Big 12 men’s basketball will still be competitive with new teams

Payne Williams, Sports Desk Editor

Although the Big 12 continues to prove itself as one of the toughest conferences in college basketball, things may not be easier next season.

The conference currently features the most ranked teams in the country, including No. 5 Texas. When it begins its 14-team format next season, the addition of Houston, BYU, Cincinnati and UCF could stiffen the competition even more.

With the 14-team format, the Big 12 will no longer hold the double round robin conference schedule where each team plays each other at home and away. The league won’t split into divisions, at least for the 2023 season, and teams will instead play each other once, with the exception of one team twice.

In 2023, Texas will play the new and current members once, with the exception of Texas Tech, which it will play twice.

Three schools out of the American Conference, including No. 2 Houston, will join the Big 12 in 2023 in addition to BYU out of the West Coast Conference. BYU nearly jumped to the top of its conference in January when it fell to then-No. 8 Gonzaga on a missed game-winning shot.

Houston and several current Big 12 schools have hopes of making a deep run in March and could run into each other during the tournament. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently projects Houston to be in the same region as Iowa State for the NCAA tournament next month.

Houston’s current roster boasts three potential NBA draft picks, including two who could go in the first round: freshman forward Jarace Walker and senior guard Marcus Sasser. However, the Cougars may still bring star players with them to the Big 12 like junior guard Jamal Shead, who leads Houston in minutes and assists per game.

UCF last made the tournament in 2019 when they advanced to the second round, losing to No. 1 Duke by only a point. Center Tacko Fall led the Golden Knights’ charge and entered the NBA after his team’s tournament exit.

Cincinnati made nine straight tournament appearances from 2011 to 2019, making the Sweet 16 in 2012 after defeating Texas and Florida State in rounds one and two, respectively.

BYU’s last March Madness appearance was in 2021 when it fell to UCLA in the first round.

As it stands now, the Big 12 has six teams ranked in the AP Top 25: No. 5 Texas, No. 9 Kansas, No. 11 Iowa State, No. 12 Kansas State, No. 14 Baylor and No. 17 TCU. The Big East has the second most ranked teams with five.

The two most recent national champions — Kansas in 2022 and Baylor in 2021 — came out of the Big 12, and with the addition of the four programs and the current state of the conference, that streak could grow.

“We don’t have any bad teams in our league,” interim head coach Rodney Terry said after Saturday’s win at Kansas State. “Every team in our league is really, really good.”