College basketball fans are always arguing about how their teams are performing and how their conferences compare. Partisans from all the big leagues love to shout on their domain’s bulletin boards or disparage competing conferences.
So as the men’s basketball season approaches its final months, which conference is on top? The big ten? Sure, Purdue is No. 1. The Southeastern Conference? Yes, Tennessee is No. 2. The Pac-12’s Arizona and UCLA are also playing well.
But the best and deepest conference this season is the Big 12.
Truth be told, the Big 12 has been consistently strong over the past few years. After all, the last two national titles have gone to Kansas and Baylor. But what’s different this season is its depth: Not just three or four teams, but eight or nine of the 10 Big 12 teams are playing at a high level this season.
The dominance was made even more clear on Saturday when Big 12 teams went 7-3 against SEC teams in their interconference gauntlet event. In the most eye-opening game, unranked Oklahoma, which is only 2-6 in Big 12 play, beat then-No. 2 Alabama, 93-69, trailing 30 points by guard Grant Sherfield.
The Big 12’s success has come even as depth brings with it an unfortunate handicap: teams have to play most of the second half of the season against each other. So almost every night a strong Big 12 team loses to another strong Big 12 team. Those extra L’s in the record often bring less respect from top 25 voters and sometimes the NCAA seeding committee.
However, ESPN’s Bracketology predicts the Big 12 will receive two No. 1 seeds. 2 (Kansas and Texas), a No. 3 (Kansas State) and three seed No. 4 (Baylor, Iowa State and TCU) among its eight predicted tournament teams.
The teams at the bottom of the Big 12 are also pretty good. Oklahoma, the recent conqueror of Alabama, is tied for next to bottom in the conference standings, but is ranked in the 30s or 40s nationally by computers and could very well make the tournament. Last place Texas Tech has a 1-8 conference record but is still ranked in the top 65 by most computers and won its gauntlet game as well, beating Louisiana State.
Like all conferences, the Big 12 will lose some quality players to the NBA next season, with Gradey Dick and Kansas’ Jalen Wilson and Baylor’s Keyonte George projected as early players.
But the conference will also have a potential shake-up: The Big 12 next season will add Brigham Young, Central Florida and Cincinnati, respectable if not currently worldbeaters schedules. And he will also add Houston, who are currently the No. 3 of the country. This should help ease some of the pain of Oklahoma and Texas’ loss to the SEC going into the 2025-26 season.
Ultimately, the Big 12 will inevitably be judged on how they perform in the NCAA Tournament, and the unique nature of that event leaves a wide range of possible outcomes. But as of now, the conference looks as solid as it has in years.