Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 10:03 AM
We continue our college basketball series on major conferences today with a look at the Big 12. That will get you ready for tonight's big TV game featuring Texas and Kansas State on ESPN2. Who knows what the perpetual grouchiness of K-State coach Frank Martin will bring us tonight!
If you've missed earlier "catch up" reports on the Big 10, Pac 12, and the SEC, please check our archives. We'll run through the ACC here on Thursday...a day where both Duke and North Carolina will take the floor in TV games. The sixth and final major conference report will run Saturday and feature the Big East because ESPN's GameDay will be in Pittsburgh for Louisville-Pittsburgh.
Yesterday we talked about how the SEC hasn't done much in the Big Dance recently outside of Kentucky and Florida. The Big 12 is always prominent in the March Madness discussion, with powerhouse Kansas annually being on the short list of potential champions. One of the key themes, seemingly EVERY year, is whether or not the Jayhawks will play up to their seed or get stunned by somebody who wasn't supposed to have a chance.
Usually there are a few other entries from the Big 12 who are at least capable of going deep. It's a power conference, even if the list of disappointments seems longer than the list of accomplishments. That's going to be the nature of the beast when only one team cuts down the nets at the end of the year.
Here's a quick review of what happened for Big 12 teams last year in the Big Dance:
#1 Kansas moved easily to the second weekend of the event as a heavy favorite, but they would get stunned by Virginia Commonwealth in an Elite Eight game that you probably remember watching on TV. A top seed is always disappointed when they don't reach the Final Four. But, this wasn't a total washout considering how well VCU was playing at the time, and how well Kansas played in their first three tourney tilts.
#4 Texas beat Oakland in the first round, but had to sweat a close game as a 10-point favorite. Next they lost a heartbreaker to Arizona, which looked like an even strong result when Arizona eliminated Duke in the Sweet 16. Another composite that's not a disaster when you're evaluating a conference, but not something the team themselves would be very happy about.
#5 Kansas State beat Utah State and covered as a small favorite in the first round, then lost to Wisconsin as a small dog in the second round, just missing the spread. Just that kind of year in the Big 12. Part of the mix, but couldn't survive in the quicksand.
#7 Texas A&M lost in the first round as a small favorite against Florida State, part of a decline that's extended deep into this new season.
#11 Missouri lost badly to Cincinnati by 15 points. The game was close to pick-em even though it was a 6-11 matchup in the brackets. Missouri would make a coaching change...and has been very happy with the results after getting past all the initial skepticism.
What is bracketology saying about the Big 12 for this coming March? Joe Lunardi of ESPN currently has five teams from the Big 12 crashing the Dance card, with Iowa State as a sixth team that sits on the wrong side of the bubble at the moment.
#1 seed Baylor
#2 seed Kansas
#2 seed Missouri
#7 seed Kansas State
#10 seed Texas
Mostly the same faces, with Baylor back in with a vengeance after a late season collapse in 2011 to replace fading Texas A&M who's heading to the SEC. The numbers have changed around though. Texas is in the bottom 32 rather than the top 20. It's a shame for historians that programs like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have fallen off the pace. The quality is still there though.
Iowa State is certainly within striking distance by all credible measures. Ken Pomeroy has the Cyclones at 44th in his current computer rankings. That's right on the cusp of what gets into the Dance with an at-large bid once the automatic berths are all handed out. But, it looks like six is the hard ceiling for Big 12 teams this year barring any fantastic finishes. Nobody else from the league is in Pomeroy's top 70.
Still, let's remember this is only a 10-team league at the moment regardless of what it's name says! Getting half or 60% of your teams in the NCAA Tournament is a nice accomplishment. Losing Colorado and Nebraska didn't keep this from being a power conference in this sport.
Here are the key adjusted rankings offense and defense (adjusted for pace and strength of schedule) for the six teams who matter most this year in the Big 12 according to Pomeroy's database.
Kansas: 8th on offense, 3rd on defense
Missouri: 2nd on offense, 55th on defense
Baylor: 11th on offense, 16th on defense
Kansas State: 42nd on offense, 18th on defense
Texas: 39th on offense, 31st on defense
Iowa State: 35th on offense, 85th on defense
Kansas was supposed to be dealing with an off-year because they lost so much talent. Yet, there they are with fantastic rankings on both sides of the ball with all of their new people! You have to assume Kansas is getting better as the season progresses because the learning curve is so intense. They're on pace to be right back in the mix as a potential #1 seed in a little less than two months.
Baylor has the kind of balance we like, but they sure didn't play well in a heads-up game with Kansas. More on that in a minute. Missouri's come along way. We need to see greatness on the road vs. other high quality Big 12 foes before we jump on that bandwagon though. Well, we're on the bandwagon in terms of Missouri being for real...but any sort of "championship" bandwagon is just now getting the horses in position.
THIS WEEK'S GAMES AMONGST THE BIG 12 ELITE
Wednesday: Texas at Kansas State on ESPN2
Saturday: Missouri at Baylor on ESPN
Saturday: Kansas at Texas on CBS
Big week for Texas, who doesn't have much margin for error in the bracketology stuff given their #10 seedings under Lunardi. Should Texas lose both of those games, they'd drop right to the bubble. Two wins, and they would probably be safe for the Dance regardless of what happens later in the year. We're very interested in Missouri-Baylor too because that's a double reversal game (Missouri off a big TV win and Baylor off a big TV loss) that will provide a serious road test for the Tigers. Huge Saturday!
We just had one huge meeting on Big Monday. Let's quickly crunch the numbers from that:
KANSAS 92, BAYLOR 74
Shooting Pct: Baylor 46%, Kansas 57%
Three-Pointers: Baylor 7/23, Kansas 6/11
Free Throws: Baylor 9/11, Kansas 16/21
Rebounds: Baylor 21, Kansas 36
Turnovers: Baylor 11, Kansas 15
Vegas Line: Kansas by 7, total of 138.5
First, let's note how much respect Kansas was getting with the Vegas spread. If you're laying 7 points in this sport, you're seen as being at least 3-4 points better on a neutral court. So, even though Baylor was UNDEFEATED before the game (!), the market believed Kansas was the better team. Then, Kansas went out and proved it with a blowout.
We're most impressed with the rebounding edge, and the ability the team showed to move the ball around and get good shots. Kansas didn't try a lot of treys, but made 6 of the 11 they did launch. That means they only wanted good looks, and drained them. Turnovers are still a problem for the young Jayhawks. Giving the ball away 15 times at home suggests even more trouble on the road or in big neutral site games later this season.
Forget all the stuff you read in the offseason about Kansas being in a rebuilding year and falling off the pace. Kansas has rebuilt and still has time to improve even more with this young lineup.
That wraps up this "notes" report about the Big 12. We'll be back Thursday to do the same thing with the ACC. North Carolina will be trying to bounce back after a humiliating loss to Florida State that had Dick Vitale gagging on his Heel Hype for two hours. They visit Virginia Tech after Duke hosts Wake Forest in an ESPN doubleheader.
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