It’s a New Year, which means, of course, one thing, and one thing only: it is time for a New version of the REAL Big 12 Standings. The biggest question in the Big 12 this year is whether KU can accomplish the mind-boggling feat of winning outright or sharing ten consecutive conference championships. Anyone who gives serious thought to this quest REALizes that this is the most incredible ongoing streak in college basketball, if not in all sports that anyone cares about. This, notwithstanding the claim by Matt Norlander that the greatest current streak is Duke being ranked in the AP’s Top 10 every week for six years running. See http://www.sportsonearth.com/article/66102340/.
Some major problems with this assessment, Matt: First, Duke’s streak is based on a freakin’ vote. It has not been achieved the old fashioned way: by earrrrrning it. There is no formula for earrrrning spot in the Top 10. No team’s record assures it a spot: a team can be undefeated and be left out; conversely, a team can have more losses than others outside the Top 25 and yet be in.
In short, it is like the BCS. It is not determined solely by a team’s play. It is part beauty contest. It is part who you know and your pedigree. Think the names “Duke” and “Coach K” don’t matter? If it’s a close call between Duke and K or Northwestern and whoever the hell its coach is, who do you think gets the benefit of the doubt?
Think pre-season. To keep one’s Top 10 streak alive from one year to the next requires being in the first poll of the year. Who dares omit Duke and K from their Top 10 before a single game has been played? Whether out of habit or fear of looking bad down the road if the Blue Devils, as usual, win a lot of games?
Setting aside the subjective nature of Duke’s “streak,” six years is still three less than nine.
KU’s streak, on the other hand is (1) nine years in the making and (2) totally earned on the field of play, with opinion playing no role in its accomplishment. The Big 12 defines the objective requirements for winning the conference championship clearly (i.e., win the most games), and no vote or subjective analysis (such as “this team isn’t REALly the best—it hit a three-pointer at the buzzer in one game and was helped by a bad call in another”) can keep the streak alive. Popularity doesn’t matter. Pedigree doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters, as Jim Rome is wont to say, is “Scoreboard.”
The last team in a major conference to earrrrrn nine straight championships was UCLA from 1967-79, if “earrrrn” is the right word in an era when Sam Gilbert was buying championships for John Wooden, conference and national, like they were Fathead decals for his wall. (See http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jun/08/sports/la-sp-0609-wooden-gilbert-20100609; http://silkroadsandsiamesesmiles.com/2009/11/14/the-gilded-saints-of-ucla-and-sam-gilbert-a-collection-of-articles/
But I digress. Whether KU’s streak is the greatest current streak in all sports that matter or is not, the REAL question at hand is: Will the Jayhawks and Bill Self run their streak to double digits?
Enter the REAL Standings.
The REAL Standings are based on the premise that the standings in the newspaper, on ESPN.com, and other traditional media sources are a pathetic way to determine a team’s chances of winning the conference championship. The REAL Standings looks beyond the team’s current record and takes into account who it has played and where, as well as who it has yet to play and where.
The REAL Standings suppose 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 as many Road games as possible against the other contenders and second tier teams.
Accordingly, in the REAL Standings, Tier One teams (i.e., those designated as contenders) are 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) in all Road games against Tier 2 teams.
Tier 2 teams are projected to:
• win their Home games vs. all 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.
Tier 3 teams are projected to lose every game except Home games vs.:
• Tier 2 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 appropriate tier for each team, which is accomplished by employing both Dickie V’s famous eyeball test and information gleaned from reputable statistical sources like KenPom.com and Sagarin.
From time to time the tiers will be modified if warranted by what teams do on the court.
Speaking of subjectivity, my subjective pre-season analysis last year was that KU would win 16 games and end the season three games clear of the field.
The REAL Standings, on the other hand, with Okie St and Baylor designated as Tier One teams, had KU, BU, and OSU all finishing with 13.5-4.5 records. KU and Okie St finished as close to their projected records as possible, at 14-4 and 13-5 respectively.
Baylor finished 9-9. Musta been the shoes. Or coach.
The surprise of the 2013was K-State, which finished 14-4 in spite of a projected record of 8.5-9.5.
THE 2014 PRE-SEASON REAL STANDINGS TIERS
My Pre-season assessment for 2014 is:
1. Tier One: The four teams ranked in the Top 30 by kenpom and Sagarin: Okie St (3 & 2), KU (8 &9), Iowa St (17 &4) and Baylor (26 & 24).
2. Tier Two: The four teams that look to the eyeball to be dangerous, especially at Home, and ranked between 40-70 by kenpom and Sagarin: Texas (57 & 47), West Virginia (60 & ), Oklahoma (62 & 57), and K-State (67 & 63).
3. Tier Three: TCU (181 & 150) and Texas Tech (110 & 115).
Each of the Tier One teams have eleven must win games if they REAListically hope to contend for the Big 12 title: Their nine home games and the two Road games vs. those in Tier Three.
Not that it is absolutely fatal to lose one of these games. For example, K-State lost at Home last year vs. KU. And, for its part, KU lost at Home to Okie St and on the Road to the ultimate bottom feeder, TCU. K-State compensated by pulling out W’s at Oklahoma and Baylor, while KU was forced to win in Stillwater, Ames, and Manhattan.
In other words, although it is possible to recover from losing one of the eleven “must win” games, it is not easy.
THE PRE-SEASON 2014 REAL STANDINGS:
Baylor (0-0) Projected L’s: at ISU, at KU, at OSU At-risk games: at OU, at UT, at WVU, at KSU
Iowa St (0-0) Projected L’s: at KU, at OSU, at BU At Risk Games: at KSU, at OU, at UT, at WVU
KU (0-0) Projected L’s: at ISU, at BU, at OSU At-risk games: at KSU, at WVU, at UT, at OU
Okie St (0-0) Projected L’s: at KU, at BU, at ISU At-risk games: at UT, at WVU, at OU, at KSU
K-State (0-0) Projected L’s: at KU, at UT, at ISU, at WVU, at BU, at OU, at OSU At-risk games: OSU, at TCU, KU, at Tech, ISU, BU
Oklahoma (0-0) Projected L’s: at UT, at KSU, at BU, at ISU, at WVU, at OSU, at KU At-risk games: KU, ISU, at Tech, OSU, BU, at TCU
Texas (0-0) Projected L’s: at OSU, at WVU, at BU, at KSU, at ISU, at KU, at Tech At-risk games: ISU, KU, at TCU, OSU, BU, at Tech
W. Virginia (0-0) Projected L’s: at KSU, at OSU, at BU, at KU, at UT, at ISU, at OU At-risk games: at TCU, at Tech, OSU, ISU, BU, KU
TCU (0-0) Projected L’s: at BU, at OSU, at OU, KU, at Tech, at ISU, BU, at KU, at KSU, ISU, OSU, at WVU, at UT At-risk games: WVU, KSU, UT, OU
Texas Tech (0-0) Projected L’s: ISU, at UT, BU, at TCU, at WVU, at KSU, at OSU, at OU, at ISU, KU, at OSU, at BU, at KU At-risk games: WVU, OU, KSU, UT
What to Watch
All times CST
1. Okie St at K-State (11:30)**** (At risk game)
If there is such a thing as a “must win” game in the first game of the year, this is it for Okie St, playing without its leading shot blocker. Okie St is still the better team, obviously, but this will be a tough early test on the Road vs. a team that has won eight straight and seemingly gets better every game.
If this isn’t a tough game for the Cowboys, to borrow from Keith Jackson, “Katy, bar the door.”
2. Iowa St at Texas Tech (12:30p.m.) *1/2 (Projected W: ISU)
The only reason this game has the extra ½ star is that it’s the Cyclones’ first Road conference game. KU fans know from experience that even places like Lubbock and Fort Worth can be problematic on the wrong day.
3. West Virginia at TCU (3:00p.m.)** (Projected W: N/A)
The second star is because this game might not be artistic, but it should be close.
4. Oklahoma at Texas (7:00p.m.) ***1/2 (Projected W: UT)
Two teams gunning for the Big 12’s 5th and 6th NCAA tourney slots. Not the same interest as the football game between these teams, but should be a hard fought competitive game, nevertheless.
5. San Diego St at KU (3:30p.m.)****
Just the type of challenge the Jayhawks need before opening conference season, win or lose. And, yes, this is a game KU could lose, even at AFH.