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Some Big 12 coaches feel conference was disrespected

Tuesday, March 17, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 1:07 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Kansas State coach Frank Martin says Big 12 coaches need to be better salesmen for the league.

COLUMBIA — Six Big 12 Conference teams will play in the NCAA Tournament. Three more will play in the NIT.

Those nine postseason berths are the most in the 13-years the conference has existed.

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Still, some Big 12 coaches say the conference doesn't receive the respect it deserves on a national level, especially compared to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Big East.

Kansas State coach Frank Martin, whose Wildcats will play in the NIT, was especially upset Monday about the conference's lack of respect during a conference call with the Big 12 coaches.

"It's a joke. It's an absolute joke the way this conference is perceived nationally," Martin said.

Martin pointed to the selection committee's decision to send Missouri and Kansas across the country for opening round games rather than keeping them close to home in Kansas City as an example of the Big 12's second-class status.

During his last season as an assistant at Cincinnati, Martin said his team finished eighth in the Big East and was celebrated nationally. This year, his Kansas State team received the fourth seed in the Big 12 tournament, and Martin found himself trying to defend his team's worth.

Martin didn't come out and say directly that he thought his team should have earned a spot in the NCAA tournament, but Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel voiced his support for the Wildcats.

"I thought Kansas State had a legitimate shot to get in there," Capel said. "I do think that our league doesn't get nationally the kind of respect that some of these other leagues do."

Coming into this season, Capel said he hoped that with Kansas winning the national championship things would be different.

Now, Capel said he thinks the conference as a whole still has work to do to gain the respect it deserves.

"Our league, as far as the Big 12 is concerned, is relatively young," Capel said. "We don't have the history yet that those two leagues (Big East and ACC) have."

Martin said he thinks the conference needs to develop a strategy for improving its national perception.

"We as coaches are doing our jobs. We're winning games," Martin said. "We have to figure out a way to be more forceful as we sell our league."

COWBOYS UP: After finishing the season strong, Oklahoma State is headed to the NCAA Tournament.

The Cowboys received the No. 8 seed in the East Region. They play Tennessee in the opening round.

For most of the season, it didn't look like Oklahoma State was a candidate for the postseason. After losing to Texas on Feb. 10, the Cowboys were 3-6 in the Big 12. First-year head coach Travis Ford decided to reevaluate how he was running his program.

He said he and his staff were too focused on the negatives. They were caught up on the team's lack of size, depth and experience.

"We quit making excuses," Ford said. "We started concentrating on the things we could do rather than the things we couldn't do."

Ford started holding his players more accountable. He moved forward Obi Muonelo to the bench.

While the adjustments helped spur the team to a 6-1 conference finish, Muonelo struggled in his new role.

"When he came out of the starting lineup, I think he took it a little difficult," Ford said.

After his playing time and production declined for much of the second half of the season, something seemed to click for Muonelo in the Big 12 tournament.

He averaged 14.3 points to help the Cowboys to the tournament semifinals, securing their place in the NCAA Tournament.

"I think once he quit worrying about that (not starting), he got back to playing back the way he is capable of playing," Ford said.

OPEN FIELD: Since the NBA made a rule in 2006 that players couldn't enter the draft before age 19, the freshman class has dominated college basketball.

Two years ago, freshmen Greg Oden and Mike Conley Jr. took Ohio State to the national championship game. Memphis made a run to the national chamionship last year behind the strong play of freshman point guard Derrick Rose.

This season, the freshman class hasn't been as dominant, which makes some Big 12 coaches believe this year's NCAA tournament is up for grabs.

"All the teams are good in this tournament, and anyone could beat anyone on any given night," Missouri coach Mike Anderson said.

Bill Self, coach of the defending champion Kansas Jayhawks, said he feels the same way.

"This year the impact of the freshmen, I don't think, has been as great as last year," Self said.

Still, Self said that Oklahoma sophomore forward Blake Griffin is the type of player who could will his team to victory if necessary.


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