How will the Big 12 shake out?
It’s crazy to think about, but we are coming down the home stretch of the 2014-15 NCAA men’s basketball regular season. Only a half-dozen or so conference games remain for the power teams, and the picture of what March Madness will look like is clearing up.
One of the more interesting conferences to keep tabs on is the Big 12. For a few years, the quality of the conference was down with only the Kansas Jayhawks appearing like a true contender. This season, there are six teams ranked in the top 25 in the Associated Press poll out of the Big 12 conference. Kansas is the only top-10 team, but the depth is shown off by the No. 14 Iowa State Cyclones, No. 16 Baylor Bears, No. 17 Oklahoma Sooners, No. 21 West Virginia Mountaineers and the No. 22 Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Texas Longhorns are also on the cusp of being ranked, getting ample votes.
The Big 12 is the deepest conference in basketball if not the sexiest. The conference tournament will be fascinating with 6-8 teams having a legitimate shot of walking away with the title. The ACC can’t imagine saying that thanks to an extremely top-heavy group. The Duke Blue Devils and Virginia Cavaliers will be the major favorites, while the Louisville Cardinals and North Carolina Tar Heels are lurking.
When Selection Sunday comes to pass, the Big 12 will be prominently featured. The question is how many teams will make it to the dance?
In Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology for ESPN.com, he has seven teams coming out of the Big 12. Only the Big Ten can match that number, with the SEC and Big East following with six. The ACC is only slated to bring five to the tournament.
Lunardi has Kansas as a No. 2 seed, Oklahoma and Iowa State each as a No. 4, Baylor and Oklahoma State on the No. 5 line, and Texas and West Virginia as No. 7 seeds. Currently, OddsShark has the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats listed at 11/10 favorites to win the NCAA Tournament. Kansas is listed eighth at 22/1, with Oklahoma 40/1, Iowa State and Texas 66/1, Oklahoma State 75/1 and Baylor and West Virginia 100/1.
With so many potential entrants into March Madness, there is an opportunity for the often overlooked conference to make some noise and command respect. Kansas will immediately come in with credibility, one of the best programs of the last 25 years. Programs like Iowa State and Oklahoma State have been solid for the better part of a decade, but they have not made deep tournament runs. For both, there is no time like the present.
There is still time to improve resumes and gain acclaim within the Big 12 Tournament. However, March can not come soon enough for these seemingly forgotten contenders in the Midwest to take center stage.