by Gus Elvin
Hope you enjoyed the ACC preview but now it’s time to move on with our Conference Preview Series as we take a closer look at the Big 12, where a group of upstarts look to unseat Kansas from the top spot they have held or shared the past 7 seasons. Kansas loses 4 starters from last year’s 35 win team, headlined by the loss of Morris twins and will have an uphill climb if they hope to earn a share of the Big 12 crown once again. The new Big 12 champ will likely come from a trio of schools as Baylor, Missouri and Texas A&M all appear to be the top challengers to the Jayhawks’ dynasty this year. The Big 12 will also have a different look this season as Colorado(Pac-12 ) and Nebraska (Big 10) have moved on which doesn’t hurt all that much in terms of basketball and sets up a full home and home conference schedule of 18 games. The Big 12 was also hit hard by the 2011 NBA Draft as 6 players were selected in the 1st round, which especially hurts when you consider all 6 were early entrants. The key departures include Tristan Thompson (Texas) Marcus and Markieff Morris (Kansas), LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor) and Alec Burks of Colorado. Even with these key departures plenty of talent returns in the Big 12 as players like Perry Jones III of Baylor, Marcus Denmon of Missouri, Thomas Robinson of Kansas and Khris Middleton of Texas A&M headline a group of returning conference stars. The Big 12 will also welcome some talented youth as some of the top recruits in the country join the conference. Players like Quincy Miller (Baylor), LeBryan Nash (OSU) and Myck Kabongo (Texas) will all splash onto the Big 12 scene this season and are expected make major contributions this season as freshmen. The Big 12 will be an interesting conference to watch as there is not clear favorite at the top and it looks as if someone will finally unseat Kansas as the Big 12 Champion. With that it’s time to breakdown the teams of the Big 12 starting with the Baylor Bears.
Big 12 Projected Conference Standings
1. Baylor Bears
2. Missouri Tigers
3. Texas &M Aggies
4. Kansas Jayhawks
5. Texas Longhorns
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
7. Kansas State Wildcats
8. Iowa State Cyclones
9. Oklahoma Sooners
10. Texas Tech Red Raiders
1.)Baylor-Last season Baylor was a huge disappointment as the Bears won just 18 games despite having top flight players like LaceDarius Dunn, Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III. This season Baylor once again has a talent rich roster and in a conference that lacks a legitimate front runner the Bears are my pick to top the Big 12. The Bears lost LaceDarius Dunn to graduation and were prepared to lose Perry Jones III to the NBA Draft Lottery before Jones shocked the college basketball universe and announced his decision to return to Baylor for his sophomore year. Without Jones, Baylor was most likely a fringe NCAA team but with him the Bears vault all the way to conference front runner. Jones, arguably the most versatile big man in the country will key the Bears attack this season as he will look to improve on lasts seasons’ averages of 14 points and 7 boards. Jones should be even better this season and his size and unbelievable ability put him on any preseason shortlist for All-America recognition. Teaming up with Jones will be Quincy Acy, a 6-7 senior forward who is one of the most efficient big men in the country. Acy an explosive leaper led the Bears in rebounding at almost 8 per contest last season and has shot an amazingly efficient 62 percent from the field for his career. The Bears also welcome in versatile freshman big man Quincy Miller who will team with Acy and Jones to give Baylor one of the best frontcourts in the entire nation. Miller is a unanimous top 10 recruit nationally and can both back down opponents in the post or knock it down from beyond 3-point range. As good as Baylor’s frontcourt will be with Jones, Miller and Acy; the Bears will need contributions from their guards if they want to be considered a national threat. Last season guard play was the glaring weakness for the Bears as A.J. Walton and company struggled to replace the graduated Tweety Carter who directed the Bears to the Elite 8 the season before. This season Walton in his 2nd year at the point will look to improve his assist to turnover ratio which was poor at just 1-1 last season. Scott Drew also brings in 2 newcomers to sure up his backcourt as Quincy Miller’s high school teammate Deuce Bello and juco transfer Pierre Jackson both arrive in Waco. Bello is one of the more electric athletes in this years’ class and his speed and athleticism will make him a treat to watch in transition this year. Jackson on the other hand averaged 19 points and 4 assists at the College of Southern Idaho last season and is expected to compete for the starting spot and will at the very least provide more depth off the bench. Also back for Baylor is 6-10 forward Anthony Jones who averaged 8.5 points per game and was the teams’ best 3 point shooter last year at just under 40 percent. Baylor without question has the most talent of any team in the Big 12 but time will tell if the Bears are ready to embrace the role of the hunted and live up to all the preseason hype. The Bears will miss LaceDarius Dunn, the school’s all-time leading scorer but a talented and deep frontcourt and some talented young guards make the Bears the team to beat in the Big 12. Perry Jones, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and Anthony Jones are as good as any interior foursome in the land and with a more experienced Walton and talented newcomers Deuce Bello and Pierre Jackson the sky is the limit for the Bears this season. Baylor is notorious for underachieving but with point forward dynamo Perry Jones back expect the Bears to be a serious national contender as long as they receive sound guard play.
2.) Missouri- Last season Missouri ran out of gas down the stretch losing 5 of their last 6 games, concluding with a blowout loss against Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament. This season was supposed to be “the season” for the Tigers, as everyone returned from a team that was ranked as high as #8 midway through last season. That was until this offseason, when Missouri was hit with a couple of unexpected losses that could adversely affect the Tigers’ Big 12 title hopes. First head coach Mike Anderson who rebuilt the Missouri program to what it is today decided to return to his coaching roots and accept the vacant coaching position at Arkansas. News got even for Missouri fans as Laurence Bowers the teams 2nd leading scorer (12ppg) and top post presence, recently went down with an ACL tear that will end his senior season before it ever got started. These two key losses are a devastating blow to a team with serious national aspirations but all is not lost as Missouri still returns 4 double digit scorers led by Marcus Denmon at 17 points per game. The new man in charge of leading these players is an old face in a new place as former Miami head coach Frank Haith takes over as head coach for the Tigers. Haith who has previous Big 12 coaching experience as an assistant under Rick Barnes at Texas walks into a pretty good situation in Columbia as the Tigers are equipped to win now with almost all their key player returning. Denmon should once again be the primary scoring option for Missouri as new head coach Frank Haith will look to utilize the guards’ explosive speed and 3-point shooting ability (45%). Denmon highlights one of the strongest backcourts in the nation as he is joined by starting point guard Michael Dixon(10ppg), versatile senior Kim English (10ppg) and standout sophomore Phil “Flip” Pressey. This quartet of guards can match up with any 4 guards in the country and their speed and athleticism make them threats on both the offensive and defensive ends. Dixon and English are solid players who will be key to Missouri’s success this year but the X-factor in the backcourt will be the sophomore Pressey. Pressey has all the physical tools to be a star at Mizzou and showed signs of becoming a game changer last season despite dealing with a nagging hand injury that affected his outside shooting. Look for Pressey to progress even more this season as he will booster an already strong backcourt that will spearhead Missouri’s offense. Missouri also adds two transfer guards as Earnest Ross (Auburn) and Keion Bell (Pepperdine) joined the Missouri program this offseason but both will have to sit out this season because of transfer rules. The Frontcourt on the other hand was a weakness for Missouri last season and without graduated Justin Safford and the injured Bowers, it becomes even more of a concern. The top returning interior player for Mizzou is Ricardo Ratliffe a juco transfer who put up big numbers in junior college 2 seasons ago and averaged a solid 11 points and 6 rebounds last year in his first season in Division 1. This year with Bowers out expect Ratliffe to become more of an offensive presence as long as he can stay out of foul trouble which was a problem at times last year. Also bolstering the frontcourt is Steve Moore a defensive minded big man with tremendous size (6-9, 270) and impact freshman Kadeem Green. Green who missed last year recovering from an Achilles injury he suffered in high school is finally healthy and ready to showcase the athletic ability that had Anderson very excited heading into last season. Green is a slasher and his shot blocking and rebounding will certainly help Missouri try and fill the void left by the injured Laurence Bowers. The Tigers will be good this season with one of the best backcourts in America and some talented frontcourt players but they will need to rebound significantly better (-2 differential last season) if they want to contend for Big 12 title. Missouri has the talent on the floor but it will be interesting to see how they adapt to a change of philosophy under new coach Frank Haith which will be the determining factor of how good this team will be. If the veterans who loved playing under Anderson buy in for Frank Haith, Missouri could be a national threat even without injured forward Laurence Bowers. Post play will be key and if Ratliffe, Green and Moore can hold their own Missouri’s guards should be good enough to lead the Tigers to a very successful season in the Big 12 and beyond.
3. Texas A&M- The Aggies have a team in place to contend once again in the Big 12 but this season they will have to do so under a new coach. Mark Turgeon is out after accepting the job at Maryland and Billy Kennedy is in after 5 seasons at Murray State. Kennedy’s teams finished 1st or 2nd in the Ohio Valley Conference in all 5 of his seasons, including a 31 win campaign in 2009-10 that included a tournament win over Vanderbilt. Kennedy like Turgeon before him will rely on defense to compete in the Big 12 and inherits a pretty good group that held opponents to just 61 points per game last season. On the offensive end the Aggies return their top 2 scorers in forwards Khris Middleton and David Lobeau and also return playmaking point guard Dash Harris. Middleton will be the offensive leader for the Aggies as the 6-7 junior had a breakout season last year in which he averaged 14 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Middleton does not jump out at you when you see him in person but his versatility quietly makes him one of the better players in the conference. Lobeau on the other hand is a physical forward who relies on strength and work ethic down low to be effective. Lobeau averaged 12 points and 5 rebounds last season but as a senior expect both of those numbers to improve as he becomes the #2 scoring option behind Middleton. The Aggies also bring back Kourtney Roberson and Ray Turner in the front court which provides Kennedy with some decent front court depth. The key for the Aggies will be the backcourt and how returning guards Dash Harris and Naji Hibbert replace the graduated B.J. Holmes. Holmes (10ppg, 3apg) was the unquestioned leader for Texas A&M last season and this year his production and leadership will be passed down to the senior Harris. Harris is a lightning quick guard who is a pass first guard but his shooting (27%) will have to improve dramatically this season with his increased offensive load. Harris will be joined in the backcourt by key reserve Naji Hibbert, incoming freshman Jamal Branch and Washington transfer Elston Turner. Branch should see major minutes with the graduation of Holmes and has a reputation as a good decision maker who likes to pass 1st and look for his own shot 2nd. The other newcomer Elston Turner could be the X-factor for the Aggies as Turner was a highly touted high school player who shot 37 percent from 3-point range in 2 years at Washington. Turner will be counted on to be Texas A&M’s best 3-point shooter this season and should team with New Orleans transfer and former LSU guard Zach Kinsley to form a dangerous shooting duo. Another freshman to keep an eye on will be scoring guard Jordan Green who is an athletic lefty who possesses tremendous shooting ability and upside. The Aggies are not the most glamorous team to watch but their defense and work ethic will have them near the top of the Big 12 once again under 1st year coach Billy Kennedy. Kris Middleton came out of nowhere last season to lead the Aggies in scoring and this season I expect him to take his game to even a higher level as he should emerge as one of the best wing players in the nation as a junior. Middleton, Lobeau and Harris give Billy Kennedy a solid veteran nucleus to build on in his first season and with newcomers Elston Turner, Jordan Green and Jamal Branch the Aggies have one of the better clubs in the Big 12. Texas A&M reminds me an awful lot of Florida State as they will rely on defense and rebounding to compensate for poor shooting percentages. Khris Middleton is one of the best kept secrets in college basketball and with Middleton and a solid core of veterans and newcomers the Aggies will grind their way to a top 4 finish in the rugged Big 12.
4.) Kansas-The Jayhawks have won or shared the Big 12 regular season title for 7 straight years now but that amazing run may finally come to end this season. Kansas loses 6 players from last year’s Elite 8 team and also had 3 of its top 5 recruits ruled ineligible this season because of academics. That did not stop Big 12 coaches from picking the Jayhawks as co-favorites to win the league this season, something that Bill Self was shocked to hear. Self, went on to say “I used to think coaches knew more about basketball than the media, but now I’m not so sure” in response to Big 12 coaches picking his shorthanded Jayhawks as conference favorites. I tend to agree with Self as Kansas loses 4 of its top 5 scorers including the Morris twins who combined for 31 points and 16 rebounds last season. Also gone is point guard Josh Selby, who was Bill Self’s highest rated recruit ever but chose to declare for the draft after just one suspension riddled season. Selby who averaged 8 points in 26 games last year would have done well to return to school for one more season as he could have improved his draft stock dramatically(47th overall to Memphis) and earned himself a much larger rookie pay day. Kansas also must do without 3 highly touted freshman as top recruits Ben McLemore, Jamari Taylor and Braeden Anderson will all have to sit out after being been ruled ineligible by the NCAA. The Jayhawks do not lose everyone though as 4 year starter Tyshawn Taylor is back along with promising forward Thomas Robinson and role players Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey. Taylor who has had his ups and downs as a Jayhawk will become the unquestioned leader for Bill Self’s team during his senior season and should increase his averages of 9 points and 5 assists with increased playing time. Robinson is the X-factor this season for KU as the muscular 6-9 forward who averaged 8 points and 7 boards in 15 minutes a game last year will become a fulltime starter now that the Morris twins have moved on. Robinson who dealt with the tragic death of his mother last season is a physical specimen who is expected to have a breakout season in Lawrence. Robinson’s name has even been thrown around Preseason All-American conversations, which shows how highly he is regarded after only playing 15 minutes a game last season. Taylor and Robinson give KU a lethal 1-2 scoring punch but the talented duo will need help from returning players like junior guard Elijah Johnson and juniors Travis Releford and Jeff Withey. Johnson who was a member of that highly touted Kansas recruited class of ’09 that included Robinson, Withey and Memphis Grizzlies’ guard Xavier Henry played sparingly behind Brady Morningstar, Josh Selby and Tyshawn Taylor last season but most likely will start this year as a junior. Johnson is an all-world athlete with tremendous NBA potential but has had to wait his turn like many others at Kansas but now seems ready to emerge as a key contributor. I look for Johnson to have a breakout season in the backcourt alongside Tyshawn Taylor as they only thing holding him back was a lack of playing time his first 2 seasons. Releford like Johnson and Robinson has had to wait his turn but as a 4th year junior should finally get his chance on a Kansas team that is down to 8 scholarship players. Withey on the other hand is a former transfer from Arizona who brings tremendous length (6-11) and shot blocking ability to the KU frontcourt that loses the Morris twins. The last 2 expected contributors are newcomers as Kansas brings in highly touted point guard Naadir Tharpe and Loyola Marymount transfer Kevin Young who averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds during his 2 year career in the WCC. The Jayhawks once again have a very talented starting 5 but early departures and the loss of the 3 freshman due to academics make them very thin in terms of depth. Kansas’s Big 12 run will finally come to an end as teams like Baylor, Missouri and Texas A&M return more key players and have more team depth than the undermanned but talented Jayhawks. Look for Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson to have breakout seasons as KU will overcome depth issues to reach the NCAA tournament once again for the 23rd consecutive season. Depth will be an issue for KU especially in the frontcourt but the talent of their starting 5 and the addition of impact newcomers Naadir Tharpe and Kevin Young will keep Kansas competitive in the Big 12 and make them an NCAA Tournament team once again.
5.) Texas – This is where things get interesting in the Big 12 as Texas, Oklahoma State and Kansas State all lose their leading scorers and will rely heavily on freshmen and former reserves. The team I like to lead that trio is Texas as the Longhorns bring in 4 freshmen ranked in the ESPNU Top 100 and return key reserve J’Covan Brown. The Longhorns lose all 5 starters from last season including Tristan Thompson, Corey Joseph and Jordan Hamilton who all left Austin early and were selected in the 1st round of June’s NBA Draft. In all Texas loses approximately 85 percent of its points and 75 percent of its rebounds from last season, numbers that would be closer to 100 percent if you subtracted J’Covan Browns totals. Brown who last year came off the bench as a spark will become more of a go to scorer this season which will suit his game well as he is a high volume shooter who is not shy when it comes to putting up a shot. Paired with Brown in the backcourt will be heralded point guard recruit Myck Kabongo of Canada. Kabongo like Thompson and Joseph played at powerhouse Findlay Prep in Nevada and should start from day 1 on a team that returns only 3 scholarship players. Kabongo is a “Rajon Rondo type” point guard who has tremendous athleticism and speed but looks to pass first and drive second. Kabongo will be Texas’s primary ball handler this season and will look to get Brown and a series of fellow freshmen involved offensively. Rock Barnes also brings in 5 other highly touted freshmen led by ESPNU Top 100’s Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis. Lewis and McClellan who are both from the Houston area were prolific scorers in high school, 25 points and 24 points a game respectively and should help replace some of the scoring Texas lost from last season Lewis and McClellan are both slashers who like to get to the rim and finish in transition and if Texas can get the 2 to combine for 16-20 points the Longhorns could be in good shape on the offensive end. Add in late signee Sterling Gibbs the younger brother of Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs and the Longhorns have a relatively deep backcourt that is inexperienced but very talented. In the front court Texas returns high energy player Alex Wangmene who shows flashes of brilliance but also remains very raw offensively in addition to shot blocker Clint Chapman who redshirted last season. Add in impact freshman forwards Jonathan Holmes 24points, 10 rebounds in high school and Jaylen Bond who originally committed to Pitt and the Longhorns should have a decent front court. Last season Texas dominated opponents on the glass (+8 differential) but without their top 4 rebounders, most notably Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson can the Longhorns win the battle on the boards this season? Texas’s guard should do the majority of the scoring this year in Austin but coach Rick Barnes will need solid contributions with senior Alexis Wangmene and freshmen Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond. Texas will play a lot of new faces this season as J’Covan Brown just a junior will be the “old man” of the group but their young talent and always strong defensive effort should keep them around the middle of the Big 12. J’Covan Brown should accept the role as the go to scorer and with playmaker Kabongo and scorers McClellan and Lewis don’t sleep on the ‘Horns this season. Texas may struggle early as players to try and carve out their currently undefined roles but as the season wears on I expect the Longhorns to make some noise and compete for a 5th Big 12 NCAA Tournament berth with teams like Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Texas is talented enough to reach the NCAA Tournament but their success will hinge largely on how the freshmen adapt to the college game and how their very thin frontcourt holds up over the course of 30+games.
6.) Oklahoma State - The Cowboys may be the dark horse in the Big 12 this season as they bring back a talented nucleus and also add a few impact newcomers who are expected to make major contributions. That being said OSU’s fate rests largely in the hands of freshmen as McDonald’s All-American LeBryan Nash and point guard C.J. Guerrero will have to grow up fast for the Cowboys to reach their ceiling of success. Nash is a can’t miss prospect who many experts project as the top freshman in the Big 12 as he brings tremendous size, athleticism and scoring ability to a team that is desperate for scoring now that leading scorer Marshall Moses(14.1ppg) has graduated. Nash is an elite athlete who can dominate down in the low block but also shoot from long distance and could become the first one and done ever at Oklahoma State. OSU will need Nash to be a star this season and all his tools and statistics suggest that he will be even if it is only for one season. Cezar Guerrero on the other hand is a 5-11 speedster from the West Coast who should fit well into Travis Ford’s new up tempo pace. Guerrero also should be counted on early as OSU lacks a natural point guard as Keiton Page is more of a scoring guard but played was forced to play point last season. If Guerrero or sophomore Fred Gulley can step up and become the starting point guard it would allow Keiton Page to move back over to his natural position of shooting guard which could make OSU a more dangerous offensive team. These 2 new freshmen also have convinced Travis Ford to quicken his team’s pace this season as he thinks the personnel he has is in place are more suited to an up and down style of play rather than a slower half court scheme. OSU will not rely solely on freshmen though as the Cowboys return last seasons’ backcourt of the aforementioned Keiton Page(13.2ppg) and J.P.Olukemi(11ppg) and sophomore wing Markel Brown who should become more of a factor as a sophomore. Paige had a rough season shooting from downtown last season shooting only 30 percent, almost 9 percentage points lower than his first 2 year average of 39 percent. This season Travis Ford hopes that Paige can move back to the off-guard position which should get him more open 3-point looks and allow him to shoot a higher percentage. Also back in the fold are redshirt freshman Michael Cobbins and Brian Williams who should provide depth and contribute coming off the bench. OSU also has one unknown as Darrell Williams the team’s leading rebounder (7.3rpg) and a productive low post scorer (7.1ppg) was suspended for improperly touching 2 female students last season and has a pre-trial hearing set for November. If Williams is cleared to play he strengthens an inexperienced front court that as of now will start 2 freshmen and rely on a freshman and juco transfer Phillip Jurick (formerly of Tennessee) off the bench. This season Travis Ford has a very intriguing lineup on paper as the ‘Pokes will blend some key veteran returners like Keiton Page and J.P. Olukemi with highly touted freshmen LeBryan Nash and C.J. Guerrero. Look for Nash to make an immediate impact in Stillwater and I would not be surprised if he led the Cowboys in scoring and earned a spot on one of the all-league teams by the end of the season. OSU has the potential to be a very dangerous team this season but some questions exist. If OSU can efficiently fill the point guard void and get some production from inexperienced bigs like Cobbins and Phillip Jurick, the Cowboys could finish a lot higher than 5th in the Big 12 but if they don’t OSU could also finish lower than 7th or 8th. OSU will need to remain steady on the boards without Marshall Moses (+2 differential) and shoot better than 29 percent from 3 this season but with Page moving back to the off guard and capable 3-point shooting freshmen LeBryan Nash and C.J. Guerrero that should not be a problem. OSU is a fringe tournament team and will battle with Texas for that 5th spot in the Big 12 which I believe will earn an NCAA Tournament bid this year. I think OSU has enough on paper to be a tournament team this season but paper never won any games and we will have to wait to see if Oklahoma State is one of the best 68 teams in the land come March.
7.) Kansas State - The Jacob Pullen Era is finally over as coach Frank Martin for the first time will be without his high scoring combo guard. Pullen who is KSU’s all-time leading scorer will be severely missed as the Wildcats lose their vocal leader in addition to his 20 points, 4 assists and 2 steals per game. Expected to fill the void left by Pullen will be guard Rodney McGruder who burst onto the scene as a sophomore averaging 11 points and 6 rebounds in addition to shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. McGruder this season will not sneak up on anyone as opponents will key on McGruder now that Jacob Pullen is gone. This year McGruder will be “the man” for Frank Martin so his totals should increase although his percentages may dip with teams now game planning for him. Also back is forward Jamar Samuels who came in with Beasley and Pullen in that heralded 2007 recruiting class brought in by former KSU boss Bob Huggins. Samuels has had 3 solid seasons so far but Frank Martin will need him to be more than solid as he becomes KSU’s top offensive post player with the graduation of Curtis Kelly. Samuels has averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds over his 3 year career, including a sophomore season on which he averaged 11 points on 54 percent shooting. Martin hopes Samuel can return to his sophomore form which would give Kansas State a second veteran option behind McGruder. Playing in the middle next to Samuels will be Jordan Henriquez a raw 7-footer who should be a factor defensively due to his length and size. Although Henriquez averaged only 4 points, his presence alone in the paint will make him a valuable asset to Martin as the 7-0 center averaged over a block a game last season in just over 13 minutes of action. Also in the fold down low this season will be Victor Ojeleye (1.8ppg) and 6-7 freshman Thomas Gipson. In the backcourt paired with Rodney McGruder will be sophomore Will Spradling who last season was called to be a game manager but this year should be used as more of an offensive weapon. Spradling had a solid freshman season as he averaged 6 points, 2 assists while shooting 37 percent from 3-point range, numbers that should increase this season. Spradling will be one of a number of guards who will be counted on for increased production this season with the graduation of Jacob Pullen. Also expected to step up production in an attempt to replace Pullen by committee are sophomore Shane Southwell (1.8ppg), athletic senior Martavious Irving (4ppg) and St. John’s transfer Omari Lawrence. The other intriguing addition to the backcourt is Angel Rodriguez a 5-11 guard who was a high scorer in high school who could allow Spradling to move to the shooting guard position. Rodriguez will remind KSU fans of Denis Clemente as the Puerto Rican born Rodriguez is a tough guard who can attack the rim and score in bunches. The other incoming freshman is a 7-0 center named Adrian Diaz out of Martin’s recruiting pipeline Miami who is a bit of a project but has tremendous height and length. Frank Martin also brings in 2 juco players in Jeremy Jones a JUCO All-American (18ppg, 4.5apg) and James Watson of Cowley Community College in Kansas both of whom will compete for playing time on a wide open roster. KSU has a lot of solid players but will need to develop a rotation as they begin life without Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly. A starting 5 of Rodriguez, Spradling, McGruder, Samuels and Henriquez is not all that bad and if Frank Martin can get production from bench players Irving and Southwell and newcomers Jeremy Jones and Thomas Gipson the Wildcats could be a sleeper NCAA team. KSU will definitely take a step back without Pullen and Kelly but a solid roster with a lot of impact newcomers will keep them competitive in the Big 12. If Rodney McGrudger assumes the role of go to scorer and players like Samuels, Spradling and Rodriguez put together solid seasons, KSU should be an NIT team that could even compete for an NCAA Bubble berth. Frank Martin will preach defense and discipline once again this season with a roster that lacks star power but KSU is a team to keep an eye on as a bunch of new faces join the fold which make the Wildcats tough to project.
8.) Iowa State- Last season, Iowa State hired popular former player Fred Hoiberg as head coach and Hoiberg instantly put the Cyclones in the news by grabbing a quartet of transfers that would be eligible for the 2011-12 season. That group is now eligible as Chris Allen (Michigan State), Chris Babb (Penn State), Anthony Booker (Southern Illinois) and Royce White (Minnesota) are all eligible to play after making up Iowa State’s scout team last season. Hoiberg who’s known as “The Mayor” in Ames won 16 games last season in his rookie coaching season but truthfully everything was building toward this season when his big-time transfers became eligible. Allen is the biggest name of the group as he played 3 seasons for Tom Izzo averaging 8 points a game but often times found himself in Izzo’s doghouse. Allen is an athletic guard at 6-3 but is most known for his 3-point shooting which should help an already good 3-point shooting team at Iowa State (37%). Allen should be ISU’s leading scoring guard and may team with a less heralded transfer Tyrus McGee to form an entirely new backcourt. McGee a JUCO All-American is a talented scorer with a great motor who averaged 20 points and 6 rebounds last season at Cowley Community College. McGee will have tough shoes to fill as he replaces Diante Garrett who filled up every category of the stat book averaging 17 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals as a senior. The third guard Chris Babb is also a capable scorer as he averaged 9 points as a sophomore at Penn State and brings 3-point shooting ability (37%) and length (6-5) to the Iowa State backcourt. The other members of the backcourt are 5-9 point guard Tavon Sledge of New York who is a speedy scorer who likes to get out into transition and senior marksmen Scott Christopherson. Christopherson the team’s 2nd leading scorer last season at 14 points per game is one of the conference’s best shooters, shooting 44 percent from 3-point range last season. In the frontcourt Hoiberg will insert 2 more transfers as SIU forward Anthony Booker (6.4ppg) and Royce White a highly touted freshman who committed to Minnesota in ’09 but never played for the Golden Gophers. White may be the most talented of the newcomers in Ames as he possesses great size (6-8, 250lbs) and athleticism and should be eager to contribute after having to sit out the past 2 seasons. White who was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball in ’09 is a talented post scorer and mid-range shooter who can dominate the glass and occasionally knock down the 3-point shot. Iowa State has high hopes for White who still has 4 years of college eligibility after sitting out the past 2 seasons. The final frontcourt piece for Fred Hoiberg is sophomore Melvin Ejim of Toronto. Ejim was a pleasant surprise last season as the 6-7 forward averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds and shot an efficient 49 percent from the field. In Ejim, White and Booker Iowa State has solid trio of front court players who are capable scorers to pair with guards Chris Allen, Chris Babb and Scott Christopherson. Iowa State is one of the more unpredictable teams in the entire nation but with a solid 7 man nucleus I expect the Cyclones to improve on last year’s 3-13 Big 12 record. In addition to a lack of frontcourt depth, Iowa State may struggle to find an identity as many of their newcomers are in a new situation and will have to discover their roles on the fly. Iowa State will look a lot different this season with 8 newcomers but if the group of transfers can gel they should bring excitement come basketball season in Ames and have the Cyclones on the rise in the Big 12. Hoiberg is making a habit of bringing in high profile transfers as he has already inked Michigan State star Korie Lucious and Utah’s leading scorer and rebounder from last year Will Clyburn both of whom will sit out this season but be eligible for 2012-2013. The Cyclones have a roster that fits Hoiberg’s run and gun tempo and with frontcourt additions like White and Booker, ISU should rebound better which was a glaring weakness last season(-2.5 differential). Iowa State will be relevant once again in the new look Big 12 but reaching the NCAA Tournament will be a tall task for Hoiberg and his talented newcomers as they will most likely finish in the 6-8 range of the Big 12.
9.)Oklahoma- This is where the Big 12 really drops off as I see a considerable gap between Iowa State and Kansas State and Oklahoma and Texas Tech. In 2009 under Jeff Capel the Sooners won 30 games and advanced to the Elite 8 but the last 2 years OU has amassed just 27 total wins which led to the firing of Jeff Capel after 5 seasons. In steps 59 year old Lon Kruger who has won 479 games with stops at Texas Pan-American, Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV and also a brief stint as head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. The veteran sage Kruger is back in Big 12 territory once again but has his work cut out for him as he inherits an OU team that went 14-18 last season and 5-11 in Big 12 play. The Sooners lose leading scorer Cade Davis (14.2ppg) but return 4 starters led by junior forward Andrew Fitzgerald (12.7 ppg) and junior guard Steven Pledger (11ppg). Fitzgerald last season finally got into playing shape and it showed as the 6-8 forward tripled his scoring average from the season before jumping from 4.7 points to almost 13 points last season. Pledger on the other hand also increased his scoring average to almost 11 points but shot just 39 percent from the field showing his inexperience and a tendency to force things and take bad shots. Pledger did have his moments though as the guard scored 38 points in a win over Iowa State in which he hit 7 3-pointers and also had 5 threes and 17 points in OU’s biggest win of the season against talented Baylor. Also back for the Sooners are Carl Blair and Cameron Blake a pair of guards who played a lot of minutes last season on a team that lacked depth and overall talent. Blair who played a lot of point last year for OU led the team in assists at 4.7 per game but also had a high turnover average which summed up his up and down season while Clark was a solid outside shooter (37%) and rebounder as a 6-6 guard. Two other players to look for are Mississippi State transfer Romero Osby whom Jeff Capel called “the best player at practice last season” and former JUCO All-American C.J. Washington who averaged 3 points and 3 rebounds in 12 minutes last year. Osby is a big athletic body who played limited minutes at MSU over 2 seasons but comes to Norman at a great time as he will play significant minutes and should help OU improve their -6 rebounding margin from last season. Also look for 2 juco signees Sam Grooms (11.1ppg, 5.9 apg) and Casey Arent who averaged a double-double(19.1ppg, 11.4rpg) for Sierra College in California. OU is quite frankly overmatched and short of talent as Jeff Capel was never able to recover from the unfortunate early departures of top recruits like Blake Griffin, Willie Warren, Tommy Mason-Griffin and Keith “Tiny” Gallon. Lon Kruger has a tough job in front of him as OU is once again just not as talented as the rest of the Big 12 but the veteran Kruger has rebuilt programs before and with time should have OU back near the top of the Big 12 where we are accustomed to seeing them. Yes, OU has been unfortunate to lose some top recruits early to the pros but they also still have highly touted players like Steven Pledger, Tyler Neal and Cameron Clark on their roster and will need these players to start living up to the hype if they want to climb out of the basement of the Big 12. Lon Kruger’s team will be overmatched once again this season as they don’t bring in any scholarship freshmen and will rely mostly on the same cast of characters with the exception of Osby . The Sooners are in a real period of turmoil right now but Lon Kruger could be the calming presence the program needs to reinvigorate basketball in Norman and return OU to glory. The Sooners will struggle mightily once again this season and in a deeper Big 12, OU is likely to win less than the 5 conference games they won last season.
10.) Texas Tech - Like Lon Kruger at Oklahoma, Billy Gillispie is set to begin his 2nd coaching stint in the Big 12 and like Kruger, Gillispie walks into a bleak situation with a team that managed just a 5-11 conference record. Gillispie formerly of UTEP, Texas A&M and Kentucky takes over a Red Raider program that has failed to reach the NCAA Tournament since 2007. Gillispie after a failed 2 year stint at UK is back home in his comfort zone of Texas and is excited to be back on the sideline after a 2 year sabbatical. Rebuilding Texas Tech will not be easy though as the Red Raiders lose their top 4 scorers including 4 year point guard John Roberson (14.1ppg, 4.4apg ) and physical forward Mike Singletary (13PPG, 6rpg). Gillispie’s Red Raiders will undergo a dramatic makeover this season as 9 newcomers are signed up to play in Lubbock led by juco point guard Ty Nurse and 6-5 freshman small forward Terran Petteway. Nurse is a 6-1 point guard who’s statistical numbers don’t jump off the page(9.1ppg) but his win numbers do as the point guard quarterbacked Midland Texas to a 63-7 record and 2 Western Junior Athletic Conference titles in his 2 seasons. Petteway on the other hand is an athletic small forward who does not excel at anyone skill but is solid in many as he can rebound, pass, score inside and even knock down the outside shot. Other guard/wing additions include shoot guard Toddrick Gotcher and 5-8 point guard Kevin Wagner. Wagner is a speedy guard who can get into the lane and score or dish to a teammate and brings toughness, athleticism and defensive ability to a depleted Tech team. Gotcher is also a tremendous athlete but also possesses great shooting range which should make him a weapon this season as a freshman for Billy Gillispie. The Red Raiders will rely on a plethora of newcomers but returning players Robert Lewandowski, Jaye Crockett and Javarez Willis will also all be counted on for increased production. Lewandowski was a key contributor last season averaging 8.5 points and almost 5 rebounds but this season he will be counted on for even more as Texas Tech returns very little especially in the frontcourt. Sophomore Javarez Willis (3.5pp, 13.5mpg) should also assume a larger role as the former top recruit will compete with Ty Nurse for the starting point guard position. In the frontcourt alongside Lewandowski will be a series of newcomers as Gillispie brings in freshman Jordan Tolbert and juco forwards Jaron Nash and Kader Tapsoba. Nash and Tapsoba played together at Tyler Junior College in Texas where they combined for 17 points and 12 rebounds last season. Also in the fold are returning sophomore Jaye Crockett and 6-10 freshman Daouda Soumaora, who is originally from Mali but played high school basketball in New York where he averaged 12.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks. The Red Raiders will have a very young team this season as all 8 newcomers should compete for playing time with only 3 contributors returning in Lewandowski, Crockett and Willis. Billy Gillispie like Lon Kruger has his work cut out for him but he hopes that his rigorous junior college recruiting will pay off not just this season but down the line. Texas Tech will be a very balanced team with a lot of new faces that will struggle this season in a tough Big 12 but will look to build for the future. Billy Gillispie knows the state of Texas and has proven he can recruit and win in his home state (UTEP, Texas A&M), so don’t expect the Red Raiders to be down long with Gillispie at the helm. Texas Tech will regress even farther this season with only 3 regulars returning as I don’t see the Raiders winning close to the 5 conference games this won last season.
Big 12 Preseason Accolades1st Team G-Marcus Denmon, Missouri G-Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas F-Khris Middleton, Texas A&M F-Thomas Robinson, Kansas F-Perry Jones III, Baylor 2nd Team G- J’Covan Brown, Texas G-Rodney McGruder, Kansas State F-LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State F-Quincy Acy, Baylor F-Royce White, Minnesota
Player of the Year-Perry Jones III, Baylor Jones III was expected to be a top 3 pick in June’s NBA Draft but the versatile forward surprised many by choosing to return to Baylor for his sophomore season. That decision will be rewarded as Jones III is the most talented player on what I believe is the best team in the Big 12 conference. Jones who was more than solid last year but will breakout this season and become a star as the forward possesses a rare combination of size, athleticism and skill that separate him from the rest of the bigs in college basketball. Perry Jones will improve on his numbers of 14 points and 7 rebounds as he assumes the role of go to scorer for head coach Scott Drew and should help Baylor contend for a Big 12 title. Jones will be a top player in not only the Big 12 but the entire country this season and will lead a Baylor frontline that should rank 2nd to none.
Also Considered: Khris Middleton,-Texas A&M, LeBryan Nash-Oklahoma State, J’Covan Brown- Texas, Marcus Denmon-Missouri
Freshman of the Year-LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State Nash a McDonald’s All-American is a rare talent as the 6-7; 230 lb forward combines strength, amazing athleticism and skill. Nash is known as a bit of a hothead but if he control his emotions and body language and plays basketball this kid could be a special player this year as a freshman. Nash is a very strong rebounder and outlet passer and has the ability to dominate the game in the paint with his strong 6-7 foot frame. OSU will look for Nash to be theirs top player this season and as a freshman don’t be surprised if he puts up an 18 point and 8 rebound season or a 17 and 7 kind of season as a rookie. Nash is as good as advertised and could take the Big 12 by storm this season as a freshman if he can keep his emotions in check.
Also Considered: Quincy Miller-Baylor, Myck Kabongo-Texas, Jordan Green- Texas A&M, Deuce Bello-Baylor
Coach of the Year-Scott Drew, Baylor Scott Drew is in his 9th season as head coach of the Baylor Bears and has rebuilt Baylor from an 8-21 doormat to an annual Big 12 and NCAA contender. This season Baylor has a great chance to contend for a league title which would complete the rebuilding job Drew and his staff started just under a decade ago. This season with Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and A.J. Walton and talented newcomers Quincy Miller and Deuce Baylor the Bears have a team that not only can win a Big 12 title but could make a deep in March. Scott Drew often times doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a coach and this season that will all change if the Baylor Bears can win the Big 12 regular season title. Drew has done a great job in Waco and with arguably his most talented team (apologies to 09-10 Baylor Bears) that work will pay huge dividends this season.
Also Considered: Travis Ford-Oklahoma State, Bill Self-Kansas, Rick Barnes-Texas, Fred Hoiberg-Iowa State
Most Improved Player- Thomas Robinson, Kansas 3 seasons ago Thomas Robinson was a highly recruited freshman out of the D.C. area and after 2 seasons as a backup it’s finally Robinson’s time to shine in Lawrence. Robinson is a physically gifted athlete and also possesses tremendous work ethic a combination that will make him one of the top power forwards in the country this season. Robinson averaged 8 points and 7 rebounds last year which may appear pedestrian statistics at first glance but are pretty amazing when you consider he only played 15 minutes a game. Robinson this season should almost double his minutes per game and with that increased playing time his numbers should also jump considerably. Robinson has patiently waited his turn and this season he will become a star and lead a shorthanded Kansas team in scoring and rebounding. Coaches and writers are even selecting Robinson to Preseason All-America teams, which shows the impact and impression Robinson left last season in just 15 minutes a game.
Also Considered: Phil Pressey-Missouri, Elijah Johnson-Kansas, Will Spradling-Kansas State, Romero Osby-Oklahoma
Best Matchup- February 4th, Kansas at Missouri (Border War) One of the best rivalries in college basketball continues as an undermanned Kansas team travels to Columbia and Norm Stewart Court to take on Missouri and their talented backcourt. Kansas has won 7 straight Big 12 titles but are the most vulnerable they have been during that streak while Missouri returns a veteran laden team led by seniors Marcus Denmon , Ricarcdo Ratliffe and Kim English. The “Border War” has been more one sided recently but Missouri may have the upper hand at home against a Kansas team with 8 scholarship players.
Also Considered: Feb 20th Baylor at Texas, Jan 4th Kansas State at Kansas, Feb 1st Baylor at Texas A&M, February 25th Kansas at Oklahoma State.