Big 12 hoops giving reason to watch

Big 12 hoops giving reason to watch

Published Dec. 11, 2013 5:22 p.m. ET

Sure, football's regular season is over. I'm not going to blame you for shedding a tear after last Saturday, even if those were blissful tears in Waco or tears of misery in Stillwater.

But fear not: Basketball season is here and the Big 12 has staked a claim as arguably the nation's best conference by doing the opposite of what the Big 12's football teams did in nonconference play.

In football, the Big 12 dropped a pair of games against FCS opponents in Week 1. Later, Texas was routed by Ole Miss and BYU. It played a lackluster schedule and missed on most opportunities to impress. Oklahoma's road win over Notre Dame was the league's best nonconference victory, but the Big 12 went a rousing 0-1 against opponents in the final BCS rankings.

It played a weak schedule and did little to impress outside of Big 12 play.

It's been a different story on the hardwood, where the Big 12 has impressed, despite playing the nation's most difficult schedule.

"It's a little scary," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "If I didn't have to worry about playing everybody twice, I'd kind of enjoy it."

Baylor's win over then-No. 3 Kentucky was the biggest highlight of the league's nonconference slate, and Kansas also beat No. 8 Duke back on Nov. 12 in Chicago.

"Whenever you get a win like that against a national power, I think it helps with confidence of the team, and helps the perception of how other people might view your team," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "I know we have a long way to go and it's a long season, but we're pleased with how we started, with the difficult schedule thus far."

Baylor's win sealed a Big 12 victory in the Big 12-SEC challenge, and they also beat Colorado in the season opener for both teams.

The Big 12 is 67-18 as a whole so far, and is .500 or better against 18 of 20 leagues it has played more than one game against.

Oklahoma State routed Memphis in Stillwater on Nov. 19 before losing to the Tigers in the championship game of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando.

Kansas State knocked off Ole Miss as part of the Big 12- SEC challenge and Iowa State has already logged wins over BYU and Michigan.

Add it all up, and you get six Big 12 teams in the RPI top 40.

"Everybody's had good wins. Everybody's had quality wins where you think, whoa, geez, I didn't know if we'd be able to get that one, Kansas coach Bill Self said. "Our league has been fabulous."

The Big 12 has opened a lead over the Big Ten and the rest of college basketball in the conference RPI ratings, and those quality wins have helped show the Big 12 will be more than just Kansas and Oklahoma State in 2013.

It's a little scary for me, I know that, and I'm sure other coaches," Kansas State coach Bruce Weber said. "We knew that the top three teams were going to be very, very good. Baylor's probably played even better than I thought they would. You know you have good coaches, well-established, but there have been a couple teams who have probably surprised people."

Baylor and Iowa State have made the strongest statements through the first month of the season. The Bears' win over Kentucky vauled Baylor into the top 15 for the first time this season, and Iowa State remains the league's only undefeated team at 7-0 and in the top 20 of both polls.

"The Big 12 was one of those conferences not a lot of people were talking about before the season began as being one of the tougher conferences. A lot of people mentioned it might be a down year, maybe with just a couple teams at the top," Drew said. "Definitely, people who didn't think Big 12 was going to be that good year or be that competitive now know that it's going to be another great year for the Big 12."