Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, college basketball is back! And so am I, now that I have conquered my research paper. Now I know you all missed the couple days off I took from posting these articles, so I'm going to cut the lame jokes and pointless comments short and jump right into the third preview in this series.
Along the way, I encourage questions, comments and criticism, which I will address in the following article. Think of it as a less cool, less interesting, mailbag. Suggestions and requests for other conferences will also be accepted.
Third up is the Big 12.
Will this be Kansas State's Year?
For decades, Kansas has been the perennial favorite atop the Big 12. One of the best programs in the nation, the Jayhawks don't know the meaning of "reloading" as each year it seems they come back a contender. However, they Jayhawks should not only fear the beard, but the entire Wildcats team. Jacob Pullen played two minutes in the first half against Virginia Tech, and fellow senior Curtis Kelly missed the game. However, I watched the game and was very impressed with how solid a team Kansas State really is. Without their best player for virtually the entire first half, they lead Virginia Tech 30-29. When Pullen got back, the Wildcats proceeded to decimate the Hokies, who are indeed a solid team, 43-28 in the second half to win 73-5, proving Kansas State isn't just a one man show this season without Clemente. Kansas and the rest of the Big 12 (and even the nation) take note: the Wildcats are for real.
Can Texas Bounce Back?
We all know how last season went for Texas: A 17-0 start, a number one ranking, and then an awful 7-10 finish to the season, including a loss in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Longhorns had more to blame than just injuries, as they consistently made mistakes like missing free throws, turning the ball over and not being able to make outside shots. There is no question that Texas has plenty of talent, as top class after top class flood into Austin to play for Coach Barnes. The real question is, will they finally piece it together? Can the Longhorns eliminate the sloppy mistakes and mental errors, and finally play like the talented team they are? Or will this be another season to forget for Texas fans?
Could Missouri Steal the Big 12 Title?
The Tigers enter this season ranked in the top 15 in both polls and as the pick to finish third in the Big 12. They return four starters, and add a freshman point guard in Phil Pressey who could start right away. This recruiting class could be the best one in recent history for Missouri, and will become even better once heralded recruit Tony Mitchell gains eligibility. The talent is there for this team, as the Tigers realistically could end up being eleven players deep in the "40 Minutes of Hell" offense it runs so well. With the talent, depth and system being there for Missouri to wear out and compete with just about any team in the nation, could the Tigers finish the season at the top of the Big 12 standings
Is Texas Tech a Legitimate Sleeper?
Texas Tech returns four starters and seven seniors from its NIT team last season. Leading the way for the Red Raiders is one of the most underrated players in the nation: John Roberson. Roberson is entering his fourth season as a starter, and averaged 14.6 points and 5.4 assists per game last season. However, Texas Tech struggled mightily last season on defense, and is 1-1 after giving up a ridiculous 92 points in a loss to North Texas this season. This team is talented and experienced though, so if Texas Tech can hastily patch up their defense then they could be a sleeper team in the Big 12. But then again, the Red Raiders are very undersized, and they could also slip up more and more; the Big 12 does have teams much more talented than North Texas. I guess we will just have to wait for the season to progress more before we see how legitimate of a threat the Red Raiders are.
My Projected Rankings:
1) Kansas State. The Wildcats proved Tuesday night that they are more than Jacob Pullen and a supporting cast; this is a complete team folks. As I mentioned earlier, Kansas State was leading Virginia Tech by one at halftime despite Pullen playing only two minutes. If Pullen had been on the court all game, who knows how big the Wildcats would have won by. The frontcourt is also possibly the best and most athletic in the nation, and if a solid point guard steps up, this team will be looking at making a serious run at a national championship. And no, this isn't a knee jerk reaction by me after Tuesday's game: the Wildcats were picked the conference favorites by the Big 12 coaches entering the season. Kansas State is my pick to win the Big 12.
2) Missouri. Yes folks, I'm taking the Tigers over the Jayhawks (read further down for why I'm not so high on the Jayhawks). I think that the Tigers run possibly the most effective offense in the country; it wears down the other team simply because few others are prepared for it. Missouri returns four starters, adds a freshman point guard to lead who looks like he will fit right it, and add in a superb recruiting class (especially when Tony Mitchell comes back). Coach Mike Anderson has the most talented pool of players in his coaching history; given the success he has had in both the regular season and tournament before, I believe that he will lead the Tigers to great things this season. Including a second place finish in the Big 12.
3) Kansas. Is Kansas still a very talented team? Without a doubt. When I look at the Jayhawks, I see plenty of talent, but there just doesn't seem to be a "difference maker" or a proven leader. Collins and Aldrich are gone, so who is going to step in and take over for them? Josh Selby is still ineligible, and his return is still very uncertain. The Jayhawks do still have some negative clouds hanging over their head after an early exit from the tournament last season. But, these negatives aren't nearly enough to drag down the Jayhawks too far. In fact, I'm mostly picking the Jayhakws third just because of how good Kansas State and Missouri should be this season. The Jayhakws will still be very competitive, and a finish higher than third wouldn't shock me at all; I'm just not as sold on Kansas as I am on Kansas State and Missouri.
4) Baylor. Baylor losing Tweety Carter and Ekpe Udoh will hurt. However, Baylor does have a new top two ready to take over for the upcoming season: LaceDarius Dunn and Perry Jones. Dunn was the leading scorer for the Bears last season, and Jones is possibly the most heralded recruit in Baylor history. Baylor also proved they have depth this season in the games Dunn has missed; Quincy Acy has averaged 22.5 points and 11.5 rebounds per game, with fellow junior Anthony Jones averaging 15.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. This Baylor team won't be as good as the Baylor team was last season, however that team last season was a very good one. This season, the Bears will still be a very good, and should compete in the Big 12. However, I think they lost too much to compete for the top spot entering this season, and as such I'm placing them right behind the top-spot competitors, at fourth.
5) Texas. The Longhorns are one of the more talented teams in this conference. But a major drawback is: they aren't a team. Texas struggled with just about every part of the game that doesn't rely solely on athleticism: they missed free throws, turned the ball over, and flat out lost their composure. To top it off, some of their best players are gone from the team that underachieved last year. And yet, there is still some faith in the Longhorns. The talent is there, and Coach Barnes has to realize that he is on a hot seat, and needs to get his team to play together to win. If he can do that, and the Longhorns can minimalize unforced errors, this team can compete with the rest of the conference. I think the team will come together, maybe not at first though, and should do some solid things in the Big 12. A fifth place finish behind the teams ahead of them wouldn't be a disappointment for the Longhorns.
6)Texas A&M. Three core seniors are gone from the Aggies, but one (leader Derrick Roland) was lost for the season after twelve games and Texas A&M still won eleven conference games. The loss of the other two is more of a concern, but guard B.J. Holmes is set for a breakout season and is surrounded by a solid returning team with a good incoming recruiting class. Even so, the Aggies don't win their games based on offense; Coach Turgeon has molded Texas A&M into a hard-nosed team who wins with lockdown defense. The scoring gap might not be an issue if their opponents can't force them to put up big numbers. So far this season, the Aggies appear to be poised to have another stout defense. Texas A&M is constantly written off in the Big 12, but yet each season they win games. I don't think the Aggies can repeat an 11-5 season and a tied for third finish, but they should make the NCAA tournament. A sixth place finish would be a solid season for Texas A&M, and is what I'm picking for them.
7) Oklahoma State. James Anderson and Obi Muonelo will be tough to replace, but luckily for the Cowboys they are the only two players gone from last season's team. Returning are three seniors, including the new star of the Cowboys, Marshall Moses. After averaging 8.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season, Moses has stepped up as the new star of this team, averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds through two games. Moses is no Anderson, and the Cowyboys won't be as good as they were last year. However, they still are a solid team, and if Moses can fill the leadership void and a couple others step up their scoring in Anderson's wake, the Cowyboys won't have that bad of a season: think seventh in the Big 12 and a bubble NCAA tournament/NIT team.
8) Texas Tech. Yes, Texas Tech sits at 1-1 with a loss to North Texas. But, as I mentioned earlier in this preview, the Red Raiders return plenty of talent. John Robertson is a bona fide leader at the point for this team, and should do a good job of managing games and running the offense. The only question mark for Texas Tech is a, to put it politely, shaky defense, that almost gave up a hundred points to a North Texas team that isn't very good. However, if this defense can pull together, the Red Raiders have the talent to cause some problems for the actual competitors in the Big 12. They could even earn themselves an NIT bid, maybe better. For now though, I'm going to temper expectations in Lubbock. We'll see if the Red Raiders can defend the eight spot, or if they'll let a team behind them drive to the hoop to pass them uncontested in the standings. (Bad basketball analogies about a bad defense aside).
9) Colorado. Quite possibly, the Buffaloes have the best tandem of backcourt players in the entire Big 12 with Cory Higgins and Alec Burks. Last season they averaged 18.9 and 17.1 points per game respectively, and proved they have the talent to compete with most other backcourts in the conference this upcoming season. If a reliable point guard will step up, Colorado could win games based on the strength of the trio up front. However, this team suffered most last season because of a lack of size and talent up front, and that could be an issue again this season. I think the Buffaloes could legitimately threaten the middle of this conference during any given game, but without a consistent threat down low as well as a lack of defensive capabilities, they Buffaloes won't be good enough to compete consistently. Again though, this backcourt should be enough to lift them above the bottom two or three teams, and quite possibly jump ahead of some others. I'll pin them at ninth, but they could easily slide up (or even down) a spot or two.
10) Nebraska. In the Big 12, there is a large talent gap between the top teams and the bottom ones. The Cornhuskers fall in the bottom part of this conference. Nebraska is a team that couldn't shoot, won two conference games and has no history of success. However, call this a gut feeling that I think they aren't basement dwellers this season. To finish tenth and not in the basement again, all the Cornhuskers would have to realistically do is be better against two rebuilding programs (read on if you still can't figure out which two) and maybe steal a game or two against the top teams. This team is big up front, and can cause trouble for some of the smaller teams in the conference and those who can't play defense (I wouldn't dream of picking on anyone, Texas Tech fans). Maybe Nebraska can even surprise people make a postseason tournament, like the CBI or CIT, depending on how well they manage to play in their conference. So while the pick says tenth, I think there is a slight gap between them and the bottom two programs, and I believe the Cornhuskers could even jump a team or two.
11) Oklahoma. Guess how many players the Sooners return who scored a point last season? If you said three, you're right. Oklahoma has fallen off fast since Blake Griffen left, and after a huge disappointment of a season last year, are in full blown rebuilding mode. Cade Davis is the lone returning senior and starter from a terrible team last season, and will be under immense pressure to perform well and act as this young team's leader. However, there quite frankly isn't a whole lot of talent on this roster, and seeing as Oklahoma is in full blown rebuilding mode, don't expect a whole lot from this team. I'm picking them eleventh and not last mostly because of how bad the team below them is; they don't have too much of a chance to finish higher than tenth at best in my opinion.
12) Iowa State. Iowa State was bad last year, finishing 15-17 and going 4-12 in conference play. Gone from that team are the two best players, the coach, and five of the top seven scorers. They have started off 3-0 so far, but none of the wins are against impressive teams. The Cyclones lost most of their best players from a team that wasn't good to begin with, so fans shouldn't expect much from this team. In my opinion, repeating a 4-12 conference play record from last season should be considered a win for this program, as it likely won't happen. Expect the Cyclones to remind the conference they are in rebuilding mode, and to finish at the bottom.
So there you have it. My thoughts on the Big 12. Questions, comments or concerns? Leave them in the comments. Except spam. I don't like spam, my reader(don't think I have two yet) don't like spam, and I bet you don't really like spam. So don't spam.
Also, I encourage you to join my NCAAB group. With the season starting up again, I plan on having regular updates, articles, poll questions and such. Any member who joins will be given blogging rights and the ability to post his or her own articles. So if you're interested, click on the link below.