RTC Summer Updates: Big 12 ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on August 10th, 2011
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Big 12 correspondent, Evan Pfaff.
- Round Robin Scheduling – For the first time since the Big 12 was formed, the conference will implement full round-robin scheduling, meaning each school will play a home-and-home with each of the other nine schools in the conference. In the past, schools played the teams in their division in a home-and-home, but only played schools in the other division once per season, switching home courts every year. That meant the epic battles between the Texas Longhorns and Kansas Jayhawks happened only once per regular season, and whichever school hosted the game had a monumental advantage over the other. With a full round-robin format, not only will each school play two additional conference games, but seeding will be based more on outcomes on the floor than the scheduling fates.
- Reloading Talent – The Big 12 is used to replacing an enormous amount of talent. In 2010, ten Big 12 players were taken in the NBA Draft. Two months ago, the Big 12 cupboards were once again raided, as seven players heard their names called. The conference should again be stacked and we might hear as many as ten names called on draft day 2012. From incoming freshmen like Baylor’s Quincy Miller, Texas’ Myck Kabongo and Oklahoma State’s LeBryan Nash, to returning stars like Kansas’ Thomas Robinson, Baylor’s Perry Jones III and Texas A&M’s Khris Middleton, the Big 12 should again be a breeding ground for NBA rosters.
- New Coaches… EVERYWHERE. Change is inevitable in college athletics, but stability at the top usually translates into success on the floor. So it is eye opening that from Mike Anderson and Mark Turgeon leaving to Pat Knight and Jeff Capel being shown the door, the Big 12 had a 40% coaching turnover this summer. Now with Frank Haith, Billy Kennedy, Billy Gillispie and Lon Kruger roaming Big 12 sidelines, the conference has some questions to answer. Can Missouri conform to a set offense? Can A&M meet high preseason expectations under new management? Do Billy Clyde Gillispie and Lon Kruger have another run left in them?
- Baylor Bears: Consider this: Last season, Baylor head coach Scott Drew lulled a top 10 recruit – Perry Jones III – to Waco, and this year, he followed suit when Quincy Miller signed a letter of intent. With the 6’11″ sophomore Jones and 6’8″ freshman Miller, combined with 6’7″ senior Quincy Acy and 6’11″ senior J’mison Morgan, Baylor arguably has the best – if not the tallest – front line in college hoops. Throw in junior AJ Walton, sophomore Stargell Love and top-50 incoming freshman Deuce Bello getting some time at the point, and Baylor has one stacked squad. The key is for Drew to close the gap between his recruiting ability and his coaching, which came into some question last season. If he can, count on the Bears to take the Big 12 this coming season.
- Texas A&M Aggies: Texas A&M is a team we have never been able to peg. Every year, I wonder how they can win games, and every year they seem to finish in the top four in the conference. This year, though, our sights are set squarely on the Aggies. With Big 12 Player of the Year candidate junior Khris Middleton returning and senior David Loubeau muscling inside, College Station should be rocking this winter. The loss of B.J. Holmes won’t be as significant with the return of senior Dash Harris and the arrival of two top-100 incoming freshmen, Jamal Branch and Jordan Green.
- Kansas Jayhawks: It isn’t often that the Kansas Jayhawks are considered to be in a rebuilding phase, but that may be the reality. With the losses of Marcus and Markieff Morris, Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed and Josh Selby, the Jayhawks need to replace 60.6% of their league-leading 82.4 points per game from last season. Junior Thomas Robinson will be a beast inside, but he lacks the shooting touch that turned the Morrii into such deadly weapons. Senior Tyshawn Taylor will run the show while top-50 freshman Ben McLemore will contribute greatly in his first year. Role players Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford should be factors as well. KU fans may point to 2008-09 as precedent for a surprising run after losing key personnel from a highly-accomplished squad, but it’s hard to see Taylor and Robinson carrying Kansas the way Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich did three seasons ago. Most teams would clamor to be picked third in the conference, but for the Jayhawks, this could be a “down” year.
- Missouri Tigers: If there is a team in the nation with more experience than the Missouri Tigers, we haven’t found them. With seven seniors on the squad, including four who were on the 2008-09 Elite Eight team, Mizzou brings that intangible every coach wants. The issue is that in this case, the coach is not only new, but he is bringing in a radically different system. These seven seniors were recruited and groomed for Mike Anderson’s “Fastest 40 Minutes,” so it’ll be interesting to see how they will handle set offenses, screens and a slower style of play. Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Laurence Bowers are all saying the right things about the new system, but it’ll be just a matter of time until we see how it works out on the hardwood.
- Texas Longhorns: Head coach Rick Barnes brings in more young talent than any other coach in the conference. But the problem with immense talent in this era of college basketball is that it is fleeting, and Barnes has come up short in the race against time, with two late-season collapses preceding him. Avery Bradley left Austin after his freshman year in 2010. Last season, we saw the departures of freshmen Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph and sophomore Jordan Hamilton. Luckily for Barnes, the Findlay Prep pipeline that brought Bradley, Thompson and Joseph to Austin is open again with one of the top-rated guards in the class of 2011, Myck Kabongo. Kabongo will team up with J’Covan Brown – the only of Texas’ top seven scorers last season to return – to form a formidable backcourt. Where the inside scoring will come from is anyone’s guess. But, like last season, don’t be surprised to see Barnes transform any of the incoming freshman into a first round NBA pick, and vault the Horns up in the standings.
- Oklahoma State Cowboys: Pokes fans cannot wait for the season to get started. Not just because they are coming off a 20-win season, but because incoming freshman LeBryan Nash – half-brother to former Cowboy Byron Eaton – is one of the highest-rated players to ever come through Stillwater. The 6’7″, 230-pound Dallas native was Mr. Basketball in the state of Texas, a McDonald’s All American and ranked in the top five on most recruiting lists. Nash will join senior Keiton Page, junior JP Olukemi and sophomore Mike Cobbins as the faces of the Cowboys.
- Kansas State Wildcats: Last season was supposed to be a dream season for K-State. They were picked by the coaches in the preseason to win the conference, and on the back of senior guard Jacob Pullen, they were poised to make a deep tournament run. Then the season started and things didn’t go the way Wildcat fans had hoped despite finishing fourth in the conference. This season, K-State will have the opposite expectations and odds are much worse results. Besides losing Pullen to graduation, a ton of talent departed, either mid-season or after their season ended. In all, this is an inexperienced team that will need junior Rodney McGruder and senior Jamar Samuels to step up big time if they want to succeed.
- Oklahoma Sooners: The good news for the Sooners is that four of their top five scorers are returning from last season. The bad news is that Oklahoma was last in the conference in scoring last season. What that means is that new head coach Lon Kruger has his work cut out for him. We suspect sophomore Cameron Clark will make the all-conference team and Andrew Fitzgerald will pick up some of the production lost to the graduation of Cade Davis, so in order for the Sooners to win this season, they will need to find additional scoring from other parts of the court – we’re looking at you, Steven Pledger.
- Iowa State Cyclones: Fred Hoiberg had a rollercoaster inaugural season. The unassuming Cyclones started the season 13-2, fattening up on a slate of overmatched mid-majors before going 3-13 in conference play. This year, the conference tally might hover around last season’s mark, but don’t expect another non-conference run of Hilton Magic to get into the Clones. While Hoiberg was able to lure many transfers to Ames (including three from the Big Ten), this year’s roster is a hodgepodge of players from a variety of backgrounds who will nonetheless have to mesh or falter. Melvin Ejim should get a ton of scoring opportunities for an otherwise infertile offense, so people around the country might latch onto him, but other than that, ISU fans might wish the calendar was flipped up a year for most of the season.
- Texas Tech Red Raiders: Almost on the other side of the spectrum from Oklahoma, new head Texas Tech head coach Billy Gillispie is inheriting a team that lost seven seniors from a fairly miserable team. He has rebuilt the roster with juco transfers and unheralded freshman. The Red Raiders’ leading returning scorer is 6’10” center Robert Lewandowski, who averaged just 8.5 points per game last season. Their second leading returning scorer? Redshirt sophomore Jaye Crockett and his 4.8 points per game. To say that they need scoring help is one of the greatest understatements in the history of the Internet. With an almost entirely new team suiting up in Lubbock, there is a possibility that past results may not imply future wins, but it might end up being a long winter in West Texas.
For the past two seasons, the Big 12 has been one of the top conferences in the nation, and 2011-12 should be no different. Despite Colorado’s run to the NIT Final Four last season, neither their loss nor the loss of Nebraska will affect the strength of the conference in a negative way.
To outsiders, a forecasted Kansas Jayhawks slip from the perch of the Big 12 might signify a decline in level of play from the conference, but that should really only show how complete the conference is. Baylor, Texas A&M and Mizzou have the talent and experience to win the league if KU trips up, and Texas is always reloading with highly regarded incoming freshman, so teams can’t sleep on them either. That means that heading into the season, any one of five teams – half the conference – can win the league. While some of those five have a greater shot than others, it wouldn’t be shocking for any of them to hang a banner from their rafter.
In the middle, Oklahoma State and Kansas State will be able to win games against the top of the conference, but not consistently enough to make any waves in the standings.
With top-heavy conferences come some teams lagging behind. Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Iowa State should all be glad the Big 12 has a modified home-and-home schedule, because any win those teams get outside one another would be a big step.
Oklahoma’s Cameron Clark won’t be conference Player of the Year, but with the lack of scoring on the Sooner roster, Clark will assume the leadership role in his second season and should be the one guy opposing teams need to watch out for when playing OU. Like Oklahoma State’s James Anderson in 2009-10 and Colorado’s Alec Burks last season, being the big fish in a really small pond will heighten Clark’s abilities and probably propel him into the first round of the 2012 NBA draft.
Mark Your Calendar
- Nov. 15 – Kansas vs. Kentucky at Madison Square Garden: Who doesn’t love a showdown of bluebloods? The Jayhawks and freshmen-laden Wildcats lock up in the inaugural Champions Classic. With both teams facing plenty of turnover, picking a winner is no easy task.
- Nov. 17-18 – Texas A&M at 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden– The Aggies square off against Mississippi State, but the main event comes the next night, when they’ll face either Arizona or St. John’s.
- Dec. 6 – Missouri vs. Villanova at Madison Square Garden – The Big 12 invasion of NYC continues with a feline frenzy pitting Frank Haith’s Tigers against Jay Wright’s Wildcats.
- Dec. 8 – Kansas State vs. West Virginia at InTrust Arena (Wichita) – The main storyline of this semi-home game for Kansas State involves Frank Martin facing off against the coach who brought him to Manhattan, Bob Huggins.
- Dec. 10 – Ohio State at Kansas – Allen Fieldhouse will be rocking for this Saturday duel, but any Jayhawk will tell you it’s just another game from the ambitious slate that Bill Self has carved out for his troops. Kansas also competes in the fierce Maui Invitational.
- Dec. 21 – Texas at North Carolina – In a game against Roy Williams’ uptempo style, J’Covan Brown might launch 15 threes. How will the Longhorns’ youth match up with the Tar Heels’ core?