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Mike Lopresti | | January 26, 2022

The Big 12 has established itself as the wildest conference in college basketball

Andy Katz thinks the Big 12 is the conference to beat this year

What’s the rootinest, tootinest, down-to-the-wire shootinest conference in the land? Oh, that’s an easy one.

Fasten your seatbelts. Time to take a ride through the Big 12.

Here in the deep end of the college basketball pool, five of the lodge members are ranked by either the AP or Coaches' Poll. Seven are in the top 33 nationally in scoring defense. All 10 are in the top 63 of the latest NET ratings.

RANKINGS: Power 36 | AP Poll | NET

The Big 12 is 101-16 in non-conference play, but that’s not the most glowing part. Against the quartet of the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC, the league is 18-2. The entire conference has dropped only three games to opponents outside of the quad 1 or 2 team rankings. Nobody has an overall losing record.

Here in Dramaville, the average winning margin in Big 12 games is 8.8 points. Every team has at least two victories, and a loss. Nine times, an Associated Press top-25 conference team has lost to a lower ranked or unranked league opponent. “In the Big 12,” Baylor guard James Akinjo said one night, “no one is going away.”

Look at what’s happened just in January.

League-leading Kansas has a 6-1 Big 12 record, with four of the wins by a combined 10 points.

Tied-for-last Kansas State has a 2-5 record, with four of the defeats by a combined 11 points.

When they played, Kansas State led by 16 points at halftime, but lost by three. “They should have won,” Bill Self said. “They were better than us today.”

Baylor, which had gone 34-1 in home games the past three years, lost two of them in five days.

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Kansas missed 19 shots in a row but beat Oklahoma State by 11 points.

Texas Tech, without its two leading scorers, won at Kansas.

Kansas State started 0-4 in the league but then beat ranked Texas Tech and Texas back-to-back, and nearly made it a three with Kansas.

TCU had a 8-0 run in the final 71 seconds to edge Kansas State. Then beat Oklahoma 59-58 in an overtime game that had 39 turnovers.

Oklahoma State was tasked to play three league road games in five days, traveling 3,200 miles. The Cowboys lost at West Virginia by 10, lost at Texas Tech at 21, then stunned No. 1 Baylor. “It feels like justice,” forward Tyreek Smith said.

Texas went the last 3 ½ minutes scoreless against Kansas State and lost by one. Then the Longhorns went scoreless for 10 minutes in the first half against Oklahoma State and won by five. That was the game Texas jumped ahead 13-0, then was outscored 16-0.

Kansas edged Iowa State by a point in a game that had four lead changes in the last 38 seconds.

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Texas Tech has beaten both league leaders Kansas and Baylor, but lost to Iowa State and Kansas State, who are a combined 4-10 in conference games.

Iowa State started the season 12-0, hit the Big 12 schedule, and promptly started 2-5.

Down to seven players because of COVID and injuries, Texas Tech still managed to wipe out a 13-point deficit against Iowa State to take the lead, but lost 51-47. Three days later, the Red Raiders had eight players and won at No. 1 Baylor.

TCU has scored 60, 59, 56 and 59 points its past four games. The Horned Frogs have won three of them. That’s because they gave up 57, 58, 57 and 44.

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Kansas State snapped a four-game losing streak by beating Texas Tech. Coach Bruce Weber, who had been out on virus protocol, put so much into the game, he had to let an assistant speak with the media afterward. He had no voice left.

Bill Self lost his father one day and helped Kansas beat Kansas State the next.

Texas Tech outlasted West Virginia 78-65 in a slugfest that had 50 fouls and 58 free throws.

Baylor went from No. 1 to losing consecutive home games to clawing back to beat West Virginia and Oklahoma. “This league is one of those leagues you don’t want to have a losing streak, because nobody feels sorry for you,” Scott Drew said. “You can pick any sport. You lose, you make errors, you lose a little confidence. You miss 3 or 4-foot putts, you better make the next one. Otherwise, the others get tough. And I’m not even a golfer.”

On this defensive landscape, where 15 league games have had at least one team unable to reach 60 points, Kansas and Texas Tech went two overtimes Monday before the Jayhawks won 94-91. Texas Tech’s Bryson Williams had 33 points, but Kansas’ Ochai Agbaji was even better at 37. Together the two scorers took 16 3-pointers and made 11 of them. Everyone else on both sides was 3-for-27. Agbaji had the most points for a Kansas player in Allen Fieldhouse in 31 years.

“It was kind of weird,” Self said afterward. “They’re a great defensive team, we still score. And they’re not great offensively, and they still score.”

2OT: Kardiac Kansas wins another thriller, this time vs. No. 13 Texas Tech

Well, it’s the Big 12 in 2022. Auburn leads the rest of the SEC by two games. There are five teams within two games of the top in the Big 12.

Come Saturday, these tussling 10 will have a break from conference intrigue to take on the SEC in their annual challenge series. The headliner is Kentucky at Kansas. “The bluest of the bloods,” Self called it, but noted how a non-league game in January “really doesn’t mean much. Let’s call it like it is. It means pride.

“We should just let it go and play.”

Also, Auburn will put its shiny new No. 1 ranking on the line at home against Oklahoma. The Sooners have lost four in a row. But the Tigers shouldn’t need a very long look at what’s been going on in the Big 12 this season to understand not to make too much of that.

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