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Could Conference Realignment Make the Big 12 Stronger in Basketball?

Mike Boynton on Big 12 additions: “I think my job got harder.”

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[Jackson Lavarnway/PFB]

Since it is a bye week for OSU football, and while much of the attention around these parts is on Oklahoma and Texas this weekend, I thought I’d draw your attention to … Oklahoma and Texas. Or rather, how the two Big 12 towers’ departure might facilitate an upgrade for the league.

I’m sure that got your attention. So let’s talk college hoops.

The Big 12 is arguably the toughest league top-to-bottom in college basketball, and it’s about to get even tougher thanks to events that followed the seismic shift that rocked college sports this past July.

Oklahoma and Texas are headed to the SEC by 2025, but before they leave the conference is set to buttress itself with the addition of Cincinnati, Houston, BYU and UCF. On football face value, the former pair dwarfs the latter group, but when it comes to college hoops, I’m becoming more and more excited about that change.

This week Mike Boynton was asked about the Big 12’s newcomers.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Boynton. “I think my job got harder, to be perfectly honest. I enjoy that challenge, though.”

Boynton went on saying that he has respect for all four basketball programs that will be added but singled out a storied Cincinnati program and hot Houston, which made it to last year’s Final Four.

“I watched Cincinnati basketball for a long time, kind of transitioned away from a lot of conferences in my lifetime,” said Boytnon. “I certainly remember when Coach (Bob) Huggins was there, and the success that he had kind of created an identity for that program which is, you know, credit to him, it’s kind of stayed with them since. That kind of tough, high level of success, recruit guys who really want to work hard.”

OSU is 3-2 all-time against Cincinnati, with the Cowboys and Bearcats splitting their most recent meetings in 2001 and 2003. Cincinnati, like Oklahoma State, boasts two NCAA titles, with its latest one coming in 1962.

The Cowboys have the most history with Houston, on a pair of fronts. The OSU-UH series is a classic one with the two programs meeting 19 times from 1951 to 1965. The two were Missouri Valley Conference foes from 1950-57. They didn’t play again until a two-season commitment in 2018-19 and 2019-20. The away team won both games.

“What Coach (Kelvin) Sampson has done at the University of Houston is nothing short of phenomenal, really,” said Boynton. “I was working at Stephen F. Austin not too long ago, and we had a better basketball program than the University of Houston did. It just is what it is, and that’s not the case anymore. And it has a lot to do with his commitment, and then their commitment to investing in that program, but he’s recruited really well, went to the Final Four a year ago, is one of the all-time great coaches in our game.”

Sampson, of course, is no stranger to Gallagher-Iba Arena and no stranger to the Big 12. His Oklahoma teams were as tough as they come and, at least for me, he’s the face that comes to mind when you bring up the Bedlam basketball rivalry.

“And Central Florida’s had some success, not as consistent as the other programs,” continued Boynton. “I’ve never been to BYU, but I’ve seen the environment at their basketball games. So, I’m not necessarily looking forward to it, but I know that it’s going to create more competition in a league that is already, in my opinion, the best in the country.”

As far as the other two programs go, the Cowboys are 3-4 against BYU and the two last met in 2003-04, after also playing in 2002-03. OSU and UCF have never met on the hardwood.

I was curious how the incoming Big 12 programs stacked up against the outgoing in terms of legacy. Here’s a quick look, courtesy of sports-reference.

SchoolW-L%NCAAsFinal FoursNCAA Titles
Cincinnati.6403362
Houston.6072260
BYU.6283000
UCF.503500

For reference, here are the two schools that these four will eventually be replacing.

SchoolW-L%NCAAsFinal FoursNCAA Titles
Oklahoma.6093350
Texas.6233530

I’m not denigrating the Red River rivals in terms of college hoops. Both boast storied programs and both will be missed, but I don’t think enough has been said about how much fun their replacements will make the league. When these changes take effect, the Big 12 might actually be a tougher league, top-to-bottom than it already was.

If we’re talking about a big-picture, macro view of college sports, trading a pair of blue-blood brands like OU and Texas for these four schools is by no means a bargain, but — at least in terms of hoops — it doesn’t look like the Big 12 will be taking a step back. It might actually be improving.

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