Conference realignment is hitting college sports again. To be frank, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. I don’t really love being in the SEC, mainly because I’m a hoops nerd and the SEC is very much a football-forward conference. Basketball in the SEC has been mostly hit and miss, while Missouri’s former conference, the Big 12, has thrived.
Since 2013 — Mizzou’s first season in the SEC — the Big 12 has averaged 6 bids to the NCAA tournament with an average seed of 5, while the SEC has averaged 5 bids a year with an average seed of 6.... despite having 14 teams the Big 12’s 10. Fewer teams, more bids, higher seeds.
But while Oklahoma and Texas are the two schools at the forefront of the expansion of the SEC, they were not the heavy lifters for the basketball success of the Big 12. The reason they’re both ready to be accepted into the SEC is strictly because of football. Football governs nearly every decision in college sports these days. It’s why Texas started the Longhorn Network, alienating the rest of the Big 12 and forcing Mizzou and Texas A&M for the friendlier confines of the SEC.
It was Texas who flirted with the Pac-12, forced uneven cash distribution through the conference, and put other schools in a position where they wanted to get away. Oklahoma has mostly been along for the ride, playing Robin to Texas’s Batman, unafraid to allow the Texas Board of Regents to disrupt the entirety of the college landscape.
Now Missouri is in the SEC, Nebraska is in the Big 10 with Maryland and Rutgers, and there are eight schools hanging in the balance trying to figure out their futures. But Texas and their friend Oklahoma know exactly what they’re doing. They’re moving to the SEC and going to make the best football conference in the country even stronger.
But this post isn’t about football, there will be plenty of space to discuss the impact of Texas and Oklahoma football joining into the same conference as Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Florida, Georgia... and of course... the Missouri Tigers. This post is about hoops.
Both Texas and Oklahoma are formidable basketball programs, however I’m sure you might be surprised that Oklahoma is the stronger of the two programs making 7 of the 8 NCAA tournaments while Texas has only made 5 of 8. Part of that is because of Lon Kruger being a bit more consistent, while Texas underwent the change from Rick Barnes to Shaka Smart and has since hired Chris Beard and given him any and every dollar available to improve their hoops program.
Since OU was a part of the Big Eight, and the Tigers’ real history with Texas only began in the mid-1990’s, Mizzou obviously has more history with the Sooners. In 143 games, Mizzou’s .469 win% isn’t pretty, but they were 9-4 over their last 13 games before the split from the Big 12. Meanwhile, Mizzou had won 6 of their last 7 games against Texas, and the momentum was on their side.
The issue is— the program Texas is and has been over the last 20-30 years is being turned on its head in the financial era. Chris Beard was given a blank check and has hired a staff which reflects it, getting two sitting head coaches to join his staff as assistants. Plus he lured Jerrance Howard away from Kansas, and added his ace recruiter Ulric Maligi from Texas Tech. Beard has revamped Shaka Smart’s roster with elite recruits and high level transfers and should be an immediate force in the SEC. We’re talking about a coach who took Texas Tech to the National Championship game, and four NCAA tournaments in five years.
Meanwhile Oklahoma recovered from Lon Kruger’s surprising retirement announcement by hiring Loyola Chicago’s successful head coach Porter Moser, fresh off a Sweet 16 run and building Loyola into an MVC powerhouse. While the Sooner basketball budget doesn’t quite top what Texas is doing, they should still be considered a top half of the league team.
On the all-time win list, Oklahoma ranks 30th, Texas is 18th, Missouri is 43rd. Other SEC teams: Kentucky is 1st, Arkansas is 29th, Alabama is 31st, and Tennessee is the only other school ranked higher than Mizzou at 37th. This raw data from seasons long since past may not give the clearest picture. But in the remade SEC Mizzou would rank 6th in all-time wins.
In the Kenpom era things look like this:
- Kentucky 2nd
- Florida 9th
- Texas 11th
- Tennessee 24th
- Oklahoma 31st
- LSU 32nd
- Alabama 40th
- Arkansas 47th
- Missouri 51st
Mizzou goes from 7th to 9th in this grouping.
No matter your metric, Oklahoma and Texas push Missouri down the food chain a little. Both schools have more recent and overall program success, and both are coming at a time when football money is helping to boost basketball spending.
It remains to be seen how the league will work out scheduling, but it would make sense to pair up the Tigers with Oklahoma. The history between the two schools is more extensive than anyone else in the league. Missouri has played over 100 games agains their old Big 8 foes, and next on the list is 56 games against Arkansas. If there are any pods set up, you can lock in Mizzou vs Arkansas and Oklahoma and likely go from there. From the basketball side it could be worse... obviously football would be a little stickier since the margins for returns in basketball are slimmer than they are in football.
Either way, this entire expansion is going to make the sledding for Mizzou a little tougher.