Big 12 gems on Big Monday

Well, it’s about time. ESPN and the Big 12 Conference’s release of the “Big Monday” Big 12 schedule for the 2012-13 season Wednesday gives anxious college basketball fans something to ponder.

Fans from the Big 12 and beyond should be pleased by the slate that will be offered this year. There’s a new addition (see West Virginia). A national runner-up (Yes, Kansas … we know). A pair of in-state rivalries. And a Hoiberg.

Without further ado … Here’s ESPN’s 2013 Big Monday Big 12 Men’s Basketball Schedule (all times ET):

Jan. 14 -- Baylor at Kansas, 9 p.m.

Jan. 21 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) -- Oklahoma State at Baylor, 5:30 p.m. and Texas at Oklahoma, 9:30 p.m.

Jan. 28 -- Kansas at West Virginia, 9 p.m.

Feb. 4 -- Texas at West Virginia, 9 p.m.

Feb. 11 -- Kansas State at Kansas, 9 p.m.

Feb. 18 -- West Virginia at Kansas State, 9 p.m.

Feb. 25 -- Kansas at Iowa State, 9 p.m.

March 4 -- Baylor at Texas, 9 p.m.

A lot of gems on that list. Here are some quick thoughts:

“Why wait?” -- I like the early matchup of Baylor at Kansas on Jan. 14. Two teams that should battle for the conference title. Both teams recovering from the losses of crucial players (see Thomas Robinson/Tyshawn Taylor and Perry Jones/Quincy Miller/Quincy Acy/Quincy Jones … OK, I made the last one up). Still talented. But Kansas has some valid questions in its backcourt. Baylor, via Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip, possesses one of the nation’s best perimeter packages. Jeff Withey is the top returning shot-blocker in America. Baylor freshman Isaiah Austin is a 7-footer with the potential to challenge Withey and the other veteran rim protectors for the high mark in blocks this year.

“He’s back” -- OK, Bob Huggins didn’t spend a decade at Kansas State. But that one year in Manhattan produced 23 wins -- the most in nearly 20 years at KSU -- and laid the foundation for Frank Martin's success. Huggins returns to Manhattan with new Big 12 member West Virginia on Feb. 18.

“The Big 12 comes to West Virginia” -- West Virginia Coliseum is one of the tougher venues in the country. Although the arena’s average attendance for home games was approximately 4,000 below capacity last year, it’s recognized as a special site when it’s filled. And Mountaineers fans will turn out for Year 1 of Big 12 play, especially when Kansas (Jan. 28) -- the first meeting between the two schools -- and Texas (Feb. 4) come to Morgantown.

“Rivalries” -- Kansas State plays at Kansas Feb. 11. Always an intriguing matchup with the hostility between the programs. Kansas is stacked as usual. But K-State’s Rodney McGruder might be the best player in the league. Baylor at Texas March 4, too. Based on when that game when will be played and the parity at the top of the league, the matchup could have a major impact on the Big 12 title race. But this matchup is more than that. Texas has clearly had more success overall. But Baylor has won five of the last seven matchups. Seems like a turning of the tide in the state of Texas.

“Iowa State back for first time in seven years” -- The last time the Cyclones played a Big Monday game was Jan. 9, 2006. Fred Hoiberg is largely responsible for the program’s return on Feb. 25 against Kansas in Ames, Iowa. The Cyclones upset the Jayhawks last season, a special one for an Iowa State squad built on the backs of transfers who’d entered the year amid red flags. The reward: more exposure for the program and national relevance.