A year after the Big 12 utterly disappointed, with just two teams making it to the Sweet 16, the conference hasn’t changed much. The second weekend of this year’s NCAA Tournament is just a few days away; this time only three teams from the conference’s original seven remain in the field. Year after year, the Big 12 is acclaimed to be one of, if not the best and deepest, conference in the country.
First, there’s the Kansas Jayhawks, who are hyped to no end despite failing to win a championship since 2008. And this year hasn’t been any different. Kansas pulled in the tournament’s top overall seed and became one of the serious contenders for the title of “national title favorites.” While the Jayhawks have survived longer than their past performances (the Jayhawks bounced in the round of 32 as a second seed in both 2014 and 2015), there’s still time for an early exit — bowing out in the Sweet 16, for example.
But this year isn’t just about Kansas. Of the seven teams that the conference got into the tournament, four lost in the first round. There was No. 5 Baylor in the West, losing in a surprising fashion to Yale. Then, just a few games lower in the Western portion of the bracket, sixth-seeded Texas lost to a hot-shooting yet supposedly inferior Northern Iowa. And the worst came in the form of West Virginia, losing as a three-seed in the East region in the first round.
Of the other remaining teams, Oklahoma, the second seed in the West, squeaked by Virginia Commonwealth in the round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. The Sooners have now made it to back-to-back Sweet 16s — something few Big 12 teams can say. But this isn’t entirely surprising as Oklahoma does boast the likely Player of the Year in guard Buddy Hield and a deep, experienced team.
With Hield hitting those clutch shots in the backcourt, the Sooners could make a splash. Then, there’s Iowa State, who, as a four-seed in the Midwest, finally got over the hump that is the round of 32. But the Cyclones have a tough matchup against Virginia — a team that has similarly disappointed in recent tournaments. After last year’s opening-round debacle, when Iowa State lost to 14th-seeded Alabama-Birmingham in the South region, the Cyclones are looking for redemption.
But no, it’s not just early-round exits and disappointing losses; the Big 12 as a whole hasn’t had a team make it to the Final Four since Kansas in 2012. And following that, the conference hasn’t had a team win a championship since the Jayhawks in 2008. Overall, from top to bottom — even after expansion — the conference has been all but commonplace as of late. And therein lies the issue.
Every season it seems like the Big 12 enters the big dance with a handful of No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, and then various other middle-ranked teams. And then every season, they all fall by the wayside. But it’s not for a lack of competition. Just look at the non-conference schedules. After all, how else would they get such high rankings if they lacked non-conference strength of schedule? Lack of clutch-ness? At least that would explain why the conference always seems overrated come March.
Or it could be that the Big 12 is so deep and the respective teams beat each other up during the regular season that they just have nothing left in the tank come March. But that doesn’t seem likely either, as they’re certainly not the NCAA’s only deep conference. Either way you look at, maybe this is the year. As thousands, if not millions, of self-proclaimed bracketologists have been raving for the past three years, maybe it’s the Jayhawks’ time.
Statistically speaking, Kansas has been a tournament favorite so often as of late that they’re practically due. Or maybe Oklahoma will rise to the occasion, led by the man himself, Hield. There’s one thing for certain: While the Jayhawks, Sooners, and Cyclones still remain alive, the rest of the conference has disappointed thus far. And let’s be honest; it’s just a matter of time before the inevitable happens.