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While it's hard not to ignore the buzz surrounding the upcoming BCS Championship Game, there's still some great basketball being played in Norman, Oklahoma. Covering the Sooners since the 2003-04 season, John Shinn previews the upcoming Big 12 conference schedule--and sees potential for it to mimic the drama that unfolded during the football season.
What are your general thoughts / forecast on the upcoming Big 12 season? From what I've seen thus far, it's really reminding of the football season. It looks like Oklahoma and Texas are the class of the league and the south is the dominant division. They have the wins over ranked teams and have the deepest rosters. Baylor might be at their level, but the Bears don't have enough in the post to bang with either one.
How many NCAA tournament bids do you see this league receiving? What teams? Oklahoma and Texas are locks and unless there's some major injuries or a bus crash. I think they'll be no worse than No. 3 seeds, but No. 2 seed are more likely. Baylor should get in at probably a five or six seed. They are the only no-brainers. Texas A&M, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska also have shots. But I have a hard time seeing the Big 12 getting more than six bids.
What will we say about this season when it's all said and done? Blake Griffin. This will be his last season of college basketball and I think he'll leave as the best post player the Big 12's ever had. He's on the level of Kevin Durant, T.J. Ford or any other national player of the year the conference has had. If he played in the ACC, Dick Vitale would slobber all over him two nights a week.
What is the overall tone in Norman right now, with the anticipation for the BCS Title Game? Is the basketball team desperate for attention right now? It's weird. Usually basketball fans don't come out until the football season ends. Hasn't been the case this year. Lloyd Noble Center has been packed several times. It's even stranger considering the Thunder plays about 20 minutes away. But as far as fan interest, this is the best I've seen for Oklahoma since I've been around.
What teams do you see overachieving this season? The two that could surprise people would be Missouri and Nebraska. The north looks like it's going to be awful and the Tigers and Huskers both have veteran teams. I don't think either is good enough to finish in the top three in the south, but getting to play Colorado, Kansas State and Iowa State twice is really going to help them.
What is your take on extended 3-point line? From what I've seen, the move has had no effect. Bad shooters still take them and miss them. Guys that can make don't even act like the line has moved. They were never toeing the old line anyway. The biggest difference I've noticed is it's a little harder for guards to double down in the post.
Best rivalry in the conference? I don't get to cover Kansas-Missouri or Texas-Texas A&M, so I can't give you an accurate answer on those. The OU-Texas rivalry is big on the basketball court, but it's nothing compared to football. I'll say OU-Oklahoma State (Bedlam) because I get to see two arenas that are wired a several notches above their usual level for those games.
Through your travels on the beat, which campus is your favorite to visit? Why? I have two answers: Best place to go for a game is Kansas. There isn't a better college town in America than Lawrence, Kan. If you're a real college basketball fan you should try to go to a game at Allen Fieldhouse at least once. Doesn't matter who the Jayhawks are playing, there's going to be 16,000 fans packed into a gym — and I mean a gym, it could never be called an arena — that was built to hold maybe 10,000. Student section is great. Best part is seeing people you know have donated millions to the school sitting on a rolled out wooden bench.
The best place to visit is Austin. There's a Courtyard about 2 blocks from 6th street that most guys stay at and you're right in the middle of everything. It's one of the best bar scenes in the country and it's a couple blocks from the Erwin Center. Plus, it's usually about 75 degrees whenever I go there. Texas' atmosphere isn't very good, but Austin is great.
We love revering the former college basketball player who couldn't quite make it at the next level. Is there a player you absolutely loved watching in your career, or growing up, but now he's a complete afterthought to the common fan? I grew up in Chicago, so I'll give you an old DePaul guy — Dallas Comegys. We had season tickets when I was a little kid and he pretty much dominated whenever he felt like it. I figured he would be in the NBA for about 15 years instead of two.