The Big 12 Basketball Conference opens play tonight, with eight of the league’s ten teams tipping off across the country (only Baylor and TCU have the evening off, and will meet Saturday in Fort Worth).
Long considered one of the best two basketball conferences in the country, 2019 promises to bring more of the same night in night out excitement that made last year so much fun - with a chance the league is even deeper than a season ago.
To find out what we can be looking forward to over the next two months, and to see which team might have the best opportunity to finally knock out Kansas, we invited all 11 of the SB Nation Big 12 blogs to a big ol’ round table to talk about their favorite team. The responses was great - eight of the ten teams found time to chime in. If we hear from the others, we will add it in this week.
Thanks to everyone that participated, and good luck this season - in ***most*** of your games.
Kansas Basketball has won the Big 12 Conference regular season title for the last 14 seasons. Is there any chance that someone gets in the way of #15?
Bring on the Cats: Believe me, I’d like to say yes to this question more than anyone. Sadly, it’s very difficult to imagine how it could happen. Kansas is deeper and more talented than a year ago, even if they did still suffer their typical hard-to-explain non-conference loss. They also earned the league’s two best wins. Plus, Bill Self is still in Lawrence, unfortunately.
Cowboys Ride For Free: Kansas is an elite program still. Despite some hiccups early in the season, Bill Self is going to have his program in tip-top shape for Big 12 play. There are some great teams in the Big 12 this year, but I don’t think anyone is good enough to take the thrown away from the Jayhawks. It may come down to the wire but ultimately I think they take conference title #15.
C&C Machine: I’ll believe it when I see it. Even in a conference as perpetually competitive as the Big 12, Bill Self is just a magician. He’s obviously a phenomenal recruiter, but the way he’s consistently able to keep his team’s focus is what’s been most remarkable during this run. That doesn’t change this season.
Frogs O’ War: We say this every year, but it looks like a couple teams are ready to step up and take the banner from the Jayhawks. Tech has probably been most impressive against a pretty decent preseason schedule, and Iowa State looks imposing when healthy. Additionally, TCU can score in bunches and is playing really great defense. The opportunity is there - it always is - but I think the depth of the top contenders is the best it’s been recently.
Our Daily Bears: No. Probabilistically, Kansas might be a 75% favorite and 25% events happen all the time. Texas Tech and a host of teams are legitimate contenders. But that’s not how any of this works. Pick Kansas until they lose or until something radically changes. They have the best team and a giant advantage at home.
Rock Chalk Talk: Yet another year of it looking like the big 12 is the deepest conference in America. Only Baylor and Oklahoma State look bad right now, and with KU’s struggles against OSU recently, that could open the door for someone.
The Smoking Musket: As others have said, I’ll believe it when I see it. Texas Tech could make a run at it, but offensive inefficiencies will cost them a game or two that will end up proving the difference.
Viva the Matadors: (Optimism level: 100%) Absolutely! I am not convinced that the Big 12 would be considered in many circles the “best basketball conference” if it was supported by one insurmountable team. Yes, it’s boring that Kansas keeps winning but it’s not like they aren’t working for it. This is a tough gauntlet and the Big 12 Champion earns their keep.
Wide Right & Natty Lite: There’s always a chance, but Kansas still looks like the obvious best team in the conference. Selfishly, I think Iowa State can be a contender as long as everyone stays healthy, but almost anyone in the conference looks like they have a shot if enough breaks go their way.
Which team is most likely to end the streak and why?
Bring on the Cats: I like Iowa State if the Cyclones can find chemistry now that everyone is healthy. Lindell Wigginton can be so much fun to watch and as usual, if the threes are falling, they’ll be tough to beat. Texas Tech looks strong and Oklahoma’s record is nice, but I can’t trust a team that lost to Wisconsin by 20. K-State could still be in the conversation if Dean Wade gets back to 100% and rejuvenates the offense by the end of January — the ‘Cats don’t play KU until February — but that’s still a big if at this point.
Cowboys Ride For Free: Texas Tech. They’re on a roll right now. They played really well against one of the top programs in the nation in Duke.They also have another good non-conference win at Nebraska. Coach Beard has done great things for that program and I think they’re in the Big Dance come March. If there’s anyone that can take out Kansas, I think it’s Tech.
C&C Machine: I’ll go with Texas Tech. The Raiders are perhaps the best defensive basketball team in the country this season, and that tends to give you a puncher’s chance against anyone.
Frogs O’ War: Iowa State or Texas Tech, probably. The Red Raiders made a strong run last year, and despite losing some talented players, looked primed for another big season. The Cyclones are just so dang balanced, and have star power in Wigginton (if he’s healthy).
Our Daily Bears: Texas Tech. They have the league’s second best player, Jarrett Culver, and are the No. 2 KenPom defense. I think that team can still get better, as some of their motion sets haven’t been as strong early in the season.
Rock Chalk Talk: Looking through the recent history of the streak, the best challengers have been at least somewhat balanced. This year Iowa State and TCU look the most balanced, but I’ve probably been most impressed with what Oklahoma has done against a bad schedule. Then, you have both Texas Tech and K State looking like elite defenses, which should carry them even when their offenses struggle. I’m actually going to go with Iowa State because of their balance, and their overall talent level is probably 2nd highest in the Big 12.
The Smoking Musket: Texas Tech. They remind me a ton of the 2010 West Virginia team that went to the Final Four. No gimmicks, just face eating defense and guys who can make a shot or two when you need it.
Viva the Matadors: I want to avoid picking Texas Tech and try building up another team that’s been working hard after a dramatic identity change. The Oklahoma Sooners have moved on from Trae Young and started their season 11-1 after wins against some good teams like Northwestern and Notre Dame. It’s a gamble to choose the Sooners though because they started 12-1 last year and then fell 6-13 before somehow skirting into the NCAA Tournament. I would argue the difference is spreading out scoring responsibility. Christian James (17.9ppg), Miles Reynolds (10.9), and Brady Manek (10.8) have ensured a level of offensive proficiency for Oklahoma where one player isn’t their entire scheme. We’re going to find out how ready Oklahoma is to challenge the Jayhawks when they step into The Phog on January 2.
Wide Right & Natty Lite: Tech, TCU, and Iowa State look like the best contenders right now. Tech hasn’t dropped off much after last year’s campaign, and should contend near the top again this year. TCU is only getting better under Jamie Dixon, and they have the balance to win tough games on the road. Iowa State hasn’t had their best player for a large portion of the season, but have looked pretty good so far.
Does Kansas’ dominance of the regular season reflect poorly on a conference that many believe is the best in the country?
Bring on the Cats: Not as much as the lack of success in the NCAA tournament, which has gotten much better for Kansas and the conference as a whole in the past 3 years. I was still always happy when it happened, but in the eyes of the casual college basketball fan, nothing was more detrimental to the Big 12’s rep than KU dominating the Big 12 only to bow out early in March.
Cowboys Ride For Free: I think it’s comparable to the SEC and Alabama in football over the past few years. The SEC is considered the best conference in the CFB, but there’s now doubt that Bama owns that conference during the regular season. I don’t think that KU’s dominance during the regular season makes the rest of the Big 12 look bad because KU is such a well known blue blood in CBB. People know they’re tough to beat and I don’t think they hold it against the rest of us. (For the record we swept them in the regular season last year tehehehehehe.)
C&C Machine: It’ll be complicated. This is the best conference in college basketball, and that’s been the case for some time. However, Kansas is the only program that has been truly elite during that stretch, though the league hasn’t had many clunkers (since Jamie Dixon got to TCU, at least), and is as good top to bottom as any in the land. That being said, the streak needs to end.
Our Daily Bears: No. It’s one of those deals where haters can find something. The Big 12 not having many Final Four teams and some early NCAA Tournament losses are far bigger issues than Kansas winning the league.
Rock Chalk Talk: I don’t think so. I think the Big 12 being the best in the country is more of a reflection on its depth than strength at the top. Yes there is always one other elite level team, but what I think sets the league apart is the fact that there really is no night off like there is in every other Power 5 league.
The Smoking Musket: Nah, the league is always good and deep, Kansas just has the dudes that the rest of the league general doesn’t that make plays when they count that turn games other teams would drop into improbable wins.
I am familiar with this concept.
Viva the Matadors: To reiterate my earlier point, it isn’t that Kansas is an average team just running the table. They are a talented and well-coached basketball team that comes out and competes in a competitive conference that is built on success. It can be argued that level of dominance might be indicative of a weak conference, sure. It can also be observed that that statement is total bullcrap and we play in the best conference in the wooooorlllllld. I don’t know, if Kansas wins 20 in a row then we’re just not trying hard enough or something.
Wide Right & Natty Lite: If it was any school other than KU, UK, Duke, or UNC, then it would probably hurt the overall reputation of the conference. However, those four are considered to be so far above the rest of college basketball, that national perspective is sympathetic to conferences dominated by those schools.
Which Big 12 teams do you expect to make the NCAA Tournament?
Bring on the Cats: I’m not prepared to answer this question as it would mean taking a serious look at Kansas State’s chances, and it’s way too early to ruin 2019.
Cowboys Ride For Free: Imma just say right now it ain’t gonna be us. But in all seriousness… I agree with FOW. I think we see as many as 7 in. But it depends on which team get things together for conference play. I see KU, ISU, Tech and K-State and TCU as locks at this point barring catastrophes. Texas, OU and Baylor will have an uphill climb to get their tournament bids. I think 2 out of those 3 make it to The Dance. Just don’t ask me who at this point because I have no clue.
Frogs O’ War: Assuming K State has things figured out and Baylor will get things figured out, we could see eight in. A lot of this depends on how for real the Sooners are and what the Longhorns can do in conference play. Realistically, 6-7 teams, with Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Tech, and TCU looking locked in, while Texas, Baylor, and OU will be close calls. The real question is what the hell happened to the Eers?
Our Daily Bears: Kansas, Texas Tech, Iowa State, TCU, Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas State. The final two have a chance to miss the field. But the Big 12 is excellent, the PAC-12 is trash and I’d be surprised if there are too many bid thieves this year.
Rock Chalk Talk: I think KU, ISU, OU, and Tech are looking good for bids, although other than Texas beating North Carolina and OU beating Florida, the big 12 is lacking in marquee wins from teams other than Kansas. So I don’t think there are enough league wins to go around to get more than 5 in.
Viva the Matadors: Everybody except Texas and Oklahoma State, probably. Goooo Big 12.
Wide Right & Natty Lite: The Big 12 is deep once again, but there is a slightly larger gap between the top and bottom of the conference this year. In a conference where teams don’t generally come out of the regular season with records that reflect how good they are (due to them beating each other up all season), that slight gap will cause the bottom half to separate a little more than usual. Thus I think the Big 12 currently has KU, Iowa State, Tech, TCU, Kansas State, and OU looking totally solid for bids, while Texas, West Virginia have work to do but can still make it in. Oklahoma State and Baylor don’t look promising right now, but anything can happen.
Which Big 12 team has the best chance to go the farthest in the NCAA Tournament this year?
Bring on the Cats: It’s pretty hard to not pick Kansas and it would just look petty if I don’t, honestly.
Cowboys Ride For Free: I’m gonna go with Kansas. I don’t know how far that will be, But I can say that they have the best of chance of any of the teams at this point.
Frogs O’ War: Iowa State and Kansas are both built to win in March. Tech could certainly have another deep run. And this is the year the Frogs get to the Sweet 16. :)
Our Daily Bears: Kansas. They are the league’s best team--and someday Q. Grimes will play at least okay. Their lack of 3-point shooting might cause an earlier exit, but it’s easy to bet on the best.
Rock Chalk Talk: Offense wins in March, so I would lean Iowa State and Kansas, even if the latter has to improve on that end. But so much of March is matchup and location based, I don’t feel right giving an answer until the bracket is out. Boy what a boring answer.
The Smoking Musket: Kansas, obviously, but I like Iowa State for a team that will just go nuclear in a one and done environment and never miss shots. Texas Tech’s defense makes them a nightmare to play in that too. Again, they remind me a ton of West Virginia’s 2010 team.
Viva the Matadors: Let’s just assume we’re all facing the same opponents through to the championship because a lot success can rely on luck-of-the-draw. With the same opponents I would lean on either Kansas State or Texas Tech because of their defensive scoring prowess thus far (10th and 1st, respectively). Both teams have shown the ability to withstand oppositional rallies this year and fight back - an absolute must when the Tournament comes knocking.
Wide Right & Natty Lite: I’m with RCT on this one. Offense is generally the driver of deep runs in March, and Iowa State and Kansas are probably the two most equipped in those areas. However, TCU and Tech will both have enough balance and defense to get to the second weekend of the tournament.
Which Big 12 player not on your team do you most enjoy watching?
Bring on the Cats: I mentioned him already, but I have to give the nod to Lindell Wigginton. Point guards are always my favorite and he’s so creative and unafraid that he can do just about anything, it seems, although that’s probably not always a good thing if you ask Iowa State fans.
Frogs O’ War: I learned to love/hate Sagaba Konate a year ago - there’s something magical about a dude that big just destroying shots at the rim. Dean Wade is a favorite as well - just an old school guy who does a little bit of everything well.
Our Daily Bears: Alex Robinson from TCU. He does a fantastic job getting into the lane and make ridiculous passes. I wish he’d attempt a few more triples a game, but that’s about my only complaint. He turned around a doormat and hash been huge with Jaylen Fisher missing time the last two years.
Rock Chalk Talk: I haven’t gotten to watch a ton of non KU games this year, but Sagaba Konate is an incredible defender, and really fun to watch on that end. I’ve also really enjoyed how Alex Robinson has played this year.
The Smoking Musket: We’ve been busy. I would be lying if I said I watched a second of any of y’all thus far.
Viva the Matadors: If you’re not watching Marial Shayok then you need to. He’s been an absolute monster for Iowa State averaging 20 ppg.
Wide Right & Natty Lite: Sagaba Konate. Those two handed blocks are unbelievable.
What has been the most surprising thing about the non-conference schedule for the Big 12?
Bring on the Cats: Definitely Texas Tech. Yes, the Red Raiders played a bunch of tasty cupcakes, but they essentially smoked all of them, blew out a couple decent teams (USC, Memphis), ran a very solid Nebraska squad off the floor and then hung with Duke for about 36 minutes in their only loss. That’s not supposed to happen after you lose as much talent, production and leadership as Chris Beard did. I’ve been a believer since he was hired, but he’s still proving me wrong.
Cowboys Ride For Free: The whole thing has been one big surprise to me. The conference has kept it close in some games that it had no business doing so in. And then played some head scratchers in games they should have won.
Frogs O’ War: WVU being a dumpster fire is certainly up there.
Our Daily Bears: Texas Tech being this good. Without Keenan Evans, Zhaire Smith and Zach Smith, I figured they’d fall back a bit. Instead, Culver is the league’s second best player and their defense held Duke to .84 points per possession, which is lower than America’s worst offense scores (Duke has America’s best offense).
Rock Chalk Talk: Probably Texas beating North Carolina. With some of their other struggles this year I have no idea where that one came from.
The Smoking Musket: Everything is perfectly normal and fine, thanks.
Viva the Matadors: How strong the conference has looked against prominent teams and then how lame it has looked against… not prominent teams.
Wide Right & Natty Lite: West Virginia’s early struggles have been pretty surprising. Selfishly, I’ve also been pleasantly surprised with how good Iowa State has looked without Lindell Wigginton in the lineup.
Which conference game for the team you cover are you most looking forward to?
Bring on the Cats: Kansas in Manhattan. It’s always Kansas in Manhattan.
Cowboys Ride For Free: Bedlam as a night game in Gallagher-Iba. That game is always nuts and even though it’s a Wednesday, the crowd should still be amped.
Frogs O’ War: The Frogs have a couple of Monday night contests that could easily be Big Monday games for ESPN - at Tech and Kansas at home. If TCU plays up to their potential, both could be massive swing games for each team. If we can get Kansas at home with a similar environment to what Big Monday was against WVU in Fort Worth last year, sign me up for that.
Our Daily Bears: Hosting Texas. The Bears are not going to win many games, and that’s a shot to beat a rival.
The Smoking Musket: Kansas is always fun. One of the few CBB teams that travel, so the environment in Morgantown is always super fun.
Viva the Matadors: Given the excitement of last year’s College Gameday for Texas Tech vs Kansas, I am enthusiastic about the opportunity to be in a position to challenge for the title yet again. If that’s the case then of course our series against the Jayhawks. Otherwise bring me Iowa State for the trash talk potential.
Wide Right & Natty Lite: When Kansas - Iowa State in Ames has been one of the best games on the conference schedule every year for almost a decade now, and this year shouldn’t be any different. Unfortunately, this game still takes place during the students’ winter break so student attendance might be a little lower for this game, but those tickets have been sold to other people, and the place will still be rocking. Otherwise, TCU and Tech will be great matchups for Iowa State, and could be the deciding factors in who challenges Kansas for the crown.
Tell us one thing about the team you cover that makes them worth watching this season.
Bring on the Cats: Barry Brown is an absolutely tenacious defender and while he’s not the most talented offensive player, he’s the kind of guy who can put the team on his back when needed or help will them out of a funk. There aren’t many players in this league or any other league who play with more passion and intensity.
Cowboys Ride For Free: Mike Boynton. We love him and he’s got this program going in a fantastic direction. Watching him coach is worth tuning into this team.
Frogs O’ War: Alex Robinson has been a damn magician, and he - along with Jaylen Fisher - form one of the most exciting backcourts in college basketball on both ends of the floor. The joy Fish plays with is worth the price of admission, period.
Our Daily Bears: Tristan Clark is the league’s third best player and an absolute unit in the post. Baylor plays good defense and then misses a ton of shots. It’s ugly most of the time.
The Smoking Musket: Next question.
Viva the Matadors: After making an unprecedented run to the Elite Eight, plenty of basketball pundits expected Texas Tech to take a substantial step back this season. Starting 11-1 (albeit an easier schedule than most), the Red Raiders have shown real promise from a number of different players like Jarrett Culver, Tarique Owens, Deshawn Corprew and Kyler Edwards. Duke was the best litmus test for Tech, proving that they can do a lot of damage despite losing a lot of talent. Will be fun to see where this team takes themselves behind the coaching of Chris Beard.
Wide Right & Natty Lite: In Lindell Wigginton and Marial Shayok, Iowa State is boasting the leading returning scorer in the conference and the current leading scorer in the conference. Simply put, these dudes can fill it up in a hurry, and do it from anywhere on the floor. Fluid ball movement has made its triumphant return to Ames and these Cyclones are a ton of fun to watch when everything is clicking.
If you had to bet the house on one Big 12 team, not your own, to make the Final Four, which one would you choose and why?
Bring on the Cats: Kansas because the college basketball gods hate Kansas State.
Cowboys Ride For Free: Kansas.
Frogs O’ War: Kansas. But we know it won’t actually be them because they will lose to some team we have never heard of in the second round.
Our Daily Bears: Kansas. Dedric Lawson is a monster and one of their various McDonald’s All-Americans could play well. They’re also probably going to be a No. 1 seed, so they’ll have an easier path.
The Smoking Musket: Kansas.
Viva the Matadors: *sigh* KaNsAssSSssssSSSsS
Wide Right & Natty Lite: Kansas, mostly because it’s Kansas, and they have the most talent of anyone in the league.
Thanks again to everyone that took the time during busy bowl game/coaching search season. Be sure to follow all of these great blogs throughout conference play!