Possible Replacements, TCU

October 6, 2011

"Whaddaya say?" Jim Christian's Frogs might be the league's next invite. Source: Zimbio.com

Realignment Madness has turned out to be the perfect label for this category of posts.

If you haven’t seen, a report indicates an offer from the Big 12 for a new member: Texas Christian University.

TCU is currently a member of the Mountain West Conference, and had been scheduled to join the Big East Conference starting next school year. Of course, that was all set up before Texas A&M bolted for the SEC and the Big 12 found itself down to nine schools. We’ll talk plenty more here about this story as it’s updated.

Some notes on TCU – it is a Christian school in Fort Worth, Texas. While TCU would be the fourth Texas school in the new Big 12 Conference (joining Tech, Baylor and Texas), it is the only one located in the giant Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

Athletically, TCU is a football school. Gary Patterson has been there since 1998 and been head coach since 2001 (he was previously defensive coordinator). He was a graduate assistant at Kansas State in 1982.

TCU went 13-0 last year, beating Big Ten champion Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl and finishing 2nd in both polls. The Horned Frogs also had an outstanding season in 2009, when they went 12-0 in the regular season before losing to undefeated Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. They finished ranked sixth. This year, TCU is 3-2, having been knocked off by Baylor and Southern Methodist.

Going into this year, the Horned Frogs finished in the Top 25 seven times out of ten (the Patterson era). TCU played in Conference USA from 2001-2004, winning one conference championship. The team has won the Mountain West three years out of six.

Despite its location in Fort Worth, TCU’s fanbase will not be confused for A&M’s (even though TCU would have probably smacked A&M silly the last couple of years.) The school is currently expanding its stadium to 50,000, but this is not a school with much of a national following.

Of course, this is a basketball blog. And this is where TCU’s profile looks a lot less sexy. As in not at all.

TCU has competed in the NCAA Tournament seven times, most recently in 1998 (their last conference championship). The team’s last NCAA win was in 1987 against Marshall. Since then, TCU finished in the quarterfinals of the 2005 NIT.

It gets worse. TCU’s record last year was 10-23. The Frogs’ final win of the regular season was January 12. (They won one conference tournament game.) Now BYU, San Diego State and New Mexico all take basketball seriously, but this suggests the TCU program will be WAY in over its head, as it was last year in the Mountain West.

Simply put, Texas Christian has fallen flat on its face in conference play each of the last 5 years. Despite a narrow victory over Texas Tech early in the year, TCU almost surely replaces Tech as the dog of the Big 12 if the addition is made.

Jim Christian is starting his fourth year as head coach.

With the departures of Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M (and possibly Mizzou), this league needs a football boost badly. TCU provides that without question. Losing Nebraska and CU won’t greatly affect the basketball competition. But losing both A&M and Mizzou certainly would. And unfortunately, TCU’s recent past doesn’t convince us they would help.

To be fair, perhaps TCU’s basketball recruiting would improve some with Big 12 membership. There is a long way to go.

It will be interesting to see if TCU’s addition makes the addition of more well-rounded athletic programs like Louisville and West Virginia less likely. However, from a football standpoint, TCU is light years ahead of Louisville and at least as strong as WVU.

In any case, it looks like K-State might not be the only Big 12 school celebrating Purple Power for much longer.


Possible addition to the Big 12: West Virginia

September 24, 2011

Country roads … take me home …

to the place … I belong …

John Denver’s 1971 hit has become the anthem for WVU athletics, frequently sung by the school’s fans or played by the marching band. Mountaineer fans make it clear on game days West Virginia will always be their home.

Not just a football school: Some young Mountaineers show love for the WVU basketball team. Image courtesy AP/Kenneth R. Brooks

But now West Virginia’s athletic program might need a new home in another sense. With all the conferences changing, where does it belong?

Rumors abound these days and a few have mentioned WVU as a school with interest from the Big 12. The school boasts a prominent football program which, among many accomplishments, won the Sugar Bowl following the 2005 season and the Fiesta Bowl after 2007 (don’t ask Bob Stoops about that one).

The basketball team has been good too, winning the 2010 Big East tournament and then advancing to its first Final Four in 51 years. Bob Huggins (a WVU grad) took over for John Beilein and has established his old school’s team as a force in the Big East.

West Virginia has made the NCAA Tournament all four years with Huggins as coach. The Mountaineers won 21 games last season, beating Clemson in the NCAA opener and losing to eventual Final Four team Kentucky. In 2010 they beat top seed Kentucky, claiming a Final Four and a 31-win season and finishing No. 3 in the coaches poll. The year before that, the Mountaineers won 23 games and finished seventh in the conference (all six Big East teams ahead of them were ranked).

Though the state of West Virginia cannot claim any large metro areas (Charleston is the largest at 154th nationally), it certainly would expose the Big 12 to a new audience. Additionally, the school boasts an almost Nebraska-like statewide popularity. 

Milan Puskar Stadium is regularly filled to its capacity of around 60,000 and Mountaineer fans are probably the best travelers in the current Big East.

Considering the options of Louisville, TCU, BYU and West Virginia, the Mountaineers’ best cases as an addition to the Big 12 are their fanbase and their athletic balance. I would estimate they have more fans than BYU and Louisville and far more than TCU.

They are also very relevant in both football and men’s basketball – BYU and Louisville are still struggling a bit with football, and TCU is not a strong basketball program.

West Virginia would not be the league favorite for Big 12 football if Texas and Oklahoma both stay, but would join Missouri, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech as routine challengers. In basketball, WVU would become an immediate contender for the league title and improve an already solid basketball conference.

There’s no guarantee the Big 12 will add anyone at the moment, but West Virginia would be a great pickup.

Louisville would be big addition

September 22, 2011

We’ve said it here before and it couldn’t be more painfully obvious: all the realignment chatter has nothing to do with basketball.

But since this is a basketball site and we are basketball-crazed, we look at the realignment madness from a basketball slant.

The Big 12 will first have to convince itself and others that it will stabilize for a period of time. If it does and the schools play nice, adding Louisville to the mix would be a huge boost for the basketball profile of the conference. 

Could this man soon be coaching in the Big 12? I sure hope so. Image courtesy best-basketball-tips.com.

Louisville, in my estimation, would immediately become the second-most accomplished and prestigious basketball program in the conference. Clearly Kansas is the top dog, and even Missouri fans couldn’t deny that.

This is what the Cardinals bring: 37 NCAA tournament appearances, which is good for fifth all-time and ahead of Duke and Indiana.

But they’ve cashed in those appearances with eight Final Fours and most importantly two national championships. Only 35 schools have won a national championship, and only 14 of those have won it more than once. Louisville is one of them.

Oklahoma State would be the closest competition to the “coveted” title of the Big 12 Basketball Blog’s second-most accomplished program in the Big 12. The Cowboys also have two national championships. But Louisville has 13 more NCAA’s and 100+ more total wins, along with with two more Final Four appearances. Additionally, although the Cowboys have been competitive in the past decade, Louisville has been better by winning a Big East title and appearing in the 2005 Final Four.

The Big 12 has some programs which are trending upwards but don’t have a boatload of history in Texas and Baylor (Texas A&M is too but nowadays we’ll mention them as little as possible…just joking…kind of). And in the case of Texas, they could be a sleeping basketball giant considering their resources, recent development of NBA players and increasing popularity of their brand in the state of Texas.

The more exposure Longhorn basketball gets (as it presumably would with the infamous Longhorn Network), the more all those Texas athletes will choose basketball over football. But then again the same increased exposure argument could be made for football too. Still, Texas has potential to vault itself into a different basketball-strata, but as of the present it is not on the same level as Louisville.

Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas State are all solid programs with decent history, but none of them rise to the level of Louisville, mainly because none have won a national championship.

Louisville may not be in the “blueblood” class of Kentucky, UCLA, North Carolina, Kansas and Duke. But they certainly are in the next group of great programs, with teams like Indiana and Connecticut. Adding them to the Big 12, at least for basketball purposes, would be fantastic.


KC’s college basketball identity will survive realignment

September 20, 2011

This Kansas City Star article talks about the effects the realignment madness could have on Kansas City’s college basketball culture, especially if Kansas, K-State and Missouri end up in different conferences:

If the schools wind up in different conferences — or in the same league that wouldn’t bring its basketball tournament to Kansas City — the region’s sports identity could take a big hit.

But I don’t think the breakup of the Big 12 will have that drastic of an effect on the college basketball scene in Kansas City, even if the three area schools end up in different conferences. It will continue to thrive for the following reasons.

Kansas basketball will always be relevant, even if they are in the Missouri Valley Conference (Side note: I’m not saying this is likely, I’m just imaging a worse case scenario). The history won’t just vanish. Kansas City is a Kansas stronghold, and therefore a college basketball stronghold by default.

The Sprint Center. It's not going anywhere and neither is college basketball's hold on KC. Image courtesy of fannation.com.

As for games played, all three schools could play at least one non-conference game in the Sprint Center every year, if not more. That would be most likely good for three near-certain sellouts.

If the teams were to split up, playing one another in the Sprint Center would be a hugely-popular event. Could you imagine a Missouri-Kansas game in early December in downtown Kansas City?

The Braggin’ Rights game between Missouri and Illinois has been filling up (or close to it) the Scottrade Center in St. Louis for years. And this has happened despite an almost-unbelievable run of nine straight Missouri losses that ended two seasons ago.

You could conceivably have three such games a year in the Sprint Center should all three schools end up in different conferences. While that scenario is a longshot, anything seems possible right now.

I don’t know about the contract, but the CBE Classic presumably wouldn’t disappear either. In recent years the tournament has brought Syracuse, Duke, UCLA, Gonzaga and others to Kansas City. While non-conference tournaments don’t generate the same buzz as conference tournaments, bringing name programs to the Sprint Center will draw a crowd. And that’s regardless of what conference any of those programs are in.

And most importantly, the lack of the Big 12 conference shouldn’t prevent the Sprint Center from being chosen to host NCAA tournament games. From 1940-2009, Kansas City hosted 122 NCAA tournament games, more than any other city. The next closest was Salt Lake City at 83. Even Indianapolis, the cradle of basketball, had hosted less at 79.

The big tournament, and college basketball in general, has been in Kansas City’s identity for decades, long before the Big 12’s present and recent editions were in existence. The tournament is set to return for first and second round games in 2013, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t continue to do so.

Kansas City is a basketball town and in a perfect world deserves a conference tournament that includes Kansas, K-State and Mizzou. But as long I’m not missing something, I don’t think Lawrence itself is picking up and moving across the country. And if KU ends up in the ACC I don’t think you’ll be seeing a mass exodus of alumni and fans to North Carolina.

The same can be said for Columbia and Manhattan: the people who support those three schools will continue to populate the Kansas city metro area. Their basketball fandoms won’t change, even if the conference logo on their school’s court does.

Look in the mirror, BYU and Mizzou

September 15, 2011

This Andy Katz article (although filled to the brim with unnamed sources) says that BYU, along with Arkansas, were the first schools Big 12 officials called about expansion.

This is by no means surprising, and Craig wrote a good article discussing what BYU would bring to the conference and how likely it is they would come.

As I looked over BYU’s basketball history and stats, something jumped out at me. BYU and Mizzou are the same program. Okay maybe not exactly the same, but interestingly similar based on the raw stats.

Read the rest of this entry »

Possible Replacements, BYU

September 13, 2011

The third program we’ve profiled as an interesting candidate for Big 12 membership is Brigham Young. The administration has been quiet regarding its intentions, only offering at the end of the month that the focus is on the Cougars’ current status as a member of the West Coast Conference (and a football independent).

BYU has never belonged to a BCS conference, but its strong teams and large fanbase make it an impressive program. Source: Examiner.com

Should Texas A&M indeed leave, a quick glance at BYU shows a solid athletic tradition built on football and competitive in basketball. That ought to appeal to the Big 12 Conference.

Reading this blog, you are surely familiar with Jimmer Fredette, BYU’s recently-departed scoring machine whose long three-pointers were as fun to watch as his name is to say. The name and game combined to make Fredette famous last year as BYU, a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tourney, made its way to the Sweet 16 and shared the Mountain West Conference title with San Diego State.

But BYU was no upstart last year. In fact, Dave Rose’s club has made the NCAA Tournament each of the last five years: Kansas, Texas and Texas A&M are the only Big 12 programs who can say that.

Fredette was merely the second Cougar to be named National Player of the Year. Danny Ainge earned the distinction in 1981, when the Cougars made the Elite Eight (their best ever NCAA finish).

Now, BYU moves to the West Coast Conference, and the administration can’t be blamed for saying they’d like to settle in there as opposed to publicly courting another new league. But as Greg pointed out in the SMU article, conference affiliation is football-driven, and BYU’s new status as an independent goes against the trend. In the 1990s, most big athletic programs which were independent in football joined conferences (Florida State, South Carolina, etc.) to maximize exposure and bowl opportunities.

The men's basketball team finished 2011 as co-champions in its final Mountain West Conference season. Source: NewsEleven.byu.edu

So why would BYU go independent? BYU has tried to fix part of that problem with an ESPN contract, which will provide exposure for their football team since there is no conference TV package to join.

Additionally, the BCS qualifying rules for non-AQ football programs have been relaxed in recent years. This has allowed TCU, Boise State, Utah and Hawaii to compete in top tier bowls and take in the money that follows. BYU is set up to operate and compete like a big-time athletic program even moving to a smaller conference like the West Coast (which interestingly consists exclusively of religious schools, like Gonzaga and St. Mary’s).

For these reasons, I don’t see BYU as a likely addition to the Big 12. Compared to an SMU or a Houston, the school isn’t as desperate for whatever the Big 12 might offer at this point.

But it wouldn’t be a shock, either. Remember that Utah jumped ship to the Pac-12 even after its Fiesta Bowl victory as a non-AQ, and TCU will move to the Big East despite winning the Rose Bowl last year.

The Cougars have won 30 games the past two basketball seasons and would be a great addition to the league. The football program won a national championship in 1984 and stills fills a 60,000+ seat stadium regularly. But BYU is in a better position today to compete at a high level and take in big-time revenue than most other athletic programs in small conferences, and that’s why I think the Cougars might stay put.

The Big 12 would love to have Brigham Young University if the “10th Man” Aggies leave. I think it would take a deal far more lucrative than what the school already has to make that a distinct possibility, though BYU has shown itself an athletic program worth pursuing.

Houston rising?

September 12, 2011

Last week we wrote about the potentially high ceiling Houston basketball could have if it were to join the Big 12. If paired with entry into the Big 12, its Phi Slamma Jamma pedigree and location in a major metro area could lead to some solid recruiting.

Image courtesy houston.metblogs.com.

It appears that might already be happening without the added allure of a major conference.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Cougars have added two local blue-chip prospects from the Class of 2012. Forward Danuel House (15th overall, ESPNU) and Danrad “Chicken” Knowles (47th overall, ESPNU) have decided to stay home and try to bring back the glory days.

House told the Chronicle:

“Coach Dickey made me feel like I was wanted and loved on my official visit,” House said. “He just talked to me and told me I could start a new tradition by taking my own leap of faith — to start something new, a new tradition, and bring that Phi Slama Jama back and maybe we can start something new. That was big. That’s why me and Chicken decided to go to UH.”

Obviously winning recruiting battles doesn’t always translate to wins on the court. But the fact that Dickey is persuading Houston kids to stay home is a strong start to improving the program. At the very least House and Knowles can talk up Houston to future members of their local AAU team.

I have to reiterate again that the state of Houston’s basketball team and what it could bring to the conference will carry as much weight as their marching band and campus computer labs. But should Dan Beebe like their football program enough to add them, the basketball program might eventually add something to the competitive balance of the league.