It is time again for the internet craze that is sweeping the nation: the 2011 REAL Big 12 Standings. For REAL Standings newcomers, they are not intended to be predictive in nature, although, at times, it seems that way. In 2009, for example, when the national consensus was that KU, having lost numerous key players to the NBA following a National Championship season, would have trouble hanging with UT and OU, the pre-season REAL Standings projected KU and Oklahoma to finish in a flat-footed tie at 12.5-3.5, both ahead of UT by a full game. The Jayhawks ended the season 14-2, one game in front of the Sooners, five ahead of UT.
What the REAL Standings does is indicate which team or teams are in the most advantageous position to win the conference championship without relying solely on their current records as shown in the newspaper or on your web page. It assesses where teams truly stand in relation to each other, taking into account not only their current records, but who they have played and where and who and where they have yet to play. This is especially helpful in an unbalanced schedule setup, as most conferences—including the Big 12--now have, as opposed to the days when every Big 8 or SWC team played an identical schedule consisting of home and away games with every other conference opponent. Next year will, of course, be different, as the Home and Away model promises to be in effect for at least one year.
The premise of the REAL Standings is that championships are won by:
1. Winning EVERY game that a champion should win: i.e., all Home games and all games against the league’s bottom-feeders; and
2. Winning the most losable games—i.e., Road games vs. other contenders and truly competitive teams—with Road wins vs. a contender being “Special.”
In the REAL Standings, each contender is projected to:
• win all Home games and all games against the conference’s bottom-feeders; • lose all Road games versus other contenders; and • be at-risk (i.e., assigned .5 W and .5 L) for all Road games against those teams that are competitive enough to be dangerous, even for a contender, on their Home court.
Second tier teams (competitive, but not contenders), are projected to:
• win their Home games vs. second and third tier teams; • lose their Road games vs. contenders and other second tier teams; and • be at risk at Home vs. contenders and on the Road vs. the bottom-feeders.
Third tier teams (the bottom-feeders) are projected to lose every game except Home games vs.:
• second tier teams (which are counted as at-risk games); and • other third tier teams (which are projected W’s).
The only subjective factor in the REAL standings is identifying the contenders, the competitive teams, and the bottom-feeders. I usually base this on my own observations, with some consideration given to polls and computer rankings, but remain open to changing a team’s status as the season progresses if actual results demonstrate that one of the contenders REALly isn't, or that one of the lesser teams should be taken more seriously. Last year, for instance, the Tier One teams at the start of conference play were KU, K-State, and UT, with the other nine teams all placed at Level Two. By March, only KU and K-State held Level One status, and the number of tiers had grown to four as time revealed the teams’ true prowess.
THE 2011 PRE-SEASON REAL STANDINGS
My Pre-season assessment of the Big 12 teams is:
1. Contenders: KU, K-State, Mizzou, Texas A&M, UT. Serious consideration was given to Baylor, who remains a dangerous team, despite their recent struggles, with some good young talent to supplement some outstanding veterans. They could become formidable as the year progresses, but they are suspect at the moment—at least as to contender status—based on their body of work thus far. Their No. 28 ranking on kenpom.com was almost enough to turn the tide in the Bears’ favor, but that rating is countered by Sagarin’s No. 73. The lowest rating assigned to any of the five pre-season Contenders by either service is K-State’s No. 33 on Kenpom.
2. Competitors: Baylor, Colorado, Iowa St, Okie St, Nebraska. With the exception of Baylor and Okie St, I am relying to a great extent on Kenpom and Sagarin. CU (74, 93), ISU (44, 45), and NU (37, 56), all rate higher than I would have suspected; but I have seen none of these three play. Colorado would be considered strongly for Tier 3 but for:
3. Bottom-feeders: Oklahoma, Texas Tech. I have seen nothing to recommend either team. I feel the pain of their fans (and lame duck coaches?). Nor do Kenpom and Sagarin offer any relief: OU ranking 123 and 157; Tech 98 and 163.
Here, then, are the 2011 Big 12 REAL Standings prior to Saturday’s tip-off of the Big 12 season. K-State and Mizzou have the most difficult schedules of the Contenders, both playing all four of the other Tier One teams on the Road. KU, A&M and UT play only two Contenders on the Road.
For the second consecutive year, UT is tied for having the easiest pre-season schedule, as last year they and K-State both had but one Road game against a Contender on their plate.
The pre-season 2011 REAL Standings:
KU (0-0) Projected L’s: at K-State, at Mizzou Losable games: at ISU, at BU, at CU, at NU
UT (0-0) Projected L’s: at KU, at A&M Losable games: at OSU, at NU, at CU, at BU
A&M (0-0) Projected L’s: at UT, at KU Losable games: at NU, at CU, at OSU, at BU
K-State (0-0) Projected L’s: at Mizzou, at A&M, at KU, at UT Losable games: at OSU, at ISU, at CU, at NU
Mizzou (0-0) Projected L’s: at A&M, at UT, at KU, at K-State Losable games: at CU, at OSU, at ISU, at NU
6. 7.5-8.5 Baylor (0-0) Projected L’s: at ISU, at K-State, at A&M, at UT, at Mizzou, at OSU Losable games: at Tech, vs. KU, at OU, vs. A&M, vs. UT
Okie St (0-0) Projected L’s: at A&M, at CU, at Baylor, at NU, at UT, at KU Losable games: vs. K-State, vs. UT, at Tech, vs. Mizzou, vs. A&M, at OU
Colorado (0-0) Projected L’s: at K-State, at NU, at BU, at Mizzou, at KU, at ISU Losable games: vs. Mizzou, at OU, vs. KU, vs. A&M, vs. K-State, at Tech, vs. UT
Iowa St (0-0) Projected L’s: at NU, at OSU, at Mizzou, at CU, at KU, at A&M, at UT, at K-State Losable games: vs. KU, vs. K-State, vs. Mizzou
Nebraska(0-0) Projected L’s: at Mizzou, at KU, at K-State, at BU, at ISU, at CU Losable games: at Tech, vs. A&M, vs. KU, at OU, vs. UT, vs. K-State, vs. Mizzou
Oklahoma (0-0) Projected L’s: vs. A&M, at BU, at UT, at ISU, at OSU, vs. UT, at Mizzou, at K-State, at A&M, vs. KU, at Tech Losable games: vs. CU, vs. BU, vs. NU, vs. OSU
Texas Tech (0-0) Projected L’s: vs. UT, at K-State, at OU, at ISU, vs KU, vs. A&M, at UT, at Mizzou, at Baylor, at OSU, at A&M Losable games: vs. BU, vs. NU, vs. OSU, vs. CU
What to Watch
1. Mizzou at Colorado (11:30)*** (At risk game)
Let’s see if Mizzou can take its act on the Road. And if Colorado, with two of the better players in the Big 12, intends to leave the conference in a blaze of glory. Or at least a blaze of mediocrity.
2. K-State at Okie St (Noon)***1/2 (At risk game)
Gallagher-Iba can be an imposing place for visiting teams. If K-State is to be a REAL factor in the Big 12 race, this is almost a must game. With its schedule, the Wildcats can’t afford to lose to any non-Contender anywhere.
3. Baylor at Texas Tech (1:00)** (At risk game)
Baylor has nothing to prove here—except that it is not a total fraud.
4. UConn at UT (2:30)**** (Projected W: UT)
In my subjective opinion, UT is the best team in the Big 12 at this point in time. They have a different mindset than other, even more talented Rick Barnes squads. They aren’t trying to live up to other people’s expectations or their own inflated opinion of themselves. They do not appear to be pressing to prove anything. They are just playing solid, unselfish, team basketball 40 minutes a game, with solid veteran leadership. They have enough talent to beat anyone, although the best of it is young, if they don’t start reading their press clippings—if and when they get any. This is the first UT team in any sport in years to fly below the radar. Which makes them dangerous.
5. A&M at Oklahoma (3:00)** (Projected W: A&M)
The only reason to watch this game is to see if OU is REALly THAT bad.
6. Iowa St at Nebraska (7:00)**1/2 (Projected W: NU)
Iowa St can take a major step toward a first division finish.
7. KU at Michigan (3:30)**** (At risk game)
Michigan would be a second tier team In the Big 12. It will be a frenzied atmosphere, reminiscent of Tennessee last year. The Jayhawks can take a big step toward gelling as a team and preparing themselves for the rigors of the Road in the Big 12 with a W here.