2011-2012 Big 12 Preview

The Big 12 (consisting of only 10 teams) should be an interesting, but odd, conference to watch this season.  Texas A&M is leaving for the SEC, Texas has 6 freshmen and not much else, Kansas is talented, but thin.  Not to mention, Fred Hoiberg and his band of merry transfers at Iowa State, the tempers of Frank Martin and Billy Gillespie, and Lon Kruger trying to revive Oklahoma hoops.  The talent may be down across the board, but there are plenty of storylines to keep it worth tuning in for.  Here is the NBA Draft Blog Big 12 Conference Peview:

Overview

 

Player of the Year:  Perry Jones III, Baylor

Freshman of the Year: LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State

Defensive Player of the Year: Quincy Acy, Baylor

 

Predicted finish

  1. Baylor
  2. Kansas
  3. Texas A&M
  4. Missouri
  5. Oklahoma State
  6. Texas
  7. Kansas State
  8. Iowa State
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Texas Tech

Baylor

 

The Good:  Coach Scott Drew returns one of the top frontcourts in the country, led by All-American candidate Perry Jones III.  Jones, who showed great flashes of athleticism on both ends of the floor, has the ability to be a game-changer with a versatile offense and speed, but he needs to be consistent.  He is joined up front by Quincy Acy, who is a strong defender and rebounder with the ability to score around the rim, and Anthony Jones who gives Drew great size on the wing, and another defender who can alter shots.  Add superstar freshman Quincy Miller to the group, and you have a group who could potentially dominate on both ends of the floor.  AJ Walton is a solid point guard who sees the floor well, avoids mistakes, and is a strong on-ball and help defender.  Cal transfer Gary Franklin (who is eligible for the 2nd semester) and junior college transfer Pierre Jackson provide good depth at the point, while Brady Heslip and freshman Deuce Bello provide different looks at the shooting guard position.

 

The Not-So-Good:  Yes, LaceDarius Dunn took a lot of bad shots last season, but he was also the only player capable of scoring quickly and in bunches.  Bello may eventually get there with his explosiveness, and Heslip can hit the 3 consistently, but it will be tough to minimize the impact of Dunn’s loss.  Also, as a team, Baylor was dreadful from the free throw line, with 3 starters (Walton, Jones, and Acy) all shooting below 70% from the line.  It will be important for Jones to get that percentage up near 75% this season, or expect teams to just put him on the line.  Behind Jones in the middle, you have J’mison Morgan, who has shown very little in 3 college seasons considering the hype he had out of high school.

 

The Question Mark: Will Jones take that next step in his development?  Stats-wise, his freshman year was not that bad.  But it is frustrating when you see him put up 27 one game, and then less than that combined in the next two.  Part of it could be attributed to the dysfunction of the Baylor team last season, but this inconsistency was an issue for him coming out of high school as well.  He will need to come out strong after he sits out the remaining 5 games of his suspension, or people may start to grumble.

 

What Will March Bring?:  Coach Drew has a lot of talent here, but last season showed that could mean very little.  I do expect the team chemistry to be better with Dunn not looking to dominate the offense.  22-24 wins and Top 2 in the Big 12 should be expected, especially if Jones starts to live up to his potential. I wouldn’t be surprised by a deep NCAA Tournament run based on talent alone.

Iowa State

 

The Good:  You have to give Fred Hoiberg credit.  Realizing it may took a few years to attract top high school talent to Ames, he has lured a top-notch group of transfers to garner the team national attention.  Led by powerful Minnesota transfer Royce White, there is enough talent here to put Iowa State back near the middle of the Big 12.  At 6’7, White knows how to use his weight to create space around the rim, where he can use his nice touch or finish strong.  His size will also allow him to be physical which taller players in the post.  Joining him in the frontcourt is another big body, Southern Illinois transfer Anthony Booker.  Having Booker will allow White more space to operate around the lane, while also letting them split time covering post players.  Two transfers will also find plenty of time in the back court – Michigan State transfer Chris Allen and Penn State transfer Chris Babb.  Allen is athletic with a good long-range jumper, and has the experience of being a key member of two Final Four teams.  Babb will provide another quality shooter and a good perimeter defender.  They will be joined by last year’s 2nd leading scorer and best 3-point threat Scott Christopherson, who will remind many of his head coach.  Sophomore Melvin Ejim had a very solid freshman season, giving Hoiberg an athletic wing who loves to crash the offensive glass.  Bubu Palo was a dependable backup to Diante Garrett last season and should get a shot at taking over the team this year.

 

The Not-So-Good:  This is still a program in transition, and a few of the players brought in, did not come with stellar off-the-court recommendations.  Add to that rising sophomore Calvin Godfrey being dismissed from the team due to an arrest for marijuana possession, which leaves the frontcourt thin.  By all accounts, White and Allen have not had any problems since enrolling at Iowa State, but this will always be something fans will keep an eye on.  There is not great depth at the point guard position behind Palo (Korie Lucious, another transfer, will be eligible next season.) and the depth on wing is young with freshmen Percy Gibson and Elgin Cook – both talented but inexperienced.

 

The Question Mark: Obviously, can Hoiberg mold this new group into a cohesive team?  The good thing is that players like Allen, Booker and Babb are experienced, which should make aware of what they need to do, but White has yet to play a game in college after leaving high school in 2009.  Hoiberg was able to coax 16 wins out of a team with less talent than this, so I think he has the temperament and personality to get the players to buy into the program.

 

What Will March Bring?:  This is as tough of a call as any.  With talent like Allen, White, Babb, Christopherson, and Ejim, matching 16 wins seems like it should be easy.  I’m thinking 18 wins seems about right, but they probably double their Big 12 record from 3 wins to 6 wins.  NIT bound, where they could make a deep run.

Kansas

 

The Good:  4 out of the 5 top scorers from last season are gone, including NBA Draft picks Marcus and Markieff Morris, and Josh Selby, but a good mix of experience and young talent will keep Coach Bill Self’s team in the mix of things near the top of the Big 12.  The team is led by point guard Tyshawn Taylor, an experienced leader.  Taylor sees the floor well, can execute the offense and has the quickness to get into the lane and create.  His main target will be junior Thomas Robinson, an explosive talent with a NBA body, who runs the floor well and can finish strong around the rim.  Joining Taylor in the backcourt are two versatile guards in Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford.  Both have the ability to get to the rim or hit the long-range jumper, and they both can guard either backcourt spot.  Guard Naadir Tharpe is extremely athletic and should get quality minutes in the backcourt.  Loyola Marymount transfer Kevin Young is an athletic wing who is great at crashing the boards.

 

The Not-So-Good:  The frontcourt is thin behind Robinson and they can have trouble competing against bigger teams.  Center Jeff Withey has great size and is skilled around the rim, he is just inexperienced.   Actually, outside of Tyshawn Taylor and the transfer Young, no one on the roster has averaged more than 15 minutes per game, so even the upperclassmen are not a very experienced group.  The recent news that Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor will be ineligible this season makes a very thin bench that much worse.  Finally, as a team, the group has to become much more consistent shooters, from the free throw line to the 3-point line.

 

The Question Mark: Will Robinson be as effective while significantly increasing his playing time?  Part of what made Robinson so spectacular last season was that he could go full speed the whole time he was on the court, which was only about 15 minutes a game.  Now his role is going to change and he will become more of a focal point on offense and will have an increased defensive role.  It will be hard to expect him to play at the same speed he did last year.  His time will be better spent slowing the game down and learning to operate in the paint.  I think Coach Self will realize this as well, so look for Robinson to show a more mature offensive and defensive game this season.

 

What Will March Bring?:  Expectations will need to be tempered this year in Lawrence – a tough non-conference schedule could give them more losses than all of last season.  But they should be in contention for one of the top 3 spots in a weak conference.   I think 25 wins, 12 in the Big 12 would be better than expected but reasonable to achieve for this group.  If Robinson continues to improve at his current rate and the freshmen contribute more than expected, a Sweet 16 trip may be in the cards as well.

Kansas State

 

The Good:  Wildcat legend Jacob Pullen has moved on, but Coach Frank Martin has enough talent in Manhattan to stay competitive in the Big 12.  It starts with the backcourt trio of Rodney McGruder, Martavious Irving, and Will Spradling.  McGruder is the team’s best all-around player, using his strength well to create room for his perimeter shot on offense or for getting to the rim.  On the defensive end, his strength gives allows him to be a great rebounder for his size.  Irving also has a solid body, sees the floor well and limits his mistakes while running the offense.  Spradling is a great third option when another shooter is needed on the floor and a good perimeter defender.  Forward Jamar Samuels is a good athlete, uses his explosiveness well around the basket and is a good rebounder on both ends of the floor.  Former St. John’s player Omari Lawrence will provide depth in the backcourt, along with freshman Angel Hernandez, while fellow freshmen Adrian Diaz and Thomas Gipson should get significant minutes in a weak frontcourt.

 

The Not-So-Good:  As I said above, this is not a good frontcourt, especially with the losses of Curtis Kelly and Freddy Asprilla.  Jordan Henriquez is the most experienced big man, but he still has a lot of development to do on both sides of the floor.  He does have a good size and takes up space.  He will probably spend a lot of time alongside Gipson, who is a space-eater in his own right, but is still not much of an offensive threat.  The loss of Pullen leaves a void in the leadership department, which Martin needs to hope will be filled by McGruder and Irving.

 

The Question Mark: Has the recent peak in K-State hoops ended?  It was a nice little run under the leadership of Bob Huggins and then Frank Martin, but the well is starting to dry up talent wise and I’m not sure Martin is a good enough coach to rebound from a down year or two.

 

What Will March Bring?:  Luckily for Martin, the league is mix of very talented teams and some up and comers – his team falls right in the middle; some veteran talents who have played behind some good players.  20 wins isn’t out of the question, but I don’t see them winning more than 9-10 in the Big 12.  If they can get to .500 in the Big 12, they should be firmly on the NCAA bubble.

Missouri

 

The Good:  New coach Frank Haith inherits a veteran team with 6 returning players who averaged at least 17 minutes per game.  The group is led by the backcourt of Michael Dixon, Kim English, and Marcus Denmon.  Denmon is a versatile scorer, has great range on his jumper and is a tough defender, with the ability to play long stretches at top speed.  English does all the things you need to make his team better – he can score if needed, is a great passer and a tough perimeter defender.  Dixon is the perfect point guard to keep this fast-paced offense moving, getting down court quickly and seeing the floor well.  They are joined in the backcourt rotation by Matt Pressey and Phil Pressey. Phil played quality minutes at the point guard spot and could compete for the starting lineup this season.  Anchoring the frontcourt is Ricardo Ratliffe.  Ratliffe is a strong presence around the rim, but is athletic enough to draw his man to the perimeter and beat him.  Having played in former coach Mike Anderson’s system, these players are all in top shape with high motors, and will harass you baseline to baseline on defense.

 

The Not-So-Good:  The loss of Laurence Bowers for the year to a torn ACL will have a major impact.  The frontcourt was thin to begin with, having only Ratliffe and Bowers as quality players.  Center Steve Moore did see an increase in minutes last season and he will need to find a way to stay on the court against teams with dominant frontcourt players.  Redshirt freshman, Kadeem Green, could help, but hasn’t played since tearing his Achilles in his senior year of high school.  The decision of Louisville graduate George Gooden to not come to Missouri was a blow to begin with.  A standard line up could see 4 guards and Ratliffe getting the majority of the minutes.

 

The Question Mark: How bad will the loss of Bowers hurt?  Arguably, he could be the team’s best player, an athletic and strong forward who can score and defend.  However, this team that Mike Anderson built was always meant to revolve around the guards, and assuming Haith doesn’t tinker too much with the personnel, the Tigers should be able to stay in the top half of the conference.

 

What Will March Bring?:  Not to harp on it again, but a lot of where this team ends up in March is based on Haith not really messing with the style the team played over the last few seasons.  If he lets them play up-tempo, then you are looking at a 22-24 win team, and a NCAA bid.  The loss of Bowers will hurt more come post-season, so I would be surprised if we saw them play past the opening weekend.

Oklahoma

 

The Good:  New Coach Lon Kruger inherits a team that returns 5 of its top 6 scorers, all sophomores and juniors.  Forward Andrew Fitzgerald is very productive around the rim and has bulked up this off-season to make him a stronger defender down low.  The backcourt of Carl Blair and Steven Pledger are not spectacular, but they can be effective.  Blair sees the court well, can push the ball up the floor quickly and is a strong perimeter defender.  Pledger is a good perimeter shooter, but needs to become more consistent.  Cameron Clark is a versatile wing on both ends of the floor – he can attack the basket and hit the mid-range jumper and he has the ability to guard multiple positions.  Mississippi State transfer Romero Osby is an athletic forward who can attack the offensive boards.

 

The Not-So-Good:  While Fitzgerald and Osby have decent size, there is no real post option for the Sooners, so expect an up-tempo style of play.  Kruger recruited junior college transfer Casey Arent, who has good size and a strong body, but is still developing as a post player.  There could be some help in Tyler Neal, who is undersized, but isn’t afraid to mix it up down low.  Perimeter shooting is also an area which will need to be addressed.  Pledger and Clark have the ability to hit the mid and long-range jumper, but they need to become more consistent.  Defensively, the team as a whole has to do a better job keeping players from getting into the middle of the defense.

 

The Question Mark: Does Kruger have the magic to rebuild one more program?  Kansas State, Florida, Illinois and UNLV all rebounded as programs once Kruger took them over.  This may be his biggest challenge to date – the Kelvin Sampson fiasco followed by Jeff Capel’s failed effort have left the program in the worst shape in years.  Add to that the recent success of most of the conferences other teams, and it will be a long time before this program is competitive again.

 

What Will March Bring?:  Probably looking at another 12-14 win season, with 4-6 coming in the Big 12, but with a team full of sophomores and juniors in key roles, they could be poised to make a little noise next year.

Oklahoma State

 

The Good:  Head Coach Travis Ford is coming off what was seen by many as a disappointing season, but he has plenty to be excited about this year with the addition of McDonald’s All-American Le’Bryan Nash.  Nash is a freak athlete with a NBA body, who can score inside and out.  He is also relentless attacking the boards, though he needs to work on becoming a better perimeter defender.  Nash will be surrounded by plenty of experienced talent.  Keiton Page is a great 3-point shooter, though with a lack of many other scoring options, he tended to force too many bad shots last season.  The addition of Nash should help alleviate that.  JP Olukemi was a good addition to the squad last season, doing a great job attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line.  Darrell Williams is a very strong rebounder and defender who can give a bit of scoring also.  Markel Brown is a very good perimeter defender with a developing offensive game, and freshman point guard Cezar Guerrero can be a spectacular scorer and distributor, but needs to work on not always going for a highlight play.

 

The Not-So-Good:  The loss of Marshall Moses and Matt Pilgrim will be tough on the Cowboys, especially on the defensive end.  Ford has brought in 2 new big bodies – junior college transfer Phillip Jurik and Czech Marek Soucek.  Both players have good potential, but neither is as polished as they could be yet.  Soucek does have international experience, but will be 21 during the upcoming season, so it will be interesting to see how he adjusts to the NCAA.  Either way, it will be tough for them to make up the lost rebounding ability of Moses and Pilgrim.  The starting point guard at the beginning of last season, Fred Gulley, is back after shoulder surgery forced him to redshirt last season.  There is no telling how well he will come back, which may force Guerrero into a more prominent role immediately.  3 point shooting may be an issue if Page is forced into bad looks again this season.  Other than Nash, there aren’t many other solid deep threats.

 

The Question Mark:

 

What Will March Bring?:  Even with the addition of Nash, the non-conference schedule has the potential to be very tough.  Even if they go .500 in the Big 12, 18 wins may be the best this group can do, especially without an experienced big man.  I will say 18 wins, and probably 7-8 in conference, and most likely looking at playing in the both the pre and postseason NIT.

Texas

 

The Good:  Rick Barnes is going to need to do his best coaching job to date if he wants to guide Texas near the top of the Big 12 again.  Only one player, J’Covan Brown, returns who averaged more than 10 minutes per game, and the team will feature 6 freshmen, who all figure to play significant minutes.  Brown is a scorer, and though he is undersized for the shooting guard, he finds ways to create room for his shot.  The new point guard this season will be freshman Myck Kabongo.  A natural for the position, Kabongo sees the court extremely well, can play at any pace, and can score from the perimeter or off the dribble.  Freshman Sheldon McClellan is an athletic wing who finds ways to get to the basket.  Adding to the backcourt depth are freshmen Sterling Gibbs and Julien Lewis, two more terrific scorers, though Gibbs can also find some time at the point guard position.  Jonathan Holmes will make an impact immediately in the post for the Longhorns, with his ability to score with his back to the basket or facing up.   Freshmen Jaylen Bond is another good athlete who excels at crashing the offensive boards.

 

The Not-So-Good:  The loss of Tristan Thompson and Gary Johnson has left the frontcourt in bad shape.  The returning players, Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman, have played few minutes and neither is highly skilled, though they can be physical.  Holmes and Bond will need to play a lot of minutes right away because the lack of any depth up front.  There is a lot of talent in the backcourt, but it may be tough for Barnes to find enough minutes for everybody, especially if he settles on a rotation early in the season.

 

The Question Mark: Can Kabongo be a team leader this early in his career?  Under normal circumstances, you would let a freshman gradually develop into a leadership role, but things will be different in Texas this season.  Luckily, Kabongo is not your typical freshman point guard, and he already plays with a maturity level way beyond his years.  If his teammates buy into his leadership early, this young team may gel very rapidly.

 

What Will March Bring?:  There is still enough talent, young as it is, to keep the streak of 20-win seasons alive, though there will probably be some hiccups in a tougher than average non-conference schedule.  Probably looking at 18-20 wins, 8-10 in the Big 12, and a spot on the NCAA bubble.

Texas A&M

 

The Good:  Mark Turgeon parlayed his success at Texas A&M into a job at Maryland, but he left new coach Billy Kennedy a lot of talent to start his tenure.  The frontcourt is one of the best in the Big 12, featuring Wooden Award semifinalist Khrys Middleton.  Middleton, a versatile offensive player, uses his length well to create shots and his athleticism to get to the rim, where he does a good job drawing contact and getting to the free-throw line.  He is joined up front by David Loubeau.  Loubeau uses his body well around the lane, and can finish strong or with an improving touch.  He also does a good job clearing out space and grabbing rebounds on both ends of the floor.  Kourtney Roberson will look to build on a good freshman season and should give Loubeau help defending the post.  Sophomores Keith David and Ray Turner should provide Kennedy with some depth against teams with big frontcourt players.  Point guard Dash Harris is a top-notch defender and does a great job getting the ball to his teammates in position for them to score easily.  Washington transfer Elston Turner will provide a quality deep threat for the Aggies, while Naji Hibbert can provide some scoring off the bench.  Freshmen guards Jamal Branch and Jordan Green will have a chance to earn quality minutes with their versatile abilities, and redshirt freshman Daniel Alexander, who was highly touted out of high school, could work his way into the rotation.

 

The Not-So-Good:  Defensively, outside of Harris, the Aggies are not very good, especially on the interior.  With some quality big men in the Big 12, the guards will need to become more active, either keeping the ball out on the perimeter or helping in the post quickly.  This includes everyone becoming more active on the glass, with leading rebounder from last season, Nathan Walkup, gone.  On the offensive end, perimeter shooting could be an issue, though the addition of Turner should help that.  Look for Kennedy to try and play up-tempo, putting the onus on Harris to get down the floor quickly and find his guys.

 

The Question Mark: Will Kennedy be able to keep up Turgeon’s momentum with the program?  97 wins and 4 NCAA appearances over the last 4 years for the Aggies under Turgeon, which was his entire tenure.  Kennedy is coming out of the Ohio Valley Conference, in which he did have some high quality seasons at Murray State.  It may be one thing if he was trying to rebuild a program, but there is always going to be a certain pressure when you succeed a highly regarded coach.  Kennedy has gotten off to a good start recruiting, and he does have a veteran squad, so it will be important for the Aggies to get off to a fast start this season.

 

What Will March Bring?:  Kennedy has enough talent here to get A&M to the 22-24 win mark again, especially with a non-conference schedule that has just a few tough matchups.  In their last Big 12 season, look for the Aggies to win 10-12 games and most likely be in the Top 3.  NCAA Tournament bound, with the Sweet 16 a definite possibility.

Texas Tech

 

The Good:  Billy Gillespie is back in Texas, and the people of Lubbock are hoping he can mimic the success he had in his previous jobs in the state.  With only 3 players left from last season’s squad, Gillespie will have a chance to mold this team from the beginning.  Senior Robert Lewandowski has good size, is active around the rim, and will give the Red Raiders a decent post presence.  Sophomores Jaye Crockett and Javarez Willis played a decent amount of minutes last season and both should adjust well to Gillespie’s defensive-minded style of play.  Of the newcomers, Jordan Tolbert may be the most ready to play, and will provide an inside-out post presence at the power forward spot.  Junior College transfer Jaron Nash is an explosive athlete who can get to the rim and finish strong.

 

The Not-So-Good:  As it has been know through the years, Gillespie is very tough to play for, and you may see a lot of turnover quickly in his roster over the first 2 seasons.  The guys who do play for him will give an effort every night, but right now it is still tough to pick out which newcomers will make an impact.  Kevin Wagner and Toddrick Gotcher will have the opportunity to earn a lot of minutes in the backcourt.

 

The Question Mark: Is it possible to make Texas Tech basketball viable again?  A legend like Bob Knight had minor success here, and his son Pat tried to make Lubbock a destination for players, but could only land a few.  Gillespie has done well at each of his stops, even the controversial time in Kentucky.  He knows the state of Texas well and if given the proper amount of time, he may get Texas Tech near the middle of the Big 12 pack again, but there is way too much work to be done to think beyond that.

 

What Will March Bring?:  Even with a very light non-conference schedule, 10 wins may be the ceiling for this group, with 2-3 coming in the Big 12.  It’s going to be a long year in Lubbock, and you don’t want to make Billy Gillespie angry.

That wraps up the 2011-2012 Big 12 Preview – make sure to check back later this week for a look at the Pac 12 this season.  Leave your comments, email me at [email protected] and follow me on Twitter: @NBADraftBlog

 

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