With conference play now upon us, it is time to start tracking the REAL Big 12 basketball standings. The REAL standings serve as an indication of a team's true position in the race for the conference championship, without regard to the current record shown in the newspaper--which often is merely a reflection of the strength or weakness of the teams' schedules to that point. For example, a 2-1 team that has already played in Lawrence, Stillwater, and Austin, is in much better shape than a 3-0 team with home victories over A&M, Baylor, and Colorado. (Not that the Big 12 would ever actually assign either schedule for any team--but you get the idea.)
The REAL Standings is based on the premise that there is a formula for winning a conference championship: i.e., that the ultimate champion will win all of its home games and certain road games, and is likely to lose certain road games. It is not a prediction--although last year it identified OSU as the team with the inside track to the Big 12 championship before most "experts" took them seriously. Rather, it is a projection of what each contending team's final record will be if it follows the formula.
There is nothing subjective in its application, other than identifying the contenders and potential "road" blocks.
At this point in the 2004-05 season, with OU's breakthrough into the Top 25, four teams appear to have a legitimate shot at withstanding a demanding 16 game schedule and emerging as conference champion: KU, OSU, UT, and OU. Each team should be expected to lose when it plays on the road against one of the others. This gives KU an advantage, because the Hawks play only one of the others (OU) on the road, while OU plays two and OSU and Texas play all three. (BTW--contrary to popular belief, KU was at a disadvantage last year, even though they played in what was commonly considered the weaker division, because they played both OSU and UT on the road, while neither had to visit Lawrence.)
Automatic road wins this year--those that the ultimate champion must win-look like Baylor, A&M, CU, and k-state (although A&M and k-state played well enough in their first conference road games to suggest that an upgrade of their status might be necessary at some point).
There are two non-contender road games where it will be like pulling teeth for any contender to win: ISU, and Mizzou. I am going to call those "toss-up" games and assign games at those venues as .5 projected losses (meaning, likewise, .5 projected wins).
This leaves NU and Tech as the "tweeners"--not bad enough to be designated as automatic road wins, but with well-established reputations of being difficult road venues. Still, because all four of the contenders have flaws, I am inclined to favor counting road games at Lubbock and Lincoln in the .5 category. I give both a reasonable chance of taking out at least one contender at home.
Here, then, are the current 2005 REAL standings--which may be adjusted at any time if any team demonstrates that it is of higher or lower quality than the level at which it is currently being credited.
The REAL Standings in the Big 12 as of 1/11/05:
KU: Projected losses: at OU Projected Toss-up Games: at NU, ISU, Mizzou, Tech
OU: Projected losses: at OSU, UT Projected toss-up games: at ISU, MU, Tech
OSU: Projected losses at KU, Texas, OU Projected toss-up games: at NU Key Past Games (W at Tech)
Texas: Projected losses: at KU, OSU, OU Projected toss-up games: at NU, Tech