Sports column: Big 12 conference underachieves in NCAA Tournament but was not overrated

Parker Robb | The Collegian

It was both a year to remember and forget for the Big 12 this season. Seven teams made it into March Madness after a competitive league season had many experts calling the conference the best in the country. However, the conference fell apart little by little in the tournament, leaving many to pose the question, “Was the Big 12 overrated?”

Overrated? No. Did it underachieve? Certainly. Many forget that four Big 12 teams had less-than-stellar matchups to open the tournament. K-State and Oklahoma had to deal with Kentucky and North Dakota State’s length. Oklahoma State faced an equally talented backcourt of Gonzaga, while Texas went toe-to-toe with a streaky Arizona State squad.

The Longhorns were the only team to make it to the third round out of the group. Some may argue that matchups don’t matter; if your conference is perceived to be that good, they should win. While that’s partially true, having your weaknesses exposed early on can create for a difficult situation — just ask Kansas.

The Jayhawks had to face a lengthy and physical Stanford squad without their biggest threat in freshman center Joel Embiid. The Cardinal forwards combined for 25 points against Kansas. While that’s not a stunning statistic for just three players, the absence of Embiid caused havoc down low for the Jayhawks, leaving Stanford shooters open throughout most of the contest.

If there was any single favorable matchup, or at least a quality win for the conference, it was Baylor’s 85-55 shellacking of Creighton. The Bears’ guards were able to disrupt their men, which in return, helped keep Wooden Player of the Year award winner Doug McDermott in check.

But even that victory, and Baylor’s run to the Sweet 16, can only be taken with a grain of salt. Weeks leading up to the tournament, experts stated that they weren’t even sure if Baylor would make the field. The Bears started 2-8 in conference play before finding their footing and going 11-4 to finish out Big 12 conference and tournament action.

Iowa State, the only other Big 12 member to advance to the Sweet 16, had to rally their troops as well, as sophomore forward Georges Niang suffered a broken foot in their NCAA Tournament opener. The Cyclones were able to go on and knock off North Carolina before falling to the eventual national champions, Connecticut, by five points. It was an admirable run for Iowa State, but one that merely highlighted the Big 12’s struggles this postseason.

The conference did underachieve, there’s no way around that. K-State shot 35.8 percent against Kentucky. Kansas freshman guard Conner Frankamp was the only reason the Jayhawks almost got past Stanford. Oklahoma allowed four North Dakota State players to score in double figures. The list goes on and on.

However, rather than the conference being overrated, the results paint an even clearer picture of college basketball in recent years. That portrait will show you that mid-majors are reaching high levels. True upsets are few and far between. Unfortunately, the Big 12 just happened to be the poster child for this in 2014.

Call it a disappointment (because it is), but don’t forget what the conference achieved this past season. It was intense, it was controversial. It was a lot of things, but not overrated.

Tate Steinlage is a sophomore in mass communications.