KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kansas State coach Bruce Weber not long ago bemoaned the fact that nobody wants to play the Wildcats, especially considering they return everyone from a team that reached the Elite Eight.
Well, the Big 12 is helping him out.
The league has added a challenge series with the Big East to its existing one with the SEC, helping to ease the burden on its coaches to schedule tough games. It had become a more prevalent problem the past few years, as larger leagues begin scheduling 20-game conference slates and with the Big 12’s success in the NCAA Tournament, to lure marquee opponents to Big 12 venues.
“We can’t expand. We already play everyone twice, which the other leagues don’t to, which makes it tough for us and we have to find a vehicle to get another tough game,” Weber said. “This will definitely help us get a positive home game into nonconference for our fans and for our team.”
The 10-team league already had four such games lined up for this season with top-ranked Kansas facing Villanova at Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas State heading to Marquette, Creighton visiting Oklahoma and Providence visiting Texas. The return games for those series will begin the challenge next season, while the remaining schools will match up so that the Big 12 and Big East each get five home games each year.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said the leagues are working with their respective broadcast partners — ESPN for the Big 12 and Fox Sports for the Big East — on how to handle television rights.
“It ought to be a very good thing for both leagues,” Bowlsby said of the four-year agreement. “There again, like the Big 12-SEC Challenge, we see it as an ongoing activity. But time will tell.”
The Big 12 had seven teams reach the NCAA Tournament last year and the Big East had six, and Villanova won its second national title in the past three years by beating the Jayhawks along the way.
“The full-participation series assures our schools of premier nonconference competition that will only add to the strength of our conferences,” Big East commissioner Val Ackerman said. “We look forward to working with the Big 12 to create an exciting new set of rivalries of our players, coaches and their supporters.”
Weber wasn’t the only Big 12 coach excited by the news.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins once coached in the Big East, before the Mountaineers departed for the Big 12 and conference realignment dramatically reshaped his former league. So while many of the teams now in the Big East are different, Huggins said he’s excited about the series for another reason: travel.
The Mountaineers often have to travel thousands of miles to play conference games in the Big 12.
“For us it’s good because that’s one less time change, one less trip,” Huggins explained. “We can fly to virtually anywhere in the Big East in an hours, so that helps us.”
Plus, the league gets more exposure by playing games in places such as Madison Square Garden.
“I like going to New York and playing and then leave and go home,” Huggins said. “Generally speaking, the crowd in the Garden is very knowledgeable. Very good basketball people. So I enjoy that a lot.”
KANSAS CITY, HERE WE COME
Bowlsby announced that the league will continue to play its men’s basketball tournament at Sprint Center through 2024, extending the current deal by four years. The women’s tournament is also returning to Kansas City to run concurrently with the men’s event.
“We really don’t have much debate at this point about the site of our men’s tournament, Bowlsby said. “This is a wonderful venue to host it. The area around it has gotten better and better.”
Several coaches defended the state of college basketball amid a series of corruption investigations linked to apparel company Adidas, including allegations that Kansas was involved.
“I don’t think it’s been proven yet those things happened,” Huggins said. “They shouldn’t have happened but you’re talking about what, four or five schools at the most? There are 361 Division I schools and I don’t know how many Division II and Division III schools. … If things happened, we all know they shouldn’t have happened, but that doesn’t affect the state of our game.”
Each school typically brings two or three players to media day, and they are usually the most high-profile players. But while the Big 12 has its share of five-star studs this year, none of them made the trip. In fact, there were just three sophomores among the 28 players.
Texas guard Andrew Jones should be back at practice Friday after breaking a toe in practice as he continues one of the inspiring comebacks in college basketball. Jones was diagnosed with leukemia in January and spent most of the year receiving treatment, but was back in school for the fall semester.
“His attitude throughout has been phenomenal,” Longhorns coach Shaka Smart said. “He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s not all the way where he was physically as a player yet, but the guy’s work ethic is just phenomenal. I certainly wouldn’t put it past him to work his way back to where he was as a player.”