The RTC Interview Series: Big 12 Preview with Fran Fraschilla and Jason King, Part IPosted by Walker Carey on October 22nd, 2013
Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview of the Big 12, RTC Correspondent Walker Carey recently had the pleasure of speaking to two Big 12 experts in ESPN Big 12 analyst, Fran Fraschilla, and ESPN.com college basketball writer, Jason King. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)
Rush the Court: The major storyline in the Big 12 this season will be what Andrew Wiggins does on the court for Kansas. What do you expect out of Wiggins in what figures to be his only season in Lawrence?
Fran Fraschilla: I think Andrew Wiggins is obviously an incredible addition. I am not sure if he is the alpha dog that people are expecting. He is a great teammate, an incredible athlete, and if anyone can get the most out of him in one year, it will be Bill Self. At times, he will take over games, and at other times, he will be content to stay in the background and let Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis, and others dominate the ball.
Jason King: I think the expectations that have been placed on Andrew Wiggins are unfair. I think the hype surrounding him has gotten out of control. He very well might be the best player in the country, but comparing him to LeBron James is just too much. LeBron James was an alpha male coming out of high school. He was a big, strong, mean, aggressive guy. I believe Andrew Wiggins is a different type of player. I went to Kansas practice the other night and right now, his head is still spinning. He is still trying to adjust and learn the system. I think he is a special player, but he is a guy that may only average 13 or 14 points a night because he is playing with so many other very talented players. I think he will be just fine. It is just that so many people are expecting him to go in right away and score 20-22 points a night; and that probably is just not going to happen. We will still see plenty of highlights from him throughout the season and he will likely end up being one of the two or three best players in the country when all is said and done.
RTC: Focusing less on Wiggins and more on Kansas as a whole, what are realistic expectations for a very talented but young Jayhawks squad?
Fraschilla: Kansas certainly has the potential to get to the Final Four in Dallas and have a chance to win it all. Just like every other top team though, Kansas certainly has some deficiencies. Based on the talent level, the versatility of a lot of their players, and the proven leadership of Bill Self, I think Kansas is going to make a strong argument on the court that it is a team that can get to Dallas for the Final Four.
King: I think Kansas should win its 10th straight league title and anything less than that will be a disappointment. I think winning nine straight titles in a league like the Big 12 in this day and age with all the one-and-dones is very, very impressive. I believe no team in a major conference has done that since John Wooden’s days when I believe UCLA won 13 in a row. Winning the league title is expectation number one. I think the potential for this team is limitless. However, this is going to be a different kind of Kansas team. I think Kansas fans are so used to the Jayhawks just going out there and dominating mostly everyone from the start of the season to the finish. This is a team that won 31 games last year. I think this year, you might see it stumble a little bit more early on and drop some games early on that they would probably win in recent years. The non-conference schedule is the most difficult in America and it is the hardest I have ever seen Kansas play. Besides having to play Duke, you have the Battle 4 Atlantis, you have games at Colorado and at Florida, you have home games against Georgetown and San Diego State, and you have New Mexico at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. I just think with this hard of a schedule and so many young players adjusting to the college level that there might be some setbacks early on. Bill Self is such a great coach that he will have these guys playing their best basketball and the right time of the year, which is mid-January and on.
RTC: With National Player of the Year candidate Marcus Smart returning for his sophomore season, along with the returns of fellow key players Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash, what can be expected of Oklahoma State this season and do you believe it has the firepower to unseat Kansas from the top of the conference?
Fraschilla: Oklahoma State has the firepower to knock off Kansas from the top of the conference. The problem with knocking off Kansas though is that Kansas has an incredible home court advantage and it rarely loses games at home. Oklahoma State’s home court advantage has not been at the level that it has been in the past. I would imagine that will change with the excitement about the program this year. I have no doubt in my mind that Marcus Smart will compete for another Big 12 Player of the Year award. The key to this team, however, is Le’Bryan Nash. There have been times where he has been dominant – especially when he has used that physical frame of his to attack the basket. After watching him at the Adidas Nations camp back in August, I expect him to have a very big year. While Marcus Smart is an All-American and National Player of the Year-type player, the key to Travis Ford’s team will be how well Le’Bryan Nash will play and how consistently Le’Bryan Nash will play.
King: I do think Oklahoma State is good enough to win the league title. The thing that worries me about that team though is consistency and that has been an issue for it under Travis Ford for a while now. It is a team that has gone out and defeated Kansas one night and then will drop a game against a team it has no business losing to just a few nights later. Oklahoma State has to be able to win on the road; it has to stay focused and consistent. The Big 12 is a very tough league to win on the road, as a lot of the road atmospheres are very difficult to play in. I think one of the reasons why Kansas has been able to win so many league titles is because it has always been able to win games on the road and other schools have not been – including Oklahoma State. I am picking Kansas to win the league title this season, but I still think Oklahoma State is good enough to win it. I think one issue plaguing Oklahoma State a little bit may be its lack of size. It has guys like Michael Cobbins in the post who play really, really hard and are just beasts to deal with, but I think its lack of height will be an issue when it plays a front line like Kansas has at its disposal.
RTC: While Marcus Smart returning to Oklahoma State dominated the headlines, Baylor also received some good news when both Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson decided to return to Waco. Do the returns of Austin and Jefferson help make Baylor the clear-cut number three team in the league?
Fraschilla: I think there is no question that Baylor is the clear-cut number three team in the league. I have attended a Baylor practice already and its talent level should not take a backseat to either Kansas or Oklahoma State. Besides Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, there is more to the team’s terrific nucleus. Brady Heslip had a terrific summer playing for the Canadian national team. Ish Wainright is going to be one of the best freshmen in the country. I think it is almost a given that he will be on the All-Big 12 freshmen team. I expect role guys like Gary Franklin and Rico Gathers to continue to step up their play. The key for Baylor is going to be its junior college transfer point guard Kenny Cherry. He is not as flashy as Pierre Jackson, but he is a pure play-maker. If he steps in the way I think he can, Baylor is certainly going to be a top team in this league.
King: I think without a doubt that Baylor is the clear-cut number three team in the league. One reason why I think this is because there is such a dropoff between the top three teams and everyone else. I still think Baylor is a very, very good team that may be under the radar a little bit. Its front line of Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, and Rico Gathers is probably one of the top five or six frontcourts in the country. Austin and Jefferson are outstanding players and Gathers is a great energy guy off the bench. If Royce O’Neale – the transfer from Denver – gets his waiver approved to play this season, that will just be another piece the team will have in the paint. I think Baylor will be great, but the key to the team is its point guard Kenny Cherry. He is a junior college transfer that will replace Pierre Jackson, who led the Big 12 in points and assists last season. If Kenny Cherry can adjust quickly to the Division I level, I think Baylor is going to be maybe a top-15 caliber team on the national scale.
RTC: Ever since Fred Hoiberg took over at Iowa State, the program has developed a reputation for being a bit of a “transfer haven.” The Cyclones have another talented transfer this season in former Marshall guard DeAndre Kane. What exactly does Kane bring to the fold for the Cyclones and how does his arrival bolster the team’s postseason hopes?
Fraschilla: DeAndre Kane fits right in for Iowa State where guys like Chris Babb and Korie Lucious had played for the Cyclones. Kane is a multi-talented player who can play all three perimeter positions. He can score, pass, and handle the ball. In that sense, he is the perfect replacement for the graduation of some key guys. He will fit in nicely for the Cyclones. I think the key to the Iowa State team is the two-headed monster up front in Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang. Ejim was the Big 12’s leading rebounder last season and he plays much bigger than his 6’6” frame. Niang is an outstanding sophomore who had a great freshman season. Fred Hoiberg has become one of the best young coaches in the country and if Iowa State can get solid play from some complementary players, I think it is a team that will be in a postseason tournament again.
King: Iowa State lost some really good pieces from what I thought was an excellent team last season that really caught some bad breaks in tough losses in conference play. It probably should have received an even higher seed in the NCAA Tournament. Fred Hoiberg – along with Buzz Williams at Marquette and Dana Altman at Oregon – does as great of a job at coaching transfers as anyone. He is great at identifying which transfers will fit with what he is trying to do and he is certainly good at finding talented ones. DeAndre Kane is going to be huge for him this season. He signed a pretty good class that has come in, but it is always tough to depend on freshmen. To have a proven player like Kane come in on the perimeter is definitely going to be great for Iowa State. He just needs to make sure that his attitude is right and he has his head on straight. He has to show that he is coachable and a team player because I believe those things have been a bit of a problem with him in the past. I think if Kane can have a good year, Iowa State is going to be the fourth best team in the league. Fred Hoiberg has his team really well coached and there are definitely some pieces that will also fit well with DeAndre Kane.
RTC: Bruce Weber’s second season at Kansas State seems like it will be tougher than his first with the departure of Rodney McGruder and the transfer of Angel Rodriguez. When Weber was at Illinois, he ran into issues when the previous staff’s players exited the program. Do you believe Weber could possibly run into the same issues at his new program?
Fraschilla: It is possible because Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez were key players for Kansas State. Bruce Weber brought in a bit of an under-the-radar recruiting class, but that does not mean there is not talent there. I think initially going into the season you are going to see the Wildcats rely heavily on senior guard Will Spradling and Shane Southwell along with junior big man Thomas Gipson. Those three guys are the keys to the team. How Kansas State’s freshmen class is going to pan out is still a major mystery that we will find out more about as the season moves along. In-terms of coaching a team on the floor, Bruce Weber is a proven commodity and he proved it last year by leading Kansas State to a share of the Big 12 title.
King: I think the biggest issue that Bruce Weber is going to run into this season will be the lack of a true star player. Kansas State has some guys that were great complementary players to Rodney McGruder, Jordan Henriquez, and Angel Rodriguez, but it is lacking that one guy, that one stud that is really going to make Kansas State a threat in the conference race. I do think though that Kansas State will be a fringe NCAA Tournament team. It will be a competitive team and I have it picked fifth in the league. I believe Bruce Weber gets a bit of a bad rap. You can say that he won last season with Frank Martin’s players, but did Frank Martin ever win a Big 12 title with those players? No, and Bruce Weber did. It was the first share of a conference title that Kansas State has won since 1977. Just because you are coaching someone else’s recruits does not mean that those guys will just show up and play. You still have to get them to buy into your system and then they will become your players – and that is exactly what happened at Kansas State last season. I think what it will come down to with Weber is how well is he going to recruit. Kansas State is a tough school to recruit at and he is going to have to get some players.
*Check back on Wednesday for Part II of the The RTC Interview Series: Big 12 Preview.