Mar 11, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Big 12 championship logo at center court prior to the game between the Iowa State Cyclones and the Oklahoma State Cowboys at Sprint Center. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports
For most of the last decade, it would have been hard to argue the Big 12 was not the best league in all of college basketball. The conference was rated as such by KenPom.com for six straight years from 2014 to 2019 before falling to second in each of the last two seasons.
It has been a great league. It remains a great league. Still, Iowa State head coach T.J. Otzelberger thinks an argument could be made the league got even better when it invited BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida into its ranks following the announced departures of stalwart contenders Oklahoma and Texas, who will join the SEC within the next several years.
“The numbers say it still gives us a chance to be the best conference in the country,” Otzelberger said on Tuesday. “Obviously, all four of the programs that we’re talking about adding, add basketball tradition, basketball success.”
While the wheels of conference realignment are always greased by the happenings on the football gridiron, this is one of the few moves that will have at least a nearly equal impact on the basketball court.
Houston has reemerged as an imposing force under head coach Kelvin Sampson, reaching each of the last three NCAA Tournaments, a pair of Sweet 16s, and a Final Four this past March.
BYU has been an NCAA Tournament mainstay for the majority of the millennium, making 12 appearances in the Big Dance since 2000 while reaching a Sweet 16 in 2011 led by superstar sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette.
Cincinnati’s basketball resume is far too long to list here in full, but it includes a pair of national championships in the 1960s, a stretch through the 1990s as one of the nation’s most consistent programs under former head coach Bob Huggins and continued success during the new millennium with 15 NCAA Tournament appearances.
Even the least successful of the four programs, Central Florida, has made three NCAA Tournaments since 2000 and reached the round of 32 in 2019, losing to No. 1 seed Duke — who was led by the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft Zion Williamson — by one point.
While some realignment moves have done little besides watering down the product in sports besides football, the Big 12’s latest goes a long way towards enhancing the offerings off of the football field — and should keep it in the conversation as the nation’s best basketball league for years to come.
“We don’t feel that the league will miss a stride or skip a step,” Otzelberger said. “In fact, some even think that can make the league stronger.”