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Big 12's NCAA Run Leaves Unanswered Questions
April 02, 2014
Wendell Barnhouse is a nationally-known and respected columnist who has spent over 20 years covering collegiate athletics. He has reported from 25 Final Fours and more than three dozen bowl games and has written about the Big 12 and its schools since the conference's beginning. Barnhouse will be updating the Big 12 Insider on happenings and behind-the-scenes information about the conference.

We all love a good mystery. But uncertainty and athletic competition isn’t a good mix. There is no gray in the black and white of results. Win or lose, no in between.

While eight college basketball teams (men and women) still have work to do and fates to be decided, the Big 12 Conference is finished for the 2013-14 season. This postmortem, unfortunately, deals more with questions than answers. And Your Humble Correspondent asks that this not be considered sour-grape thoughts or sore loser laments.

What if Kansas had played with a healthy Joel Embiid?
The Jayhawks, obviously, had plenty of talent on their roster and almost everyone had sub-standard performances in a third-round loss to Stanford. But one has to wonder if Embiid’s rebounding and rim protecting might have made the difference in a three-point loss? A healthy Embiid wouldn’t be a guarantee of a Final Four trip but the chances would have been greater with the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year.

What if Georges Niang had not broken his foot?
The second-round victory over North Carolina Central came at a high price. Niang, the sophomore who was such a key piece to the Cyclones, suffered a broken foot in the second half. Iowa State showed great grit and resolve in getting past North Carolina in the third round. But beating Connecticut on a pseudo home court (along with awful free throw shooting) was too steep a hill to overcome.

The Huskies beat Iowa State, 81-76. Again, the question in such a close, contested result: With Niang, could the Cyclones have pulled out the victory?

“Sitting there was really gut-wrenching for me. Just not being able to help my team,” Niang said. “I definitely thought to myself late at night, What if I hadn’t broke my foot? What if I didn’t jump and try to block that shot?’ It happens for a reason.”

What if the NCAA women’s tournament was set up differently?
West Virginia, the Big 12 regular-season co-champions and a No. 2 seed, had to play on LSU’s home court. The Mountaineers lost in the second round to the Tigers, who went on to lose, 73-47, to Louisville – on the Cardinals’ home court. That’s right, had West Virginia won on LSU’s home court, the Mountaineers would then have had to play on another opponent’s court.

Texas lost to Maryland, 69-64, in College Park, Md. The Terps were good enough to knock off No. 1 seed Tennessee – on a neutral court. Maryland now has to play Louisville on the Cardinals’ home court.

Oklahoma State lost to top-seeded Notre Dame, 89-72, in the semifinals of the Notre Dame Regional. After the home team jumped to a 14-point lead in the first four minutes, the Cowgirls were outscored by just three points the rest of the game.

No. 2 seed Baylor met the same fate as Oklahoma State, losing on Notre Dame’s home court Monday night in the regional final. Playing and losing a regional semifinal on the opponent’s home court is tough enough; a home court advantage where the winner goes to the Final Four is downright un-American.

Would Notre Dame have beaten either or both Big 12 teams on a neutral court? That’s yet another question to ponder and one that shouldn’t have to be asked. “Growing the game” has been the motto for women’s college basketball but regionals held on home courts stunts the growth and keeps the casual fan asking, “Why do they do that?”

YHC is left with questions without answers and working on mysteries without any clues. Let’s turn to American poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who once famously reflected; “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: It might have been.”
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