We continue our look at the Big 12 with Part II, featuring a look at Nebraska, the Oklahoma schools, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech. As a whole, this group is not as strong as what we looked at in Part I (which you can find here), but there is still a lot of talent to be found.
Nebraska and OU should both show some improvement this season, Texas will always have a very talented, but inconsistent crew, and OSU, A&M and Tech will all have some work to do to make an impact this year.
The Good: Coach Doc Sadler continues trying to make the Huskers relevant as a basketball program and this year should be a small, but significant, step up for the program as they prepare to depart for the Big 10. This group is led by the backcourt of Brandon Richardson and Lance Jeter. Richardson is incredibly quick and has the ability to get to the rim and draw fouls. Though his decision making is not the greatest, he still can pull off some tough passes and he handles pressure well. Jeter came in and established himself as the team’s point guard last season. Jeter is proficient at running Sadler’s offense and is a food defender and rebounder. Sadler has also done a good job getting some size into the program. Center Jorge Brian Diaz and forward Christian Standhardinger are a talented duo, though they last season was an adjustment period for both of them. Diaz showed the ability to be a strong rebounder and to finish around the basket. He still needs to improve his footwork, but he can a very strong player for the Huskers. Standhardinger has the ability to score from the post or the perimeter, and has very good range on his jumper. Defensively, he can be a liability, though he does have the ability to block shots. Brandin Ubel also showed flashes of potential last season as a freshman and should become more of a contributor on offense this season.
The Not-So-Good: Scoring is a major problem for Sadler’s squad, and unless someone steps up their game this season, their games can be very painful to watch. Standhardinger is the best candidate to raise his game this season, as he proved in Europe the ability to be an excellent scorer and rebounder. While the bench is deep, they will need to step up their production. Eshaunte Jones showed some skills in limited action last season, as well as Ray Gallegos who provides valuable backup minutes at the point.
The Question Mark: Is this the year the Huskers get Christopher Niemann on the court? Niemann is a potential difference maker in the middle, but has lost 2 seasons to separate ACL tears and has yet to appear on the court for Nebraska. If he can play this season, he will make the Huskers the biggest team in the league and could provide the offense with another option.
What Will March Bring?: It should be an interesting season for Huskers fans. They should be at least 15 or 16 win team again, though I have this feeling that Coach Sadler will shock a few people and get them to 20. That may not be enough for NCAA Tournament bid.
The Good: It may be hard to quantify, but losing Willie Warren, Tommy Mason-Griffin and Tiny Gallon is going to make Oklahoma a much better team. If nothing else, Coach Jeff Capel should enjoy coaching this team a lot more. While the talent level is not the same, the cabinet will be replenished soon enough. Returnees from last year’s team who look to contribute this season are guards Cade Davis and Stephen Pledger, and forward Andrew Fitzgerald. Davis and Pledger are both good long-range shooters, and both play extremely hard on the defensive end. Fitzgerald is an excellent athlete with a lot of potential. He showed last season that he has the ability to score around the basket, though it would be a huge boost if he developed a perimeter game to go with his inside game. The key to the Sooners season will most likely lie with two freshmen, both with the potential to make people forget last season. Cameron Clark is a super-athletic wing who seems like he can get to the rim on every play. He is excellent in transition and works well in isolation. Coming in to man the point is TJ Taylor, a strongly built point guard who does a great job drawing the defense to him and finding open teammates. While he has the ability to get to the rim himself, the Sooners will need him to focus on running the offense for now. Tyler Neal is another freshman wing who can provide scoring from the perimeter.
The Not-So-Good: Size and interior play can be an issue for OU this year with Fitzgerald, who is undersized, being the most experienced post player they have. There will be some newcomers who will look to help, but they are largely unproven. Freshman Abdul Ahmed, JC transfer Nick Thompson and Southern transfer Barry Honoré will all look to contribute in the post for the Sooners, though Thompson is the most polished post player of the three. Perimeter defense is also an issue with Taylor and Clark needing to prove that they can guard at a high level.
The Question Mark: After two freshmen almost single-handedly destroyed last season for the Sooners, how hesitant will Caple be to allow Clark and Taylor assert themselves on the court? It’s understandable that Caple would want to keep a tighter rein on his team, but Clark and Taylor will be his most talented players. How Caple handles them will say a lot about the program going forward.
What Will March Bring?: There is certainly enough talent to improve on last season’s 13 wins, but probably not enough yet to move back into the upper half of the Big 12. Most likely 16 or so wins and probably one major upset in Norman.
The Good: Oklahoma State is coming off an off-season where they lost their leading scorer, James Anderson, to the NBA. Also gone is 2nd leading scorer Obi Muonelo. While this season may not be as successful as last, Coach Travis Ford has started putting the pieces in place for long-term success. Leading the team this season is 3-point sniper Keiton Page and power forward Marshall Moses. Page has a lightning quick release and seemingly unlimited range on his jumper. At only 5’9, his NBA potential is limited, though if he can show that he can be a playmaker, while also playing tough defense, he could be a player to keep an eye on. However, he really needs to improve his agility, especially his lateral movement on defense. Moses has improved slowly his first three seasons, but he has shown the potential to be a much better player. He uses his body well and is quick for his size, though he is too passive on both ends of the floor. If he can be motivated to take a greater role on the team, he has the potential to be a double-double player almost every night. Ray Penn, Matt Pilgrim and Fred Gulley all played valuable minutes last season and will do so again this season. Freshmen Mike Cobbins and Markel Brown will provide some great athleticism on both ends of the floor and Cobbins should be able to help on the boards immediately.
The Not-So-Good: Losing half their scoring in Anderson and Muonelo is tough, but it’s the clutch play of Anderson that they will miss the most. Page has the attitude to be that clutch player, though he isn’t exactly Anderson talent wise. Gulley is another possible big-time scorer, though he has yet to prove it at this level. Also, the Cowboys are another team with a lack of size, relying on undersized Moses and Pilgrim as their main presence around the basket. Sophomore Jarred Shaw has excellent size, but didn’t show much in limited action last season. Junior college transfer Darrell Williams has the best shot to be a difference maker in the interior with a good strength and a wide body.
The Question Mark: As I stated above, who is going to replace Anderson as the go-to guy for the Cowboys this year? Look for freshman Markel Brown to try and assert himself immediately as a clutch player and the guy the Cowboys look to down the stretch with his ability to stretch the floor and take his man to the basket.
What Will March Bring?: They are a solid middle of the road Big 12 team, and most likely will pick up a decent seed in the NCAA Tournament. 20+ win season and some solid resume building wins are likely.
The Good: With their main offensive and defensive threats gone, Texas is going to need some of last year’s role players to step up, along with two top-level freshmen. Jordan Hamilton, a sophomore shooting guard, will need to show more of the scoring ability he showed in flashes last season. Hamilton is a much better shooter than he showed last year, when he seemed to rush his shots and was not getting himself set before shooting. He has great size for a guard, or he can move over to the 3 if needed. On defense, he still needs to work on his positioning and his lateral movement, though he has the ability to be disruptive with his long arms. The backcourt will most likely consist of J’Covan Brown and Cory Joseph, one of the top freshmen in the country. Brown is extremely quick, but erratic, and will most likely cede the point guard duties to Joseph. However, Brown has the ability to push the ball in transition and goes strong to the basket. He uses his quick hands and feet well on defense, though his effort can be a bit inconsistent. Joseph is effective as both a distributor and scorer, though he will need to add some muscle to flourish at the NCAA level. He has great energy and will go out there and compete every night. His HS teammate and fellow freshman, Tristan Thompson, should be an immediate contributor in the frontcourt, where the Longhorns lost both Damion James and Dexter Pittman. Thompson is a solid post player, can rebound on both ends, and runs the court well. Defensively, he still relies more on instincts than fundamental play, though he should improve that under Coach Rick Barnes. Big Gary Johnson is back to provide some toughness in the lane and some help on the boards.
The Not-So-Good: Size is an issue with this team, with the only legit big men on the roster being seldom-used seniors Clint Chapman and Matt Hill. The loss of Pittman and James as rebounders will be felt very strongly by the Longhorns. Point guard play has been an issue of late with Rick Barnes’ teams, especially sloppy play down the stretch of games. Dogus Balbay and Jai Lucas both had some very poor moments last season, and the loss of Varez Ward will be a major problem. Brown and Joseph will both need to raise their game a level to avoid these same issues.
The Question Mark: What will the Longhorns do for rebounding and pose defense? It is doubtful at this point that Chapman or Hill will bring much to the table, so the Longhorns will most likely go with smaller lineups featuring Johnson and Alexis Wangmene being tasked with defending the post and the lane. Barnes’ team will need to play at a very fast pace to try and disguise this lack of size.
What Will March Bring?: Texas will still find itself hanging around the top of the Big 12, but with the lack of size and experience, they will certainly hit some rough patches. Most likely 10 wins in the Big 12 and a decent, but not great, seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Good: The Aggies has a successful season last year, but will need to replace the scoring and leadership of Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis in 2010. Point guard Dash Harris will lead the team this season, though he will primarily be a distributor and defensive stopper. Harris does have the ability to hit from the perimeter, and may be called on to increase his scoring this season. BJ Holmes is another small, quick guard, but he does a much better job penetrating the defense and getting to the rim. Sophomore Kris Middleton will need to contribute more scoring from the wing this season. Hopefully his shot selection has improved over the summer. Look for the smaller guards to open up the floor to give Middleton more room to operate. A pair of big Freshmen, Daniel Alexander and Kourtney Roberson should be able to contribute immediately with the dearth of players in the middle. Alexander projects more to a small forward, though he needs to add a lot of strength. He has great range on his jumper and does an excellent job seeing the floor when he has the ball. Roberson is solidly-built and is excellent at battling around the basket, something this team will need a lot of this season.
The Not-So-Good: Inexperience in the post can be an issue, though David Loubeau has the potential to be an excellent, though undersized, post option. Perimeter shooting will need to be improved this season, especially with no real post option to help spread the court. It will be on Harris to be very creative in getting his teammates open looks. Harris is a strong defender, but the rest of the perimeter defense will need to step up to try and prevent opponents from getting easy access to the lane.
The Question Mark: Who will take over Sloan’s role as the Aggies’ go-to guy this season? The consensus seems to be Holmes, but I like Harris’ combination of speed, handle and creativity to have him be the man with the ball in his hands at crunchtime.
What Will March Bring?: There is some talent here, but I am not sure if it is enough to get back to the NCAAs again this year. It will be close though, and 20 wins is certainly not out of reach for this team. But if I had to decide today, I say they are out unless they have 2 or so major upsets on the resume.
The Good: Coach Pat Knight returns two big time scoring options in Mike Singletary and John Roberson. Singletary is extremely strong, is fearless going to the rim and showed an improved mid-range jumper last season. He is also very reminiscent of players such as Quincy Pondexter and Damion James with his ability to be a strong rebounder at his size. Roberson, one of the better combo guards in the Big 12, has great speed, the ability to get into the lane or to step back and hit a long-range jumper. D’Waylyn Roberts does a very good job around the rim and is also a strong rebounder. Junior College transfer Paul Cooper should bring some needed toughness to the post this season.
The Not-So-Good: Outside of Singletary and Roberson, the talent level is inconsistent, and the need for someone to step up as a third option on offense will be vital. Also, the bench production needs to step up this season. Players such as Brad Reese and Robert Lewandowski will become very important to the Red Raiders’ season, and they will need to produce, both on the scoreboard and on defense. Freshamn Javarez Willis should get some excellent on-the-job tutoring from Roberson and could provide some valuable minutes in his place.
The Question Mark: Who will step up and be the third option on offense behind Singletary and Roberson? I am sure Coach Knight has an idea of who he wants, and it would be best if it was a shooter who could stretch the floor for Singletary and Roberson to operate. Reese is a capable 3 point shooter, who is also a good enough athlete to defend multiple positions and help on the boards.
What Will March Bring?: I think a NCAA bid is out of reach this season, and a .500 record sounds about right. But Singletary and Roberson do give them a duo that on any night could pull an upset. Singletary and Roberson will both get looks from NBA teams and have a chance to be second round picks.
That wraps up Part II the Big 12, and make sure to check back tomorrow for the Part I of my look at Conference USA. As always, leave your comments, feel free to contact me, and follow NBA Draft Blog on Twitter – @NBADraftBlog