Evaluating the Big 12 Preseason Coaches PollPosted by Nate Kotisso on October 21st, 2013
- We’re under three weeks until the games really begin. So what better time than now to talk about what Big 12 coaches think about their competition? These preseason polls tend to be glorious crapshoots, so how serious do any of the coaches actually take them? They’re all too worried about how their own teams will shake out to care about anyone else’s. Truthfully, the preseason poll should probably be left up to the beat writers for each Big 12 team to figure out, but if things were done that way, we wouldn’t have this collection of coaches filling out a list minutes before it was due at the Big 12 offices. Shall we?
10. Texas Christian Horned Frogs (12 votes)
This was the easiest pick for #10 on the list. Or was it? You have to remember that head coach Trent Johnson and TCU dealt with injuries to key pieces last season. They lost forward and 2011-12 Mountain West Sixth Man of the Year Amric Fields for the season after injuring his knee 12 seconds into a game versus SMU. Aaron Durley, their 6’10″ mammoth who previously committed to Marquette, was also lost for the year after tearing his ACL. So what about this year? Durley suffered another torn ACL. Expected starter Devonta Abron will be lost for the year after tearing his ACL during TCU’s summer trip to Canada. There is reason for some optimism, though. Kyan Anderson is back for another year after being the Horned Frogs’ most consistent performer in 2012-13. Fields is healthy. They also scored Central Michigan and Pittsburgh transfer Trey Zeigler (career: 12.2 PPG) for his final season of eligibility and we’ll finally get a chance to see Johnson’s prized prospect Karviar Shepherd step on a college floor for the first time. Despite that, there’s still a strong chance TCU finishes in last place again. Consistent with past coaching stops, Johnson is wearing all purple all the time now. Everyone around him hates it. Fun times in the Metroplex!
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders (14 votes)
There isn’t a coach in the world who could have won with the roster Texas Tech had last season. The Billy Gillispie scandal pretty much sent incoming recruits and whatever expectations this team had running for the hills. Chris Walker was called on to take over in the interim but when it came time to hire a full-time guy, Tech went in a different direction. Minnesota, because they’re Minnesota, fired Tubby Smith shortly after taking a Golden Gophers’ team to the round of 32 of the NCAAs for the first time since 1990 (the last non-sanctioned year, that is). Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt pounced on the 62-year-old Smith and made him the next Red Raiders’ coach just seven days after his firing. They have a lot of returning players including Jaye Crockett (11.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG), who dazzled in a new role as the first man off the bench. Hopefully Dejan Kravic can take a step forward as a more consistent offensive option. The same goes for Dusty Hannahs, whose size (6’4″, 210 lbs) can be a factor in driving to the basket when he isn’t connecting on three-pointers. Then there’s Jordan Tolbert, the team’s leading scorer in 2011-12, who, in addition to dealing with the dismissal of Gillispie, also had to endure the loss of his father before the start of last season. A little consistency is sorely needed here. Smith makes the fourth different head coach in the last four seasons in Lubbock. Good on you, Big 12 coaches, for picking them ninth, but a seventh or eighth place finish is viable at season’s end as well.
8. Texas Longhorns (30 votes)
Here’s what happened at Texas from March 2013 to now: Texas missed its first NCAA Tournament in 15 years; Myck Kabongo declared for the NBA Draft; Sheldon McClellan transferred to Miami; Jaylen Bond moved on to Temple; Rick Barnes‘ hot seat isn’t technically a seat anymore; a four-man recruiting class signed; athletic director DeLoss Dodds announced he’ll retire; and, starting point guard Javan Felix had surgery with no timetable to return. The Longhorns’ roster consists of 11 freshmen or sophomores, two walk-ons, and no seniors. Maybe an eighth-place finish is a bit conservative. Let the Buzz Williams-to-Texas rumors fly.
7. West Virginia Mountaineers (35 votes)
Looking for a sleeper in the Big 12? WVU might be it. Bob Huggins coached the Mountaineers to a 13-19 mark last season, his first under-.500 record since he started coaching in Division I at Akron in 1984-85. Methinks he’ll turn it around this year. Gone are big men Deniz Kilicli, who came to school with a lot of hype that never materialized, and Aaric Murray, who transferred to Texas Southern for his final year of eligibility. Returning is late-bloomer Eron Harris, who led the team in scoring (9.8 PPG) on a team that struggled to score (66.1 PPG). Expect expanded roles for junior Juwan Staten and sophomore Terry Henderson. Fans are probably tired of waiting for Elijah Macon to become eligible. He was ruled academically ineligible last season and elected to attend the Brewster Academy prep school instead. Then WVU announced that Macon was enrolled for the fall 2013 semester, but now the Exponent-Telegram is reporting that he is no longer eligible (or wasn’t eligible in the first place. Who can keep up?). Like Texas, this team is relatively young, but you’d expect a rebound season from Huggins more than you would from Barnes. Big 12 coaches are looking solid so far.
5-tie. Oklahoma Sooners (43 points)
Fresh off their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009, the Sooners enter 2013-14 without 68.7 percent of their scoring from a year ago. We’re looking at a relatively inexperienced frontcourt with transfers D.J. Bennett and ex-Gonzaga Bulldog Ryan Spangler in the mix. The best asset on this team is its guards but even that should be called into question. Projected starter and speedster Buddy Hield broke his foot to end last season and had surgery. Then he re-injured the same foot before the Sooners’ trip to Europe. On top of that, guard Je’lon Hornbeak is working himself back from surgery for a stress fracture he suffered back in August. So at the moment, the top returning and healthy scorers for this team are Cameron Clark (6.5 PPG) and Isaiah Cousins (2.7 PPG). Yeesh.
5-tie. Kansas State Wildcats (43 points)
Bruce Weber won Big 12 Coach of the Year in his first season in Manhattan. The Wildcats received a #4 NCAA seed and were promptly picked off in the Round of 64 by La Salle. After flirting with the idea of transferring in the wake of Frank Martin leaving, Angel Rodriguez instead decided to stay and became a team player in Weber’s first year. Now he’s gone too and while questions surround the roster, there are still some familiar faces around. It’s finally time for Shane Southwell to emerge from the shadows of Rodney McGruder. He’s known for his defense but now he’ll be forced to shoulder some of the offensive load for K-State. Thomas Gipson is the elder statesman down low but otherwise it’s a sampling of freshmen and other players who haven’t seen a lot of floor time. Teams ranked #5-#7 in the Big 12 preseason poll all feel like the same team, honestly. The separating factor between squads seem to be, “Well, Oklahoma’s bad isn’t as bad as West Virginia’s bad.” Whatever you think, guys.
4. Iowa State Cyclones (56 votes)
What’s this? The Cyclones are finally getting some respect from their Big 12 cohorts. Or maybe the coaches were smart enough to not vote ISU eighth again after making the Round of 32 in each of the past two seasons. ISU may be on their way to yet another Tournament bid with pieces like Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane, who was a consistent 15-point scorer over three seasons with the Thundering Herd. Sophomore Georges Niang might also be one of the most underrated big men in America. He has a tremendously soft touch around the rim while also having the ability to step out and kill opponents from behind the arc (39% from three in 2012-13). And then there’s senior Melvin Ejim who was a double-double machine a year ago. It’ll be interesting to see how Iowa State treats the spotlight since they are no longer conference sleepers.
3. Baylor Bears (63 votes)
The Bears took the disappointment of barely missing the NCAA Tournament last season and turned it into a NIT Championship victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes. Usually when a team loses an electrifying player like Pierre Jackson, that next season is supposed to be a long and difficult one. But this is Baylor where they have stacks on stacks on stacks of talent ready to come in and contribute right away. Isaiah Austin turned down the opportunity of becoming a first round NBA Draft pick in order to come back to school and improve on his 13 points and eight rebounds per game. Cory Jefferson had a coming out party with his breakout play in the NIT. Besides those two, forwards like Rico Gathers lead a group of big men who will make opposing guards think twice about driving into the lane. Plus it’s an even NCAA Tournament year. That automatically means Scott Drew has an Elite Eight in the bank.
1-tie. Oklahoma State Cowboys (77 votes)
Marcus Smart surprised everyone with the announcement of his return to Stillwater instead of becoming a likely top five pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. In case you have forgotten, Le’Bryan Nash is also back to give it a go although his five-star buzz has cooled off considerably since arriving on campus two years ago. Markel Brown will continue to soar through the air without a care in the world, and Michael Cobbins is still the defensive glue that holds everything together. Last year was a disappointment in March, but just because Oklahoma State is getting a lot of preseason publicity doesn’t mean Travis Ford isn’t on the hot seat. One NCAA Tournament win in five years at a place like Oklahoma State isn’t a good look.
1-tie. Kansas Jayhawks (77 votes)
They have Andrew Wiggins. In a Big 12 that’s quite flimsy outside the top two or three teams, that should be enough to win the league right there. But they have a lot more than that. Wayne Selden is a five-star prospect and McDonald’s All-American in his own right but seems to be the forgotten guy with all the Wiggins hoopla. Joel Embiid has been a surprise thus far in practice and what a savvy move made by Bill Self in order to bring Memphis big man Tarik Black to campus for his senior campaign. They’re worthy of their top five ranking and are destined to be one of the most fun teams to watch in college hoops this season.
Maybe I was a little too hard on the coaches earlier. The crapshoot doesn’t lie with how they vote, it lies instead with the average to below average teams which they coach. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m starting the countdown to the Champions Classic in about 22 days.