Is Kansas still the class of the Big 12?
First of All Merry Christmas to everyone out there I hope your having a wonderful holiday with family and friends but here at TSHQ there are no days off and college basketball takes no break, so without further adieu here is your Big 12 conference breakdown.
The Big 12 for most of last season was ranked as the best conference in the nation led by top overall seed Kansas and two elite 8 teams in Baylor and Kansas State. A year later the conference continues to thrive with 6 teams currently ranked in the top 25 , not too bad when you consider the conference had 7 players selected in the 1st round of June’s NBA draft. Conference stars like James Anderson, Sherron Collins, Ekpe Udoh and Donald Sloan have all moved on but a new wave of young stars have arisen in the Big 12 such as Josh Selby and Perry Jones. The conference also returns some of the nation’s top players such as Jacob Pullen, LaceDarius Dunn and Marcus Morris, making this one of the top 3 conferences in America. The major question surrounding the conference in the off-season was whether Kansas could shake off 3 key departures and repeat as Big 12 champions or would someone else like Kansas State or Baylor succeed to the Big 12 throne?
Big 12 Predicted Standings
Kansas-The Jayhawks ended last season on a sour note losing in the 2nd round to last year’s Cinderella Northern Iowa and this summer the news got even worse as Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry decided to leave school early and declare for the NBA draft alongside senior Sherron Collins. The Jayhawks have responded this season by starting out 11-0 behind the emergence of the Morris twins and the all-around development of Tyshawn Taylor. Markieff and Marcus Morris are combining for 29 points and 15 rebounds as the Jayhawks lead the nation in field goal percentage at almost 54 percent. Kansas also has recently added McDonald’s All-American Josh Selby to the fold, as Selby in the two games he has played since becoming eligible has scored 21 points and 18 points respectively. Kansas may not be as dominant as last season but they will remain king of the Big 12 for at least one more season.
Missouri-Mike Anderson has probably the fastest and best conditioned team in the nation, as the Tigers can turn defense into offense faster than anyone. The Tigers are known for applying Nolan Richardson’s “40 minutes of Hell’ and that system has helped Mike Anderson’s team to 54 wins over the past two seasons. The Tigers return their top 3 scorers in Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Laurence Bowers and bring in the top junior college player in the country in forward Ricardo Ratcliffe who last season averaged a whopping 27 points and 11 boards at Central Florida Community College. The Tigers have started out the season 11-1, with their only defeat coming to Georgetown in a game that Missouri threw away in the final 2 minutes. Missouri is one of the most balanced teams in the nation with 5 players averaging double figures, and also rank in the top 25 in nearly every defensive category, two statistics that make them a threat to compete with Kansas for this year’s Big 12 title.
Kansas State-The Wildcats were a sexy pick coming into the season with All-American candidate Jacob Pullen returning alondisde forwards Jamar Samuels and former Connecticut transfer Curtis Kelly. The Wildcats have responded to all the national media attention by starting 10-3 but have lost their last two contests to Florida and UNLV respectively. The Wildcats seem to be still working things out at this point in the season as they appear a lot less confident than they were at this point a season ago. One reason for this is the loss of point guard Denis Clemente who was the team’s emotional leader and a great scoring compliment to Pullen. Sophomore Rodney McGruder has increased his scoring totals in an attempt to fill the void left by Clemente but the Wildcats as a team have continued to struggle scoring the ball. Kanas State shooting and scoring has really been a probaly early on as the Wildcats rank 190th in the nation in field goal percentage and 130th in points per game. One positive sign from Manhattan is that K-State remains one of the best rebounding teams in the nation(13th) but if they want to compete with in state rival Kansas for the Big 12 title they will have to improve their shot selection and shoot a better percentage from beyond the three point line.
Baylor-I said last week that Baylor had yet to play anyone but now they have and so far they are 0-2 in their first two tests of the season. The Bears lost their first test against Gonzaga in Dallas and then dropped their semifinal matchup of the Diamond Head Classic to Washington State, leaving Baylor without a marquee win as of yet. The Bears will play Florida State in the consolation game, so will have another chance at a quality win but so far they have yet to make a case to justify their preseason ranking. Baylor does have one of the best frontlines in America with Quincy Acy, Perry Jones and Anthony Jones and also have one of the best scoring guards in the country in LaceDarius Dunn. Dunn an All-American candidate will take the Bears as far they go this season, as he must carry a team offensively that lost its 2nd and 3rd leading scorers from last season in Tweety Carter(Graduation) and Ekpe Udoh (NBA). I wouldn’t take too much stock into Baylor losing their first two real tests of the season, because I think the Bears exhibited they can compete and just need to find a complimentary shooter to make up for the loss of Carter.
Texas-Texas has surprised people early on by starting out 10-2 with wins over Illinois, North Carolina and Michigan State. Last year everyone talked about freshman Avery Bradley, but by the end of the year Jordan Hamilton had become the Longhorns best rookie. That has carried over into this season as Hamilton now a sophomore leads the Longhorns at 20 points a game, while also pulling in over 7 boards a contest. Texas also has brought in two tremendous freshmen from Canada in Corey Joseph and Tristan Thompson both averaging around 12 points a game. The contributions of the freshman combined with Hamilton and fellow returnees Gary Johnson( 12 pts and 7 rebounds) and sophomore J’Covan Brown give Rick Barnes a nice blend of youth and experience that has the Longhorns streaking, winning 7 of their last 8 games.
Texas A&M-The Aggies were thought to be a fringe NCAA team heading into the season but the rapid development of sophomore Khris Middleton and the improvement of forward David Loubeau may have Texas A&M thinking about loftier heights. Mark Turgeon has done a great job at A&M since taking over for Billy Gillespie, and continues to have the Aggies competing year in and year out due to tough defense and unselfish basketball. Texas A &M is one of the toughest teams in the country every year and their physical defense and grind it out mentality always make them a tough out come tournament time.
Oklahoma State-The Cowboys lose Big 12 Player of the Year James Anderson as well as their second option in forward Obi Muonelo, leaving a lot of question marks for Travis Ford to solve in Stillwater. The positive for the ‘Pokes is that their backcourt is back as 5’9 guards Ray Penn and Keiton Page return, alongside senior forward Marshall Moses. Early on Moses and Page have done most of the scoring for the Cowboys accounting for over 40 percent of their teams points through the first 12 games. The Cowboys have beaten some mediocre teams Stanford, Missouri State and Murray State with their only loss coming to a Virginia Tech team that was ranked in the preseason but has struggled out of the gate. Oklahoma State’s last chance to impress in the non conference will come next Friday at home against a talented Gonzaga team that seems to be rounding into form at just the right time. The Cowboys will compete this year in the Big 12 and should finish around .500 in conference and be right on that NCAA cut off line come Selection Sunday.
Colorado-The Buffaloes will move to the Pac-10 next season but have one last chance to make a run at the Big 12 title with their top 3 scorers returning to Boulder. Alec Burks and Corey Higgins combine to form maybe the best guard combo in the Big 12, and forward Marcus Relphorde the team’s third leading scorer also returns for Colorado. The Buff’s have a new head coach in Tad Boyle, as Jeff Bzdelik has moved on to Wake Forest, but if the Buffaloes who have had an up and down start at 8-4, can ever play to their potential they could very well be competing for a spot in the NCAA field.
Texas Tech- The Red Raiders are a talented bunch when you consider they return two all Big12 candidates in Mike Singletary and John Roberson and add junior college transfer David Tairu. Pat Knight is in his 3rd full season at Texas Tech and people in Lubbock are beginning to get impatient with his team’s inconsistent performance. Knight’s Raiders have begun the season 6-6 but have already lost games to in-state opponents North Texas and TCU, programs considerably worse than future in state opponents Texas and Texas A&M. This maybe the most frustrating team in the country because they have so many offensive options but don’t play defense and lack consistency which is most likely going to cost Pat Knight his job in the near future. The Red Raiders are capable of beating anyone on a given night but as they have shown they are just as capable off losing to anyone, making them a huge disappointment thus far this season.
Iowa State-The Cyclones never fulfilled their potential under former coach Greg McDermott as they failed to make a postseason appearance during his tenure, even with talented players like Craig Brackins and 2 years of Wesley Johnson. In the off-season Iowa State made a popular move when they hired alum Fred Hoiberg to replace McDermott as head coach. Hoiberg who is affectionately known as “The Mayor” in Ames Iowa has received positive returns so far this season, as the former Iowa State star has guided the Cyclones to a surprising 11-2 start., Iowa States start is a little misleading as they have played a fairly easy schedule but the play of senior point guard Diante Garrett who is averaging 17 points and 6 assists is reason for optimism in Ames. Along with Garret, Iowa State returns two good shooters Scott Christopherson and Jamie Vanderbeken. Christopherson and Vanderbeken have received unexpected contributions from surprising freshman Melvin Ejim. Iowa State will be an interesting team to follow because they do have multiple capable scorers but how well they guard their opponents will determine how they perform in Big 12 play.
Nebraska-Doc Sadler like Pat Knight may be on the hot seat this season as Nebraska has yet to qualify for the NCAA’s in his five year tenure as head coach of the ‘Huskers. Nebraska has 11 players averaging at least 13 minutes a game, so have a very deep team but don’t have that go to scorer to rely on late in games. Nebraska’s best two players would be Jorge Brian Diaz a prototypical center and Lance Jeter a pass first guard who can also score the ball. These are two nice pieces for Coach Sadler but might not be good enough for him to keep his job as Nebraska prepares for next year’s move to the Big 10.
Oklahoma-The Sooners have fallen so far in a two year span as they have gone from an elite 8 team two seasons ago to the second worst team in the Big 12 last year. Jeff Capel’s team has continued to sink to uncharted depths this season, losing to division 2 Chaminade in the Maui Invitational, the hosts first win in the tournament since 2007. Last years Sooners’ team was super talented and just underperformed but after early departures from Willie Warren, Tommy Mason-Griffin and Keith“Tiny” Gallon, this years version of Oklahoma basketball is just outmatched and a shell of their usual self.
Big 12 Awards
Jacob Pullen-Kansas State
Diante Garrett-Iowa State
Marshall Moses-Oklahoma State
Player of the Year-Marcus Morris, Kansas
There will be players in the conference with better numbers than Marcus, but no one player in the conference is as dominant as Morris is on the offensive and defensive end. Morris is averaging 16 points and 6 rebounds for the best team in the Big 12 and alongside his brother is the number one reason Kansas has not missed a beat this year without Collins, Henry and Aldrich.
Honorable Mention: LaceDarius Dunn, Jordan Hamilton, Jacob Pullen.
Coach of the Year-Mark Turgeon Texas A&M
Mark Turgeon year in and year out has his teams competing for an NCAA birth no matter how much the team lost from the previous season. Since taking over for Billy Gillespie, Turgeon is 65-43 in College Station and has produced some of the best defensive teams in the Big 12. This year Turgeon will get some recognition as his Aggies team is nationally ranked and thriving under his man to man defensive philosophy. Texas A&M lost its two leaders Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis but under the tutelage of Turgeon, Texas A&M has played well early in the season and made those absences a lot less painless.
Honorable Mention: Mike Anderson, Bill Self, Rick Barnes
Freshman of the Year- Perry Jones, Baylor
Jones at 6’10 can do things very few bigmen in the country can such as handle the ball, shoot from 20 feet and create offense for teammates like a point guard. Jones has been compared to Kevin Garnett and so far this season he has not disappointed as the former McDonald’s All-American is averaging over 13 points, 8 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal and a block per game for the 15th ranked Bears.
Honorable Mention: Josh Selby, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph.
Most Improved Player- Markieff Morris, Kansas
Markieff has made a name for himself this season and is no longer thought of as the lesser Morris, averaging 13 points and 9 boards for the 3rd ranked Jayhawks. Markieff is a great passer and has become a lot more than just the defensive and rebounding presence he was a season ago.
Honorable Mention: Tyshawn Taylor, Rodney McGruder, Jordan Hamilton, Khris Middleton.
Best Game: February 14th Kansas at Kansas State
This game at the “Octagon of Doom” was a thriller last season a game won by Kansas 81-79 in OT. This year I’d expect another classic as Manhattan is rapidly becoming one of the toughest places to play in the nation, and with the two favorites in the conference facing off it should make for thrilling television.
By Gus Elvin