Tramel's ScissorTales: Big 12 basketball power rankings include two distinct tiers
Big 12 men's basketball has fallen into two distinct tiers.
The top six, with teams ranked fifth through 17th in The Associated Press poll and eighth through 17th in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings.
And the bottom four, with Oklahoma State, OU, West Virginia and Texas Tech fighting to stay afloat for eventual contention in the 68-team NCAA Tournament.
The Big 12’s prowess figures to mean the conference will get at least seven teams in the field, and OSU now leads that lower tier, after a strong week in which the Cowboys won Bedlam and beat Iowa State, both in Stillwater.
The latter was a 61-59 victory Saturday that embodied much of Big 12 basketball. Down to the wire, often first-team-to-60 wins.
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Mike Boynton said that game is "why we schedule the way we do in the non-conference. I'm a firm believer in two things: I'm not going to coach enough to break anybody's winning record ... I'm not coaching enough to win 800 games. Not happening. I'm going to retire long before it happens.
“The other part is, the league is too hard to not at least have an idea of what you're gonna face once January comes around. You run around and all of a sudden you're facing these teams over and over and over again.
"And if you don't have anything to draw back on some experience of going to UConn, going and playing Virginia Tech on a neutral court … when you get to the league and you look at all the hardest schedules remaining in the country are in your league, it's insane. So if you don't give yourself a chance to prepare, you'll find yourself behind the 8-ball and trying to dig your way out of a real confidence barrier in that regard."
The Sooners and Cowboys have taken turns showing signs of life for NCAA Tournament contention. Last week, OSU went 2-0, OU 0-2 and now it’s the Cowboys who are in better shape.
OSU is up to No. 42 in the NET rankings, with OU down to No. 57. The Sooners were ranked higher than the Cowboys before Bedlam five days ago.
“It's the thrill and agony,” Boynton said.
Here are the weekly Big 12 rankings.
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Big 12 basketball power rankings
1. Kansas State (6-1, 17-2): In the Big 12 preseason poll of coaches, KSU came in dead last. The Wildcats totaled 12 points, which means KSU mostly likely got six last-place votes and three next-to-last votes. But now KSU leads the conference. And the Wildcats have played only three games against the teams in the bottom tier.
2. Iowa State (5-2, 14-4): The Cyclones are 10th in the NET (KSU is 16th).
3. Texas (5-2, 16-3): The Longhorns’ schedule will get tougher. Four of UT’s seven games have come against the bottom four teams.
4. Texas Christian (4-3, 15-4): The Horned Frogs won 83-60 at Kansas, and watch out for TCU. The Frogs have played just two games against the bottom tier teams.
5. Kansas (5-2, 16-3): All those narrow home victories (OU, OSU, Texas Tech) by the Jayhawks should have been a sign that KU is vulnerable.
6. Baylor (4-3, 14-5): The Bears’ 0-3 conference start made us forget that Baylor is quite capable of a deep run.
7. OSU (3-4, 11-8): The Cowboys have a clear edge on the rest of the bottom tier. Counting standings as one point for a road win and one point deducted for a home loss, OSU is minus-one. OU is minus-two, while West Virginia and Texas Tech are minus-three.
8. OU (2-5, 11-8): The Sooners’ schedule doesn’t lighten this week — at 11th-ranked TCU, home against No. 2 Alabama.
9. West Virginia (1-6, 11-8): The Mountaineers somehow are 30th in the NET despite the abysmal record. Credit — or blame — a schedule that includes losses to top-15 teams Purdue and Xavier.
10. Texas Tech (0-7, 10-9): What has happened to the Red Raiders?
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Big 12 QB(s) headed to Super Bowl
A Big 12 quarterback is going to the Super Bowl. Maybe two.
The Eagles’ Jalen Hurts (OU, by way of Alabama) and the 49ers’ Brock Purdy (Iowa State) collide Sunday in the NFC Championship Game.
Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) leads the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game against Cincinnati.
Mahomes, of course, has been to two Super Bowls. His 2019 Chiefs won Super Bowl 54 by beating the 49ers. And Mahomes’ 2020 Chiefs lost Super Bowl 55 to the Buccaneers.
But until Mahomes, Vince Ferragamo was the only Big 12/Big Eight quarterback who had taken a team to a Super Bowl.
Ferragamo quarterbacked the 1979 Los Angeles Rams to Super Bowl 14, where they lost 31-19 to the Steelers. Ferragamo, a Nebraska Cornhusker from 1975-76, was the only Big 12/Big Eight starting quarterback in the first 53 Super Bowls.
How to explain it? Well, despite the Big 12’s Air Raid explosion of the last quarter century, the roots of the Big Eight were in ground-oriented, option attacks. Not a lot of wishbone QBs made the National Football League.
And you can blame the Southwest Conference, too; Mahomes was the first Super Bowl quarterback from a Texas school.
Meanwhile, next-door neighbor Louisiana produced Super Bowl QBs not just from LSU (David Woodley, Joe Burrow), but Grambling State (Doug Williams), Louisiana-Monroe (Stan Humphries), Louisiana Tech (Terry Bradshaw) and Louisiana-Lafayette (Jake Delhomme).
Heck, Cal-Berkeley has produced twice as many Super Bowl quarterbacks (Joe Kapp, Craig Morton, Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff) as has the entire Big 12/Big Eight.
Purdue (Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Drew Brees) and Alabama (Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Kenny Stabler) each have produced more than the entire Big 12/Big Eight.
Little Delaware (Joe Flacco, Rich Gannon) has matched the Big 12/Big Eight. So has Maryland (Boomer Esiason, Neil O’Donnell), Washington State (Mark Rypien, Drew Bledsoe) and Boston College (Matt Hasselbeck, Matt Ryan).
Other schools with two Super Bowl quarterbacks: Georgia (Fran Tarkenton, Matthew Stafford); Notre Dame (Joe Theismann, Daryle Lamonica); UCLA (Billy Kilmer, Troy Aikman); Stanford (Jim Plunkett, John Elway); and Brigham Young (Steve Young, Jim McMahon).
But the Big 12 is coming out of the desert. The Hurts-Purdy winner is going to make three Big 12/Big Eight quarterbacks in Super Bowls. That’s a long way to catch the Pac-12's dozen, but it’s a start.
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Foul shooting defense lifts Thunder
The Thunder’s foul-shooting defense is middle of the road NBA.
That was a joke. Despite teams’ efforts to meddle with opposing foul shooters — either through trash talking, psychology or body movements on the lane — opponents' foul shooting is quite random.
But Sunday night, the Thunder’s foul-shooting defense was on top of its game. Denver made just 17 of 33 foul shots, and the Thunder won 101-99.
The Nuggets’ Aaron Gordon, a career 69 percent foul shooter, made six of 13 from the line. Bruce Brown, 74 percent for his career, was 0 of 2. Zeke Nnaji, 65.6 percent for his career, was 4 of 8.
Maybe that’s the key to good foul-shooting defense. Foul the right opponents.
Denver coach Mike Malone missed the game due to health protocols. So what did Malone’s sub, assistant coach David Adelman, think of all the missed foul shots?
"I think nothing,” Adelman said. “These guys have been through this, they're pros. Anybody that has played basketball growing up or loves basketball and watches it has seen this.
“I mean NCAA Tournament games, NBA games, high school games. It happens. Sometimes, I think it provides more pressure on guys when they see their teammates miss, and now you feel like 'I have to make these two free throws.' Then you start to feel the tightness of it. Unfortunately, that's what happened tonight.”
The worst for Denver came with 3:05 left in the game and OKC up 96-92. Gordon missed two foul shots, Nnaji rebounded the latter, was fouled and then missed twice himself.
That’s how you win lucky.
For the second straight road game, the Thunder faced a major foul-line disadvantage.
In a 118-113 loss at Sacramento on Friday night, OKC got just 11 foul shots. The Thunder made seven. The Kings made 24 of 28.
The discrepancy continued in Denver. OKC didn’t get much at the line. OKC made 14 of 16 foul shots. The Nuggets shot more than twice that many but outscored the Thunder by just three on foul shots.
Mark Daigneault said the Thunder played good “situational basketball down the stretch.”
Maybe so. If “down the stretch” means the final 30 seconds.
The Thunder won the last two possessions after Denver forged a 99-99 tie with 30.2 seconds left — a nifty inbounds pass from the side by Josh Giddey set up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for a 9-foot bank shot with 9.2 seconds left, then Luguentz Dort muscled Denver star Jamal Murray into a 14-foot, fallaway jumper that bounced off the rim just before the buzzer.
“Denver was really, really good, honestly,” Daigneault said, despite the Nuggets missing superstar center Nikola Jokic. “Especially, we had a hard time getting anything going offensively, but the guys stuck together. That's a tough place to play and it was a grind. I was really, really pleased with the guys tonight."
He should be. The Thunder raised its record to 23-24, and OKC drew within 1½ games of fifth place in the tightly-bunched Western Conference standings.
But this victory was more difficult than it needed to be. The Thunder took a 96-89 lead on Gilgeous-Alexander's 9-foot shot with 4:31 left in the game.
From then on, the Thunder was hanging by a thread. No good shots on offense, dodging darts on defense.
In the almost 4½ minutes between SGA baskets, the Thunder scored only on Kenrich Williams’ straight-on 3-pointer with 1:17 left. OKC otherwise missed all six of its shots, and none were good shots.
A variety of stepbacks. A Giddey running hook. A Dort drive on a night when he constantly failed to deliver in the paint.
Meanwhile, the Thunder defense fought, but Denver in many ways manhandled OKC. The Nuggets consistently got shots at the rim. Most missed, and despite a rash of offensive rebounds and foul shots, the Thunder survived.
Sometimes, you need help to win, and Denver’s horrid foul shooting came at just the right time.
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Mailbag: Cowboys’ loss to 49ers
Some fans are not happy with the Dallas Cowboys.
Shannon: “I don’t care about the stats or the coaches or the location or any other possible reason. There is no way you lose to the third-string rookie, Mr. Irrelevant QB, if you are a contender.”
Tramel: That’s not a good way to look at the 49ers’ 19-12 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday.
Who cares where Brock Purdy was picked in the draft? That’s irrelevant.
Purdy didn’t beat the Cowboys on Sunday. He also didn’t beat the 49ers. His counterpart, Dak Prescott, didn’t beat San Francisco but might have beaten Dallas, with two bad-decision interceptions.
Shouldn’t we have passed this where-a-guy-was-picked thing? If Purdy had been a second-round draft choice last spring, instead of the final selection in the entire draft, would that have made the Dallas defeat easier to accept?
Of course not. Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the draft and 21 months later was the Super Bowl champion. And he wasn’t playing with a roster nearly as good as this 49er bunch.
Purdy was the 262nd pick in the 2022 draft. How did that matter Sunday? It didn’t.
Is he a rookie? Yes. Could he be flustered? Yes. Did Dallas’ defense do enough to flummox Purdy? I don’t know.
But I know this. Since December arrived and Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a broken foot four minutes into a game against the Dolphins, Purdy has beaten Miami, Tampa Bay, Seattle, Washington, Las Vegas, Arizona, Seattle again and now Dallas.
Maybe the Cowboys didn’t take advantage of Purdy’s inexperience. But neither has anyone else.
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The List: NFL conference-championship game droughts
The Cowboys’ loss to the 49ers extended one of the NFL’s longest conference-championship droughts. The Cowboys haven’t reached the NFC Championship Game since the 1995 season.
Here are the 10 longest conference-title game droughts in the NFL:
1. Washington Commanders, 1991: That ‘91 Washington squad beat Buffalo two weeks later in Super Bowl 26. But the franchise hasn’t returned to the NFC finals since.
1. Detroit Lions, 1991: The Lions lost to Washington in that ‘91 NFC Championship Game and haven’t won a playoff game in the 31 years since.
3. Miami Dolphins, 1992: That Dan Marino-led team lost to Buffalo in the AFC Championship Game.
4. Dallas Cowboys, 1995: Barry Switzer’s eventual Super Bowl champions beat Green Bay in the NFC title game. It’s been a long 27 years.
5. Cleveland Browns, 1999: The expansion Browns never have reached the AFC Championship Game. The original Browns, who now are the Baltimore Ravens, made the 1989 AFC Championship Game. So Clevelanders have been the longest-suffering fans. But this is a list of futile franchises, and though the NFL declared that the new Browns inherited the old Browns’ history, they are different franchises.
6. Houston Texans, 2001: The expansion Texans haven’t reached the AFC Championship Game since their birth. The old Houston Oilers made their final AFC title game in 1979, so sorry, Cleveland, you’re not the longest-suffering fans.
7. Las Vegas Raiders, 2002: The Raiders were in Oakland (their second Oakland stint) in ‘02, when they last made the AFC Championship Game.
8. Los Angeles Chargers, 2007: The Chargers three times have lost in the AFC semifinals since making the ‘07 conference title game.
9. Chicago Bears, 2010: No playoff wins for Chicago since reaching the 2010 AFC Championship Game.
9. New York Jetropolitans, 2010: No playoff appearance for the Jets since reaching the 2010 NFC Championship Game.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Big 12 basketball power rankings: K-State leads Iowa State, TCU, KU