RTC Conference Primers: #5 – Big 12Posted by Brian Goodman on November 2nd, 2011
Reader’s Take I
- This is of course the last year for Texas A&M to leave its mark on the Big 12, and it could be Missouri’s as well. Both teams enter the 2011-12 season with serious conference title hopes, but each comes with some question marks. Missouri lost Laurence Bowers to an ACL injury, which really puts a strain on their interior depth. They didn’t rebound terribly well in the first place, ranking 317th nationally in defensive rebounding, and the loss of the 6’8” Bowers, who was their best returning player on the glass, won’t help. A&M meanwhile still has Khris Middleton, but do they have anyone to get him the ball? Dash Harris had a turnover rate of almost 30% last year and an assist rate of only 21%
- Speaking of those two, the Big 12 has four new coaches this year, with Texas Tech and Oklahoma joining A&M and Missouri as teams with new head men. The Big 12 hasn’t had this many new coaches since 2007 when six of the twelve schools had first-year men on the job. I took a look at how coaches in the Big 12 have done in their first year on the job and compared it with the historical performances of the programs who have new coaches at the helm this season, and it looks like all four could be in for rough times initially.
- Kansas has won at least a share of the last seven Big 12 titles, but in order or the Jayhawks to make it eight, Bill Self will have to do his best coaching job yet. He lost both the Morris twins and Josh Selby to the NBA, as well as the underrated Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar to graduation. What’s more, incoming freshmen Ben McLemore, Jamari Traylor and Braeden Anderson were all deemed ineligible. Kansas still has some talent to work with, especially Thomas Robinson, who had a tremendous summer.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Kansas (14-4)
- Baylor (13-5)
- Missouri (13-5)
- Texas A&M (12-6)
- Oklahoma State (10-8)
- Texas (9-9)
- Iowa State (7-11)
- Kansas State (5-13)
- Oklahoma (4-14)
- Texas Tech (3-15)
All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)
- G: Marcus Denmon, Missouri (16. 9 PPG, 1.8 APG) – Denmon’s best skill is the ability to take care of the ball, as he had the best turnover percentage in the country last year. He also was a catalyst for a Mizzou defense that forced the 9th-most turnovers in the country.
- G: Rodney McGruder, Kansas State (11.1 PPG, 5.9 RPG) – McGruder was not a focal point for the Wildcats last year, but that figures to change without Jacob Pullen. He shot just under 41% from three last year and was one of their better defensive rebounders.
- F: Perry Jones, Baylor (13.9 PPG, 7.2 RPG) – One of the most talented players in the country, Jones opted not to enter the NBA Draft. With the NBA locked out and Baylor looking like a Big 12 contender, returning to Waco looks like the smart move.
- F: Thomas Robinson, Kansas (7.6 PPG, 6.4 RPG) – Robinson’s per game numbers are not eye-popping, but he played in under a third of KU’s minutes. A big summer plus an increased role looks like it could lead to All-American honors.
- F: Khris Middleton, Texas A&M (14.3 PPG, 5.2 RPG) – Middleton’s best skill is probably his ability to do everything. He’s not a very efficient scorer, but he had the best assist rate on A&M last year and is a capable if not elite rebounder.
Sixth Man – Anthony Jones, Baylor (8.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG) – Jones did not see the ball much with LaceDarius Dunn and Perry Jones on the team last season, but when he did he made it count, shooting 39.4% from three.
Impact Newcomer – LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State: This should be a pretty good year for newcomers in the Big 12, but Nash, the 2011 McDonalds All-American Game Slam Dunk champion, could be the go-to scorer Oklahoma State needs to make a push into the top half of the league. He’s already 19, so he will have a physical edge on most freshmen and he will immediately be one of the best athletes in the conference. His effort on defense has been questioned a bit in the AAU ranks, but when he tries on that end of the floor he’s potentially a very good isolation defender.
Kansas (NCAA seed: #3): The Jayhawks have a tough non-conference slate, with Kentucky, Ohio State and possibly Duke all on the schedule. Those tough matchups should give a relatively green lineup some experience heading into the conference season. Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson will have to carry the load on offense as far as creation, and Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford will probably be two of the better three-point shooters in the league. Johnson and Jeff Withey will be two huge keys to how far the Jayhawks go, as they’ll be needed to give Taylor and Robinson breaks. KU fans should probably be on upset alert again, as this seems like the type of team to get upset by a senior-laden #14 seed.
Other NCAA/NIT teams
- Baylor (NCAA seed: #4): The Bears probably have the most talent in the league. Perry Jones, Quincy Miller and Deuce Bello all could be first round picks next summer, and Anthony Jones and Quincy Acy add some more size up front. The main question with the Bears will be as to whom can get all these weapons the ball. A.J. Walton had a terrible sophomore season, and as a team Baylor turned it over more than anyone in the conference, (322nd nationally).
- Missouri (NCAA seed: #5): With Mike Anderson gone, the 40 minutes of hell era probably is too. Frank Haith’s Miami teams were almost ten possessions slower than Anderson’s teams. Kim English has been dribbling a ball around campus all fall in an effort to cut down on his turnovers, but maybe he should be shooting it instead, as the senior had just a 45.5% eFG last season. Assuming Missouri’s ability to force turnovers diminishes, they’ll have to find another way to keep opponents off the boards. Defensive rebounding seems to be a no-go, as they were 317th nationally in defensive rebounding last year, and will have to go without Laurence Bowers, who is out for the year with a torn ACL.
- Texas A&M (NCAA seed: #8): A&M seems to be the toughest team in the conference to peg. A lot of pundits think they’ll be among the nation’s elite, but I look at them and see Khris Middleton, David Loubeau, and not much else. Their recruiting class wasn’t ranked in the Rivals top 30, and they graduated their most efficient player from last season, Nathan Walkup. Middleton is going to have to get a lot more efficient offensively and Dash Harris is going to have to become something more than an empty space on offense for the Aggies to make serious noise.
- Oklahoma State (NIT): The Cowboys shot just 29.5% from three last year, but have one of the more imposing home court advantages and bring in a recruiting class consisting of LeBryan Nash and Cezar Guerrero, Rivals’ sixth and 71st-ranked prospects. Versatile JP Olukemi has been more talent than production in his first two years, but should take over as Oklahoma State’s best rebounder with the graduation of Marshall Moses.
- Texas (NIT): The Longhorns will presumably go as far as guards J’Covan Brown and freshman Myck Kabongo will take them. Texas was one of the best defensive teams in the country last year, and will have to be just as good this year for the Longhorns to make a Big 12 charge.
- Iowa State (NIT): The Cyclones will have four transfers playing for them this year: Chris Babb (from Penn State), Chris Allen (from Michigan State), Anthony Booker (from Southern Illinois) and Royce White (from Minnesota) give the Cyclones a team who is experienced yet new. White is easily the most talented of the bunch, a former five-star recruit who was ranked 19th in the class of 2009. If Allen builds on his junior year at Michigan State in which he shot 40% from three, the Cyclones could surprise.
- Kansas State: Without Jacob Pullen, the Wildcats will have a tough time scoring and it will start with taking care of the ball better. They were 254th nationally with a 21.6% turnover rate last season, but if they can cut down on those their offensive rebounding (fifth nationally in 2011) should be enough to overcome some poor shooting. Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling, each of whom shot over 37% from three, will be counted on to supply offense.
- Oklahoma: The Sooners return four starters, but none of them was very good last year. Cameron Clark, who shot 37% from three, was the best of the bunch. The Sooners made a lot of shots last year when they could actually get a shot off (228th in turnover percentage), but had a problem keeping opponents from scoring.
- Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have their work cut out for them, losing four starters from a team that won only five conference games. Robert Lewandowski, who had a 55.4% eFG and was the team’s best rebounder last year, is a sleeper all-Big 12 selection.
Reader’s Take II
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?
- Perry Jones, Baylor: Jones had a bit of a rough start to his college career, but really took off in conference play last year. He stands 6’11”, but he can run the floor like a guard and beat most defenders off the dribble. He has great hands and a soft touch, which makes it obvious why NBA teams would covet him in a pick and roll offense. Jones needs to work on his defense, but while effort can’t be taught it can be improved upon, and if Jones does so he could become a top-shelf NBA player.
- Thomas Robinson, Kansas: If you were asked to create a physical specimen to play in the post, you might create Robinson. He stands 6’9” but has a wingspan of over seven feet. He hasn’t been a big part of the Kansas offense in his first two years due to being buried behind the Morris twins and Cole Aldrich, but he has been one of the most efficient players in America regardless. Last year, he would have ranked second in defensive rebounding behind only Kenneth Faried and his 60.1% eFG would have been tied for 51st. He has had a tremendous summer and with his ability to get to the rim beating big men off the dribble he should be one of the best players in the country.
- Quincy Miller, Baylor: One of the top freshmen in the country, Miller missed a large portion of his senior season with an ACL injury. He used his rehab time to add 20 pounds to his upper body, which was a big concern heading into his college career. He’s got a quick first step, can get to the rim, and is potentially a great shooter at the college level.
- LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State: Nash doesn’t have a developed jump shot and isn’t a great ball handler, especially with his off hand, but he has a first step good enough to get past most defenders and is a great finisher at the rim. He’s a potentially elite isolation defender, but like Perry Jones, he has struggled a bit with his attitude and effort at times.
The jury is still out as to how realignment will affect the Big 12 overall, but for basketball I think it will be a huge positive. Missouri and Texas A&M have been traditionally middle of the pack Big 12 teams, but neither has won much in the postseason. Missouri hasn’t made a Final Four in its history and A&M hasn’t been past the Second Round since 2007. Adding TCU doesn’t do much for the league, but West Virginia has been one of the most underrated programs in the country over the past few years, reaching the Final Four in 2010. If the Big 12 decides to go back to 12 teams, Louisville and BYU seem to be the most likely solutions. Both would be great. Louisville was the #1 overall seed in the 2009 NCAA tournament and BYU has been one of the better mid-major programs around.
Spotlight on…Tyshawn Taylor
Tyshawn Taylor is one of the most interesting players in the country to watch and cover. He has gone through quite a maturation process over the past couple years off the court: As a sophomore, he was one of the main participants in the fight between the football and basketball teams, and last year was suspended for violation of team rules. He returned from that suspension to play his best basketball of the year and this year he believes he’s ready to be the leader. Tyshawn is a bit of an enigma on the court as well: At his best he is electric with the ball in his hand and can beat his man off the dribble and get into the lane seemingly at will. He also shot 38% from three and over 50% from two last season. But when he struggles, he really struggles. Too often he goes for the big play, which results in a high turnover rate last year, and he has also had his struggles finishing at the rim. This year, Kansas will be forced to turn the keys over to Taylor, and will likely advance only as far as he will take them.
In the last year of the Big 12 as we know it, there are plenty of storylines to watch for: Kansas goes for title number eight in a row, almost half of the teams have new coaches, and because the league will be a bit down in overall talent, it should be the major conference with the most parity. I predicted Kansas to win the league with four losses, but in reality that might even be too few for the eventual conference champion. The Big 12 also has an impressive collection of individual talent, and this is probably your last chance to see Perry Jones, Thomas Robinson, Quincy Miller, LeBryan Nash, Deuce Bello and Khris Middleton at the college level. A Big 12 team will probably not hoist the national championship trophy this year, but there should be a couple in the mix and the race for the conference title will likely come down to the final weekend.