Monday night’s 89-86, Iowa State win over Texas was the perfect microcosm of Big 12 basketball: Wild, unpredictable and a complete grind.
The 19th-ranked Longhorns rallied from as many as 21 points down in the second half, turning Hilton Magic on its head. No. 15 Iowa State got a stark reminder that in this conference, no lead can be taken for granted.
The Cyclones already learned just two days ago that likewise, no opponent is to be taken for granted, either. The Cyclones’ confounding loss at Texas Tech completed the Big 12 basketball circle of parity, seen above.
And there’s another six weeks of conference play still to go. The Big 12 has not yet begun to cannibalize itself!
Following the perennial Big 12 basketball champion Kansas at No. 9 in the AP Poll and 11 in the Coaches’ is a mish-mash of Iowa State, West Virginia, Texas and Baylor. Oklahoma is not far behind, and Kansas State, the league’s eighth or ninth-best team at the start of the month, is coming on fast.
Throw in a talented Oklahoma State, and those teams are almost interchangeable on a day-to-day basis. All eight could land NCAA Tournament bids in March.
And were that enough, the conference’s bottom teams — TCU and Texas Tech — have quality head coaches in Trent Johnson and Tubby Smith. Either can upset any of its Big 12 brethren on any given night.
Just ask Iowa State.
All this parity promises to muddle the Big 12’s title picture, which can be a detriment in the national landscape. The conference’s “One True Champion” tagline caught well-deserved flak when TCU and Baylor shared the Big 12 football crown, and the lack of clarity ostensibly cost the league a College Football Playoff bid.
Big 12 basketball will feel its own pinch, most likely in the form of diminished seeding in March. Based on the current rankings, the best conference in college basketball would get nothing higher than a 3.
Now, Big 12 basketball does benefit from a conference tournament, in which the eventual winner will get its third crack at any three conference foes.
And therein lies why the Big 12 is so much more of a gauntlet than any other league.
Top teams in the assorted super-conferences avoid some of the higher profile home-and-home matchups in conference. Consider the ACC, which can stake the most reasonable claim as the top conference aside from the Big 12.
Virginia only plays Duke, North Carolina and NC State once. It already played its one conference contests against Miami and Notre Dame. Likewise, in the Big Ten, Wisconsin only sees Ohio State once.
Big 12 competition beating up on one another may cost the conference seeding, but the weekly grind will produce game-tested teams better off for the wear.