So, I've basically been Mr. Absentee Blog Manager lately. That hopefully will change soon, starting with this monstrosity of a post, previewing everything and anything you need to know about the Big 12 Conference this basketball season. Conference play kicks off today with some really interesting contests, most notably a Big 12 North showdown of Kansas' two biggest rivals Kansas State and Missouri in Columbia, so now would be the time to unleash a conference preview, yes?
Yes. So, here we go. We'll get to Team Previews soon enough, but with tipoff in mere hours, let's just discuss general, Conference Storylines for now.
Is the Big 12 the Best Conference in All the Land?
This is a tough question to answer. Because, no matter how objective you try and get, there is going to be a large aspect of subjectivity to this. Do you base it off of NCAA Tournament-level teams? Or maybe National Title contenders, or top-level teams? Or, do you base it on top-to-bottom strength, where Nebraska making the NIT over Boston College might be the determining factor in which conference reigns supreme?
Still, just about any way you slice it, I'd imagine it would come down to three conferences: Big 12, ACC, Big East. According to KenPom*, the ACC gets the nod as Best Conference, buoyed by KP's fascination with the Blue Devils and 9 teams in the Top 50. The Big East has the name, and the top-heavy powers at the top (Villanova, Syracuse, West Virginia, Georgetown, Connecticut) along with a plethora of mid-level teams in Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette. However, the bottom portion of the conference is weakish, with Depaul and Rutgers posting upper 100's KP ratings. And then you have the Big 12 -- whose case is highlighted by two Top 3 teams. It doesn't have as strong of a Top 5 as the Big East, but it has the best Top 2 in all of the nation, by a decent margin. Missouri and Kansas State are both also Top 20 teams (Top 12 according to KP), and then there is a whole batch of mid-level teams. Just as big as the Big East's, with Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Iowa State. Only Colorado has a triple-digit KP rating.
Like I said, it matters what you value. And really, all three conferences appear fairly even. I still kinda think its the Big 12, but I'm sure that has a lot to do with the fact that I'm sort of a Big 12 homer. So, make your own case for which conference is the best.
*for those of you new to the site, let me just warn you now: I have a creepy obsession with KenPom. I take his numbers (and words, when he gets around to posting something either on his blog or over at Basketball Prospectus) as absolute Gospel. This can be dangerous, as they are frequently wrong. He isn't claiming to be perfect, after all, just giving you the odds of certain teams beating other teams. But more on this later. Just warning you that it will appear early and often here in this preview
How Many NCAA Tournament Bids?
This is kind of tied into the first question, but no comparisons here. Just how many squads do you think will make the NCAA Tournament. I would say there are three absolute locks, in Kansas, Texas, Kansas State. It would have to take a remarkably unimpressive conference season for any of those three squads not to make it.
However, after that it just gets all muddled and messy and that kinda stuff. I mean, I'm pretty confident that Missouri is making the Tournament. But it's too early to tell for sure, as their non-conference had some solid wins matched with some questionable losses. The rest will be determined by Big 12 play. In order, though, this is how I'd list the legitimate contenders: Texas A&M, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech. Iowa State and Oklahoma have outside shots, I suppose, while Nebraska and Colorado basically have zero shot. Obviously all 10 aren't going to make it. That's just ridiculous, but I would think 6 is to be expected, with an outside shot at 7. It'll be tough, with all of these teams likely beating each other up, but I think there's a shot.
Just to go on record, I'll say 6. Half of the conference is pretty impressive. And the 7th is one of the teams people talk about as one of the largest "snubs". The team that Doug Gottlieb goes off in support of on that ESPN Selection Sunday special show or whatever. I'll say Oklahoma State is the snub, Texas Tech has a shot but loses a couple of key games late and the first four, plus A&M and Baylor make the Field.
Which is Better: North or South?
The last discussion basically sums this up, but I figured we'd bring it up anyways. Kansas and Texas more or less cancel each other out, so we're even so far. After that, the North has the top-heavy strength, while the South has the depth, with all 5 other teams having some sort of a shot to Dance. Iowa State has an outside shot, but after the Top 3 in the North, there aren't any NCAA Tournament teams. I would probably say the South, really, because that depth is crazy. Oklahoma is almost definitely the worst team in the division, and they aren't bad. They aren't really good, either, but still. A&M and Baylor are both grossly underrated, in my opinion, and I'm a big fan of Oklahoma State. And then Texas Tech beat Washington on their home floor, albeit that win looks less impressive by the week, and started out 9-0.
The South's better. The North is better at the top, but there are no easy outs in the South, while Colorado and Nebraska hardly strike fear in your heart.
Player of the Year? Anybody?
Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich shared Preseason honors. I'd imagine both are still contenders, particularly Sherron. Jacob Pullen certainly deserves bundles of consideration for the show he's put on in Manhattan. Damion James will get some nods, and Craig Brackins will get some mentions, as he's probably the most talented person in the Big 12. Really though, it's a wide-open race. No dominant player. No player single-handedly carrying his team (except maybe Brackins). It'll be interesting to see how it all develops.
Right now, I'll say Sherron gets it. Not trying to be a homer, but if Kansas wins the Big 12, without an amazing performance from someone else, they'll give it to the obvious leader of the Jayhawks.
It's easy to say Kansas or Texas. After all, they are ranked 1st and 2nd in the entire country. However, Kansas State hosts both in Bramlage. They have the talent to win the Big 12. It isn't just a two-team race. While plenty of other teams in the Big 12 are good teams, I don't really see anyone competing for the crown.
But I'd call it a three-team race. With that said, though, I think Kansas pulls it off. I really do think they are the best team in the country. Well, them or Texas. And the game is in Austin....
I don't know. I'm sticking with Kansas, but that might change at some point. Not really sure.
That's all of the Storylines for now. Team Previews coming sometime in the next week, as conference play just gets kicked off.