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Kansas shoots for Big 12’s first trophy

Oct 30, 2007 1:13 AM

In 11 highly successful seasons, the Big 12 has generated tens of millions of dollars for member schools and stocked the NBA with high-quality lottery picks. No conference in the past six years has sent more teams to the Final Four.

There still is one thing the Big 12 has never done, though.

From Texas in the South to Iowa State in the North, from Colorado in the West to Missouri in the East, the Big 12 has not won a men’s national basketball championship. Every BCS conference has taken home a trophy since the Big 12 was formed except the Big 12.

The league does have one NCAA basketball championship. But it belongs to the Baylor women’s program, which won the 2005 title and enhanced the standing, women’s coaches say, of every one of their programs.

Of course, when the conference was the Big 8 it had tournament trophies. Just check Kansas trophy case.

When asked about their one unattained goal, men’s coaches tend to become defensive.

``It’s hard to win national championships, as we know,’’ said Texas coach Rick Barnes. ``It’s going to happen. There’s too many teams in our league that have gotten close enough to be there. Luck is a little bit part of it.’’

Maybe its 12th season will be lucky for the Big 12.

``It takes a lot of luck,’’ said Baylor women’s coach Kim Mulkey. ``It takes the right breaks. It takes staying away from injuries. It takes making special plays at the right time. It’s just so difficult to win.’’

Again this year, the Big 12 should have national championship contenders. Preseason conference favorite Kansas is ranked No. 2 in the AP poll and has Parry’s top power guide rating.

Kansas returns most of its starters from last year’s squad, and Texas, although it’s without last year’s freshman sensation Kevin Durant, might also make that final breakthrough.

``It’s going to happen probably sooner than you think,’’ said Missouri coach Mike Anderson. ``You look at a team like Kansas this year. Last year, they were creeping toward that direction. They have most of those guys back. And I can tell you, you have got to have some things fall your way. You’ve got to be good, No. 1, to be there. But at the same time you have to have some luck fall your way as well.’’

The key is getting an opportunity.

``I think the important thing is getting teams there, because that shows that you’re close, you’re knocking on the door,’’ said Baylor coach Scott Drew. ``When you get to the Final Four, as we all know, a tipped ball, a loose ball, things can influence the game. It’s going to happen, and it won’t be long.’’

Barnes wouldn’t argue with the women’s coaches who say that Baylor’s breakthrough raised all their profiles.

``I’m sure it does add credibility to the league,’’ he said. ``Now, does it help everybody else recruit? I don’t know. What does that exactly entail? But the fact is, it’s not going to hurt.

``I do think we will win a national championship.’’

In the meantime, championship-caliber material keeps pouring in.

Even though Durant is gone, the Big 12 will again introduce one of the nation’s premier freshmen in Kansas State’s Michael Beasley, a 6-foot-10 power forward who averaged 12.3 points at the FIBA under-19 world championships in Serbia. Another star in that international event was DeAndre Jordan, who led in field goal percentage and is now at Texas A&M.

Altogether, five of the league’s teams return at least four starters. And Texas Tech coach Bob Knight is closing in on another milestone: He’s just 10 wins away from becoming the first Division I men’s coach with 900 career victories.

Three of Knight’s victories came in national championship games, but they were all with Indiana in the Big Ten.

Kansas coach Bill Self agrees with his colleagues that a Big 12 national championship will happen one day, and he also believes the Big 12 needs one.

"You could say that in some way, shape or form (not having a championship) has hurt the prestige of the league,’’ Self said.

``I think it probably has hurt some. But also, how many leagues have had four different teams play in the Final Four the last six years?

``Coaches are great at spinning things. But it is something that I think would enhance the image of the league.’’