BACKGROUND As a quick refresher, the REAL Big 12 standings is a method of assessing where teams truly stand in relation to each other, taking into account who and where they have played and who and where they have yet to play.
It is based on the premise that championships are won by:
1. Taking care of business (i.e., winning those games a champion should win--all home games and road games against the league's have-nots); and
2. Winning a game or two that the other contenders will not win (i.e., a road game against one of the other haves).
Each contender has traditionally been projected to win each Category 1 game before the season begins, and projected to lose all Category 2 games on its schedule. A loss to one of the league's have-nots or of any home game would result in taking a W from that team's projected record and the addition of an L. Likewise, a road victory against one of the other haves would add a W and takes away an L.
For example, in 2001, after four games, Mizzou was undefeated and in first place if you looked at the newspaper standings. Iowa State was 2-2.
The REAL standings correctly had Iowa State in first place, a game ahead of Mizzou, because ISU's losses had been road losses at Columbia and Stillwater, games they had been projected to lose. Their REAL standings record had started at 13-3, and was still 13-3, because their only remaining projected loss was at Lawrence. Mizzou, meanwhile, had no significant victories and still had to go to KU, ISU, OSU, and UT. Their REAL Standings record was 12-4. (Of course, their ultimate record was much worse-they are, after all, Mizzou.) ISU, on the other hand, finished 14-2 with a victory in Lawrence when one of our former coach's famous last-second-shot-planning-timeouts produced a closely guarded 25 footer.
The key factor in the REAL standings is identifying the contenders (the "haves") from the pretenders (the "have-nots"). I am open to suggestion on this, and the characterization of each team is subject to change as the season progresses if actual results demonstrate that one of the contenders REALly isn't or that one of the pretenders should be taken more seriously.
Keep in mind that the REAL standings do not pretend to be predictions. If I were to predict the outcome of the conference race, little effort would be required. My prediction is that Texas goes 15-1 (although I'm not sure where the L comes from-I'm just sure it is not from a team with a K on its jersey).
This season presents the very REAL problem that, in my opinion, there is only one contender, unless Texas gets hit with injuries or academic problems. They have by far the best combination of talent and experience in the league. And, although Duke and Tennessee have exposed vulnerabilities, they appear to be learning from those games and shoring up their weaknesses.
Many pundits claim that OU is a contender. I can live with that, given the fact that Bookout and Taj Gray form as formidable a 1-2 inside combo as any this side of the NBA-including the Developmental League. At any rate, it gives us two teams to follow.
If we take a second level of teams to follow-to project who will earn first round byes in the Big XII tourney or to identify early on a team separating itself from the pack as a serious challenger to UT and OU-what teams among the conference's other ten are worth keeping an eye on?
There is Iowa St. A team with a backcourt of Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock is a threat any time it takes the court.
There are Okie St and KU because of their exceptional young talent that could simply explode (in a good way) at any moment.
There's Texas Tech, because Bobby Knight, despite his many personal flaws, is, perhaps, the best pure coach in the history of college basketball. He will not be anyone's whipping boy.
A&M, Colorado, and k-state have put up gaudy W-L records in non-conference games. Colorado is in the Top 10 in the Sagarin ratings, and has solid road wins at Colorado St, Penn, and TCU, as well as home wins over a St. Mary's team that recently vanquished Nevada-yes, that Nevada-and Utah. Let's start the season including CU in the second tier.
k-state has done nothing to this point to demonstrate that they deserve the honor of a Level 2 ranking. Nor has A&M, which has lost its only road game to Pacific.
This leaves Mizzou, Baylor, and Nebraska, none of which has shown anything to this point-although Baylor is the only conference team without a loss; i.e., they are 0-0.
Mizzou has enough talent that I would move them up in the pecking order if they were to change coaches today. Since that is not likely, they will remain where they are in the sucking order.
In short, we have five second tier teams fighting for two conference tournament byes. With these two divisions of power, the normal projection system will be modified as follows:
Tier 1 teams (UT and OU) will be:
a. projected to win all of their home games and all of their road games at Tier 3 schools (k-state, Mizzou, Baylor, Nebraska and A&M);
b. projected to lose their road game against each other; and
c. assigned ½ W and ½ L for each road game against a Tier 2 team (as was done last season for what were referred to as "at risk" games).
The Tier 2 teams (CU, ISU, KU, Okie St, and Texas Tech) will be:
a. projected to win all their home games against Tier 2 and 3 teams;
b. projected to lose their road games vs. Tier 1 and 2 teams; and
c. assigned ½ W and ½ L for home games vs. Tier 1 teams and road games vs. Tier 3 teams (at least until one or more of them proves they can't even compete at home).
PRE-SEASON REAL STANDINGS
Here, then, are the preseason REAL standings for 2006. Again, keep in mind that these are not predictions. They are simply projections of what each team's final record will be IF they win all the games they "should" win, lose only those games they "should" lose, and split their "at risk" games (and wouldn't you know it--the best team has the easiest schedule):
1. 13.5-2.5 Texas (projected L at OU/at risk games: at ISU, Texas Tech. Okie St)
2. 13-3 Oklahoma (projected L at Texas/at risk games: at KU, CU, Okie St, Texas Tech)
Colorado (projected L's at UT, Okie St, ISU, KU/at risk games: vs. OU, at Mizzou, A&M, k-state and NU)
Iowa St (projected L's at Tech, KU, OU, CU/at risk games: vs. UT, at NU, Mizzou, k-state, Baylor)
Kansas (projected L's at CU, ISU, Okie St, UT/at risk games: vs. OU, at Mizzou, A&M, NU, k-state)
6. 9-7 Okie St (projected L's at UT, Tech, ISU, OU/at risk games: vs. UT, OU, at Mizzou, Baylor, k-state, A&M)
Texas Tech (projected L's at UT, OU, KU, CU, Okie St/at risk games: vs. UT, OU, at A&M, NU, Baylor)
GAMES TO WATCH
The Big XII Games this Saturday, January 7, 2006, with IQ (Interest Quotient) are:
1. UK at KU (11a.m.)***** Not a conference game, and these teams are both temporarily down from their normal spot atop the college basketball world. But hey, it's Kentucky vs. Kansas. Would you pass up Notre Dame/Alabama in football?
2. OU at Nebraska (12:30p.m.)***1/2 Nebraska gets a chance to vault into the upper echelons-errrr, Tier 2-of the Big 12's power structure. Well, maybe "power" isn't the right word. Still, we all know that NU can be tough at home no matter who is on its roster.
3. Colorado at Texas (3:p.m.)**** This would be a major attraction if it were in Boulder. CU gets an early chance to prove they are worthy of its lofty Sagarin rating and of being promoted to the coveted "Contender" status-if you don't believe how coveted that status is, ask Marlon Brando-in the REAL Standings. In fact, win this game, CU, and you make the quantum leap past Contender and all the way to Favorite. Well, maybe not. There's still this coaching thing.
4. Texas Tech at Texas A&M (5p.m.)***1/2 A lot of bad blood in this game carried over from football season. These two teams don't like each other very much. A&M tries to take a step toward proving it is of Level 2 mettle. Not that it can be done entirely at home. A loss here, though, will confirm its Level 3 status.
5. Okie St at Mizzou (7p.m.)**** Time for Mizzou to Show Me something-anything. Or shut the hell up-as most of the "crowd" at the Paige is wont to do.
6. k-state at Iowa St (7p.m.)** Not an attractive game at all. Yes, k-state could pick up tons of credibility here and make KU fans everywhere start sweating that its streaks against its inferior same-state school will go the way of Nebraska's football streak vs. KU. Not gonna happen, however.
Go REAL Big Blue!