South provides Big 12's best

Monday, January 31, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:52 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

KANSAS CITY — It turns out football is not the only thing the Big 12 Conference’s South teams do better than their counterparts in the North.

The South plays a better brand of basketball, too.

Four Big 12 teams are nationally ranked. Aside from No. 6 Kansas, all reside in the South.

Five Big 12 teams have winning conference records: Kansas and four teams from the South.

Kansas (16-1, 6-0 Big 12) is the only North team with a winning record so far this season against South teams. The Jayhawks, who clobbered No. 16 Texas 90-65 Saturday night, would appear at this point in the season to be the only team from the North likely to get an NCAA tournament bid.

But in the South, No. 9 Oklahoma State, No. 13 Oklahoma and Texas all seem like sure bets for the postseason. Texas Tech (12-5, 4-2), which is 3-0 against South teams, could be the fifth team from the Big 12, and the fourth from the South, to make the NCAA field.

It’s all reminiscent of what happened last fall when the South dominated the football season and Colorado, with a paltry 4-4 conference record, was awarded the North Division title almost by default.

Subsequently, of course, the Buffaloes were routed in the conference title game by South champion Oklahoma.

“It’s a cyclical thing,” said Kansas coach Bill Self. “It’ll come back around. Right now, four teams in the South are really good.”

Long-suffering Texas A&M, which did not win a single conference game last season, seems to be another South team to have vaulted over the bottom-feeders from the North. The Aggies under first-year coach Billy Gillispie are 14-4 overall and 3-4 in the league.

“We’ve got some teams in the North that are young and have gone through different situations,” Self said. “Before it’s all said and done, it’ll balance itself out.”

It balanced itself a bit this past weekend. A few hours before Kansas routed Texas, Iowa State pulled off the biggest upset thus far in the conference season by beating Oklahoma 74-66.

The Cyclones (9-8, 1-5) had not won a Big 12 game all year and Oklahoma had won 10 straight overall. But the Sooners (16-3, 5-1) were also coming off mentally draining wins against rivals Texas and Oklahoma State and seemed to lack energy.

“We were coming off two emotional wins at home. We were flat,” Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said.

Texas Tech kept up its bid for national recognition with an 84-68 victory against Nebraska (9-8, 3-4) in a game that saw 52 free throws in the second half.

The Red Raiders hit 28-of-31. Between them, the two teams combined to score 49 points at the foul line.

“Two points from the free-throw line counts the same as a basket,” Red Raiders coach Bob Knight said. “What difference does it make where you get them from?”

Kansas played its best game of the year in routing Texas. The Longhorns are down to eight scholarship players because of injuries and academics and never were competitive.

Wayne Simien scored 27 points and Keith Langford had 17. Freshman Daniel Gibson had four points for Texas in the first half and 15 in the second.

“Kansas has always been at the top of the race for a Big 12 championship,” said Langford. “We want people to know that the road is still going to go through us.”

Gillispie, in the meantime, knows how to motivate his players. Before practice on Thursday, he told them their mothers were rebounding better than they were. So the Aggies dominated the boards 43-22 in a 74-62 win against Baylor on Saturday.

“I was afraid we were getting to the point where we weren’t going to handle the bad times very well,” Gillispie said. “I wanted to lighten it up a little bit.”

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