Monday afternoon ESPN released it's Big Monday schedule, and for the Big 12's portion of it you don't have to veer too far off of Interstate 70 on any given week to catch the action.
Of the eight Big Monday contests featuring Big 12 teams, seven of those will feature either Kansas, Missouri or Kansas State. Five of the eight will be played in the home arena's of those teams, and four of those five will be held in either Allen Fieldhouse or Bramlage Coliseum, representing the best of the Sunflower State.
Count this as just another in a growing list of recent examples that some of the best basketball in the country can currently be attributed to the corridor between Columbia, Lawrence and Manhattan all of which lie on or near I-70.
Move over tobacco road? Not quite yet. With Duke and North Carolina laying claim to the last two national titles that might be a bit of a stretch, but make no mistake these are three programs making a strong push to increase the National notoriety for this regional basketball hub.
As for the business of determining the Big 12 Champion, Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and Texas are the most commonly picked teams to be in the mix at this point. Big Monday in the Big 12 and specifically Big Monday along Interstate 70 is going to go a long way toward determining that outcome.
For Kansas they will need to replace three starters, but Bill Self does return a Big 12 player of the year candidate in Marcus Morris, and the reloading continues with the addition of the nations top recruit in point guard Josh Selby.
The Wildcats will need to find a way to replace Denis Clemente, a big piece of the puzzle a year ago, but they do return team leader Jacob Pullen and three of their top four scorers.
As for the Tigers, a strong recruiting class added to a good group of talent that continues to grow with experience should make for another very solid Mike Anderson basketball team, possibly his best.
Not too long ago the Big 12 South might have griped about an unbalanced schedule favoring the Jayhawks in the hunt for the conference title. Not the case anymore. Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri are all positioned to vie for the crown with Kansas State getting the nod from many as the favorite.
Jan. 17, Feb. 7 and Feb. 14 will feature some combination of the three schools represented in the Kansas City area and a fitting Valentine's day lovefest with the Wildcats and Jayhawks squaring off at Allen Fieldhouse might be the best.
When all is said and done, a South representative could find a way to squeak into the top spot, but most likely the conference crown runs through three teams in the North this year as the balance of power in Big 12 basketball has shifted and 2010 looks to be a breakthrough year.