NEW YORK -- How nice of No. 1 Duke and No. 9 North Carolina to get together last night at the Dean Dome and provide a warm-up act for the really big game of the week:
No. 3 Kansas at No. 2 Oklahoma State Saturday in Stillwater, Okla.
Yup, it's finally time to yield to the incessant breast-beating from the Plains States -- or is it Plain States? -- and admit the Big Eight has long since arrived, and made itself comfortable, among the elite of college hoops.
"We're the best league in the country," said Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs, who can point to the Big Eight's .882 (97-13) winning percentage in non-conference games, including a 21-5 record against 1991 NCAA Tournament teams.
The worse that Big Eight football gets, the better the basketball seems to become. (Stat of the Year: The Big East had two teams -- Miami and Syracuse -- among the top 11 in the final AP football poll. The Big Eight had none.) Still, most fans, following the myopic lead of CBS, remain obsessed with Big East, ACC and Big Ten basketball.
To overcome such discrimination, the Big Eight must either expand the size of its schools' television markets (improbable) or excel in postseason play (quite possible). Methodical Oklahoma State (20-0, 4-0) and up-tempo Kansas (17-1, 5-0) are the leading candidates to accomplish the latter.
"I think they're a lot better team than they were last year," Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton said of Kansas, referring to the squad that reached last year's NCAA championship game.
Adonis Jordan (13.4 points, 4.9 assists) and Northwestern transfer Rex Walters (16.0 points) form one of the nation's best backcourts and 6-6 Alonzo Jamison (11.2 points, 4.6 rebounds) is a solid two-way forward for the Jayhawks.
"He has the quickest hands and quickest feet I've ever seen for someone that size," said Kansas coach Roy Williams, whose team's only loss was to Louisville, 85-78, Jan. 11.
Then there's Oklahoma State, off to the best start in Big Eight history. "I think we've surprised everyone, even ourselves," Sutton said. "With all the great teams that we've seen in the Big Eight over the years, it's amazing to me we're the first to be 20-0."
Muscular forward Byron Houston, MVP of the preseason National Invitation Tournament, averages 21.0 points and 8.8 rebounds, and the trio of senior guards is led by steady point guard Sean Sutton, the coach's son. OSU holds opponents to 59.6 points per game.
More from the Big Eight: The best player for surprising Iowa State (16-4) has been junior guard Justus Thigpen (56.2 ppg), but the Cyclones have gotten contributions from a pair of freshmen with vastly different backgrounds.
Six-foot-nine Julius Michalik (13.8 points, 5.9 rebounds) is from Prague, Czechoslovakia. He chose Iowa State over UCLA. Why? "For sure, it wasn't the weather," he said.
Then there's 6-4 guard Fred Hoiberg, who is from Ames, where Iowa State is located. He averages 13.5 points. Fans call him The Mayor.
"They do love him here," coach Johnny Orr said.