Friday, October 16, 2009

NCAA Basketball Preview: The Big 12

There are two teams here that are clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the conference, but most of the rest of the conference's teams are no slouches following them.  Other than a couple of bottom feeders, almost everybody should be in the mix for an NCAA bid at some point. 

1.  Kansas.  There are some loaded teams this year, but it would be hard to argue that another team out there is as talented or as loaded as the Jayhawks.  They have it inside with Cole Aldrich, who makes my heart hurt every time I see him.  They have it outside with Sherron Collins, who transition from supporting player to lead-dog brilliantly last season.  They have experience, with everybody back from last year's Sweet 16 team.  They have youth coming in, with three very talented sophomores who should be even better this year, as well as one of the top recruiting classes in the country coming in, topped by SG Xavier Henry, Rivals #8 prospect.  They deep at every position, with 8 guys who averaged more than 12 minutes per game last season.  Simply put, there's nothing not to like about Kansas this year, as long as they don't get in any more fist fights with the football team.

2.  Texas.  One of the few teams in the country who can legitimately claim they might have a better recruiting class this year than the Jayhawks, Texas brings in two Top 10 recruits in guards Avery Bradley and Jordan Hamilton, and two others in the top 75 as well.  If that's not enough, PG Jai Lucas, a top 50 recruit when he originally signed with Florida, has transferred in and should fit in well since he won't need to score.  The Longhorns only really significant loss was guard A.J. Abrams, who you will remember as the Gopher destroyer, but I don't think that will hurt much.  In a couple of the games I watched last year, their offense would some times get caught up in trying to force him the ball, and that won't be a concern this year.  Like Kansas, Texas is loaded in every way and everywhere.

3.  Oklahoma.  It's always tough to start over when you lose a guy like the genetically engineered in a lab Blake Griffin, and the Sooners also lose their Cooper Manning in Blake's brother Taylor as well as starting guard Austin Johnson and his freaky-deaky mohawk.  So why pick them third?  Simple:  Willie Warren (who I actually thought was Johnson at one point, mostly because I liked the 'hawk) and a recruiting class right on par with KU and Texas.  Warren is a complete guard who can score inside and out, and managed to average nearly 15 points per game in a role where his job was to compliment Griffin (Blake not Taylor), with him turned loose this season, he could be a superstar.  Tony Crocker and his stupid long-sleeved T-shirt are also back to annoy you.

4.  Oklahoma State.  The Cowboys finally broke through last year, reaching the NCAA Tournament (and beating Tennessee) after three straight NIT trips, and their reward is losing their entire starting back court.  Luckily for them, they will have two of their top players back, both wing types in James Anderson and Obi Muonelo.  Anderson is really impressive, a 40% three-point shooter who is also nearly impossible to stop when he's driving to the basket and plays his best against good teams (his two highest scoring outputs last season were 35 against Texas and 37 against Oklahoma).  His 1/1.4 asist to turnover ratio is troubling, however.  OSU also has a good recruiting class that would have been better if their top recruit wouldn't have been bounced for academics.  Three of the newcomers are point guards and one of them will have to be able to step in for departed PG Byron Eaton - that could be the key to their season.

5.  Kansas State.  A few short years ago, K-State picked up Beasely and Billy Walker and was suddenly relevant to the college basketball landscape.  Huggins then bolted for West Virginia, Beasley and Walker headed to the NBA, and the Wildcats were in danger of sinking back into obscurity.  Luckily for them, it turns out Frank Martin is a pretty good recruiter, too, and he brings in a very nice class.  The star is Rivals #19 recruit Wally Judge, a 6-9 power forward who was named a McDonald's All-American and will make a big impact.  He's joined by two other top 150 guys, as well as UCONN transfer small forward Curtis Kelly, who was a top 30 recruit in 2006.  Add in a good returning back court in Denis Clemente (who dropped 44 on Texas last year) and frustratingly awesome point guard Jacob Pullen, who is equally likely to score 20, dish ten assists, or go 1-13 and turn it over seven times (which he did against Texas), and KSU is going to be an interesting team.

6.  Texas A&M.  Every year I dismiss the Aggies as a fluky school that managed to somehow wrangle an NCAA bid despite being mediocre team.  Then I was doing some research for this, and read that they have now made the tournament four straight years, winning at least one game each year.  It may be time to pay more attention - especially because they have top shelf recruiting classes coming in 2009 and in 2010.  The most exciting newcomer to me is Khris Middleton, although not the highest ranked (two other guys rank above him).  He's gone from a non-ranked player to breaking into the Rivals 150 (#140) after averaging over 24 points a game his senior year.  He's 6-7 and the reports I have read describe him as a "slasher", an "athlete", and a "terrific outside shooter."  Sounds outstanding - I'm giddy and I'm not even a fan.  I'm so excited, I'm actually going to give him his own label.  Look below, it's there.  I might even have to try to find him on facebook.  They also have improving center Bryan Davis back, mostly known for looking like an older Shelden Williams.  You read that right.
7.  Baylor.  Man did this team break my heart last year.  They were my secret bargain futures bet at 40-1 to win the whole thing, with a team loaded with good guards, everybody back from an NCAA tournament team last year, and just a good vibe.  They beat both Providence and Arizona State, and hung tough with Wake in an early season tournament and I was feeling it.  Then they won just five conference games and didn't even make the big dance, settling for an NIT bid whereupon they got their collective shit together and made it to the championship game.  Too little, too late, asshats.  Anyway, they lose two of their good guards but still have two more back, and they gain something they haven't had in years - a big time inside defensive presence in Ekpe Udoh, a transfer from Michigan who you may remember as offensively challenged but a very good shotblocker.  They will need someone to become a third scorer, but with two very good recruiting classes the next two years (and another on the way in 2010), they should be just fine.

8.  Iowa State.  The Cyclones have probably the best player in the conference back in power forward Craig Brackins, who averaged 20.2 points (2nd in conf.) and 9.5 rebounds (3rd) per game last season and was a near-lock as a lottery pick for the NBA draft before he surprisingly decided to return to Ames, which is even more shocking since it seems every season since Jake Sullivan graduated has seen a mass exodus of players every offseason.  Not this year, since almost the entire team returns and should be much improved this season.  They are also joined by a couple of top 100 JuCo players, although that list can be a mixed bag at best, but both are described as very athletic and one was a highly regarded prospect coming out of high school and the other was named the Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year.  McDermott seems to have Iowa State back on the right track, especially if the hometown squad can snag Harrison Barnes away from Duke or UNC - which is starting to sound less and less likely.

9.  Missouri.  A very fun team to watch last year, and a pretty fun program ever since the days of Rickey Paulding and Big Artie, I'm not sure what to make of the squad this season.  With Coach Mike Anderson back, you can expect them to continue with the "40 minutes of hell" style game plan, but they will have to do without last year's top three scorers, including star forwards Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll who were not only good players, but also fit the system perfectly.  Luckily, they are getting back all their main ballhandlers, including starters J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor and add in the Missouri High School Player of the Year in Michael Dixon, so the backcourt is in good shape - key for an uptempo attack.  They will just need somebody to stand out in the frontcourt, and while there are plenty of candidates, there's no obvious option.

10.  Texas Tech.  Pat Knight has done a hell of a job breaking down what daddy built in Lubbock, getting to the point where he described going into games as "going to a gun fight with a squirt gun."  Ouch.  And since he hasn't done much in terms of recruiting talent, he's turning to the JuCo ranks this year, which should be interesting at the very least.  The Red Raiders are bringing in and expecting significant contributions from three Jucos who ranked in the top 33 on Juco Junction's Top 150, highlighted by #7 Brad Reese who had originally signed with LSU.  Will it work?  Who the hell knows, junior college players are always a crapshoot, but it's an interesting strategy, especially for a team with three double-digit scorers returning.  That group includes forward Mike Singletary, who notched two double-doubles as well as a 43 point outburst in the team's last four games last year.

11.  Nebraska.  I know virtually nothing about Nebraska basketball outside of that little weiner guard a few years back who spelled his name Cochrane or something but pronounced all frenchy, but that's ok, because in my experience people in Nebraska don't know much about Husker basketball either.  When I had to go to Lincoln a couple of years ago for work, I started talking with the guy I was meeting with there about sports and mentioned that without a pro sports franchise in the state and only one major university, U of Nebraska sports must be pretty huge.  He affirmed this, and then started talking about Nebraska football.  Then Nebraska baseball.  Then women's volleyball.  Then swimming, track & field, and softball.  Didn't even mention basketball until I asked him, and then he talked about Creighton.  So, yeah, 11th place sounds about right.

12.  Colorado.  I'm really struggling to write something positive here, but I can't seem to come up with anything.  I can't remember the last time the Buffaloes were relevant, and the that includes the recent few years when they had Richard Roby, one of the better Big 12 players in his years at Boulder.  There's a sliver of hope here, with a good returning backcourt in All-Big 12 Third Teamer Cory Higgins and returning double-digit scorer Dwight Thorne, and with almost Wolves' head coach Jeff Bzdelik on board you have to think he'll get the program turned in the right direction, as he did at Air Force.  But really, the most exciting news is incoming freshman Shannon Sharpe, who obviously has a famous name, but even better is described in Athlon Magazine as "a Youtube sensation."  I haven't bothered to look him up or anything, but man, that sounds cool.

Holy crap is this conference deep this year.  There are about nine teams here with a reasonable hope for an NCAA Bid.  I don't remember who they play in their cross conference challenge thing (gun to my head I think it's the Pac 10), but I bet they end up winning it.

Other Previews
Conference USA
Atlantic 10 
Mountain West 
Atlantic Coast


WWWWWW said...

I have been told there will be a WCHA preview coming later today, so stay tuned.

WWWWWW said...

Welcome Iowa State Fans!