While maneuvering my way through the mob at a Buc-ee’s Travel Store before Christmas, I came upon a tee shirt with the message, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time for a Beer.”
Maybe. Maybe not. Some might prefer July 4. Others might favor Super Bowl Sunday.
But one thing that cannot be disputed is that Now is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
Yes, it is the outset of another Big 12 Conference Basketball season.
And this year, the championship is up for grabs. KU’s 14-year streak as conference champion or co-champion is at risk from the word “Go.” It promises to be the wildest chase in the history of the Big 12. I have heard pundits mention seven different teams as having at least an outside shot at bringing home the bacon if they gel hot at the right time and/or receive a break or two along the way.
The Rodney Daingerfield teams that don’t get no respect are Okie State, Baylor, and Texas. If anyone believes these three teams have shot at the Big 12 title, I have not heard about it,
Which brings us to the REAL Standings.
Don’t be fooled by what you see in your local newspaper, USA Today, or whatever sports site you visit on the internet. I refer to them as the “Fake Big 12 Standings.” The only information the FBS provides is the number of games each team has already won and already lost. They fail totally to mention who each team has defeated, who they have lost to, where those games were played, and who they have yet to play and where, or the strength of those teams. You cannot accurately assess any team’s true position vis a vis the rest of the field without knowing these things.
The REAL Standings are based on the premise that the ultimate champion is expected to go undefeated at Home, win every game against the conference’s lowest teams, and win more Road games than anyone else.
Winning on the Road is the fasted way to gain separation from the pack (with losing at Home being the fast track to oblivion):
· Road W versus a team in the same tier or higher = +1 in the REAL Standings
· Road W vs. a lower level team + 0
· Home Loss vs. a team in the same tier or lower = -1
· Home Loss vs. a higher level team = 0.
What does this mean? It means the first word in “Fake Big 12 Standings” is there for a reason.
In REALity, a team that is 4-0 according to the FBS might well be in a less advantageous position than a team that is 3-1. Consider the following Tier 1 teams:
· Team A with three Home victories vs. Tier 2 teams (+0) and a Road Win versus a team in Tier 3 (+0) for a net score of 0.0 (and 6 games remaining against Tier 1 opponents); as opposed to
· Team B that is 2-1 on the Road versus Tier 1 teams (+2) and 1-0 at Home vs. a Tier 2 opponent (+0) for a net score of +2 (and no remaining Tier 1 Road games).
Whose shoes would you rather be in with 14 games to go?
If you say Team A, the REAL Standings are not for you,
The only subjective part of the REAL Standings is Tier Placement. I base the season’s original placements on an assessment of Ken Pomeroy’s computer rankings at Kenpom.com, the AP and Coaches polls, and the eye test.
Tier 1 teams are generally those that appear to be legitimate contenders for the conference title.
Those assigned to Tier 2 are respectable teams that look capable of beating anyone at Home but are not likely to win consistently on the Road.
Tier 3 teams are essentially byes at Home and probable Wins on the Road for the teams in Tier 1. They will generally be competitive at Home vs. Tier 2 opponents.
Anyone who disagrees with my placements, feel free to use your own and apply the objective scoring for your own REAL Standings.
Tier 1: The Contenders (in alphabetical order)
The Cyclones have not REALly met the eye test in the non-conference season. However, they are ranked No. 18 by Kenpom, and they received votes this week in both the AP and Coaches polls. Plus, Lindell Wigginton, their best player, is slowly working himself back into the lineup after missing much of the pre-conference season with a foot injury. Not to mention Solomon Young wo, while not a difference maker by himself, adds much needed front court depth. At full strength, ISU promises to be a team that could win every game at Home and will be a handful for everyone they play on the Road. At full strength, this could be a dangerous, dangerous team.
The Jayhawks are vulnerable if they cannot score consistently from the perimeter. But they have the best player in the league (Dedric Lawson); the biggest, baddest force inside the lane (though not at the line) in the Big 12; a Senior Sometimes Sharpshooter who, in another era, could have served as the inspiration for Jerry Reed’s hit song “When You’re Hot, You’re Hot” (while also illustrating the corollary “When you’re Not, You’re Not”); and a pair of freshman guards (Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes) who could turn Title No. 15 into a formality if they come of age early in the conference season.
KenPom Ranking: 6
AP Poll: 5
Coaches Poll: 6
Are the Sooners a better team without Trae the Trey?
You know, as in being a REAL team instead of an NBA player and associates?
No doubt Lon Kruger enjoyed coaching Trae. But focusing on one player is not Kruger’s preference—as it wasn’t when he was the Big 8’s MVP two years in a row running the point for K-State. In large part because of the Man from Silver Lake, they get the benefit of the doubt early on.
Kenpom rank: No. 24
AP Poll: 23
Coaches Poll: 25
I started last season reluctantly placing the Red Raiders in Tier 1. But they proved their worth as the year progressed, even taking the pole position away from KU for a while before their AA caliber guard, Keenan Evans, was injured late in the season and then dropping one of the wildest games in the history of the conference to KU in Lubbock.
This year, they have taken seriously by pundits everywhere from the word “Go.” I have no hesitation at placing them in the REAL Standings’ stratosphere.
Kenpom Rank: No. 11
AP Poll: 11
Coaches Poll: 11
TIER 2 (The Competitors)
Which Drew would you [refer as your basketball coach: Scott or Barrymore?
It is not a trick question. As much as I have dissed Scott Drew’s game management in the past, I would probably take him over Drew Barrymore. As they say in the current AT&T commercial campaign, he’s okay (and his record shows it).
Baylor’s non-conference losses include Texas Southern (Kenpom Np. 202), Ole Miss (47), Wichita State (117) and Stephen F Austin (184). On the plus side, the Bears have defeated Arizona (56) on the Road and Oregon (39) at Home to keep them out of the dung heap otherwise known as Tier 3.
Kenpom Rank: No. 59
The Wildcats return all five starters from am Elite 8 team that took out Kentucky along the way. Their returnees included two of the conference’s ten best players from 2018 (Dean Wade and Barry Brown) and the Big 12’s pre-season player of the year (Wade). They were the coaches’ pre-season choice as the team most likely to dethrone KU.
Then the season started. K-State began shooting like its mascot should be the Bricklayers. Dean Wade became tentative, acting as if shooting the ball was one of the seven deadly sins. They were not impressive when they won, and they were even less impressive when they lost in an uncompetitive effort at Marquette (Kenpom N0. 28) and a loss at Tulsa (124) in which it appeared they had left bottles of their 5 Hour Energy in Manhattan.
Then Wade was injured anew and is currently expected to be out for a major portion of the conference season. Unless K-State is, for some reason, better without him in the lineup than with him (they did make their Elite 8 run, including their Win over Kentucky with him injured) (and they are undefeated this year since he went down), Tier 2 is their lot.
Kenpom Rank: No. 35
AP Poll: Others receiving votes
Coaches Poll: Others receiving votes
First, the good news for Longhorn fans: UT has beaten North Carolina (Kenpom No/ 7) and Arkansas (57) on a neutral court, and they gave Michigan St (5) all they could handle on a neutral court before fading late 68-78. They also defeated Purdue (19) in Austin.
But those losses! SMH. Two straight at Home to Radford (127) and VCU (70), as well as a third Home loss to Providence (66). You don’t contend for championships by losing at Home to lesser teams.
Kenpom Rank: No. 36
The Horned Frogs have not done anything yet to justify placement in Tier 1. They are 11-1, but their best victory is 77-69 over unranked Fresno State. And they lost 64-73 to Kenpom’s No. 60 team,Belmont. One good win on the Road, and they could stake their claim to Tier 1 placement.
Kenpom rank: 23
AP Poll: Others Receiving Votes
Coaches Poll: Others Receiving Votes
The Mountaineers were expected to be one of the primary threats to KU’s quest for No. 15, But as of New Year’s Day, they have accomplished approximately nothing. Their best Win is versus Kenpom No. 84 Pitt. They have lost to Buffalo (Kenpom No. 29) at Home, as well as Western Kentucky (108), Florida (27), and Rhode Island (194) in neutral settings.
Change that: They have accomplished Exactly nothing.
Not to say they couldn’t come around. But they need to do it first to climb out of Tier 2.
Kenpom rank: No. 50
TIER 3 (The Irrelevants)
They did beat LSU (Kenpom No 40) on a neutral court. Other than that, the less said the better.
Kenpom Rank: No. 86
ISU: Projected L’s (at BU, at TT, at KU)
At risk games (at BU, at KSU, at TCU, at UT, at WVU)
KU: Projected L’s (at ISU, at TT, at OU)
At risk games (at BU, at WVU, at UT, at KSU, at TCU)
OU: Projected L’s: (at KU, at TT, at ISU)
At risk games: (at KSU, at UT, at WVU, at BU, at TCU)
Texas Tech: Projected L’s: (at KU, at OU, at ISU)
At risk games: (at WVU, at UT, at BU, at KSU, at TCU)
Baylor: Projected L’s (at TCU, at WVU, at OU, at UT, at TT, at ISU, at KSU, at KU)
At risk games (ISU, KU, at OSU, TT)
K-State: Projected L’s (at TT, at ISU, at OU, at BU, at UT, at WVU, at KU, at TCU)
At risk games (TT, at OSU, KU, ISU, OU)
Texas: Projected L’s (at KSU, at KU, at TCU, at ISU, at WVU, at OU, at BU, at TT)
At risk games (at OSU, TT, KU, OU, ISU)
TCU: Projected L’s: (at BU, at OU, at KU, at WV, at Tech)
At risk games: (at UT, at K-State, at OSU, at ISU)
WVU: Projected L’s (at UT, at KSU, at TCU, at ISU, at TT, at KU, at BU, at OU)
At risk games (TT, KU, OU, ISU, at OSU)
Okie St: Projected L’s (ISU, at OU, at WVU, at ISU, OU, at TCU, at KU, TT, at UT, at KSU, at TT, KU, at BU)
At risk games (UT, BU, KSU, TCU, WVU)
AS SEEN ON TV
6:00p.m.: Texas Tech at West Virginia (ESPNU) **** (At-risk game)
If West Virginia wants to turn its season around and contend for its first Big 12 championship in one of the two sports that matter, this would a good time to do it.
8:00p.m.: Iowa St at Okie St (ESPNN)** (Projected W: ISU)
Okie St might well hang an L on one of the contenders. They have some talent, and they compete as hard as anyone. This could be their best chance, what with Lindell Wigginton still not at full strength.
8:00p.m.: Texas at K-State (ESPNU) **** (Projected W: KSU)
Both teams have had trouble making shots. First to 60 wins? How about 55? Would you believe 50?
8:00p.m. Oklahoma at KU (ESPN2) ***** (Projected W: KU)
Kruger and Kompany try to strike a blow for freedom for 9 Big 12 teams. A KU loss at Home this early in the season could make for a long two months of playing in catch-up mode for the Jayhawks.