Monday, September 19, 2011

NCAA Hoops Preview - The Big 12 or whatever

Remember how I said I was going to do a preview of a new conference each Wednesday or Friday and laid out that whole schedule?  Well forget all that.  I don't do organization well.  I'm just going to run 'em out there whenever I see fit in whatever order I fell like.

We're starting with the Big 12, a conference that will have a significantly different look this year and I don't just mean that they tossed two of their worst hoops programs in Colorado and Nebraska.  The real intrigue here is that the two tradition powers of the Big 12, Kansas and Texas, were both hit hard by graduations and early defections to the NBA if it ever exists again.  Between the two schools they lost 9 starters, and although both are capable of rebuilding quickly and still have plenty of talent, the conference is more wide open than it's been since I can remember.  Of course, it's looking like it won't exist for much longer, but for this season at least it will be interesting.  With an 18-game true round robin schedule, I expect these teams to beat up each other pretty good, and any school that can manage double digit wins is going to be in good shape.

1.  BAYLOR BEARS.  If he had entered the draft Perry Jones would have been a top-3 pick, so his return to Waco is huge for Baylor.  He's an absolute beast who is tough to handle inside but can also play the perimeter (although not much of a shooter) and is practically a lock for B12 player of the year, especially with Lace Dunn gone so he will become the absolute focal point of the offense.  They return everybody else inside and picked up a couple of stud freshman in wings Quincy Miller (#7 overall according to Rivals, spurned Duke to sign with the Bears) and Deuce Bello (#54 overall and has a sweet name) so they're pretty well loaded.  Their frontline of Jones, Miller, and Quincy Acy might be tops in the country.  If they can get solid PG play from either the returning A.J. Walton (meh) or JuCo transfer Pierre Jackson, who led his team to the JuCo championship, they're a major contender to win the whole thing.

2.  MISSOURI TIGERS.  With so much talent having vacated the conference the door is open for the Tigers and their five returning starters - yes five.  Of course, the biggest question is what happens when you take the players who are well suited to run Mike Anderson's crazy circus ball system and give them a new coach, one whose Miami team last year was one of the slowest in the NCAA.  Assuming Frank Haith has the brains to realize you fit your system to the players in this case, hopefully he turns them lose because with Marcus Denmon, Michael Dixon, and the Pressey brothers running the break with Ricardo Ratliffe, Laurence Bowers, and Kim English filling the lanes these guys are one of the most fun groups to watch in all of the NCAA.  Of course, if my knowledge of most coaches is right he'll try to force them to slow down and at least one player will quit or get suspended for "conduct detrimental to the team" which in this case will mean getting pissed at the coach.  This is just like Above the Rim.    

3.  KANSAS JAYHAWKS.  Kansas lost a ton of talent this year and 75% of their scoring from last year, so they'll rely heavily on Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, and that's not necessarily a bad thing, assuming they can improve upon last year.  Both were solid players last year, but are going to have to become the main men on offense if Kansas is going to make any kind of run.  Sophomore guards Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson were top 100 guys coming out of high school, as are newcomers Naadir Tharpe and Ben McLemore, but they're all guards.  The biggest issue for Kansas is on the interior, because outside of Robinson they're paper thin.  They have a big seven-footer in Jeff Withey, but he's only played 207 minutes in his first two years in Lawrence.  The talent on the outside will get them to the NCAA Tournament, but I wouldn't expect much of a run unless somebody really steps up to help Robinson in the paint.

4.  TEXAS A&M AGGIES.  Khris Middleton is one of my favorite players to watch, and also one of my least favorite players to watch.  When things are going well he's a born scorer who can hit from outside, inside, or drive to the hole and get to the line.  However when the opposition makes a concerted effort to take him out of the game it works far, far too well, such as when he shot 0-9 and didn't even bother getting to the line because he just shot jumpers all game (I watched this one and it was lame).  But he's no doubt a special talent and he doubled his scoring average from his freshman to sophomore year, so if he worked that hard again this offseason you might be looking at a B12 player-of-the-year type season.   

5.  IOWA STATE CYCLONES.  What to think about Iowa State?  It's tough, partially because I'm biased since I consider them my second favorite college team, partially because how do you not like the mayor, partially because I love his strategy of not caring about a player's off the court baggage and just bringing in talent, and partially because when you ignore players' off the court baggage things can implode in a hurry.   I mean you know all about Royce White's talent and watched Chris Allen for what feels like 10 years, but did you realize transfer Anthony Booker from So Ill was ranked the #43 freshman in the country when he came into school?  And Chris Babb from Penn State averaged nearly 10 points per game as a sophomore?  They're going to struggle finding a ball handler with Diante Garrett graduating, but this could be a spectacular team.  Or they could end up with a couple of guys kicked out, a fight amongst their own team, and a massive flame out of a season.  Either way, this should be fun to watch. 

6.  OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS.  I've flipped these guys with Texas a few times, and that's mainly because I can't quite figure out what to think of OSU (or Texas, actually).  On the one hand, the bring in a freshman in wing LeBryan Nash who instantly becomes their best player (#6 overall recruit by Rivals) so that ups their talent level.  On the other hand, he needs the ball in his hands to be effective, their other stud recruit is a point guard Cezar Guerrero (#71 overall) who is described as more of a scorer than distributor, and their best returning player, Keiton Page, is a big-time chucker who led the team in shot attempts despite hitting just 37% of his shots.  See where I'm going with this?  They might be a more talented team this year, but I'd be concerned about if there are enough balls to go around. 

7.  TEXAS LONGHORNS.  I'm struggling to see any way they can compete this year.  I know Myck Kabongo is a total stud and basically pushed Cory Joseph out the door, but I am, everything is gone from last year and even though this year's recruiting class is very good it's not a ready made team like Kentucky seems to pull in each year.  I mean, literally the only returner of any consequence is J'Covan Brown and he averaged double figures scoring and went for over 20 in both NCAA tournament games, but that was as a complimentary player, and now he's going to have to be Mr. Offense.  I feeling like I might be selling them a bit short because it seems like no matter what the Longhorns are always able to end having a great team that flames out in the end, but I'm really not seeing it this year.  Seeing as how Rick Barnes isn't exactly known for coaching teams up, looks like 7th place and the NIT to me.

8.  KANSAS STATE WILDCATS.  So here's Kansas State.  A terrible program that never did anything, and Frank Martin manages to snag Michael Beasley, Bill Walker, and Jake Pullen - bam, instant contender.  Well guess what?  With Pullen's graduation they're all gone.  Some say Martin has turned K-State into a whole new program, one who can contend with the big boys in the conference (wherever they end up).  I say they're wrong, and K-State is heading back to dumpsville - unless they end up in C-USA or the Mountain West or some new conference made out of leftovers, but if they're in a major conference it's not going to be pretty, starting this year where I'd be stunned if they managed even an NIT bid.  Should have taken the Miami job, Frank.  A chance to go back to your home town right as your program is about to fall off a cliff?  Ouch.  This is like Shelly Long leaving Cheers, only kind of the opposite.

9.  OKLAHOMA SOONERS.  Ouch.  From 30 wins two years ago to just 27 in the past couple of seasons combined along with NCAA infractions and a new coach.  Also, if I told you there was much talent here I'd be lying.  Lon Kruger has a long road back to make Oklahoma relevant, but at least if they move on to the Pac-12 (14/16) they'll get to play those crappy teams a bunch of times, so that'll help.  Seriously, though the only guy I remember from Oklahoma last year is that Brian Cardinal wannabe Cade Davis and he's gone so you can just picture me shrugging my shoulders and we can move on.

10.  TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS.  Riddle me this - what happens when a terrible team loses four starters (it's four top scorers, top rebounder, and 3 top assist men) who accounted for over 2/3rds of the team's scoring and are replacing them with a JC dude and a transfer from Utah?  Well we're about to find out and I have a feeling it's not going to be pretty.  Assuming Billy Gillespie isn't drunk all the time I'm sure he'll improve their fortunes (wherever they end up), but this is going to be a rough year.  Good thing nobody gives a crap about this team.

Well there we are.  The first college basketball preview of the year.  As Brian Fantana would say, "It really revs my engine."  Seriously though, I need this.  I can't even watch the Twins anymore.  At like, 2pm this afternoon Snacks texted me something about how Parmalee can hit and I was like, "Dude, I totally forgot they were even playing a day game" and he was like, "I know.  I only even saw the score because I was going on to check and see if the Red Sox were losing because it would be funny if they collapsed."  It's so funny and sad I'm going to go kick a baby.

Seriously though, Missouri at 75-1 to win the National Championship is worth throwing a couple bucks down.  They'll end up a 3-4 seed.

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