When Colorado and Nebraska left the Big 12 for the Pac 12 and Big 10 respectively, all it did for basketball was streamline the conference, making it stronger and sleeker.

Colorado and Nebraska had been perennial tailenders, so their departures weren’t felt as noticeably as was the case in football, though the Buffs were terrible this year in their debut while Nebraska was good, but not great.

With just 10 schools left, the Big 12 is playing home-and-home, and while it bloats the conference schedule to 18 games, it’s the fairest way to determine the champion. Previously, the Big 12 North played home-and-home against teams in its own division, then one game apiece against teams from the South, with the site alternating from year to year.

The Big 12 race could be fascinating. While Kansas has won the last seven titles, the consensus is the Jayhawks may be no better than fourth. Baylor, which has a collection of future NBA players, appears to be the team to beat, but the Bears historically have struggled when the pressure’s on. Missouri has unmatched perimeter talent and plays at supersonic speed, but is missing a big man. Kansas State, which was thought to be down due the graduation of Jacob Pullen, plays a style that flummoxes opponents, not to mention it has a lot of length on defense. Then of course you have KU, which is still dangerous despite its recklessness with the basketball and lack of depth. History alone says not to fall asleep on the Jayhawks, even if this is Bill Self’s weakest team during his tenure.

After the top four, there’s a grouping of Oklahoma, Iowa State, Texas and Texas A&M that may be more of the spoiler mode. Oklahoma State and Texas Tech at this point appear to be battling it out for the cellar, though the Cowboys always are dangerous at Gallagher-Iba.

The conference tournament will be held in March at Kansas City’s Sprint Center, which generally gives a decided edge to KU and Missouri. Both teams, though, should have impressive enough resumes to earn NCAA tourney bids even if they go out early. Barring collapses, Baylor and Kansas State also should be locks. How many teams make it after that will depend on how the conference schedule plays out, as 10-8 could be good enough to impress the NCAA committee.