Perhaps no fans in the country support their women's basketball program like those in the Big 12. The conference routinely leads the nation in attendance. Even when teams are struggling, the atmosphere for those home games is often better than in arenas of more successful programs in different leagues.
That's why it might be extra disappointing to those same fans when fewer teams from the Big 12 reach the NCAA tournament. And in March, the mirror might provide the best answer as to why. They scheduled badly, very badly.
In this week's Bracketology -- the first projection of 2015 -- just three Big 12 teams made the field. Last year the conference produced six NCAA tournament clubs. The three seasons prior to that, it was seven Big 12 teams each time. So why the huge drop-off?
The résumés of Iowa State, Kansas State, Texas Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State are weighed down by nonconference schedules that range from poor to embarrassing.
This might be especially tough to take for fans of a conference that hurt its chances of being represented in the College Football Playoff by not having its own conference championship game. The women's basketball teams at Oklahoma State and West Virginia could end up experiencing the same sort of disappointment the Baylor and TCU football teams endured.
All five schools mentioned above have schedules that rank outside the top 150 in strength. This hurts even more in a season in which the league itself is down overall. The top isn't as good as some recent seasons. The depth isn't quite at the same level. So making up for a bad nonconference schedule won't be as easy. There just aren't enough other good teams to beat and raise the profile in the Big 12 this season. Yes, there is still plenty of basketball yet to be played, but the forecast is not rosy.
West Virginia, an NCAA tournament regular, played four teams outside the top 250 and five outside the top 200. On the plus side, the Mountaineers played Mississippi State, Seton Hall and Ohio State, but only beat the Pirates and otherwise did nothing tournament-worthy. Iowa State played Howard, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and South Carolina Upstate. It's not a crime to schedule virtual automatic wins in the season's first two months; every program does it. But when it results in a nonconference SOS outside the top 175, it hurts NCAA tournament chances.
Oklahoma State has the most ground to cover. By playing only one top-50 opponent and two top-100 opponents, the Cowgirls enter Big 12 play with an SOS outside the top 250. That kind of number can be a crusher when the committee is distinguishing among an otherwise closely bunched group of teams.
Oklahoma and Kansas scheduled well, but struggled enough against those teams to fall short of this week's field. Therein lies the art of the scheduling process. It's not easy. It's often a fine line. But five teams in the Big 12 drifted too far from the line and it might cost them.