Is the Big 12 a Bad Basketball Conference?

A look back at the Big 12's history in the NCAA Tournament on the heals of a disastrous opening day.

For most of the current basketball season the Big 12 has been regarded as the best college hoops conference in the land. And the NCAA selection committee validated the reputation by granting bids to five Big 12 teams in addition to conference champ Kansas and tournament victor Iowa State. What’s more, in addition to Kansas sporting a No. 2 seed, Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma were all rewarded with prestigious No. 3 seeds. According to the seeds, the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight would be heavily populated by Big 12 teams.

But on the opening day of the Big Dance, disaster struck for the most powerful of the power conferences. The Big 12 went 0-fer with Texas falling to Butler, but far more damning, three seeds Baylor and Iowa State falling to 14 seeds Georgia State and Alabama-Birmingham, respectively.

3-seed Iowa State was upset by 14-seed UAB, 60-59, Thursday in the first round.

Throughout Big 12 territory an awful moan sighed through the ether. It was like a disturbance in the Force, as if a planetary cry had gone up, only to be swiftly silenced. Woe is us! The Big 12 sucks! What a terrible basketball conference!

And it really wouldn't make any difference the Big 12 bounced back with a 3-1 scorecard on Friday or what happened for the remainder of the tournament. The damage had been done. The conference’s reputation had been irredeemably sullied. The Big 12 was exposed for the fraud that it is.

11-seed Texas lost to 6-seed Butler, 56-48, Thursday in the first round.

But, of course, any categorical condemnations based upon a single day in a single tournament are more sophistical than the Big 12’s basketball prowess allegedly is. The only measure of a conference’s basketball worth is one that takes in its history, or at least its recent history. And considering that this is only the 18th season the Big 12 has played basketball, recent history is all it has.

So what does the historical record say? Has the Big 12 always been an overhyped, under-performing entity? Well, here is what the statistics say. Interpret them however you like.

Over the course of the Big 12’s existence, an average of 5.5 teams have been invited to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Roughly half of the teams in the conference regularly get an invite.

The Big 12’s overall record in the tournament—not counting the 2015 tournament—is 135-98, a winning percentage of 58.

The conference has produced one national champ, the Kansas Jayhawks of 2008.

Kansas defeated Memphis 75-68 in OT to win the 2008 national title.

Two Big 12 teams have been national runners up, the Jayhawks of 2003 (led by Kirk Hinrich) and 2012 (led by Ben McLemore). Four Big 12 teams have made it to the national semifinals in the Final Four, but failed to advance to the national championship game. They are the Oklahoma and Kansas teams of 2002, the Texas Longhorns of 2003, and the Oklahoma State Cowboys of 2004.

Thirteen times Big 12 teams have advanced to the Elite Eight but gone no further. Those teams are Iowa State and Oklahoma State in 2000, Missouri in 2002, Oklahoma in 2003, Kansas in 2004, Texas in 2006, Kansas in 2007, Texas in 2008, Missouri in 2009, Kansas State and Baylor in 2010, Kansas in 2011, and Baylor in 2012.

A dozen Big 12 teams made it to the Sweet 16 before seeing their dreams expire.

This would seem to be a reasonably good record.

However, the Big 12 has also had moments of ignominy, in addition to the opening-day egg laid in the 2015 tournament.

In 2001 the Iowa State Cyclones were a No. 2 seed, but lost in the opening round to Hampton, 58-57. In 2010 the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks lost in the second round to Northern Iowa, 69-67. In 2012 the Missouri Tigers were a No. 2 seed, yet lost in the first round to Norfolk State, 86-84. And just last year the Jayhawks, a No. 2 seed, fell in the second round to Stanford.

The conference’s worst season was probably 1998 when only four teams were invited to the NCAA tourney, their overall record in the tournament was 2-4, and no team managed to even reach the Sweet 16.

But only five years later the Big 12’s fortunes swung the opposite direction as the 2003 tourney saw six Big 12 teams in the fray, with Oklahoma advancing to the Elite Eight, Texas appearing in the Final Four, and Kansas losing in the national title game. The conference’s overall mark in the tourney was 14-6. Interestingly enough, eventual national champ Syracuse, which featured freshman forward Carmello Anthony, knocked off Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Kansas en route to its title.

Now clearly the above data is conditional until compared to the performance of other power conferences, but it is equally obvious that the Big 12 has already established a very respectable basketball history. Today’s bellyaching and whining could easily be replaced by fist-pumping and chest-beating in the very near future.

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