Monday, March 27, 2023

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Best Conference in College Basketball for Men? The big 12.

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College basketball fans are always arguing about how their teams are doing — and how their conferences compare. Partisans of all major leagues love to crow about their dominance on bulletin boards or to discredit rival conferences.

So, as the men’s basketball season enters its final months, which conference comes out on top? The Big Ten? Sure, Purdue is No. 1. The Southeastern Conference? Yes, Tennessee is number 2. Arizona and UCLA from the Pac-12 are also doing well.

But the best and deepest conference this season is the Big 12.

Sure, the Big 12 has been consistently strong over the past few years. After all, the past two national titles went to Kansas and Baylor. But what’s different this season is the depth: not just three or four teams, but eight or nine in the 10-team Big 12 are playing at a high level this season.

The dominance became even more evident on Saturday, when Big 12 teams went 7-3 against SEC teams in their interconference challenge event. In the most eye-popping game, unranked Oklahoma, which is only 2-6 in Big 12 play, defeated then-No. 2 Alabama, 93-69, behind guard Grant Sherfield by 30 points.

The success of the Big 12 has come, even if the depth brings an unfortunate handicap: the teams have to play against each other for most of the second half of the season. So almost every night, a strong Big 12 team loses to another strong Big 12 team. Those extra L’s on the plate often bring less respect from Top 25 voters and sometimes from the NCAA seeding committee.

Nevertheless, ESPN’s Bracketology expects the Big 12 to receive two No. 2 seeds (Kansas and Texas), one No. 3 seed (Kansas State), and three No. 4 seeds (Baylor, Iowa State and TCU) from the eight scheduled tournament teams. .

Even the teams at the bottom end of the Big 12 are pretty good. Oklahoma, the recent conqueror of Alabama, is tied for the conference standings, but is between the 30s and 40s nationally according to computers, and could well make it to the tournament. Texas Tech, last place, has a conference record of 1-8, but still ranks in the top 65 for most computers and also won its challenge game by beating Louisiana State.

Like all conferences, the Big 12 will lose some quality players to the NBA next season, with Gradey Dick and Jalen Wilson of Kansas and Keyonte George of Baylor projected as first-rounders.

But the conference will also receive a potential shock: The Big 12 will add Brigham Young, Central Florida and Cincinnati next season, respectable programs if not currently world beaters. And it will also add Houston, which is currently the No. 3 team in the country. That should help take some of the sting out of Oklahoma and Texas losing to the SEC for the 2025-26 season.

Ultimately, the Big 12 will inevitably be judged by how it performs in the NCAA tournament, and the one-off nature of that event leaves a wide variety of possible outcomes. But as of now, the conference looks as robust as it has in years.

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