For the Big 12, put up or shut up time arrives, and recent results suggest the former
The Big 12 is out to prove Oklahoma State coach Mike Boynton was correct.
After the Cowboys fell to Texas in the quarterfinal of the Big 12 Tournament, Boynton did what coaches on the NCAA Tournament bubble are supposed to do. He shilled for team, playing overall conference strength as his trump card.
“This league presents challenges that — I’ve been in several others — no other league does,” Boynton said. “It’s not just a good league, and not just a league that is better than the others. It’s far and away better than the other leagues.”
Similar refrains were sounded from other coaches throughout the season, and put up or shut up time has arrived.
The pitch didn’t work for Boynton, whose Cowboys are the top seed in the NIT. But the Big 12 dives into the NCAA Tournament with seven teams, matching a conference-high mark. The average 4.3 seed line of the teams has been surpassed once in conference history.
Kansas is the lone No. 1 seed with Texas, which throttled the Jayhawks in the Big 12 tournament final, a second seed. Kansas State and Baylor are No. 3 seeds, while Iowa State and TCU landed on the No. 6 line.
The only Big 12 team wearing an away uniform in the opener is ninth-seeded West Virginia.
The Big 12 earned those stripes by topping every conference power ranking, largely based on nonconference results. By building its credentials in November and December games and in the Big 12-SEC Challenge, Big 12 programs dominated the NET rankings, a tool used by the selection committee to pick and seed the bracket.
Of the seven Big 12 teams in the field, the lowest NET ranking belongs to TCU at No. 28. It also meant Big 12 teams played more than half of their games against NCAA Tournament teams without leaving the conference.
More than once we heard Big 12 coaches say during the season they couldn’t wait for postseason play just to escape the weekly conference wars. But there’s a flip side to this.
“It does wear on you,” Baylor’s Scott Drew said.
That appeared to be the case throughout the Big 12 tournament. An event that was greatly anticipated as a series of showdowns among teams that would soon get good seeds on the NCAA bracket didn’t produce much drama or excellence outside of the Longhorns. Six of the nine games were decided by double digits.
But this is also true: The Big 12 not only topped all conferences in power ratings this season, recent history proves it has delivered in recent years.
Kansas and Baylor are the previous two NCAA champions. It’s the only conference to advance a team to the Final Four in the past four tournaments. Texas Tech fell in overtime in the 2019 final, and the Jayhawks reached the Final Four in the previous year.
Dating to 2016, when Oklahoma reached the Final Four, the Big 12 and ACC are the only conferences with teams on the final weekend in five of the past six years.
The Big 12 is in the midst of the greatest stretch of NCAA tournament success in its 27-year history. The only period that comes close is 2002-04, when the league advanced five teams to the Final Four. The first two years were the only occasions when multiple teams played on the final weekend. But the Big 12 went 1-4 in those games.
This year, the Big 12 got some good matchups, and some tough draws. Kansas, despite being a top seed, could become a betting underdog if it reaches the Sweet 16 in certain matchups. If Texas wins twice, the Longhorns will return to the T-Mobile Center where it won the Big 12.
More success this season will enhance the conference’s well-earned reputation, and as Drew said in Kansas City last week, now is the time for “new life, new excitement.” And to stop beating on each other.