Summer School in the Big 12Posted by Brian Goodman on August 27th, 2010
Around The Big 12:
- One Foot Out The Door: The big news in the Big 12 is that it’s no longer the Big 12. This season will be the final season with the Big 12 as we know it. Nebraska departs for the Big Ten and Colorado will eventually make the jump to the Pac-10, either in 2011 or 2012. Either way, the transformation in the conference has major implications as far as basketball is concerned, as the unbalanced schedule that has existed since the league’s inception goes away, and a new 18-game conference slate could become the norm. In an ideal world, no more excuses – everybody plays everybody at home and on the road from here on out.
- New Coaches: Two teams in the conference will have new head coaches in 2010. Colorado lost Jeff Bzdelik to Wake Forest and his self-described dream job. The timing couldn’t have been worse for Colorado, as the program seemed to be gaining some traction, and any time there is a lack of stability, it can hurt a program. In terms of the hire itself, Tad Boyle from Northern Colorado doesn’t necessarily have the name recognition, but he was able to keep all the current pieces in place for Colorado and in the short term, that’s very important. Things at Iowa State didn’t necessarily shake out quite as well. The Cyclones are bringing back “The Mayor,” Fred Hoiberg, who has an extremely limited coaching resume, but tremendous amount of clout with the Iowa State faithful. The program lost the top two players from a year ago and then some. With the new start and a fresh face on the bench, it’s a full-blown rebuilding job awaiting an Ames legend.
- Diaper Dandies: The Big 12 has made a name for itself as a league that can reload. This year is no exception; around the league, a host of high-profile recruits join various programs, ensuring the viability of the league as a basketball power for the future. Perry Jones at Baylor, Josh Selby at Kansas, Tony Mitchell at Missouri and both Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph at Texas join each respective program as big-time national recruits. The only problem right now is that both Tiger and Jayhawk fans are awaiting eligibility news related to their blue chip talents.
- An I-70 Battle: Three teams situated on or very close to Interstate 70 look poised to battle for the conference title. In years past, the gripe from the Big 12 South has always been the competitively unbalanced schedule and the built-in advantage that it provided Kansas in winning the conference. In 2010, three North teams in Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri all appear to be legitimate contenders for the conference crown. Mike Anderson and Frank Martin have done a tremendous job in recruiting players to their respective programs, developing talent and getting the buy-in that it takes to step onto the national stage. Both appear to be inching ever closer to Bill Self and the Jayhawks and the three-way “rivalry” will no doubt play a major role in who wins the Big 12.
- Kansas: When you lose three starters, the common belief is that you will take a step back. With Kansas however, the cupboard is far from bare. The Jayhawks were easily one of the deepest teams in the country a year ago and while losing Sherron Collins, Xavier Henry and Cole Aldrich certainly isn’t an easy pill to swallow, Kansas returns a Big 12 POY candidate in Marcus Morris, depth and talent at every position, and they add one of the top recruits in the country in McDonald’s All-American Josh Selby, who as of this writing, has yet to be cleared to play. Two players who could prove critical to success in 2010 are Markieff Morris and Tyshawn Taylor. Both have enjoyed success off and on in their careers thus far, but neither has found the consistency or leadership on the court that’s necessary to be viewed as a leader. With the turnover in the program, the opportunity is there for one or both to make that leap.
- Kansas State: The Wildcats return a good amount of talent from their Elite Eight team of a year ago. Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly could easily represent the best inside-outside combination in the league. But the biggest reason to not doubt Kansas State is their coach, Frank Martin. A hire that was highly criticized when it was made, Martin’s move to the head job in Manhattan has proven to be a great one. His teams play an extremely hard, tough, physical brand of basketball, and as a coach, he’s found a way to put together a team that buys into that style. The biggest question mark will be finding a way to replace Denis Clemente, arguably the most athletic player in the Big 12 a year ago. Martin will look to sophomores Rodney McGruder and Wally Judge to step up and provide support for the Wildcats as they battle for the conference title
- Missouri: Mike Anderson has stocked up on quality depth and added the top recruiting class in the conference to boot. While the eligibility of blue-chip talent Tony Mitchell remains a question mark, the Tigers have made another major addition on the interior in the top ranked junior college forward, Ricardo Ratliffe. The biggest thing the Tigers will have to replace is leadership. The departures of seniors J.T. Tiller, Keith Ramsey and Zaire Taylor aren’t major blows in terms of production, but they are in terms of leadership. All three were part of the initial transition from the Quin Snyder era to Anderson and all three were in the top four in minutes played a year ago. The talent in Columbia is there for a Big 12 run, the question is who will lead them?
- Baylor: Baylor is coming off an Elite Eight appearance in 2010 and Scott Drew appears to have the Bears poised for another run. The Bears lose a substantial amount of production with the departures of Ekpe Udoh and Tweety Carter, but they return a major piece of the puzzle in the top scorer from a year ago, LaceDarius Dunn. The Bears will look to replace the production of Udoh on the boards with a potential instant impact freshman in power forward Perry Jones. Quincy Acy and A.J. Walton round out the key returnees and the Bears will once again compete for the Big 12 despite having a new look.
- Texas: The Longhorns are young. Sophomores Jordan Hamilton and J’Covan Brown both figure to play major roles on the team with the departures of Damion James and Avery Bradley. Rick Barnes once again hit the recruiting trail hard, adding to potential freshman starters in Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson. Dogus Balbay and Gary Johnson represent the two main upperclassmen contributors, but the late transfer of guard Varez Ward will loosen up the depth chart for younger players. Barnes has come under fire in the past for his teams underperforming, but never has a team fallen from grace as quickly as the Longhorns did in 2009-10. After the train wreck that occurred last season, a fresh start and a few new faces is probably a good thing. The Longhorns figure to be in the top half of the Big 12 with the potential to put together a solid run in March as the talent comes together.
- Colorado: Colorado has a new coach, and normally that can lead to some growing pains. But for the first time in several years, the Buffaloes have the talent to compete. Cory Higgins and Alec Burks are the two leading scorers from a year ago and both have drawn serious interest from NBA scouts. Depth on the interior continues to be a concern, but both Marcus Relphorde and Austin Dufault are now upperclassman and have the ability to fill that role to some degree. Colorado is a potentially dangerous team for anyone. Higgins and Burks can carry them on any given night and while they don’t have the depth to make a serious push, they just might have enough to find their way into the NCAA Tournament.
- Texas A&M: Aggie head coach Mark Turgeon couldn’t have imagined an offseason as bad as the Aggies have experienced. First, the entire Aggie community was dealt the terrible news of the tragic death of prized recruit Tobi Oyedeji. In July, more bad news came as second-leading scorer Derrick Roland was denied an appeal for a medical redshirt one year after breaking his leg early last season against Washington. The two unexpected losses paired with the departure of leading scorer Donald Sloan leaves Mark Turgeon in a position where he will be heavily relying on inexperienced talent. Senior guard B.J. Holmes will run the offense, and his biggest help will likely come in the form of junior David Loubeau and sophomore Khris Middleton. Turgeon has done some great things in his short time at A&M, but this year will prove the most challenging on and off the court.
- Texas Tech: Tech and Pat Knight return three senior leaders and three of their top four scorers from a year ago. Mike Singletary, John Roberson and David Tairu are three contributors that know how to put the ball through the net, but that hasn’t been the issue with Tech. Defensively, they just haven’t been the caliber of team you would expect from a Knight-coached squad and if they can find a way to improve their consistency and effort on the defensive end, they should be able to improve on last season.
- Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State lost a tremendous amount of offense with the departures of James Anderson and Obi Muonelo, and replacing them will be very difficult. Keiton Page is the top returning scorer, but the question with a player of his style is how much the departures of Anderson and Muonelo will affect his ability to get open looks. One area where the Cowboys are strong is the interior, where Marshall Moses returns as the team’s leading rebounder. If they are able to get a lift from Matt Pilgrim and Ray Penn, both bench contributors from a year ago, it might help ease the transition. Still, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Travis Ford and his team don’t experience some fairly significant growing pains as they try to rebuild. The best news might be a fairly solid and balanced incoming recruiting class as they look toward the future.
- Nebraska: The Cornhuskers return three of their top four leading scorers for next season. Center Brian Diaz from Brazil and Christian Standhardinger will be a strong point on the interior, while Brandon Richardson and Lance Jeter will need to step up in the backcourt with the losses of Sek Henry and Ryan Anderson. Basketball still has a ways to go in Lincoln; for Doc Sadler, it’s a constant game of one step forward and two steps back. The good news might be that an impending move to the Big Ten might just fit his hard-nosed, physical, slowdown style of coaching.
- Oklahoma: Oklahoma might have been a bigger disaster in 2010 than the Texas Longhorns. The biggest difference is that Oklahoma didn’t really have the expectations. A year after attempting to reload from the loss of Blake Griffin, Jeff Capel is starting all over once again. Willie Warren, Tiny Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin all departed for the NBA and the Sooners also lost senior Tony Crocker to graduation. What’s left? Cade Davis is the top returning scorer and rebounder for the team at 9.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. True freshmen Cameron Clark and T.J. Taylor will likely be pressed into starting roles from the get-go, but at the end of the day, 2010-11 could be another long season in Norman.
- Iowa State: The Cyclones lose their two best players and two of the top players in the entire conference in Craig Brackins and Marquis Gilstrap. Brackins departs early for the NBA, while Gilstrap is another example of the NCAA not always doing the right thing, as he was denied a medical hardship waiver by the NCAA. That leaves Diante Garrett as the top returning player, and arguably one of the better pure point guards in the league. As far as offseason moves, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind with plenty of change. The good news is that “The Mayor” Fred Hoiberg returns to the Cyclone bench and Royce White, a standout transfer from Minnesota, may be eligible as soon as this season. Once the dust settles, Hoiberg is as good a choice as any to get things moving back in the right direction in Ames. But for now, that progress will have to wait for another day.
- The biggest waiting game remaining is a few eligibility questions surrounding immediate impact players at Kansas and Missouri. If for some reason Josh Selby or Tony Mitchell don’t suit up, that could change the complexion slightly at the top. Both teams will still be very good, but both players are top 15 recruits for a reason.
- Everything else is just a matter of seeing how a league that is coming off the best performance in its history can rebound from the loss of so many high profile players. The Big 12 put seven teams in the tourney a year ago, a league record. At the same time, the league heard the names of ten players called on draft day, second most of any conference. Kansas has won six straight regular season conference titles, but turnover and question marks from top to bottom leave plenty of wiggle room for someone to sneak in and perform far better than expected.