Minus Colorado, Nebraska, Big 12 Basketball Now a Perfect 10
Addition by subtraction?
That's what Missouri Governor Jay Nixon thinks about the new look Big 12 when it comes to basketball season. Nixon said Tuesday that the Big 12 is now much better off in basketball due to losing "the two weakest basketball programs." He blamed Nebraska and Colorado for dragging down the rest of the conference in terms of schedule strength and poor overall records.
Is he correct?
Well, that's a complicated question, as there are many different parts of the argument and it all depends upon how you judge a program as a whole. My initial thought is that he's pretty close to being spot-on, so let's dive deeper and see.
First of all, there's no reason to even consider Kansas in the discussion. It's one of the elite programs in college basketball and always has been. Considering recent developments, it's fairly obvious Kansas State, Texas, Texas A&M and Missouri have better basketball programs than the two departees. Oklahoma had a rough 2010 and is inconsistent as a whole, but the program also has been to four Sweet 16s and a Final Four in the past 11 years, so I'm pretty comfortable saing it's a noticeably better program as well. That leaves Texas Tech and Iowa State.
If the Gov's claim is 100 percent accurate, those two will grade out as better basketball programs than Nebraska and Colorado. On the surface, though, his general statement that the basketball quality in the conference went up is very reasonable. You're talking about two of the four worst programs, at least, leaving.
2009-2010: Rated 85th by KenPom.com, SOS of 57, non-conference SOS of 305, 15-18 record
Recent History: Hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1998.
Relevant History: Six total NCAA tournament berths, has never won a game in the Big Dance (joining only Northwestern and South Florida as BCS-conference schools with this dubious distinction). 1996 NIT Champions.
Doc Sadler looked to have the program on the upswing, going 8-8 in conference games (a rare feat from the Huskers in Big 12 play) in 2009, but took a huge step backward in 2010, going 2-14 in the league. This just has the feel of a program that can never make it -- due likely to Huskers football being king and the dearth of local recruiting options. It's hard to say many good things about the program as a whole when comparing against nearly any BCS conference team. Also, the non-conference strength of schedule is pathetic and seems to reinforce Governor Nixon's point.
2009-2010: Rated 86th by KenPom.com, SOS of 19, non-conference SOS of 258, 15-16 record
Recent History: Haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 2003.
Relevant History: Only two NCAA berths since 1969. In fact, it has only made the NIT five times since 1950. There are two Final Fours and four Elite Eights, but nothing since 1963.
The Buffaloes went 9-7 in conference play and won 20 games overall in 2006. Here are the other conference records since 2004: 4-12, 3-13, 3-13, 1-15, 6-10. Jeff Bzdelik departed for Wake Forest and Colorado has brought in Tad Boyle from Northern Colorado to pick up the pieces. The good news? The Pac-10 is much worse than the Big 12. Still, this isn't exactly a huge loss from a basketball perspective, so the Governor appears two-for-two. Will Texas Tech and/or Iowa State have enough to substantiate the claim?
2009-2010: Rated 69th by KenPom.com, SOS of 11, non-conference SOS of 107, 19-16 record
Recent History: NCAA tournament berths three times in the past nine seasons, including Sweet 16 visit in 2005.
Relevant History: The Red Raiders have been to the Sweet 16 five times (though 1996 was vacated, so it's technically four).
Bob Knight appeared to be building Texas Tech to a very formidable program by 2005, when the Red Raiders posted four straight seasons of at least 22 wins and reached the Sweet 16. Things haven't gone as well since, as they've gone 26-48 in Big 12 play since 2005. If nothing else, the Red Raiders are playing a tough schedule and don't hurt the Big 12 much in terms of RPI numbers. For me -- while this is by no means a good program -- it's a clear-cut step above both Nebraska and Colorado. So it's all up to the Cyclones ...
2009-2010: Rated 71st by KenPom.com, SOS of 35, non-conference SOS of 231, 15-17 record
Recent History: Three NCAA tourney appearances since 2000, but none since 2005.
Relevant History: From 1992-2005, ISU went to the Big Dance eight times. It won the regular season Big 12 championship in 2000 and 2001. Four Sweet 16 appearances, two Elite Eights (including 2000) and a Final Four (1944) appearance are also on the resume.
The Cyclones have been reeling since the shocking first-round NCAA exit in 2001 as a two-seed against Hampton. They've gone 4-12 in Big 12 play in each of the past three seasons and have a combined mark of 49-95 in the league since the '01 shocker. Former Iowa State star Fred Hoiberg has been hired to attempt a turnaround, but he has no head coaching experience at any level.
While it might be close, it does appear Iowa State has a better basketball program than both Nebraska and Colorado -- just like everyone else in the new Big 12 -- meaning the Missouri Governor is 100 percent correct. It's definitely subjective at some point and his claim of strength of schedule has an issue as far as Iowa State versus Colorado is concerned, but judging on myriad factors, it's pretty clear the Big 12 conference got a ton stronger in basketball by simply removing two teams.
Of course, does that mean the conference is happy with the departures? Doubtful. But it can cling to the basketball argument to put a positive spin on things.