The Big 12 Conference's North Division isn't ready to cede basketball dominance to the South just yet.
Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State and Nebraska all exceeded expectations to ensure the six teams from Texas and Oklahoma didn't enjoy the control on the conference they had during football season.
"Everybody had pegged out that the South was so much stronger than the North," said Kansas coach Bill Self said in Monday's Big 12 coaches teleconference. "The South is good. I don’t think anybody anticipated the North being this good."
Unlike football, the conference doesn't separate the North and South divisions in the standings in basketball. The only indicator comes in the conference schedule, where each team from the North plays other North teams twice, and the same holds true for teams in the South.
Teams from the North only play teams from the South once. Three of those games are at home, and three are on the road. This season, North teams went 18-18 against the South, despite an 0-6 record from a young Colorado team.
After defending champion Kansas lost all five starters and Kansas State lost two NBA draft picks, five of the top six teams in the Big 12 coaches' preseason poll hailed from the South, including preseason favorite Oklahoma. Instead, new faces led North teams to success, especially the Jayhawks, who won the regular season title with a 14-2 record after being picked to finish tied for third with Baylor.
"I’m real proud of our guys and I’m also very happy for our league because people perceived this to be a down year because we were so young and lost so many key players," said Self, who was named the Big 12's Coach of the Year by his fellow coaches.
Two other teams that relied on young players to surpass expectations were Kansas State and Missouri. The Tigers were picked to finish seventh, with the Wildcats right behind them.
Instead, Missouri went 12-4 to claim third place, and Kansas State found themselves in a four-way tie for fourth place at 9-7 with Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M.
Missouri coach Mike Anderson and Kansas State's Frank Martin said they were a little surprised their teams weren't predicted to finish even lower.
"When you’ve got seven guys that have never played at this level and of course the guys coming back, they were in different roles," Anderson said. "So it was a lot of questions, a lot of unknowns."
Even Nebraska, who didn't have any significant contributors taller than 6-foot-8 and generally started four guards, proved to be a challenge for opponents. The Cornhuskers were picked ninth in the preseason and ended the year in eighth place with an 8-8 record.
In the South, Baylor and Texas were the two teams who didn't live up to the preseason hype. The Longhorns and Bears went 1-7 against Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State and Nebraska.
After an impressive nonconference performance that included wins over UCLA and Villanova, Texas struggled in Big 12 play and finished two spots below its predicted finish.
Baylor was even worse. The Bears entered conference play ranked No. 21 and won three of their first four league games. Then coach Scott Drew's team lost six in a row and never recovered, finishing 5-11 and ninth in the conference.
"Obviously, when you start losing games, confidence is one thing that makes everything go," Drew said. "Obviously, during that stretch we did lose our swagger, we did lose our confidence."
The three teams at the bottom of the conference — Colorado, Iowa State and Texas Tech — nearly remained true to the preseason poll. But Iowa State's 78-76 victory Sunday against Texas Tech helped them move ahead of the Red Raiders and into 10th place.
"I’ve been doing this too long to not understand that whatever takes place in October and November is pretty much irrelevant to reality," said Martin, whose team lost its first four conference games. "Reality is who you are at the end."
Tigers take home postseason awards
Missouri led the Big 12 with five players who received individual honors in awards voted on by the league's coaches. DeMarre Carroll was named First-Team All-Big 12 and J.T. Tiller shared Defensive Player of the Year honors with Kansas' Cole Aldrich.
Zaire Taylor and seniors Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence were also honored.