20 At The Top: Big 12 Player RankingsPosted by zhayes9 on July 16th, 2010
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.
For the entire 20 At The Top series, click here.
The Big 12 enjoyed a remarkable 2009-10 season, rivaling only the monstrous Big East for the ever-changing label of top conference in the land. Kansas spent a large majority of the season atop the national rankings, Texas escalated to a #1 spot before falling flat on their face, Kansas State was a top-ten squad that reached the Elite 8, Baylor exploded late to join K-State in the Elite 8, Texas A&M recovered from the Derrick Roland injury to put together a successful campaign, James Anderson led Oklahoma State to big wins and Missouri continued to be dangerous. With numerous impact seniors and juniors no longer residing in the conference and expansion put on the back burner, 2010-11 could be a bit of a down year in terms of elite teams and extraordinary talent. Continuing our Friday series of the top players in each conference heading into next season (my ACC top 20 from last week), here’s a look at the cream of the crop in the Big 12:
1) Jacob Pullen, Kansas State– With backcourt mate Denis Clemente exhausting his eligibility, the onus is on Pullen to carry the strongest load of any team with Final Four expectations next season. I’d deduce the 6-foot sharpshooter has the chops to take on such an assignment. Pullen has an outgoing personality, displayed great leadership qualities last year and is always anxious to improve his game. His fearless shooting stroke and unlimited range really set Pullen apart. He peaked last year on the grand stage of the NCAA Tournament, scoring 62 points combined on 13-24 from behind the 3-point arc against BYU and Xavier. With Clemente no longer around to take shots, Pullen could average over 20 points per contest and put together a strong candidacy for first team All-America. The question mark regarding Pullen is his ability to run the point. He worked primarily off screens and isolations at K-State last season and will need to show more than just shooting guard skills at 6’1 to take the Wildcats to even greater heights.
2) Marcus Morris, Kansas– Assigned more of a supporting role with Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry around, Morris and incoming frosh Josh Selby are now assigned to make sure Kansas continues to bypass any semblance of rebuilding. Despite being more of a role player, Morris managed to be supremely efficient playing just 61% of his teams’ minutes. The 6’9 forward ranked in the top-100 in offensive rating and efficient FG%. He’s also an outstanding offensive rebounder nationally where a committed Morris won’t be denied snagging key second chances. His fundamentals are constantly improving from defensive effort to a confident face-up game and even a mid-range jumper that’s showed increasing range. Scary news flash for the Big 12: there’s still plenty of room for the young Morris to grow as a player. He should be a force next season in a starring role, averaging around 18/9 per game and molding into the most dominating forward in the conference.
3) Cory Higgins, Colorado– Few college hoops fans know much about Higgins. Playing three seasons for an irrelevant Colorado team in a conference loaded with big-name, successful programs will do that to you. I expect the Buffs to make more noise nationally in this upcoming season under new coach Tad Boyle, and the biggest reason is Higgins. The talented guard averaged nearly 20 PPG and shot close to 50% from the field in a junior year where stopping Higgins and freshman Alec Burks was the game plan for every opposing coach. Higgins has a quick first step, can explode to the rim and feels comfortable drawing contact and getting to the charity stripe at an outstanding rate where he shoots 83%. One of the candidates to lead the Big 12 in scoring next season, Higgins is a name to look out for even if the Buffaloes are not able to turn their program around in 2010-11. With Higgins on his last hurrah and Burks flirting with the NBA Draft, this could be their last chance for a good while.
4) LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor– Dunn made the prudent decision to return to Baylor for his senior season for another shot at the Final Four and the chance to move his draft stock even higher. Even with a funky shooting form, Dunn can light up any gym with his remarkable scoring abilities. In fact, Tweety Carter can thank Dunn for providing him with such astounding assist totals last season. Dunn could very well be the most potent shooter in the nation in 2010-11, an athletic talent that can catch fire at any moment. Dunn’s game has, on occasion, shown its ugly side — uninterested effort on defense, three straight years of more turnovers than assists, too much of a “streetball” mentality — but overall Dunn provides more positives for Scott Drew and Baylor than negatives. With Carter and Ekpe Udoh gone and Perry Jones no lock to become Superman, Dunn will need to refine his complete game rather than just play spot-up shooter and float around the perimeter for Baylor to reach another regional final.
5) Perry Jones, Baylor– Even if he’s around for only one season, Jones has the chance to make the greatest impact of any Bear since Vinnie Johnson was dropping 24 per game in Waco. Jones is 6’11 with a 7’2 wingspan but plays more of a Lamar Odom/Tracy McGrady-style small forward, flashing advanced perimeter skills and the ability to pull up from mid-range with confidence. He’s at his peak when attacking the basket and can be absolutely unstoppable when motivated. Jones still has plenty of growth ahead of him on the defensive end of the floor and tends to disappear without the ball in his hands, but Scott Drew has to be incredibly anxious to start working with this kid and tap into that potential. The ceiling is unlimited and Jones is a near-lock to go in the top 5 in the 2011 NBA Draft.
6) Alec Burks, Colorado– Colorado fans are probably still wondering what would have happened if Burks, who was cleared by doctors but not at 100 percent, had played with a sprained left knee in an overtime home loss to top-ranked Kansas. The ultra-talented freshman turned out to be quite the recruiting coup for former headman Jeff Bzdelik and is returning to team with Cory Higgins for a campaign that they hope ends in the Buffs first NCAA berth since 2003. Burks scored over 17 PPG, shot 54% from the field and scored in double digits in every game as a rookie. I could probably just stop there. A late bloomer to scouts and evaluators, Burks possesses solid size and athleticism for a shooting guard, can fly to the rim, flashes decent court vision and shows the stroke to be a capable outside shooter in the near future. Adding some strength this summer would suit Burks extremely well.
7) Kim English, Missouri– He’ll never put up tremendous scoring totals because of the Tigers’ system and balanced attack, but if any player can anchor the Missouri attack next season, it’ll be the poetic and tweet-loving English. Known for sleeping in the Mizzou practice facility to get shots in before class, English has the skills to explode onto the national scene as a junior. English has rarely seen a shot he didn’t like and, for the amount of times the ball leaves his hands, a 39% FG% probably needs to move up a few ticks. Still, the 6’6 Baltimore native shows impressive three-point range and plays the role of another pest in Mike Anderson’s own version of 40 Minutes of Hell.
8) Josh Selby, Kansas– Bill Self won an intense recruiting battle for the former Tennessee commit Selby, ranked nationally as one of the top high school point guards in the nation. Other than Harrison Barnes and maybe Kyrie Irving, Selby has the most responsibility on his plate from Day One in Lawrence, stepping into Sherron Collins’ shoes as the on-court leader of the Jayhawk attack. If talent is any indication, Selby should be able to handle that demanding role. Selby possesses great body control and flies to the basket, but defenders must respect his deep shooting range and Selby has the ability to pull up for a leaning jumper at any moment on the break. That quickness and explosiveness could, in some ways, be an upgrade to Collins, and three-point poppers like Brady Morningstar and Tyrell Reed will still receive plenty of open looks with Selby flying around. Even with the typical freshman lumps, he’ll likely be a double-digit scorer right away and make an immediate impact on the Allen Fieldhouse hardwood.
9) Curtis Kelly, Kansas State– A former promising Jim Calhoun recruit, Kelly has found a home in Manhattan and is thriving beautifully. He impressed me just as much as any big man in last year’s NCAA Tournament and still has plenty of room to grow and expand his budding post game. Kelly averaged 12/6 on 57% FG playing with a busy Wildcat front line, but his 21 points in their Sweet 16 marathon win over Xavier is where I saw Kelly truly shine. The lanky southpaw has a nice face-up game but can also bang low in the post and shows spurts of tremendous skill. Maintain that aggressiveness both scoring and on the boards over 30 minutes of action and Kelly could form quite the inside-outside 1-2 punch with Jacob Pullen.
10) Mike Singletary, Texas Tech– Much like Higgins and Burks, Singletary doesn’t receive much national publicity because of his team’s recent success compared to the likes of Kansas, Texas and Texas A&M. Make no mistake about it, though: Singletary can play with the best of the conference and leads a number of key returners back to Lubbock for a run at the Big Dance. Singletary first made headlines when he dropped an otherworldly 29 straight points for the Red Raiders in one Big 12 Tournament game as a sophomore. He only improved as a junior: 15.0 PPG, 6.8 RPG, 2.3 APG, but struggled with jump shot inconsistencies, making up for those off nights by living at the free throw line.
11) Cory Joseph, Texas– The Findlay Prep-to-Austin pipeline continues with Joseph, another supremely talented guard who is about as skilled as it gets on the basketball court. With as much talent as Texas lost this offseason, the smooth Canadian could become Rick Barnes’ #1 scoring option immediately. Joseph shows off an array of moves on the floor — he’s an excellent finisher on the break, a solid shooter from any spot on the floor and explodes to the rim at will. As long as Joseph can improve as a floor leader and cut down on the turnovers, he may be the answer to the revolving door at point guard for Texas.
12) Gary Johnson, Texas– Often overshadowed by flashier teammates with a higher draft ceiling, Johnson floats quietly under the radar, a productive and reliable forward that was relegated to a sixth man role last season and didn’t make an iota of fuss about the demotion. Johnson just does his job as an inside/outside threat with a long wingspan that causes havoc on both ends. At 55% from the floor and 69% from the stripe (which is 85% when converted on the Texas scale), Johnson should see a healthy uptake in minutes played and shots taken in his senior season. First team Big 12 isn’t completely out of the question.
13) Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas– The enigmatic Taylor dealt with a tumultuous sophomore season that started with a fight with the KU football team, was filled with minor tussles with coach Self and ended with an 0-for-6 effort in Kansas’ shocking second round loss to Northern Iowa. Asked to provide an offensive spark following a solid freshman campaign, Taylor instead spent some time in his doghouse and never played more than 30 minutes in a game in February or March (part of that was due to Kansas’ awesome depth). Despite all this, Taylor is one thing if anything at all: talented. He has abilities that simply need to be harnessed. With increased focus and more responsibility, it’s up to Taylor to do what former teammate Sherron Collins did so fantastically: turn his college career around.
14) Keiton Page, Oklahoma State– Even though Page bears a striking resemblance to Ollie from Hoosiers, his game consists of much more than underhanded free throws. Underestimate Page and his 5’8 frame at your own peril. Page isn’t the greatest passer, doesn’t have much in terms of physical gifts and won’t strike fear into any opponent, but he does two things extremely well: 1) makes shots and 2) works harder than anyone on the floor. Page has shot over 38% from three in both seasons at Stillwater and will be asked to make even more deep threes with James Anderson and Obi Muonelo no longer on the squad. Just ask Kansas if any opponent should overlook Page.
15) Quincy Acy, Baylor– Check out Acy’s FG% numbers that last two seasons. Those are not typos. Ranking higher than Dunn, Carter, Lomers, Udoh or any Baylor Bear last season in offensive rating, Acy is oozing with athleticism and potential. The personal slam dunk contest he displayed in Baylor’s embarrassment of Texas last season was a sight to behold. Acy still has plenty of room to grow as a wing, and has never been entrusted with being a #1 or even a #2 guy offensively, but he shouldn’t have to take on too heavy of a load with Dunn and Jones hanging out with him in Waco.
16) Cameron Clark, Oklahoma- It’s been quite the fall from grace for the Sooners basketball program. They were ranked #2 in the nation, reached the Elite 8 and had the National Player of the Year just two seasons ago, but now in the summer of 2010 they stare at a lengthy rebuilding process after Willie Warren, Tommy Mason-Griffin and Tiny Gallon all jettisoned and Tony Crocker graduated. Sooner fans view Clark as their savior, a slashing wing who’s aggressive, athletic and can make highlight reel plays. With a new coaching staff under Jeff Capel and a fresh outlook, Clark could be Oklahoma’s leading weapon and go-to scorer the moment he steps foot in Norman.
17) B.J. Holmes, Texas A&M– The Big 3 of Donald Sloan, Derrick Roland and Bryan Davis are all gone, meaning coach Mark Turgeon lost loads of production and leadership — more, certainly, than any stat sheets can show — that must somehow be replaced. The expectations won’t be nearly as high, but if anyone from last year’s team can follow the example of the seniors, it’s pesky point guard B.J. Holmes. Six feet if he’s lucky, Holmes worked as a spark plug off the pine for Turgeon a season ago. Now he’ll likely start alongside Dash Harris in an undersized backcourt, but it doesn’t lack for skill. Holmes can hit the three and also get to the line, but it’s how his court vision and passing skills progress as a senior that will determine if A&M can surprise some folks.
18) Jordan Hamilton, Texas– A Jeremy Hazell clone if Hazell only played 20 MPG, Hamilton likes to shoot. Actually, he loves to shoot. He loves to shoot pretty much every time he touches the basketball. He’ll shoot if he’s red hot and shoot if he’s ice cold. He’ll win you games, such as the 11-16 FG and 27 points he put up in a win over Oklahoma State, or lose you games, such as the 3-15 FG he posted in a stunning loss at Oklahoma in the Longhorns’ very next game. The talent and stroke is evident–after all, he did end up a solid 37% from three as a freshman–but more discretion and an improved basketball IQ would do Hamilton wonders.
19) Jamar Samuels, Kansas State– With Dominique Sutton’s transfer, Kansas State will need more production from Samuels and Kelly in 2010-11. Averaging a quiet 11/5 on an Elite 8 team last season, Samuels is a productive rebounder, contributor off the bench and even stepped out and hit four threes against Kansas in Lawrence. Add that as a consistent facet to his game and Samuels can really explode. A 20/12 against Texas and 27/10 against Oklahoma State were just glimpses into Samuels’ talent. With Sutton’s defensive prowess no longer around and Wally Judge still coming into his own, Samuels will have to step his game up for Frank Martin.
20) Diante Garrett, Iowa State- A fellow proud Milwaukee native, Garrett is about the only thing Iowa State fans have to look forward to next season as Fred Hoiberg embarks on a long rebuilding process. Playing with capable weapons Craig Brackins and Marquis Gilstrap, Garrett managed a solid 2/1 assist-to-turnover ratio last season and nearly scored in double figures while shooting 44% from the floor and 35% from deep. He should have plenty of shot opportunities next season as the main Cyclone weapon on offense.
Also considered: Anthony Jones (Baylor), Marcus Denmon (Missouri), Tony Mitchell (Missouri), Brandon Richardson (Nebraska), Cade Davis (Oklahoma), Marshall Moses (Oklahoma State),Tristan Thompson (Texas), Dogus Balbay (Texas), David Loubeau (Texas A&M), Dash Harris (Texas A&M), John Roberson (Texas Tech).