With six NCAA entrants, all of whom won at least a game in the Tournament, with two reaching the Elite Eight, the Big 12 had a pretty good 2008-09 season.
Thanks to some returning star power and some high-profile recruits, 2009-10 could be a banner year for the conference.
Sure the Griffin brothers left Oklahoma, but Willie Warren is ready to turn into a star. Chinemelu Elonu may have shocked everyone by going to the NBA, but Bryan Davis could be a more than capable replacement at Texas A&M. Their archrivals, Texas, lost J.J. Abrams, but Damion James is back, and he'll be joined by McDonald's All-American Avery Bradley and the highly-touted Jordan Hamilton.
And then there's Kansas, where Cole Alrdich and Sherron Collins decided to return, the Henry brothers are now on board, and a star recruit named Elijah Johnson may struggle to see the floor.
But that's just the start of what should be a very exciting year in the Big 12. This year's league should be similar to the Big Ten in that while the bottom teams--three in the case of the XII--don't stand much of a chance at all, the remainder of the squads all have somewhat legitimate NCAA hopes. More on each team's specific chances after the jump.
Let's first take a look at the 2008-09 Big 12 standings.
Big Twelve Conference Standings
(updated 4.2.2009 at 10:13 PM EDT)
|Texas A&M Aggies||9||7||24||10|
|Oklahoma St. Cowboys||9||7||23||12|
|Kansas St. Wildcats||9||7||22||12|
|Iowa St. Cyclones||4||12||15||17|
|Texas Tech Red Raiders||3||13||14||19|
Now, here are my picks for 2009-10, presented in reverse order. If a team's name appears in red, click the link to visit the school's SBN site for further analysis throughout the season. You can also visit Big 12 Hoops for more info and analysis.
Colorado (last NCAA: 2003) During the offseason, Jeff Bzdelik talked to the Minnesota Timberwolves about a coaching role but ultimately remained in Boulder, where he's won less than one-third of the games he's coached. This year may not be much better. The backcourt will be the Buffaloes strength, as Cory Higgins averaged over 17 points and nearly 3 assists a game, Dwight Thorne III was the team's only other player to average in double-digits (12 ppg), and Australian point guard Nate Tomlinson had a solid freshman campaign (7.4 ppg, 3 apg). The returning frontcourt players don't offer much in terms of anything, as last year's Big 12 rebounding and defensive statistics will tell you, but another Aussie, 6-11 C Shane Harris-Tunks, and 6-7 JC transfer Marcus Relphorde may be the prescription for those woes. The Buffs travel to Maui this year, where they seem destined for the consolation bracket, as they open with Gonzaga.
Nebraska (last NCAA: 1998) The Huskers had a respectable season last time around, finishing at .500 in the Big 12 and earning an NIT invitation. Neither of those results is likely for Doc Sadler's club this year, as he lost four key players from that team, including leading scorers Ade Dagunduro (12.8 ppg) and Steve Harley (10.8 ppg). Point guard Cookie Miller (7.3 ppg, 3.6 apg) transferred to Miami (OH), leaving another hole. Guards Sek Henry (8 ppg) and Ryan Anderson (7.1 ppg) lead the returnees, who are joined by a busload of newcomers. The theme of the class is size. 6-11 Puerto Rican C Brian Diaz will play after a redshirt year, and he'll be joined by two German big men, 6-11 Christopher Niemann and 6-8 Christian Standhardinger. Sadler even picked up 6-8 Quincy Hankins-Cole from the JC ranks. He's joined by his Polk State College (FL) teammate, G Lance Jeter, who is expected to bring a new dimension to the backcourt. NU will play Tulsa in the Las Vegas Classic in December, then either Nevada or BYU.
Texas Tech (last NCAA: 2007) The Red Raiders won only 3 Big 12 games last year, and Pat Knight will be counting on five new arrivals, including three JC transfers, to help improve that total. Leading scorer John Roberson is back to lead the offense. Roberson averaged nearly 14 points and more than 6 assists a game last year, so he's a pretty good building block. Senior Nick Okorie averaged 11.3 points a contest, so the starting backcourt is pretty well set. Knight may even go to a three-guard set, as JC transfer David Tairu, a former teammate of Okorie, is expected to boost the Double-T's defense. Frosh Nick Davis could be a bench scoring threat, especially outside, where the graduated Alan Voskuil will be missed. In the frontcourt, Mike Singletary (12.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Trevor Cook (7.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg), and C Robert Lewandowski (6.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg) are all serviceable players. Two 6-6 JC transfers, Brad Reese and Theron Jenkins, will be expected to contribute immediately; however, as they give Knight some flexibility the current forwards don't offer. The Red Raiders will host the Duel in the Desert, a four-team round-robin tournament, where Oregon State figures to be their main opposition for the crown.
Baylor (last NCAA: 2008) The Bears had high hopes last year, and a 15-3 start, featuring a run to the 76 Classic final seemed to justify them. Then, the wheels came off completely. Baylor then dropped 10 of their next 12, a run that started with a six-game Big 12 losing streak. They nearly stole the league's auto bid, but fell to Missouri in the Big 12 final. Scott Drew's team then built on that momentum and reached the NIT final, which they lost to Penn State. Now Baylor will have to attempt to be more consistent without three of last year's prominent performers. Point guard Curtis Jerrells (16.3 ppg, 4,9 apg), the team's heart and soul is gone. So are F Kevin Rogers (12.76 ppg, 7.6 rpg) and guard Henry Dugat (9.4 ppg). Drew has a strong backcourt, even without Jerrells, as LaceDarius Dunn (15.7 ppg) and Tweety Carter (10.6 ppg) can both score, and Carter can do a decent job running the point (3.2 ppg). Expect freshman A.J. Walton to see some time running the offense as well. The arrival of Mark McLaughlin and Nolan Dennis means the Bears will be set at shooting guard for the next four years. Meanwhile, the frontcourt will be bolstered by 6-10 Michigan transfer Ekpe Udoh, who will be supported by returnees Quincy Acy, Josh Lomers, Anthony Jones, and Fred Ellis, none of whom averaged more than 5.4 a contest last year. Baylor plays in another tournament near a Disney park this year, featuring in the Old Spice Classic in Florida, where they'll open with Alabama.
Iowa State (last NCAA: 2005) Greg McDermott hasn't had much luck in his three seasons in Ames, but he must have felt like he found a four-leaf clover and horseshoe while a shooting star flew overhead when Craig Brackins announced he was foregoing NBA millions for at least one more season. Brackins very nearly averaged a double-double last year, scoring more than 20 a game and grabbing nearly 10 boards. While the Cyclones may not have enough besides him to challenge for a conference crown, his return makes them a serious postseason threat. ISU's biggest issue is scoring, as they ranked 10th in the league last year in offensive output, and Brackins was the only player to average in double-figures. Expect the two starting guards, Diante Garrett, who very nearly averaged 10 a game, and Lucca Staiger (8.2 ppg) to step up. 6-11 Canadian Jamie Vanderbeken (5.5 ppg) should also benefit from the attention opposition defenses will pay to Brackins. McDermott also has high hopes for his two JC transfers, 6-9 F LaRon Dendy and 6-6 Marquis Gilstrap. The Cyclones will play in the Chicago Invitational Challenge, facing St. Louis in the semifinal, then either Northwestern or Notre Dame.
Missouri (last NCAA: 2009) Considering that he was losing three starters to graduation, including his two leading scorers and rebounders, you couldn't have really blamed Mike Anderson if he left Columbia after reaching last year's West Regional final. Yet, Anderson spurned the advances of numerous suitors to stay at Mizzou. Now he has to figure out how to get more out of the many returnees on the roster, none of whom matched the contributions of the departed DeMarre Carroll (16.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg), Les Lyons (14.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg), or Matt Lawrence (9.2 ppg). The Tigers two leading returning scorers and rebounders are both in the backcourt, J.T. Tiller (8.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg) and Zaire Taylor (6.7 ppg, 3 rpg). Both also averaged more than 3 assists per game, so Anderson can rest assured that his offense will be run well. Missouri's Mr. Basketball from last year, Mike Dixon, Jr., is the point guard of the future. 6-6 Kim English averaged 6.5 points in only about 14 minutes per contest, so his numbers should increase significantly with more action, especially if he continues to shoot well from the perimeter. The frontcourt is a major concern, however, as none of the returnees even cracked 4 ppg or 3 rpg last year. Junior Justin Stafford did average 3.4 points in 9-plus minutes of action, so he could turn into a consistent performer. The fact 6-10 freshman Keith Dewitt couldn't get eligible for this season was a major blow to MU. The Tigers will play in the South Padre Invitational over Thanksgiving weekend, opening with CAA contender Old Dominion, then facing either Mississippi State or Richmond.
Oklahoma State (last NCAA: 2009) I saw the Cowboys drop two of three at the Old Spice Classic last year, and not look terribly good doing it. (They managed to beat Siena in the 7th/8th place game that was delayed by a leaky roof caused by a freak November thunderstorm.) In the end, Travis Ford's squad improved enough to win 9 league games, beat Tennessee in the NCAA tournament, and scare Pittsburgh in round two. This time around, Ford will have to run his four-guard offense without two key cogs, as point guard Byron Eaton (14.3 ppg, 5.7 apg, and 2.2 spg) and Terrel Harris (13.9 ppg, 1.7 spg) graduated. Swingman James Anderson (18.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg), a challenger for all-Big 12 honors, is back, as is Obi Muonelo (12.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg). Keiton Page (8.6 ppg), a sharpshooter who's 5-10 on a very good day, will see more action this time around. Eaton's spot at the point will probably be filled by a freshman--most likely Ray Penn. 6-6 Marshall Moses (7 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is the only frontcourt player to see significant time last year, so Kentucky transfer Matt Pilgrim will be asked to contribute immediately. The Cowboys will play in the Thanksgiving Las Vegas Invitational. Bradley will be their first opponent, followed by either Illinois or Utah.
Texas A&M (last NCAA: 2009) The Aggies easily knocked BYU out of the tournament for the second year in a row, part of one of the dreariest NCAA sessions I've ever experienced. Somehow, the Aggies are one of only six schools to win an NCAA game in each of the past four seasons, but that's a streak they may have trouble extending without C Chinemelu Elonu, who decided to go to the NBA, despite only averaging 9.8 ppg and 7.3 rpg, and swingman Josh Carter (13.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg). The good news for Mark Turgeon is that just about everyone else is back, led by 6-9 Bryan Davis (10.8 ppg, 6.5 apg), who should move over to the center spot., and point guard Donald Sloan (11.8 ppg, 3.2 apg). With sophomore Dash Harris averaging 2 assists per game, while seeing only 13 minutes a contest, Turgeon could even move Sloan off the point to give himself another scoring option. 6-7 freshman Khris Middleton could be a replacement for Carter. The fact that 6-9 Kourtney Roberson won't be eligible for the Aggies is a major blow to a thin frontcourt, however. A&M will have a good idea of how they'll fare nationally after their three games in Anaheim at the 76 Classic, where they open with Clemson.
Kansas State (last NCAA: 2008) The Wildcats lost four contributors after last season, most prominently F Darren Kent (9 ppg, 5.8 ppg). but hopes are high in Manhattan. The starting backcourt is highly-regarded, in a league full of highly-regarded backcourt performers. Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen are the team's two leading scorers, averaging 15 and nearly 14 points per contest respectively, but both were equally adept at dishing the ball to their teammates, combining to average nearly 7 dimes a game. But the depth of the backcourt will be tested after Buchi Awaji and Fred Brown both left the program. Incoming freshmen Martavious Irving and Nick Russell will be expected to replace them. Frank Martin also expects big things from two other newcomers in the frontcourt, 6-9 F Wally Judge, another highly-touted recruit from the DC area and 6-8 UConn transfer Curtis Kelly. They'll join a unit led by returnees Jamar Samuels (8.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Dominique Sutton (7.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg). Martin will hope his team will gel enough for the Puerto Rico Tip-off, where the Wildcats open with Boston University.
Oklahoma (last NCAA: 2009) Look for the Sooners to play a completely different style this year, without Blake and Taylor Griffin manning the frontcourt. The Willie Warren-led (14.6 ppg, 3.2 apg) backcourt will be the focus this time around. Warren will have to take on more of a leadership role now that Blake Griffin and point guard Austin Johnson (8.6 ppg, 3.9 apg) is gone. Expect him to not spend as much time on the perimeter this season. Tony Crocker (9.6 ppg) and Cade Davis (4.7 ppg) will be expected to take on more of the scoring load as well. In the frontcourt, Orlando Allen and Ryan Wright averaged under 2 points a contest each in very limited action, so who knows if they can adequately fill in for the Griffins. 6-9 300 pound freshman Keith "Tiny" Gallon, a big man who can shoot the ball well will see a lot of action. The Sooners head north for Thanskgiving, where Jeff Capel's men will face at least San Diego and Houston in a six-team Great Alaska Shootout field.
Texas (last NCAA: 2009) Rick Barnes has few question marks this year. Unlike the Sooners, his frontcourt is pretty well set, thanks to the return of 6-7 swingman Damion James (15.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg). James will again team up with 6-6 Gary Johnson (10 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and 6-10 Dexter Pittman (10.1 ppg, 5.5 rpg) to form one of the most formidable frontcourts in the college game. While Texas has three returning guards who saw significant time last season, their roles will undoubtedly diminish because of three newcomers. 5-9 junior Jai Lucas will be eligible after sitting out last year after transferring from Florida. He'll run the offense. Lucas will be joined by two highly-regarded freshmen, 6-3 Avery Bradley and 6-7 swingman Jordan Hamilton, both of whom should challenge for more than just All-Freshman honors. The Longhorns will get to showcase their old and new talent at the CBE Classic in Kansas City, where tjhey should make the final, as they face rebuilding Iowa in the semifinals. Pittsburgh or Wichita State awaits them on night two.
Kansas (last NCAA: 2009) The Jayhawks fell five points short of a regional final appearance last year, but this time around such a result would be considered a major disappointment, when you consider all that Bill Self has coming back and coming in. Sherron Collins (18.9 ppg, 5 apg) and Cole Aldrich (14.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg) will obviously lead the way, but the Morris brothers, Marcus (7.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg) and Markieff (4.6 ppg. 4.4 rpg) should be better in their second go-round, as should Tyshawn Taylor, who nearly averaged 10 points a contest. 6-6 Xavier Henry, one of the top recruits in the country, will provide even more scoring punch to the backcourt. His brother C.J, a Memphis transfer, even came along for the ride. Another transfer, Jeff Withey, got to practice against Aldrich last year, so the 7-footer who left Arizona could turn into another force inside. In the early season, the Jayhawks will be tested by games against Memphis (in St. Louis), La Salle (in Kansas City); at UCLA, Temple, and Tennessee, and in Lawrence against California and Michigan.
As the Jayhawks are virtually everyone's preseason number 1, they'll hold the Big 12 auto bid in my 2009-10 Final Preseason Bracket, which I will release on November 9. The conference should have a big presence in this year's tournament, so check back in then to see how many at-large bids I'm predicting at the start of the year.
To wrap up this preview, here is my preseason All-Big 12 team, featuring the best returning players from last season.
Preseason All-Big 12 Team
Player of the Year: Sherron Collins, 5-11 G, Sr. (Kansas)
Remainder of the Team
Cole Aldrich, 6-11 C, Jr. (Kansas)
Craig Brackins, 6-10 C, Jr. (Iowa State)
Damion James, 6-7 F, Sr. (Texas)
Willie Warren, 6-4 G, So. (Oklahoma)