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Golden: Big 12 lands first blow against Big Ten in NCAA hoops debate

Big Ten teams went 3-3 on Friday while the Big 12 went 4-0

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard, right, looks on as guard Mac McClung shoots a 3-pointer during  Tech's win over Utah State in the NCAA Tournament on Friday. The Red Raiders were part of the Big 12's 4-0 start to the tourney.
  • Big Ten schools Ohio State suffered upset losses in the first round
  • Big 12 teams Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and West Virginia won their first round games.

High-definition TV, a favorite recliner and March Madness are a perfect marriage.

The pandemic took away our spring showcase last year, but America bounced back in a big way. While we all dream of the day when arenas from coast to coast and all parts in between are filled to the gills with screaming fans, we’ll take what we get with a massive smile.

Such was the case at the house Friday morning as I settled into the NCAA Tournament's opening festivities, one day after sampling a quartet of First Four appetizers.

From the time the tourney field was released, the season-long debate between the Big Ten and the Big 12 for conference supremacy quietly played in the background at the virtual water cooler. 

The Big Ten placed nine teams in the field with four of them — Illinois, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa — in last week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Big 12 sent seven, including top-10 teams Baylor (No. 3) and Texas (No. 9).

West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins waves to the crowd as he leaves the court following a win over Morehead State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday. It was Huggins' 900th win as a head coach.

Well, if Friday was any indicator in the ongoing debate, the Big Ten just dug itself a hole with a 3-3 start on Opening Friday. Let’s take the Big 12 for the win after a ho-hum 4-0 Friday start with wins by Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State and West Virginia, which celebrated coach Bob Huggins’ 900th career win by eliminating Morehead State. Kansas kept the momentum going Saturday morning with an 11-point win over pesky Eastern Washington, the league's fifth straight win to start the tourney.

With that said,  I have to — in the interest of full disclosure — give a low-key “My bad" to Tech coach Chris Beard since I picked the Red Raiders to lose to 11th-seeded Utah State. Hey, we all need an upset special on the old bracket, don’t we?

Luckily for me, CB had his gaze pointed toward a national figure, as in ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

“He never picks us,” Beard told reporters after Tech’s 65-53 win. “I’m not sure if he got a speeding ticket in Lubbock back in the day or something, but the last time we were in this tournament we did pretty well and we intend to make a run this year, too.”

For a hot second, I briefly flirted with the idea of changing my first name to Cedradamus after the Aggies took a 31-25 lead with 16:49 remaining, but that’s when Beard’s bunch applied the clamps. The Red Raiders and point guard Mac McClung went on a 16-2 run over the next four minutes and Utah State’s tourney came to a swift and undramatic end.

Top-seeded Baylor had no problems with Drexel. So you can say the conference that saved college football season was walking with the big stick after the first day of March Madness.

At the time of this scribbling, the Big 12 almost won by default on Opening Friday because the Big Ten was stuck from the start.

To add to the embarrassment of traditional powerhouse Indiana not even making a tournament in its own state, two high seeds gave up the ghost.

Oral Roberts players and coaches celebrate after upsetting Ohio State in a first-round game on Friday. The No. 2 seeded Buckeyes were one of three Big Ten schools to lose in the first round.

One day after Michigan State took its leave after blowing an 11-point halftime lead to lose by six in a play-in game to UCLA, No. 2 seed Ohio State got its basketball world absolutely rocked by a 15 seed, which may have to change its name to THE Oral Roberts University.

Not to be out-underachieved, the fourth-seeded Purdue Boilermakers, playing just an hour’s drive from their West Lafayette campus, pulled a colossal OT no-show against 13th-seeded North Texas, giving up an 11-0 run to start the extra frame for the first NCAA tourney game in program history.

Those three losses — all in overtime —  came within a 22-hour span, giving the Big Ten a 3-3 record on the first full day.

Imagine how bad things would have been had Illinois — my pick to win it all — Wisconsin or Rutgers, back in the tourney winner’s circle for the time in nearly 40 years, not gotten it done.

The Big Ten can still save the league’s face if Illinois lives up to its seeding and makes it to the Final Four, but the Big 12 may have already landed a knockout when it comes to conference bragging rights. And for those keeping score statewide, teams from Texas went 5-0 in on the first two days of competition.

As far as the two top conferences in the regular season, the best part of any debate is the pleasure of watching it all play out from the man cave.

Beats the you-know-what out of 2020.