Column: The non-game of the century

During my 17-hour Fat Tuesday bender that had moved to a Columbia watering hole, I noticed two solid local reporters asking questions about the upcoming Missouri-Kansas match-up.

"What is the atmosphere?" one asked a close friend, in town this week.

After the response, and after spotting a coed with a Jayhawk sticker on the right side of her shirt, I realized how the East, West and the Southeastern Conference specifically, need to realize where the best basketball in the country is being played.

Big 12 country is superb, flat-out, when it comes to amateur hoops. If 2002-2003 hasn't proven that, I'm not sure what will.

Look around the rest of the nation, and you will know what I am talking about. The Big Ten just recognized a conference champion (Wisconsin) that had not won in 56 years.

Not Michigan, Michigan State or Indiana. Freakin' Wisconsin. Why? Michigan is battling probation. MSU coach Tom Izzo seems to have a bigger role in an NFL job, and the Hoosiers have another coach who can't seem to keep his head.

The Pac 10 is probably the most watered-down major conference in the country. Arizona is the best team in Division I, but half of Pac 10 teams could finish with record under .500. Amazing.

And the SEC just canned one of its top assistants in Georgia's Jim Harrick Jr. Don't dismiss the fact that his father is currently being investigated at two schools.

Kentucky is a money team, 18 wins in a row shows that, but Alabama, a former No. 1 team this season, has fallen out of the rankings because it couldn't hold its own come conference season.

Last week, I called this parity. And that is absolutely true. The non-contenders of yesteryear are all of a sudden the teams to watch.

The Big 12 is no different. Texas A&M beats Missouri. Colorado beats Kansas.

That brings us to Sunday. A 1 p.m. tip-off will have fans of both schools drooling. Outside Missouri and Kansas, it might not mean a whole lot, but that is because East/West still does not recognize what the game means. That makes it an unimportant game nationwide. Missouri, with an impeccable home record, could hand the Jayhawks a loss that prevents them from winning the Big 12.

The Hawks, on the other hand, could roll a 20-point victory that gives them a second consecutive conference title. Still, outside the two states, and maybe Texas and Oklahoma, no one cares.

Is that the beauty of college basketball?

Or is it the hypocrisy?

Tuesday, and the rest of the days preceding the Missouri-Kansas game, the story was how the two teams hated each other, how each wanted to win more than maybe any other game outside the NCAA Championship.

What the two teams can do, Sunday and in the future, is to play a knockout game like the Texas-Kansas game in January. This would draw attention to the Big 12 and would show the country the domination this conference already has established.

More than likely, though, it will not matter. I still think Kansas and Texas have the inside track to No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

Even then, the rest of the country will look at the Big 12 with disregard.Ian

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