MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

March 28, 2013

OU women part of underrated conference

By Clay Horning
CNHI

— NORMAN — Somebody's column in the Norman Transcript referred to the Oklahoma women as Cinderella.

They weren't crazy.

The Sooners are a No. 6-seed. Only Nos. 1 through 4 seeds are supposed to go to the Sweet 16. There are four regionals. Do the math.

Still, it may not be the best description. Perhaps nobody in their ninth Sweet 16 in 14 seasons can be called Cinderella.

Well-pedigreed programs can land upsets and advance beyond expectation, but they cannot be Cinderella.

Or, look at it this way. OU isn't Cinderella. Kansas is.

That's the thing I only finally understood after filing everything from St. John Arena late Monday night.

Not only had the Sooners bucked the odds to reach the regional semifinal round of the NCAA tournament, so too had the longer-shot Jayhawks.

Then, Tuesday, watching television and eating dinner, there was Oklahoma State, leading No. 2-seed Duke by nine points at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the second half.

The Blue Devils came on late and the Cowgirls fell apart the last 10 minutes, but there were almost three Big 12 programs — other than Baylor — dancing into the second week of the tournament.

Guess what?

The Big 12 really was the most underrated conference in the nation this season. The conference RPI methodology that placed the Big 12 atop the rest knew exactly what it was doing

It may not be a lot of fun living life in a league that includes two pretty automatic losses to the Lady Bears and zero automatic wins.

It may make up for what happened in the conference this season: one team atop everybody's poll and several other quality teams nowhere in the poll.

Yet, none of that means the best conference in the nation this season wasn't the Big 12. And we have the NCAA tournament to make the case.

The SEC has four teams standing, which is plenty impressive, especially in the case of LSU, which nobody thought a whole lot of this season. And the SEC began with seven dancers. But how dangerous, really, are Florida, Auburn, Mississippi State, Alabama and Mississippi. Any more dangerous than Kansas State, Texas and TCU?

The Big East has two No. 1 seeds, UConn and Notre Dame, as well as Louisville on its way to play Baylor in Oklahoma City. In its final season, it had a bunch of teams to begin the tournament, too. Also, six of the Big East's teams lost at least 16 games.

The ACC, with Duke and Maryland still dancing, turned out top-heavy, with 6 of 12 teams losing at least 11 conference games.

Only the Big 12 sent 70 percent of its members into the tournament. Only the Big 12 has two seeds who aren't supposed to be dancing still dancing.

Only the Big 12 threatened to send five teams into the Sweet 16, with OSU leading Duke deep and Iowa State coming up five points short of Georgia.

Even Texas Tech, bounced in the first round to South Florida, only lost by a point. Heck, Kansas State, playing on fumes, is still going in the WNIT.

Texas A&M and South Caroling were supposed to make it six Sweet 16 SEC squads, but the Aggies fell to Nebraska by double digits and Kansas stunned the Gamecocks.

Too bad.

Think about it and at least one more thing is clear. Kansas is going to have a heck of time stopping Notre Dame, but the Sooners shouldn't be counted out Sunday. Tennessee lost at Kentucky on March 3 and to A&M in the semifinal round of the SEC tournament.

The Vols are plenty good but plenty mortal going up against a Sooner team that's found its best game and comes pre-sharpened by the up-and-down toughest conference in the land.