Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford would rather play at Gallagher-Iba Arena than any other college basketball venue.
“We’re better here,” he said.
Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy shares a similar love for the Aggies’ Reed Arena.
“We’ve always played well at home,” he said.
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Imagine what they would say about their arenas if they were regularly filled with large crowds.
Though many teams across the Big 12 have protected home courts well this season, only half can thank their fans for helping. Outside of Baylor and the teams that used to belong to the conference’s north division, empty seats have been noticeable.
Every time Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech play on television, the camera angle from underneath the baskets reveals row upon row of unfilled seats. Open sections can often be found in the upper deck.
The Aggies didn’t come close to selling out Reed Arena for their final scheduled game against rival Texas. The Longhorns have played in front of fewer than 6,500 fans in the league’s largest building. Texas Tech’s United Spirit Arena is often mostly unfilled.
The disappointing turnouts are no surprise for the Red Raiders and Sooners, who are in rebuilding mode, and the Aggies, who haven’t lived up to preseason expectations. But they are puzzling at Oklahoma State and Texas.
Though both teams are down from previous years, the Cowboys have good wins over Missouri and Iowa State. They are still tough to beat in Gallagher-Iba with or without the sellout crowds that used to make it one of the best venues in college basketball. Texas has the league’s leading scorer and a team that is fighting to make the NCAA Tournament for a 14th straight season.
Yet they see more fans in Waco than they do at home.
“Nowadays in society there are so many different options for people to attend and games to attend,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “Anytime you get a packed house for a basketball game that gives a home team an advantage, it gives them life and enthusiasm.”
The only sure way to play in front of big crowds, though, is to have a winning program.
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, who often enjoyed sellout crowds last year with UNLV, has found that out the hard way. He has reached out to Sooners fans to try and boost attendance. He allows them to watch practices, and asks his players to thank them for coming when practice ends.
But dismal crowds have often come out for games — mainly because Oklahoma is well below .500. Which means all Kruger can do is be patient.
“We will get there,” Kruger said. “We didn’t have sellouts when I first got to UNLV, either.”
It’s hard to argue with Thomas Robinson winning Big 12 player of the week honors after the way he led Kansas back from a 19-point deficit to beat Missouri on Saturday and clinch at least a share of the Big 12 championship.
But Iowa State’s Scott Christopherson would have also been a worthy selection. The Iowa State senior guard was sensational during a road win over Kansas State. He scored 29 points, and was a perfect 5 for 5 from three-point range.
Kansas and Missouri are fighting for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, Baylor and Iowa State are March Madness locks and Kansas State isn’t far behind. As long as the Wildcats win one more game, they should advance to the NCAA Tournament. Texas is the Big 12’s only true bubble team. The Longhorns have remaining games against Oklahoma and at Kansas and a split is all it should take to avoid the NIT.
All-Big 12 team
Unless something crazy happens in the final two games of the Big 12 season, here is how I would vote for the conference’s all-league team and some of the major awards.
First team: J’Covan Brown (Texas), Marcus Denmon (Missouri), Thomas Robinson (Kansas), Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas), Royce White (Iowa State).
Second team: Kim English (Missouri), Rodney McGruder (Kansas State), Keiton Page (Oklahoma State), Ricardo Ratliffe (Missouri), Jeff Withey (Kansas).
Player of the Year: Robinson. Newcomer of the Year: White. Sixth Man: Pierre Jackson, Baylor. Most Improved: Withey.
Before Monday’s game
1. Kansas (24-5, 14-2): The streak continues
2. Missouri (25-4, 12-4): Still plenty to play for
3. Iowa State (21-8, 11-5): Beat Baylor and the Cyclones finish third
4. Baylor (24-5, 11-5): Beat Iowa State and the Bears finish third
5. Kansas State (19-9, 8-8): Road warriors, home struggles
6. Texas (18-11, 8-8): A win is a win, but looked bad against Texas Tech
7. Oklahoma State (14-15, 7-9): Enjoy the Keiton Page farewell tour.
8. Oklahoma (14-14, 4-12): Will play in 8 vs. 9 game at Sprint Center
9. Texas A&M (13-15, 4-12): Preseason predictions were way off
10. Texas Tech (8-20, 1-15): Could win a game at Sprint Center