It’s been nearly a week since the Big 12 Conference saw its NCAA Tournament come to an end. The Big 12 had two teams make the Elite 8, Kansas State and Texas, and both teams came up short of the Final Four, losing their respective games.
Granted, it’s been as chaotic a March Madness as we’ve arguably ever had. A No. 16 beat a No. 1 seed for just the second time ever and no No. 1 seed reached the Elite 8 for the first time in Tournament history. But as chaotic as it was, it’s still fair to call this a big disappointment for the Big 12 Conference.
The league had seven teams make the NCAA Tournament this season, the highest percentage of any conference in America, and nearly had eight, with Oklahoma State just missing out. All season long the conversation was about the Big 12 being the best basketball conference in the country, and it wasn’t all that close.
I still believe that, but the reality is when the lights were shining the brightest, the Big 12, collectively, did not live up to the moment. Overall, the league went 8-7 as favorites in the NCAA Tournament. That’s, by every interpretation, a letdown.
First Round Busts
The Big 12 went 5-2 in First Round games, but the two teams that lost, lost in disappointing fashion. West Virginia went into the Maryland game as a 2.5-point favorite, led the game 19-8 at the halfway mark of the first half, and then blew the lead and lost the game 67-65. The other losers were Iowa State, who had as bad a start to the half shooting the bad as I’ve seen in a long time. They were also favored, fell behind 22-22, and lost by 18 points.
Second Round Beats
The Big 12 ended up with three teams losing their second-round games, meaning the league went 2-3 in that round of the Big Dance. Kansas State beat Kentucky in a great matchup, and Texas rolled past Penn State, but the rest of the league did not perform well. Baylor opened as favorites before the spread flipped to favor Creighton by one point. And it was the Blue Jays who ran away with the game in an 85-76 victory over the Bears. The Kansas Jayhawks, yes playing without coach Bill Self, led Arkansas by eight at halftime, and 12 at the 15-minute mark, before Arkansas roared back for a 72-71 upset victory. And then there was TCU, who led Gonzaga by five points with 12 minutes to play and eventually lost the game 84-81.
Elite 8 Letdowns
After Texas and Kansas State both won their Sweet 16 games to advance to the Elite 8, in which the Big 12 was the only Power 5 conference with two teams to make it this far, it ended in pure disappointment. The Wildcats lost this game at the 12-minute mark in the second half. They led 57-50 over FAU, but a couple of missed, and ill-advised three-pointers later, along with a couple of turnovers, and the Owls were right back in the game, putting together a 17-6 run and then eventually pulling away for a 79-76 win.
As for Texas, it was even worse. UT led by eight at halftime, and 13 points at the 12-minute mark in the second half. And then the wheels came completely off. A 24-11 Miami run tied the game with four minutes to play and the Hurricanes would roll to an 88-81 win to punch their Final Four ticket.
It wasn’t just that the Big 12 didn’t have a Final Four team. Heck, look at the finalists this year (FAU, San Diego State, Miami, UConn). But it’s how the league was perceived going into the tournament, combined with how each team played, especially down the stretch of games in which they were favored. For the first time since 2017, the Big 12 does not have a Final Four team.
The Big 12 Conference is undoubtedly poised to maintain its position atop the college basketball hierarchy going into the 2023-24 season. But for many coaches and teams, the way the season ended will leave a stench that will hang around for a while. And it should.