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Big 12 Big and Bad

December 21, 2002 Columns No Comments

The Biggest And Still The Baddest

by Bill Thayer

I’ll admit it, October was a great time. I couldn’t wait to hear Riot Act by Pearl Jam (in fact, I’m listening to it right now). I was on the edge of my seat, glued to the Winona Rider trial. And, while I didn’t buy a President Bush mask, I did all I could to imagine what Saturday Night Live would be if Will Farrell was still there doing his President Bush.

But the best part of October was putting together my top 25 list for Hoopville, a poll in which I voted Kansas No. 1 and had them joined by Big 12 running mates Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri in the top six.

And if you were to believe Mitch Schneider, I should hang my head in shame for doing so. But wait, what’s that I hear out in the heartland? Is that the sound of successful basketball being played?

Even though the Big 3 (Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas for those of you scoring at home) didn’t win their biggest games of the season thus far, that’s no reason to cast aside a conference that top to bottom is the best in the nation. To see how good the conference is, you have to look past the top and start in the middle where some surprising teams may surprise you with where they land in March.

Iowa State was supposed to be rebuilding again this year, but that didn’t stop them from going into Iowa and scoring a win. One of their seven against only one loss. Nebraska may have lost to Div. II Alaska-Fairbanks (the same team that knocked off soon-to-be Big Sky champs Weber State in the same tournament) but they also trounced Minnesota by 20. The same Minnesota that was supposed to be near the top of the class of the Big Ten. And Texas A&M, Team Turmoil a year ago, has rallied around super-frosh Antoine Wright, the best recruit Melvin Watkins has landed since joining the Aggies, and taken out LSU and Tennessee. And you can never count out an Eddie Sutton team. Oklahoma State is using a balanced attack, the same one that steamrolled over Michigan State in Alaska. Meanwhile, Missouri has yet to take a loss as they head into this weekend’s showdown with Illinois.

That, my friends, is what you call depth. Including Baylor and Colorado, two young teams that have experienced their share of growing pains, I can count ten teams who could easily find their way into the field of 65 in March.

Ten teams. That’s more teams than are in the ACC. As many as are in the Pac Ten. And I’m pretty sure, based on their performance against Minnesota, that Nebraska could give a scare to any of the other conferences top teams.

No conference could match them team for team. The Pac-10? Arizona’s great but after that there’s a huge drop off. Big 10? Indiana and Illinois are as good as any of the top seven teams in the Big 12, but again there’s a huge dropoff. The only conference I can see making an argument for is the ACC, but there is so much unproven talent there and no team that I would say is one of the top ten in the nation. Meanwhile Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma all fall in the top ten category, with Kansas waiting to climb back in.

Oklahoma may have lost to Alabama, but remember how good they played towards the end of that contest. Instead of hanging their heads and taking a bad loss, they collected themselves and started playing the same physical style of basketball they used to reach the Final Four a year ago. Texas got outrun by Notre Dame, who has quieted any critics of their program, and then followed that by losing at Arizona. But they were in it until the end against the most talented team in the country in one of the toughest home courts in the nation.

While Kansas may have not deserved the No. 1 vote, they are slowly evolving. Remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Many people had the Jayhawks counted out but they went to Tulsa (what other major school would do that?) and escaped with a win. Keith Langford and Aaron Miles did what Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich had not been doing, they carried the Jayhawks. Collison and Hinrich will come around, and as long as Langford and Miles continue to improve, they will certainly get past the first weekend of the tournament.

The Big 12 had been hampered by a slower style in recent years. Last year, when they finally broke through and put two teams in the Final Four, it was in large part to the perimeter games of Kansas and Oklahoma. While each had a dominant big man, their runs were led by guards. College is a perimeter dominated game, and some of the most talented guards and wing players play in the Big 12 … Andre Emmett, Hinrich, John Lucas Jr., Rickey Paulding, Hollis Price, Jake Sullivan, Wright … the list goes on and on.

When the time comes to fill out your bracket remember pick against the pathetic Big 12. But, please, if you do, let me know so I can join your pool!


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