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Rest of Big 12 lagging behind KU in March

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Oklahoma State players, from left, Tony Allen, Joey Graham and Ivan
McFarlin watch the NCAA Tournament selection show after the Big 12
Conference tournament championship game. The Cowboys were selected
as the No. 2 seed in the East Rutherford (N.J.) Regional and will
play in Kansas City, Mo., after beating Texas, 65-49, Sunday in
Dallas.

Oklahoma State players, from left, Tony Allen, Joey Graham and Ivan McFarlin watch the NCAA Tournament selection show after the Big 12 Conference tournament championship game. The Cowboys were selected as the No. 2 seed in the East Rutherford (N.J.) Regional and will play in Kansas City, Mo., after beating Texas, 65-49, Sunday in Dallas. by AP Photo

Try to remember the last time someone told you, "The Big 12 is a great basketball league," and you completely agreed.

Hopefully that happened sometime around 2002 to 2004. Because, in terms of overall NCAA Tournament success for the league as a whole, that statement hasn't exactly held true in about a decade.

Quick. Name the last men's basketball team from the Big 12 besides Kansas University to reach the Final Four.

Texas' T.J. Ford drives on Syracuse's Josh Pace in the first half of a semifinal game of the Final Four on Saturday, April 5, 2003, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Texas' T.J. Ford drives on Syracuse's Josh Pace in the first half of a semifinal game of the Final Four on Saturday, April 5, 2003, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Playing this game in my head, I went to Rick Barnes' 2003 Texas team, led by dynamic, though slight, guard T.J. Ford. Somehow, I skipped over Eddie Sutton's 2004 Oklahoma State team, featuring Tony Allen's amazing all-around game and the at times unstoppable offense of John Lucas.

Point being: It's been a while. It was 10 years ago that a Big 12 team not coached by Bill Self advanced all the way to the Final Four. When Sutton took the Cowboys, Self had just completed his first season at KU.

In the Big 12 men's basketball season review, sent to media from the conference in April, the league highlights its postseason accolades, including its seven bids in the 2014 tourney. And rightfully so. Seventy percent of the conference went dancing and each program got in with a single-digit seed.

But not a one of them — not even Kansas — could make it beyond the Sweet 16 this year. Of course, only two, Iowa State and Baylor, even survived that long.

Iowa State's Dustin Hogue reacts to Iowa State's 81-76 loss to Connecticut in a regional semifinal of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Friday, March 28, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Iowa State's Dustin Hogue reacts to Iowa State's 81-76 loss to Connecticut in a regional semifinal of the NCAA men's college basketball tournament Friday, March 28, 2014, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Big 12 failed to reach the Elite Eight in 2005 and 2013, as well. But the more telling statistic regarding the league's ability outside of Kansas to contend for a national championship lies in the number of Final Four appearances in the past 10 tournaments by conference teams who don't wear crimson and blue: zero.

In that same span, Kansas reached the sport's ultimate showcase in 2008 and 2012. Meanwhile…

The old Big East sent six programs — Georgetown, Connecticut, Villanova, West Virginia (now in the Big 12), Louisville and Syracuse — to the Final Four.

The Big Ten? Five: Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin.

The SEC checks in with three: Florida, LSU and Kentucky.

Three different leagues have produced two representatives: the ACC (North Carolina and Duke), Conference USA (Louisville and Memphis) and even the Colonial Athletic Association (George Mason and VCU).

That leaves the Big 12 in the same tier as the former Pac 10 (UCLA), the Horizon League (former team Butler) and the Missouri Valley Conference (Wichita State), with one program representing their leagues at the Final Four from 2005 to 2014.

Don't forget. No league in the country has reached the same stratosphere as the storied American Athletic Conference, which hasn't existed without one of its teams winning the national championship (Connecticut).

When the Big 12 boasts it is among the national leaders in Final Four appearances, it uses data form 2002 to present. In 2002, both Oklahoma — then coached by Kelvin Sampson — and Kansas made it, and in 2003, KU and Texas represented the league.

That just reads better than the facts from the past 10 years: two appearances, one school.

Kansas big men Thomas Robinson (0) and Jeff Withey (5) grab a rebound from Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger during the second half on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at the Superdome.

Kansas big men Thomas Robinson (0) and Jeff Withey (5) grab a rebound from Ohio State forward Jared Sullinger during the second half on Saturday, March 31, 2012 at the Superdome. by Nick Krug

As long as the flawed RPI exists, Big 12 coaches will continue to reference that as proof their league is one of the toughest around. The Big 12 had the best RPI in the nation this past season. Same goes for 2009-10. It has ranked in the top three in conference RPI seven of the past 10 years.

Big 12 RPI rank, past 10 seasons

2013-14: 1st

2012-13: 5th

2011-12: 3rd

2010-11: 3rd

2009-10: 1st

2008-09: 3rd

2007-08: 3rd

2006-07: 7th

2005-06: 5th

2004-05: 3rd

— (Source: statsheet.com)

A lot of good that did in a decade's worth of NCAA Tournaments.

The Big 12 rarely has disappointed in January and February, when games are exciting to watch, KU inevitably finishes first and that year's crop of other top dogs beat each other up just enough to lag behind the Jayhawks.

But, really, could one team win the regular-season title — outright or a share of it — 10 years in a row if the league truly was great?

Maybe Texas can end the rest of the Big 12's slump in March of 2015. Barnes' chances improved immensely when KU target Myles Turner, a 6-foot-11 center from Euless, Texas, announced he'll stay in state and join UT's talented Jonathan Holmes, Cameron Ridley, Demarcus Holland, Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix as a member of the Longhorns.

Final Four representatives, by conference, 2005-14

Big East: Connecticut (2), Louisville (2), Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova and West Virginia.

Big Ten: Michigan State (3), Ohio State (2), Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

SEC: Florida (3), Kentucky (3) and LSU.

ACC: North Carolina (3) and Duke.

Conference USA: Louisville and Memphis.

Colonial Athletic Association: George Mason and VCU.

Big 12: Kansas (2).

Pac 10: UCLA (3).

Horizon League: Butler (2).

American Athletic Conference: Connecticut.

Missouri Valley: Wichita State.

Comments

Travis Clementsmith 8 years, 3 months ago

I used to care, but I don't anymore. All I care about is whether or not KU makes it to the Final Four. Can't control what other teams do and the Tournament is rarely a good indicator for how strong a particular conference is. I know people who like to get in flame wars like to have all their bases covered when arguing with another top basketball program fan on how to determine "top dog" and the perceived conference strength is one that is used to shoot holes in KU's resume. Couple that with infrequent National Titles and its the argument that becomes difficult to downplay. But, I don't care about that any longer. KU is a great program, plays top competition, is a nationally attractive program and has a great coach. I only care what KU accomplishes. A national championship wouldn't be any less sweet if it came in a down conference year as opposed to a strong one.

John Boyle 8 years, 3 months ago

The whole reason the NCAA tournament is so popular is because of the upsets. The winner of the NCAA tournament is in most cases not the best team in the nation. Just the one that avoids the big upset and wins six games in a row. The long haul of the regular season is really the best testament as to who the best team is. Don't get me wrong, I like the NCAA tournament and cheer for the upsets (when it isn't KU playing). But if you think UConn was the best men's team in the country this year, you would be wrong. But they did win when it counted most.

Michael Leiker 8 years, 3 months ago

Do you think KU was the best team in the country in 2008?

Tony Bandle 8 years, 3 months ago

What Travis said.

I don't care if you have a conference with The Little Sisters of the Poor, the Home for the Blind, Munchkin University, Chicago Circle, Slowpoke A&T, College of Drama and Really Fine Arts, Whispy Tech, Uncoordinated State,and the Walk-on Community School, to win a National Championship, you have to win six tough games...getting there isn't the goal, it's the final step...winning it, THAT is the goal!!!

Benton Smith 8 years, 3 months ago

Kansas went to back-to-back Final Fours in 2002 and 2003, when the Big 12 was having its most NCAA Tournament success.

Does anyone think KU would make even more deep runs in March if the Jayhawks were playing against a national title contender or two in the league during the regular season? Facing the stiffest competition in January and February would be huge for preparation.

Bryce Landon 8 years, 3 months ago

Why is it our fault that (A) everyone else in the Big 12 is so caught-up in the college football arms race to invest in having a nationally relevant basketball program and (B) no other conference has shown any interest in inviting Kansas to join b/c all they see is an irrelevant Jayhawk football program?

Travis Clementsmith 8 years, 3 months ago

I used to think that was a factor, and it certainly does not hurt, but I don't think its as telling as one might think. We played roughly our toughest schedule last year and were sabatoged by a late season injury. In 2009-10, we're out in the second round to UNI, yet in 2006-07, we make it to Elite Eight losing to UCLA. I thin 02 and 03 we're thee because we have outstanding juniors/seniors running Roy's system to almost near perfection. The OAD rule has more to do with the equation now. I'm all for high quality games, but we don't get to look retroactively at them and say those are two Final Four teams out there. We say, those are two Final Four caliber teams out there. I think both ISU and KU had geat chances to make it to the final weekend this year if injuries hadn't cost them.

Benton Smith 8 years, 3 months ago

I think you make great points about Final Four caliber teams and injuries this season impacting KU and ISU's chances. And I think if the Big 12 consistently had other teams that played at that level KU would only benefit.

Rodney Crain 8 years, 3 months ago

Interesting question Benton. I believe that it would make a difference if we were playing National title contenders in league play.

I want to use an example of the NFL NFC West division as an example of how a tough division (conference in our world) raises the approach of each team in that division. SF, Seattle, AZ were very tough to beat last year, and St. Louis has approached their success as how well they can compete in their division first, before putting any aspirations about winning a super bowl. Each of those teams were very aggressive this off season since they know that they have to be just to be competitive in their division. This has to make them better trying to beat each other, knowing that SF and Seattle are considered the best teams in Football.

I think it would help us in how we approached winning. We would be judging our success against teams that could win the whole thing instead of just beating them to win our conference. We would be more prepared for the NCAA tournament. We would know what it would take to beat the best in the nation, instead of dominating a conference that is well thought of by sports writers and coaches.

Benton Smith 8 years, 3 months ago

Nice comparison with the NFC West.

I think we saw a bit of that with the old Big East. Year after year the league had some of the nation's top teams, and some Big East team usually rode that experience to the Final 4.

Brett Glover 8 years, 3 months ago

Of course, but really just two teams in general.

Vernon Riggs 8 years, 3 months ago

However, we get the best of their game no matter who we play. Fans, players and coaches circle the date that they are playing Kansas. We are their Final Four.

Robert Brock 8 years, 3 months ago

Decoded: KU gets whipped by the mediocre.

Dirk Medema 8 years, 3 months ago

You might want to check your decoder. Vernon is referencing conference play where we are the reigning, reigning, reigning, reigning, reigning, reigning, reigning, reigning, reigning, reigning champions, so no we are not getting whipped by the mediocre.

John Pritchett 8 years, 3 months ago

Seriously, did you watch basketball this season? You're really going to say that the Big 12 was a weak conference this year? You don't think KU played the toughest schedule in the country this year, half of which were in-conference? If you look at the season as a whole, the Big 12 was the strongest conference. If you look at a single elimination tournament where the most important factor is what matchups you draw, then yeah, the Big 12 didn't perform great this year relative to other conferences. So you can claim that the Big 12 wasn't the best conference in the tournament, but not that it was a weak conference in general, and certainly not that it's been a weak conference for 10 years just based on tournament performance. And to suggest, as you have, that KU's accomplishment of winning 10 straight Big 12 regular season titles is somehow proof that the conference must have been weak, why do you feel compelled to be an apologist for KU's success? It's an amazing accomplishment for a school to string that many titles together in a conference that's been this good, and you're going to downplay it based on NCAA tournament success? Wow. Did you graduate from MU?

And the idea that KU would have done better had it played against better quality teams over the year? That just blows my mind. KU had, beyond any doubt, the most difficult schedule in the country this year. If anything, KU and other schools in the Big 12 suffered in the tournament for being so beat up playing against so much strong competition throughout the season. KU had major injury issues. Iowa State had injury issues. Those were our top two teams. OSU struggled with a variety of issues throughout the season and ended up with a very difficult seed, so it's no surprise they didn't get further than they did. In general, a lot of very good teams beat up on each other and collectively earned low seeds in the tournament. In a great conference, not every team will get great seeds. That's a natural bias in the seeding process.

There are a variety of reasons the Big 12 flamed out in the tournament this year, but none of them are because the conference was weak. I have no doubt that the sixth team in the Big 12 was a better team overall than the NCAA champion. That's just the nature of the tournament. So please, have some perspective. The Big 12 is and has long been one of the top three conferences in the country.

Benton Smith 8 years, 3 months ago

I don't think the Big 12 is a weak conference. I'm just wondering if we should consider it a great league or the top conference.

That's no knock on KU and what it has accomplished.

The Big 12 was a blast to watch this season. Great games, very good teams. And, as you pointed out, injuries impacted the chances of KU and ISU in March.

It's just kind of puzzling that the league has gone a decade without a single other team putting together a Final 4 run.

Michael Sillman 8 years, 3 months ago

I really think that the fool's game is to use the NCAA tournament as a measure of any school or league's success. Frankly it is almost a random crap shoot based on matchups, injuries, and lucky 3 point shots.

Does anyone really think that UConn was the best college basketball in America this past season or that Kentucky was the second best? Would either one of them been able to beat a top five team twice in a row?

March Madness is great theater but it does not crown a champion. The Super Bowl makes a lot of money and pulls in a lot of viewers but it is unsatisfying as well. Don't even start me talking about the BCS bowls.

Only the NBA, MLB, and NHL truly reward a deserving champion through the best of seven series.

Benton Smith 8 years, 3 months ago

You're right about the nature of March Madness.

And I don't think UConn was the best team this season.

But isn't it strange that the Big 12 has gone a full 10 years without any team except Kansas finding a way to reach the final weekend?

Maybe it's cyclical, and that will change in the years to come. But it is quite a trend.

Dirk Medema 8 years, 3 months ago

Benton - Maybe you should consider the yang. You've looked at how many teams made it to the FF as a measure of success, but how about how many don't make the tourney at all as a measure of subpar BB? This is where the Big 12 is superior to the other conferences. There are only a couple teams in the league that are bad. In other conferences half the teams would finish in last place in the Big 12. That does not make for a strong conference - IMO.

That being said, it would be nice if there was another UT/OU/OSU/ISU that would hold their own in late March, though that doesn't mean the streak needs to end.

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