By Jeffrey Swindoll
Big 12 has long been a league that sees the majority of its women’s basketball teams consistently selected for the NCAA Tournament. History shows the Big 12 as one of the nation’s best, but this season may be one of its best to date.
The Big 12 is the No. 1 Conference in the country according to Conference RPI, done by Collegiate Basketball News. Six of the 10 teams are listed in the top 62 teams of NCAA RPI.
“This league is just so good,” Texas Tech head coach Candi Whittaker. “When you’re on an 18-game [season] with no bye week, it is ruthless. It is constant. We have to game plan to a T. It’s kind of fun though that you can just look across the board and see great games and great teams battling it out every night.”
The No. 3 Lady Bears are 10-0 in their conference schedule so far this season. Winning nine straight games is one thing, but doing so in the Big 12 Conference adds to the value of the record.
Looking at each of the facets that make up a conference, the Big 12 has every ingredient to being the best in the country. This season especially, Big 12 schools have made a strong case for being the top women’s college basketball league.
Starting with the non-conference schedule, the Big 12 is right up there with the best. Unlike Baylor football’s alleged issue of weak out-of-conference scheduling, the Lady Bears, along with seven other Big 12 schools, are ranked in the top 46 of the NCAA’s strength of schedule.
It’s not exclusive to just a few of the schools in the Big 12. Every team had a strong pre-conference season. The Big 12 was the only conference in the country to have had every team finish with a winning record before conference play. 2014-15 marks the eighth-straight season for the Big 12 to achieve the previous statistic.
The Big 12 leads all leagues with its 81.7 non-conference win percentage, going 94-21 overall and finishing pre-conference games on a cumulative 12-0 streak.
The Longhorns were involved in one of the country’s marquee pre-conference matchups. Texas upset Stanford on its home floor in that game. In addition, Texas played such teams as Washington, UCLA and Texas A&M.
Baylor also played in one of the pre-conference’s top matchups against Kentucky, ranked No. 13 at the time. The Big 12 earned four wins over non-conference foes that were ranked in the Top 10 at game-time.
Parity abounds in the Big 12 this season. Teams ranking third through 10th in the conference standings have just two games between them. Moreover, there is a tie for third, between Iowa State and TCU, and a five-way tie for sixth, with Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, WVU and Kansas.
The Big 12 is the only conference in the country this year in which every team has at least three wins, a winning record and double-digit wins on the season.
“You’ve got to be efficient, you’ve got to be solid, and you’ve got to compete for 40 minutes to escape with wins in this league,” Oklahoma State coach Jim Littell said. “I think the Big 12 has taken an unfair hit on some things. From top-to-bottom I still think it’s an excellent league.”
The format of the league allows for thrilling storylines and matchups. The Big 12 plays a double round-robin format, meaning every team plays each other twice (one home and one away) with no bye weeks. There is no hiding and no downtime. This makes recovery and consistency vital to any type of success in the Big 12.
Half of this season is over. The final stretch is under way. It will be one of the closest battles for the title in Big 12 history, foreshadowing a magnificent conference tournament in March. The Lady Bears took home the conference tournament title in an overtime victory over West Virginia last year, but there is no guarantee of history repeating itself in such a balanced league like the Big 12. The conference tournament trophy is there for the taking.
“When we get to the conference tournament, it might be one of the best conference tournaments we’ve ever had,” Iowa State Bill Fennelly said. “That’s exciting for the fans and exciting for the league.”