The Big 12 sent six teams to the NCAA Tournament a year ago, three of which had 30 win seasons. One of those teams, Missouri, is no longer in the league. Another, Baylor, had a ton of roster turnover. And then there is, you guessed it, Kansas. The Jayhawks continue to be the preeminent hoops program east of UCLA and west the state of North Carolina. The league as a whole should see improvement even with Mizzou bolting to the SEC. The Tigers are being replaced by a consistent West Virginia program, led by Bob Huggins, who is one of the best coaches in the country. Oklahoma State should also see some improvement this year. As for the other newcomer, TCU, well let’s just be nice and say they were not added to the league for their prowess on the hardwood.
[Check out our SEC bracketology breakdown here]
Will Dance (Locks):
Baylor: It would be easy to write off Baylor for losing Pierre Jones III, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller, but guess what, none of them were BU’s top scorer. That honor goes to Pierre Jackson, who is back for another go around with the Bears. Also returning is Brady Haslip, another double digit scorer. Sure, the odds of duplicating last season’s incredible 27-7 (12-6) mark might not happen. With that being said, there is tremendous talent returning to a 30-win, Elite Eight squad from a season ago, and Scott Drew is a tremendous young coach. There’s a real chance Baylor could still be playing come the second weekend of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
Oh, and 7′-1″ freshman Isaiah Austin is also a nice addition for the Bears. Forgot to mention that not-so-little tidbit. That kid was “only” the 3rd highest rated prospect in the nation.
Kansas: In the world of one-and-done, Kansas welcomes nine freshmen to campus. To help lead this young flock is senior guard Elijah Johnson. With the 10th best recruiting class in the nation (3 top 100 players), a home court advantage that rivals any in the country, and a proven coach, I’m pretty sure the defending runner-ups will be just fine.
Can Dance (Bubble):
Iowa State: Boy was this a fun team to watch a season ago with the Cyclones’ up-tempo style of play. The parts may have changed, but the pace is still there as they are shooting 50-percent from the field, scoring 89 points a night and sitting at 25th in assists per game thus far.
The excitment didn’t always ensure victory though, as they lost three out-of-conference games a season ago, before getting hot in league play. The Cyclones went 12-6 in the Big 12, won 22 games and beat Connecticut in the tourney before they fell victim to Kentucky.
The top three scorers, led by Royce White, are gone, but the next six, including Melvin Ejim and Chris Babb, are back. Iowa State will also get much needed help from now eligible transfers Korie Lucious (MSU) and Will Clyburn (Utah). Sadly one of the best names around is suspended for a sexual assult investigation, so we will not be seeing him for a while, but the Bubu Palo bandwagon was fun while it lasted.
In the early going, Lucious has been running the O well with nearly seven assists per night. Clyburn, a natural scorer who led the Utes in that stat as a freshman and sophomore, is hot early, and freshman Georges Niang has given Fred Hoiberg’s team some great play. Both are forwards, so ISU has a chance to really work you in the paint. The two are not afraid to chuck it either, combining for 7-of-16 from three-point range just four games into the season. The big issue for the Cyclones is the strange recipe. Yought, transfers and assorted vets make a patchwork team. Talented yes, but risky too. Kids leave programs for a myriad of reasons, but both Babb and Lucious left with some baggage. I hope they turned over a new leaf and respect the opportunity Ames has given them, but these are still young kids and sometimes the maturity isn’t there. If the transfer experiment blows up, the Cyclones will be in the basement, but so far so good and the talent is intising.
Kansas State: These ‘Cats were rolling and the Octagon was going nuts the first half of the year as they jumped out to a 12-2 mark with wins over Missouri, Long Beach State and Alabama, but then they just couldn’t match the success. They won two straight only one more time all season and settled at 21-9 (10-8). Despite not winning a game in the league tourney, the resume was strong enough, thanks to sweeping Mizzou and beating Baylor; but the dance was short, losing to Syracuse in the round of 32.
Following the season, lunatic Frank Martin left to yell at some new kids and look like a total jerk on national television. He seems like a personable guy in interviews, I just can’t stand his on-court demeanor. In comes Bruce Weber, a good, but not great coach, who lost too many games at hoops-happy Illinois. He recruited well and overall he had a nice run, but when your first few years are lights-out and you set the bar that high, it can set you up for failure. He might set his K-State bar high too. Eight of the Wildcats’ nine leading scorers, who all averaged double digit minutes, return. None are bigger than Rodney McGruder, who lead the team with 15.8 ppg and over five boards per night. The big concern with any team bringing in a new coach is how it will all gel. KSU has a trial by fire out-of-conference slate that includes a sneaky-good Delaware team, Gonzaga and Florida. Their conference opener is a solid Oklahoma State team followed by a trip to Morganton. This many key games before even getting to the real grind of league play will either get them ready and forge a stronger team, or shake their confidence in the new staff. If the former plays out, this team will do better than the round of 32.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys were a fairly young squad a season ago in Travis Ford’s fourth year in Stillwater and predictably they struggled early, winning just eight non-conference games. They were more competitive in league, going 7-11, a better mark than 2010. Still, there was no postseason and for a coach who has seen his win total decline each year at OSU, it wasn’t what he, or anyone else, wanted. Something from those struggles paid off though, as two of the three stars are back and the team is playing with a new found confidence, beating Tennessee and NC State by a combined 37 points recently. OSU can realistically start 11-1, maybe even better if they can upset Gonzaga, which would mean that only .500 (9-9) in league play would most likely have them dancing again. Between TCU, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and the great home crowds they enjoy, nine-plus wins should be no problem for the Pokes.
Texas: Rick Barnes played a lot of youth last year and it showed as UT mustered a 9-9 record in the league and won just 20 games overall. With a weak resume (best out of conference win was Temple, best in conference win was Kansas State) the Longhorns somehow made the field as an 11 seed and promptly lost. They return a few players, most noteably Sheldon McClellan. Another useful player who is currently suspended and awaiting a NCAA ruling on his elegibility. Texas is in a make or break year for Barnes as the fanbase has started to lose patience. I could see them missing the bubble entirely and nearly put them in the “has some moves” group, but I’m not ready to write off Barnes who has won plenty of games in Austin. On top of that, Javan Felix was too good a recruit to completely write off UT.
Has Some Moves (NIT/Building):
Oklahoma: Sooner faithful wants to erase last season from their memories. Aided by a soft schedule, OU bounced out to a 10-2 record before league play. The lack of talent was apparent when they dropped their league debut by 39 to Missouri. The good news is, they return some quality pieces, and Lon Kruger has a knack for quick turnarounds. If seniors Steven Pledger and Romero Osby can duplicate last season’s efforts and freshman Bobby Hield keeps up his start, the Sooners should put a better product out on the court. There is a chance, again aided by a soft start to the season, OU can slip into the CBI or NIT, but the NCAAs still looks like a season or two away.
West Virginia: In their final season in the Big East, WVU managed a 9-9 mark and 19 wins in a very tough schedule gave their RPI just enough boost to slip into the field of 68 where they were promptly routed by Gonzaga. With Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones gone, WVU must rely on two role players to step up, as well as their kids to pick up college speed very quickly. But hey, they do have Volodymyr Gerun on their team. Now that is an early contender for fantastic name of the year.
TCU: Long story short, the Frogs went just 7-7 in the Mountain West last year. Against power conference teams and top-end mid majors that are Big 12 caliber and finally NCAA tournament teams from any league, they were just 5-11. Worse, their leading scorers (25 a night for a team that averaged barely in the 70s) are gone. Bottom line is this wasn’t a Mountain West power to start with, the lost considerable talent and now have to play in a power league. Trent Johnson will earn his paycheck this year, that’s for sure.
Texas Tech: Well, the Red Raiders had about as bad a 12 month stretch as a team could have. After an 8-23 (1-17) season, their coach resigned amid controversy so close to the start of the season that Tech was forced to put an interim coach in place for this year. They return several of their key contributors from last year, but to me this falls into that old joke. In this case it would go: “What’s the best thing about Texas Tech basketball? They return most of their stars. What’s the worst thing about Texas Tech basketball? They return most of their stars.”
[Check out our Big East bracketology breakdown here]