The Big XII conference has been one of the best basketball leagues in the country over the past several years. This season, that does not appear to be the case. Defections by Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC have hurt. Both schools have been pretty good recently. The two new kids of the block, TCU and West Virginia have not helped. This was expected from TCU; it will be a few years yet before they can fill their roster up with Big XII caliber players. I see West Virginia as a big disappointment though. They were supposed to transition right into the league as a contending program. Although they have played the fourth most difficult schedule in the conference (SOS and RPI numbers com are from rivals.com), they only have an RPI ranking of 104 because they lost six of those games already.
I love the ten-team make-up of the league right now for both sports. I hope the conference can stick to it in the ever changing landscape of conference realignment. As a basketball fan, I love the fact that every team gets a home-and-home with all the schools. This is what can build and strengthen rivalries, increasing the excitement and energy for all fans.
There is a strange make-up to the league this year. Kansas, to this point, appears to be head and shoulders above all others, trying to win their 9th straight conference championship. TCU and Texas Tech appear to be the weak sisters of the bunch. I do not see a whole lot of separation between the other seven teams. I have my thoughts on some of these teams but have not seen any of them play enough to be confident in my opinions. I would be very surprised if Kansas would lose more than three games and I will be shocked if TCU and Texas Tech win more than four each. It is a toss up from there. I could see any of the other teams getting hot enough to make a run. Because of the conference’s low RPI rating as a whole (6th), the Big XII will likely only garner four, possibly five, bids to the NCAA Tournament. Those middle seven schools will probably beat themselves up throughout the season.
Now that we are in conference play, every win is precious. Teams must hold serve at home and earning any road victory will be key as the standings sort themselves out at the end. The first weekend gave us some good examples. I am going to ignore the TCU/Tech game as I think it lacks importance overall. Oklahoma came away with the first tough road win at West Virginia. In my mind, the Sooners already have a leg up because they were able to steal that win in Morgantown. Baylor was able to win a game they should have at home against a disappointing and short-handed Longhorn squad. The big game of the weekend pitted Oklahoma State at Kansas State. Both of these teams have to be considered the favorites to earn the other tournament bids, along with Baylor. It was imperative for KSU to win this game at home. It was a great game to watch and the Wildcats took care of business in Bramlage.
In the coming week, there are several key games. It will be an important week for the Mountaineers as West Virginia travels to Texas Wednesday and hosts KSU Saturday. The Mountaineers will be in big trouble if they drop a second home game. Saturday will feature the first of two Bedlam games in 2013, this one in Norman. These games are always exciting, especially when the teams are relatively evenly matched with league positioning is at stake. Finally, the week will come to a close when the Baylor Bears travel to Lawrence in an effort to knock the Jayhawks from their pedestal.
From this point on, schools will have to win games to build up their weak RPI rankings. Few games are easy in this conference, and with so many evenly matched teams and big home court advantages, things are going to be entertaining.