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Houston’s Sampson: Big 12 a ‘tough dog park’

Houston’s Sampson: Big 12 a ‘tough dog park’

Houston coach Kelvin Sampson said the Big 12, which will feature the Cougars and three other new schools (BYU, Cincinnati, Central Florida) this season, is like a “tough dog park.”

Sampson, who coached in the Big 12 during his time at Oklahoma, said the competition in the conference is immense. No. 1 Kansas is one of four Big 12 teams ranked in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll that was released earlier this week.

“We had a head-coaches’ meeting a while ago,” Sampson said at Big 12 media day in Kansas City. “It was kind of like [being] in a dog park. You’ve got two dogs [walking] by each other, kind of side-eyeing or a little one starts yapping at the big one and they start sizing each other up. I was kind of sizing them all up.

“It used to be that you could look at a few of those little dogs and go, ‘I can get that one, I can get that one, I can get that one.’ I ain’t seen nobody I can get in this conference. That’s the difference. They’re all German shepherds, man. Where’s the shih tzus? Where are the Chihuahuas at? Oh, that’s a Rottweiler. Oh, my God. That’s a pit bull. This is a tough dog park, man.”

Houston adds another powerhouse to a league that’s been one of the top conferences in the country for the past decade. Sampson’s squad has reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament, a run that includes a 2021 Final Four appearance, for the past three seasons.

In KenPom’s conference rankings, the Big 12 has been ranked first in eight of the past 10 seasons. The league boasts two of the three most recent NCAA champions (Kansas, Baylor) and features some of the most talented players in America, including Houston’s Jamal Shead, Texas’ Max Abmas and Kansas’ Hunter Dickinson.

Next year, Arizona, Arizona State, Utah and Colorado will arrive as Texas and Oklahoma exit the league for the SEC, moves that will create a 16-team Big 12.

Since 2012, the league has played a true home-and-home schedule in league play. That format will no longer be feasible with the additional teams. In a league that sent seven of its 10 members to the NCAA tournament last season, schedule imbalance could decide future champions, Sampson said.

“Therein lies the advantages of an unbalanced schedule, if you’re on one side or the other,” he said. “It comes down sometimes to ‘Who do you have to play twice? Who do you have to play once?’ If you have to go to Stillwater, to Texas, to the University of Oklahoma, to Texas Tech, you’re going to lose some games. But if you only have to go to three of those … that’s an advantage.”

Kansas coach Bill Self said the new Big 12 schedule and added competition will make it more difficult for teams to get conference wins, which could encourage teams to reduce the challenges in nonconference schedules.

“Who knows how it’s all going to play out? In today’s time and what drives the bus, it’s the best that I think our league could hope for,” Self told ESPN. “But the actual pureness of it doesn’t exist like it has in the past. It’s going to be a situation where I think records will not be as good as they have been in years past but teams may be more prepared to play [in the postseason].”

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Myron Medcalf

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