Basketball

HCS Op-Ed: When the Lights Shine the Brightest, the Big 12 Has Failed

On the biggest stages, the Big 12 has not performed up to its potential and billing recently. Frankly, that’s an understatement, and the conference’s performances under the brightest lights have drawn major ire from many of its supporters and fans. This is a very disturbing trend that must be halted if the Big 12 is to ever reclaim its reputation as a top power conference in both basketball and football.

Going into the NCAA tournament the Big 12 was the highest rated conference among all the Power Five conferences. It had 7 teams entering the tournament with five of them being a 5 seed or higher. This was the year the Big 12 would take the nation by storm and prove that its top power index ranking was no fluke. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and it was a miserable showing in the first three rounds of the big dance. The term “March Madness” was very applicable for Big 12 advocates as the teams’ performances were highly maddening. Top seeded Universities such as Kansas, Baylor, and conference tournament winning Iowa State came up well short of their Final Four aspirations when they failed to even make the Sweet Sixteen. Texas and Oklahoma State were not highly seeded, but they were unable to become this year’s Cinderella’s and rewrite the narrative (both were bounced in the round of 64). The poor showing could not have been predicted, or could it have been?

One of the biggest knocks about the Baylor football team, that in the end hurt their College Football Playoff chances, was their weak non-conference schedule. That may have been the down fall for the Big 12 conference in this year’s tournament. They had a very weak non-conference schedule that often had them matching up against teams that were not going to do any damage, or even be on the bubble, in the “Big Dance”. The lack of play against tournament caliber teams, other than their own, really did not prepare the schools in the conference for the helter skelter style of the NCAA tournament games.

The next factor that played a part in the early dismissal of the Big 12 teams was their deficiency of great coaching throughout the conference. Plain and simple coaches like Scott Drew, Rick Barnes, and Travis Ford are not elite in-game coaches. They are very good, but when matched up against coaches with skins on the wall they are susceptible to being out coached. The one man in the Big 12 conference who is a top 5 coach in the nation is Bill Self. He has won the national championship, but even Self had no answer this year with his team losing so many close games. As you can imagine, in almost any competitive sport it’s all about peaking at the right time. Last year, it happened for Connecticut and Kentucky in the tournament, the two finalists of last year’s championship game, in which neither team was a top seed.

Unfortunately, the Big 12 teams represented in the tournament peaked too early. Many of the teams were playing outstanding basketball in January and February. However, that and 3 dollars and 19 cents will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. It’s all about how you play and come together as a team in March, when a loss ends your season. But, this wasn’t the case this year for the Big 12 schools. Lastly, at the end of the day talent wins out and the Big 12 lacked in elite difference making talent. The conference failed to notch a single player as a First or Second-Team All American. That’s a telling statistic when teams like Kentucky, Duke, and Wisconsin have a surplus of it. The cream always rises to the top, and while the Big 12 had many good players, it just wasn’t enough to cut down those nets on April 6th.

Also, let’s not forget that the Big 12 bowl season was another recent showing where most of the conference failed in the national spot light. After a poor showing from all of the teams, except TCU, the conference seems to have suffered some sort of epidemic. When the lights are the brightest the best teams shine the brightest. Big time players make big time plays in big time games. As we reach the Elite 8, there is not a single Big 12 team remaining. Meantime, the other power conferences, the Big Ten, ACC, Pac 12 and SEC, all have teams still in the hunt. Let’s just hope that this year’s Big 12 play in both basketball and football is nothing more than an aberration, instead of a constant.

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