halfway decent person, for a KSU fan, until you got to the next to the last sentence.

So, how's your 14th year of marching band going so far?

JayHawkFanToo 7 years, 2 months ago

...and those 27 year old, 9th year seniors still spanked KSU twice during the season.
KU is 51-5 against KSU in the last 55 games and 23-2 at AFH West (Bramlage). Come back when you have something to back up your smack.

Amazing what a good coach can do with not-so-highly rated players, isn't it? Ask your Coach and he will tell you how he inherited two great teams from his predecessors, and how he could not maintain the level with his own players at Illinois and how this is as good as it gets at KSU before it starts its inevitable fall into oblivion.

jhox 7 years, 2 months ago

The eye test needs to include defense. That's precisely why KU (Baylor game excluded), KSU and OSU pass my eye test. Pretty boy basketball rarely wins in the tournament. Offense is bound to disappear occassionally. Good defense is more reliable and consistent.

I was tempted to include OU in my passing the eye test comment, but had to draw the line somewhere.

Tony Bandle 7 years, 2 months ago

Frankly, and don't get me wrong, I bleed Crimson and Blue, I feel the vast majority of you give the players too much credit and Coach Self not enough. I dare anyone to name one player on this team that doesn't have a weakness. Allow me to elaborate.

1] Jeff - defensive star, yet gets pushed around, an offensive game that is just adequate but defense is tremendous.

2] BenMac - Uber-talented yet disappears for long stretches, especially on the road..still doesn't drive nearly enough...defense a work in progress.

3] Elijah - Has done his best to play out of position but turnovers and bad knees have cost him efficiency and performance.

4] Travis - cannot create his own runnning out after block or rebound...despite effort sometimes just get's overwhelmed by his man.

5] Kevin - Hustle, motor and instincts allow him to contribute...when one of these is missing coupled with his deficient offensive game, he becomes a liabilty.

6] Naadir - speed a plus, size a minus....offensive consistency just no there.

7] Jamari - very rough around the edges...offense not yet developed.

8] Perry - Only now, 30 games into the season showing the promise of the preseason hype....still a possible late season breakthrough, but not there yet.

9] Need I go on??

Bill and his staff have taken this group of parts and fashioned a Top Ten team, a Conference Champion and a high-seeded NCAA contender. I previously made this point and was called absurd.......well, in hindsight it's absurd to think otherwise!!!

Bill has done one hell of a coaching job win, lose or draw from this point forward.

Jack Wilson 7 years, 2 months ago

One thing that gets lost is that Baylor and Oklahoma St. have arguably equal, or even better "talent." Self has pointed that out before in kind of a back-handed way .. hidden message is that they aren't as good as KU for some other reason (coaching).

Self is the best coach in the league. Best in the country.

JakeBarnes 7 years, 2 months ago

Right on. Someone said this yesterday as I recall. He has done a marvelous job this year with no bench to speak of and with some very good substitutes who are now starters.

hawk_of_ages 7 years, 2 months ago

Not bad, but couldn't you do this same breakdown with just about any team, past or present? Don't most players have weaknesses?

Withey's averaging double figures -- not spectacular on offense, but surely better than "just adequate." And I could count the times Travis has been "overwhelmed by his man" on, I don't know, two fingers? Come on, this is the guy who outdueled Harrison Barnes last year.

mikehawk 7 years, 2 months ago

Want to talk about the best conference? The NCAA tournament reveals all. Best players, best teams, toughest teams, best before now not noticed teams, most overrated players, teams, and conferences, and best conferences. No need to speculate. This ain't college football. We play this sucker.

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