Projecting the Big 12

19 Oct

By Sam Duren
National Hoops Report

The Big 12 enters into the first season of 10 basketball teams, a strange place to be for one of the most successful and entertaining leagues of hoop over the last decade. How will the league play out? The National Hoops Report gives a swing at predicting the league.

1. Baylor

The Bears have one of the most talented front courts in not only the Big 12 but the nation. Their front line is senior laden with Quincy Acy, Anthony Jones and J’mison “BoBo” Morgan, but it doesn’t stop with just experience. Sophomore Perry Jones and incoming freshman Quincy Miller were both top 10 national recruits out of high school and will be two of the most talented players in the Big 12.

The big question mark is the Baylor Bear backcourt, which must replace Big 12 all time scoring leader LaceDarius Dunn. Incoming junior college transfer Pierre Jackson (College of Southern Idaho) is expected to be an upgrade to unseat junior incumbent A.J. Walton for the point guard spot, while Boston College transfer Brady Heslip is the x-factor. Even though he has yet to play a collegiate game, Heslip is known for his long range bombing ability and could be just what Baylor needs to open up the court for their talented bigs.

The Bears are the most talented team in the conference on paper and if they play up to expectations they should break the Jayhawks’ stranglehold on the Big 12 regular season crown.

2. Kansas

Bill Self has ran the Big 12 and winning at least a share of the last seven Big 12 regular season titles is proof of that. This year, though, is expected to be his weakest Kansas squad since taking over in 2003. Junior rebounding machine Thomas Robinson is expected to be an All American candidate and junior Elijah Johnson and senior Tyshawn Taylor will lead the backcourt.

After their big three the talent and experience dropoff is significant. It took a bigger hit when talented freshmen Ben McElmore and Jamari Traylor were both ruled partial qualifiers and declared ineligible for this season. Upperclassmen Travis Releford and Jeff Whitey will be asked to play much larger roles after being reserves last season. Loyola-Marmount transfer Kevin Young will also be asked to shoulder some of the load after being out of basketball last season while attending San Bernardino (CA) Community College last year.

With only ten players on scholarship — two of whom are former walk ons (Conner Teahan and      Justin Weasley) — this would be Bill Self’s best coaching job to date if he agains captures the Big 12 crown.

3. Texas A&M

This will be A&M’s swansong in the Big 12 as after this season they are packing up and joining the SEC. With an experienced roster they should challenge for the Big 12 title and could leave the conference with a bang.

Junior wing Khris Middleton and senior post David Loubeau form a formidable inside-outside duo, while senior Dash Harris is one of the top perimeter defenders in the conference. Underclassmen Daniel Alexander, Keith Davis and Kourtney Robinson all provide quality size for A&M’s front court and with junior wing Naji Hibbert they are one of the most balanced teams in the Big 12.

Based on his tenure at Murray State, new coach Billy Kennedy will focus on defense similar to the departed Mark Turgeon did. With a balanced and experienced roster, the Aggies will be a contender in a transitional year for the Big 12 and should win twenty plus games for the seventh consecutive season.

4. Kansas State

During the early of the years of the Big 12, two of the most consistent teams were Oklahoma and Oklahoma St. Neither teams were recruiting juggernauts but both coaches at the time (Kelvin Sampson and Eddie Sutton) preached defense and intensity. Because of those teachings both schools were often in the top four of the Big 12 and almost always in the NCAA tournament.

Frank Martin has a similar system rolling in the Little Apple as even when Michael Beasley and Bill Walker went pro the Wildcats continued to win. Now Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly have exhausted their eligibility and leaves an uncertain roster for KSU. It’s not devoid of talent or size as junior wing Rodney McGruder will be among the leading scorers in the Big 12 and posts Jordan Henriquez and Jamar Samuels give them size and talent down low.

Even though they don’t have the star power (Michael Beasley, Denis Clemente, Jacob Pullen, etc) of previous years, the roster still has size, athleticism and a coach that will get the most out of it.

5. Missouri

The Tigers look like they could be joining their former coach Mike Anderson in the SEC after this season but for now they will try to find their footing with a new coach in the Big 12.

They were dealt a huge blow to their post depth with a preseason ACL injury to senior Laurence Bowers, one of the top interior defenders in the Big 12. Now they only have three scholarship post players for this season and a new coach with former Miami Hurricance coach Frank Haith at the helm.

Haith struggled at Miami as he finished his tenure there 43-69 in ACC play with only one NCAA tournament appearance. After having a roster built to run Mike Anderson’s “40 minutes of Hell,” it is unknown how they will adjust to Haith’s teachings.

The Tigers don’t lack talent as they return All Big 12 first team guard Marcus Denmon, who averaged 16.9 points as a junior last season. 6 foot 8 Ricardo Ratliff was also one of the top Juco prospects out of the 2011 class and was named Big 12 newcomer of the year last season.

Haith has the backcourt talent to be competitive but it will be difficult to overcome their lack of size; as any foul trouble on Ratliff leaves the Tigers hurting in the post.

6. Oklahoma State

The difference between an NCAA appearance and returning to the NIT could be one player for the Cowpokes. Freshman Lebryan Nash is one of the most talented players in the Big 12 and has a NBA ready body. If he has a Michael Beasley type impact the Cowboys will likely be in the top half of the Big 12 but the 6 foot 7 wing had a tendency to be inconsistent in high school.

Nash is a difference maker type player but the rest of the Cowboys’ roster isn’t too shabby either. Senior Keiton Page has been a three year starter despite his size and is one of the top shooters in the conference. Former Juco transfer Jean-Paul Olukemi is one of the most athletic wings in the conference at 6 foot 7. Reger Dowell and Fred Gulley both have experience as a starting point guard and gives OSU options at the point guard.

OSU is likely to play some small ball with Nash and Olukemi spending time at the four and with athletic wings like Brian Williams and Markel Brown could be among the most exciting teams to watch in the Big 12.

7. Texas

The Longhorn roster was gutted by graduation (Dougus Balbay, Jai Lucas, Gary Johnson & Matt Hill) and by early entries to the NBA draft (Cory Joesph, Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson). Now streaky junior combo guard J’Covan Brown will be asked to lead a new look Texas squad.
The Horns will rely heavy on their freshman class with six new freshman on a roster that only has nine scholarship players. Redshirt seniors Clint Chapman and Alexis Wangmene both bring experience to the post but neither have logged major minutes since arriving in Austin.

Canadian point guard Myck Kabongo is the best of the bunch as a he was a 5 star prospect in the class of 2011. After Kabongo the Horns’ freshman are of the four and three star variety, making it difficult to predict their impact at the high major level. In state products Jonathan Holmes, Julien Lewis and Sheldeon McClellan will all be relied on heavily and will likely have a baptism by fire in Austin this year.

8. Iowa St

Redshirt sophomore Royce White has yet to play a game in a Cyclone uniform, or college for that matter, but he is already an legend in Ames. He put up a triple double in the YMCA Capital City League, a Des Moines-area summer league, was voted Big 12 newcomer of the year by the Big 12 coaches and has been called the best Cyclone basketball ever by one ISU donor. The 6 foot 8, 270 pound forward leads the pack of former Big 10 transfers that are expected to write a new chapter in Cyclone basketball lore.

White (Minnesota), Chris Allen (Michigan State) and Chris Babb (Penn St) will team up with returnees Scott Christopherson and Melvin Ejim to make up a talented squad on paper. Allen has Final Four experience, Babb was a starter at Penn St, so while they’re new to Iowa St they do bring experience.

With a Big 12 that does include inexperienced teams, Iowa St’s transfers’ experience could facilitate a basketball revival in Iowa.

9. Oklahoma

The Sooners return the bulk of a roster that lost eighteen games last season but they do feature one big change at the top. Lon Kruger left UNLV to come to Norman and he brings with him experience that includes NCAA tournament runs with four different teams.

Kruger also brought in junior college transfers Sam Grooms and Casey Arent and both should help address two issues that plagued the Sooners last season; point guard play and post play.

Grooms was one of the top Juco recruits in the nation and is a fast, strong true floor general that will likely push and overtake incumbent junior Carl Blair. Arent is a a 6 foot 10 senior that should prevent the Sooners from having to have a guard log major minutes in the post as they have the past two seasons.

Mississippi St transfer Romero Osby is now eligible as well and despite two lackluster seasons as a Bulldog, he received rave reviews last year during his redshirt season. Add in returning double digit scoring juniors Steven Pledger and Andrew Fitzgerald and athletic sophomore wing Cameron Clark and Lon Kruger to at least be competitive in a weaker Big 12.

10. Texas Tech

When Billy Gillispie took over at Texas A&M in 2004-05 and executed a quick turn around he had talented underclassman (Acie Law, Antonie Wright and others) to work with left over from the Melvin Watkins era. Gillespie has no such luck in Lubbock as the Red Raiders graduated six scholarship seniors from last years squad.

The Red Raiders scrambled after the hiring of Gillispie and have brought in thirteen newcomers from many different levels of basketball. Senior big man Robert Lewandowski is the most experienced player on the Red Raider roster as he averaged 23 minutes and 8.5 points a game last season. Sophomores Jaye Crocket and Javarez Willis are the only two other hold overs from the Pat Knight era, as the rest of the Red Raiders’ contributions will rely on Juco transfers and freshmen.

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  1. NHR Preseason All Big 12 teams « - October 19, 2011

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