NCAA:Kansas (1 seed, lost to VCU in Elite 8); Texas (4 seed, lost to Arizona in the third round); Kansas State (5 seed, lost to Wisconsin in the third round) Texas A&M (7 seed, lost to Florida State in second round); Missouri (11 seed, lost to Cincinnati in the second round)
NIT:Oklahoma State (3 seed, lost to Washington State in the second round)
1.It would seem pretty incredible to pick anyone other than Kansas after their run of seven straight Big 12 champions, but that's just what we are doing. Texas A&M didn't have a bad run themselves last season, finishing 10-6 in the conference (third) and 24-9 overall. Coach Mark Turgeon considered the season a disappointment with three losses to Texas and an opening round loss to the Seminoles of Florida State in the NCAA Tournament. Even with coach Billy Kennedy (of Murray State) is technically "new" (he is a former assistant at A&M), three starters including forwards Khris Middleton (14.3 points, 5.2 rebounds) and David Loubeau (11.9 points, 5.6 rebounds) are back as upperclassmen to lead the Aggies. There is some depth in the frontcourt as Kourtney Roberson and Naji Hibbert return to the lineup after providing some solid production off the bench last season. In a frontcourt-heavy conference, Texas A&M has the talent and depth to win the long race.
2.Last season, Kansas was one of three teams to be have both their offense and defense ranked in the top ten of KenPom.com's rankings (joining Duke and Ohio State), but the Jayhawks fell victim to VCU in the Elite 8. Bill Self finds himself with a different lineup and rotation entirely- losing Big 12 Player of the Year Marcus Morris, Big 12 second-teammer Markieff Morris and the starting backcourt, both honorable mention all-conference guards Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar; the lone starter left over is point guard Tyshawn Taylor. But the brightest spot on this roster, and the one that can lead Self to Kansas' 8th straight Big 12 title is power forward Thomas Robinson- a statistical wonder in his first two season in Lawrence with per minute averages through the roof of Phog Allen; in 14.5 minutes per game backing up the Morris-es, Robinson averaged 7.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game, while shooting .601 from the field.
3.Oh, don't burn us again Baylor. Had the Bears not overwhelmingly disappointed last season, we would have had them at the top of the Big 12 this pre-season, but again, they are one point guard away from a solid starting rotation. AJ Walton returns to the point, which isn't necessarily a good thing as he averaged 4.7 assists and 3.4 turnovers per game last season- one of the highest turnover rates in the entire country. He will likely be overtaken by JuCo transfer Pierre Jackson, a shoot-first point guard.
Does it make sense to say Baylor is in better shape without the Big 12's all-time leading scorer LaceDarius Dunn? Known as an offensive weapon, sure, but Dunn was really anything but that last season, chucking up ill-timed shots (39.8 percent field-goal mark), making poor decisions (3.6 turnovers per game) and serving as a defensive liability with little to no effort on most occasions. The ball will surely be dumped into the bigs much more often this season with second-team All- Big 12 forward and potential top five NBA Draft pick, Perry Jones, a stud-finisher around the rim Quincy Acy, the lengthy Anthony Jones and heralded, versatile forward Quincy Miller.
4. Had there not been the significant loss of Laurence Bowers, Missouri would be right up there fighting for the conference crown, but the injury is huge, taking away one of the Tigers biggest threats on both ends of the floor and compromising the frontcourt depth. Even without Mike Anderson as head coach, we can expect Frank Haith to continue to push the pace given the depth in the backcourt. Most possessions end with a Marcus Denmon score (16.9 points per game, top returning scorer in the Big 12), but it all starts with point guard Michael Dixon; he averaged 3.5 assists less than two turnovers a game and given the amount of time Dixon has the ball in his hands, he put up the lowest turnover rate in the entire country last season. His backup, Phil "Flip" Pressey put a team-best 3.9 assists per game, but a much higher turnover rate. In the fonrtcourt, Haith will need to rely on 2011-12 Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Ricardo Ratliffe, a JuCo transfer, with averages of 10.6 points and 6 rebounds per game along with 1.3 blocks per game in just 24.5 minutes per game. You can expect his minutes and production to be amongst the conferences' best.
5. Oklahoma State is the sixth Big 12 team to make the postseason last year, but the only one that ended up in the Big 12. Although the Cowboys were an underwhelming 6-10 in conference play, they had a one-point loss to Texas A&M down the stretch and a three-point loss in the season-finale. Finish those two games off down the stretch and Oklahoma State would have finished 8-8 in the Big 12 and we could be talking about an NCAA berth. In bouncing back this season, coach Travis Ford must replace his starting frontline of Marshall Moses and Matt Pilgrim and their 20 points and 13 rebounds a game between them. Look no further than high school All-American LeBryan Nash to replicate that production if he can live up to the hype, while fellow first-year players Philip Jurick (JuCo transfer) and last season's top recruit Michael Cobbins (medical redshirt) should make an immediate impact. The backcourt trio of Keiton Page, JP Olukemi and Markel Brown was underrated already and adds three-star point guard Cezar Guerrero.
6. In the beginning, fresh off another disappointing collapse (5-5 in the Longhorns' last ten), Texas saw the silver lining- Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson appeared destined to return to school, making Texas a top ten program nationally in 2011-12. However, surprising or not, both spurned Rick Barnes, joining freshman Cory Joseph in the draft and graduating seniors Gary Johnson and Dogus Balaby. That's a first, second and third-team player, plus the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year that must be replaced. Enter a six-man recruiting class, led by high school all-american Myck Kabongo and fellow standouts Sheldon McClellan (shooting guard), Jonathan Holmes (power forward), Julien Lewis (shooting guard), Jaylen Bond (power forward) and Sterling Gibbs (point guard). Talented, for sure, inexperienced as well. The lone returning starter J'Covan Brown will have to take a leadership role both on and off the court for these young Bulls.
7. A few inches separated Jacob Pullen from getting a shot off against Wisconsin and his Kansas State team from advancing in the NCAA, but now Frank Martin must replace his prolific scoring guard and senior forward Curtis Kelly. That's 31 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game between them. Guard Rodney McGruder will serve as a consistent threat on the perimeter along with Will Spradling if the Wildcats can get the defense to collapse on their point guard's penetration in the lane for kick-outs. Forward Jamar Samuels once headlined this team as an NBA prospect, but those talks have died down as Samuels have been as inconsistent as they come.
8. Iowa State finished all alone in last place, finishing two games behind the lowly Texas Tech and. But things are looking up for Fred Hoiberg in his second season in Ames. The Cyclones were heavily dependent on the 3-ball last season- having more than a-third of the point distribution coming from behind the arc and that could change as point guard Diante Garrett, shooting guard Darion Anderson and stretch-the-floor big Jamie Vanderbeken have graduated, depriving the Cyclones of 163 made 3s. Wing Melvin Ejim is a candidate for breakthrough performer in the Big 12 and will be counted on, along with wing Scott Christopherson for big-time production.
9. The brightside for Oklahoma coming off a 14-18 campaign is that only Cade Davis, the team's leading-scorer, is the only departed rotation player from last year. Power forward Andrew Fitzgerald is back in uniform for the Sooners after averaging 12.6 points and 5 rebounds as a sophomore. The wild card to this team's improvement out of the cellar will be rising sophomore Cameron Clark, a 6'6" wing who shot a team-best 37.3 percent from behind the arc last season.
10. Losing four starters is never a good thing, especially when Texas Tech is at the bottom of the Big 12. New head coach Billy Gillispie hopes to restart his own coaching career by reviving the Red Raiders' program, but that won't be easy after losing five of the team's six top scorers.
Top Ten NBA Prospects:
Perry Jones, Baylor: Top 5
At 6'11", Jones has very good skills for a player of his size, possessing the ability to play both inside and out, handle the ball and knock down mid-range jumpers. His ceiling is as high as anyone's in the class, but that's also a problem because he rarely plays up to his potential.
Thomas Robinson, Kansas: Lottery
Finally out of the shadows of Marcus and Markieff Morris, Robinson has shown glimpses of elite-level production and potential in limited time off the Kansas bench. He will be Kansas' primary offensive weapon this season and should be a top five-top ten pick in June.
Quincy Miller, Baylor: Lottery
In almost the same mold of his teammate, Perry Jones, Miller is long, wiry and versatile to play both inside and out. Like Jones, Miller has a tendency to float out to the perimeter too often instead of using his skills to take slower forwards off the dribble and smaller forwards into the post.
Myck Kabongo, Texas: Late Lottery - Mid 1st Round
A pure point guard, Kabongo faces the difficult task of helping the Longhorns return to March and finish strong down the stretch. Four starters are gone and Texas is one of the youngest teams in the nation, but with his potential and court vision, he has the certainly ability.
Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State: Mid - Late 1st Round
He is built with solid frame at 6'7", 230 pounds, and possesses elite athletic abilities.
Khris Middleton, Texas A&M: Late 1st Round
At first glance, Middleton doesn't look the part with a thin frame and looking lost on the court with a lack of aggressiveness at times. But the more we see Middleton, the more we like him. He has an excellent mid-range game with smooth athleticism and a good feel for the game.
Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas: 2nd Round
Is this the year that Taylor puts it all together? His junior season was another rocky year, but his inconsistencies still plague his draft stock. He has the speed, athleticism and court vision to be an NBA point guard, but it's a matter of putting forth more reliability and living up to his potential.
Elijah Johnson, Kansas: 2nd Round
Johnson proved to be a valuable back-up point guard last season and will take on a larger role as a starting guard for Kansas this season. With more playing time, he can show off his excellent athleticism and speed and the ability to play either backcourt spot.
Quincy Acy, Baylor: Late 2nd Round
Acy's best fit in the league is as an undersized power forward lacking polish offensively. But he has the length and explosive athleticism to finish around the rim and the hustle to be a force on the boards.
J'Covan Brown, Texas: Late 2nd Round
Brown is the lone starter left over from the Longhorns and will need to take on a leadership role on and off the court this season. He can play either guard spot, but will need to show more production as a point guard by producing on a consistent basis.
New Places (key losses to teams by way of, transfer or early-entry to the NBA):
Tristan Thompson, Texas: Declared early for the NBA Draft
Alec Burks, Colorado: Declared early for the NBA Draft
Markieff Morris, Kansas: Declared early for the NBA Draft
Marcus Morris, Kansas: Declared early for the NBA Draft
Jordan Hamilton, Texas: Declared early for the NBA Draft
Cory Joseph, Texas: Declared early for the NBA Draft
Josh Selby, Kansas: Declared early for the NBA Draft
Varez Ward, Texas: Transferred to Auburn
New Faces (key additions to teams by way of transfer or incoming freshman):
Deuce Bello, Baylor: Bello's perimeter game is lacking, but he is finally starting to put his skill set together to become a potent scoring from 15-feet and in. He is an elite athlete with good quickness with the ball in his hands, capable of getting 6 or 7 rebounds a night from the guard spot to go along with a few buckets in the paint.
Jamal Branch, Texas A&M: One of the top true point guards in the class, Branch has excellent size and a solid handle and court vision to boast. He isn't always aggressive pushing the ball, nor is he a consistent threat from the perimeter, but the potential is there and Texas A&M will surely count on him as a freshman.
Gary Franklin, Baylor: The former Cal guard won't be eligible to play for Baylor in the first semester, but he should make an immediate impact for a Baylor team that doesn't have much talent or depth in the backcourt.
Jonathan Holmes, Texas: Perhaps a tad-bit undersized, Holmes has an excellent motor for a post player that helps him score buckets in transition running the floor or chasing down loose balls. Offensively, if he can put on some muscle, he will be more adept to scoring down low and from mid-range.
Myck Kabongo, Texas: See Above
Julien Lewis, Texas: Lewis' game is built around his strength at this time- using his physicality to attack the defense and finish with contact in the lane. He doesn't always play at 100% of his potential, so not only will he need to give better efforts on both ends of the floor, but he will also need to improve his consistency shooting from the perimeter.
Sheldon McClellan, Texas: McClellan is one of the top freshmen in the conference with a strong combination of size, length and athleticism for a wing. He has a balanced offensive game as a decent threat from the perimeter and the quickness to get into the paint and score from there.
Quincy Miller, Baylor: See Above
Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State: See Above
Romero Osby, Oklahoma: The little-used versatile forward formerly of Mississippi State has had his career overshadowed by his public fight with Renardo Sidney, but he should be an improvement from the tepid Sooner frontcourt.
Naadir Tharpe, Kansas: With Ben McLemore as a partial qualifier, Tharpe becomes the Jayhawks' top recruit and with the high graduation/early departures from Kansas' backcourt, Bill Self will count heavily on his freshman point guard in a backup role.
Kevin Young, Kansas: The Loyola Marymount product will give Bill Self some depth to work with in a frontcourt that lost two first round picks. He averaged 10.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in 2009-10.
Ten Non-Conference Games To Watch
Kansas vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic) - November 15
Texas A&M vs. Mississippi State (Coaches vs. Cancer) - November 17
Missouri vs. Notre Dame (CBE Classic) - November 21
Texas at UCLA - December 3
Kansas State vs. West Virginia (Wichita Wildcat Classic) - December 8
Ohio State at Kansas - December 10
Temple at Texas - December 17
Texas A&M vs. Florida (Orange Bowl Classic) - December 17
Oklahoma State vs. Alabama - December 21
Baylor vs. Saint Mary's (iBN Sports Classic) - December 22