Big 12 Microsite Roundtable: Predicted StandingsPosted by Brian Goodman on November 8th, 2013
Yesterday, the four Big 12 Microsite writers (Kory Carpenter, Taylor Erickson, Brian Goodman and Nate Kotisso) named their preseason All-Big 12 selections. On college basketball’s opening day, we take a look at each writer’s predicted order of finish.
Some key takeaways:
You can have Marcus Smart and the Cowboys, but we’re picking Kansas until someone knocks them off: As we touched on in the Oklahoma State team preview, the Cowboys have as good a chance to dethrone Kansas as some of the top challengers in the Jayhawks’ nine-year stay atop the conference. But if a Big 12 coach is going to clown our writers by the end of the season, it’s going to be someone other than Bill Self.
- TE: The reason I went with Kansas as my pick to win the Big 12 is a culmination of several different factors. While I think both teams not only have great talent in Wiggins and Smart, both also have strong supporting players around them. On Smart’s team, Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash are both extremely talented and could go for 30 on any night, and for Wiggins, he has two other potential lottery picks beside him, not to mention Perry Ellis. I think Kansas is just more of a complete team. While Oklahoma State certainly has the advantage at the point guard spot, I’m not sure there’s another position where you could definitively say that OSU is better, and in my opinion Kansas is far better and more talented in the frontcourt. Also, I fully recognize that Marcus Smart is an outstanding college basketball player – maybe the best in the nation – but I do think as point guard and team leader his squad sputtered a bit down the stretch last season when they really had a chance to knock Kansas out of the top spot with a win in Stillwater, along with an early exit in the Big 12 Tournament and a first round loss in the NCAA Tournament. Maybe it’s not fair to put all that blame on Smart, and some of it should be shifted to Travis Ford, which I guess leads me to my last point. If we hold all else equal and believe that the talent levels in Lawrence and Stillwater are more or less a wash, it becomes a question as to who you’d take as a coach to lead your team between Ford and Bill Self, and I think that answer is pretty obvious.
- KC: Marcus Smart is one of the best guards in the country, but Andrew Wiggins is better. Markel Brown and Le’Bryan Nash are good guards as well, but there is a reason Wayne Selden is a projected lottery pick in next summer’s NBA Draft while Brown and Nash aren’t. And even if you canceled out both backcourts, the Cowboys don’t match up well with a Kansas frontcourt that has as much depth as any unit in the country. Joel Embiid is projected to be taken in the lottery along with Wiggins and Selden, and he won’t even be starting early in the season. And when you throw in the Bill Self and Allen Fieldhouse factors, it isn’t hard to pick Kansas to win the conference, again.
- NK: The Bill Self factor is a big one. It’s still amazing to think that he took a team to the National Championship game two years ago, considering he lost a lot of upperclassmen and had three top recruits, including Ben McLemore, ineligible for the entire season. The talent he had at his disposal then wasn’t chopped liver, but it was a lot less than he anticipated. Even if Wiggins had pledged for Kentucky or Florida State, I’d still pick the Jayhawks to win the league.
- BG: Oklahoma State could very well win the conference, but it would take some breaks in both directions. If Kansas’ inexperience outside of Tarik Black is exposed, as it could be with Kansas’ daunting non-conference schedule, they’ll have some catching up to do come January and February. If Naadir Tharpe can’t be trusted to get the ball to the draft picks at his disposal, watching games won’t be stress-free for Kansas fans, but here’s the thing: No matter how erratic Elijah Johnson was last season, or Tyshawn Taylor before him, it didn’t matter as far as the final standings were concerned – Kansas still remained at the top. Questions at the point guard spot aren’t new for Kansas, but if history is any indication, either Tharpe will improve or the rest of the team will be so productive that it won’t matter if he comes along slowly.
Chaos after the top four: Our voters were unanimous in the order of the top four teams. The Cowboys check in under Kansas while Baylor and Iowa State follow, but the space between that group and the dregs is anyone’s guess; West Virginia, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas all stand to improve from last year’s disappointing campaigns. We asked each voter to pick a sleeper, and two distinct camps emerged:
- TE: West Virginia - Make no mistake about it, West Virginia’s inaugural season in the Big 12 was nearly a complete disaster. That being said, Bob Huggins didn’t forget everything he’s known about coaching in one offseason, and I expect his Mountaineers squad to surprise some people this year. An influx of junior college talent and rejuvenated roster could make Morgantown a difficult place in which to win come league play.
- NK: West Virginia - I figure last season was as bad as it was going to get for a Bob Huggins-coached team. This season will be a fresh start, but will only be a success if the team buys into playing defense like Huggins’ squads of old. If all goes well, the Mountaineers could have their eyes set on an at-large bid.
- KC: Baylor - This Baylor team has the talent to compete for the Big 12 championship while everyone argues over Kansas and Oklahoma State. Isaiah Austin is a projected lottery pick, Cory Jefferson is just as good at this level, and the freshmen duo of guard Allerik Freeman and Ishmail Wainright chose Baylor over schools like Duke, Kansas, UCLA, and Ohio State, among many others.
- BG: Baylor – As I broke down Baylor’s chances against Colorado with Pac-12 Microsite writer Andrew Murawa, it was hammered home just how potent Baylor should be this season. Losing Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton hurts, but Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Brady Heslip form a volcano of offense that can erupt at a moment’s notice and break 80 points on a regular basis, and they have a promising core of young talent that should be able to supplement that firepower. The things that give me pause are whether Kenny Chery will be able to deliver the ball to his teammates in high-percentage spots and whether the defense will improve enough to sustain the Bears’ high-powered offense. If they answer both those questions, though, the rest of the conference should be on high alert.
Where to rank Kansas State: While all four writers agreed that Kansas State will slide after sharing last year’s regular season title with Kansas, no one can agree on just how far they’ll fall. The variance when it comes to pegging the Wildcats this season is greater than with any other team. Two writers in particular strongly disagreed on their thoughts about Bruce Weber’s team. Kory Carpenter picked the Wildcats to finish at the doorstep of the conference’s cellar while Brian Goodman tabbed them to be right in the thick of the cluster below the top four.
- KC: Kansas State lost its two best players, guards Rodney McGruder and Angel Rodriguez, from last year’s team, and Bruce Weber didnt’ bring in anyone of significance to replace them on the perimeter. He is left with Will Spradling, who was overmatched last season against quality competition, and Shane Southwell, who goes from the third option on offense to the first option. Defenses will key in on Southwell and make Spradling and junior forward Thomas Gibson (7.9 PPG last season) beat them. While none of those players are terrible, they haven’t shown the ability to carry an offense, which by the look of things, will be exactly what they will have to do to finish in the top half of the Big 12 this season.
- BG: To be clear, I don’t think fifth place in the Big 12 will lead to a tournament bid for any team, whether it’s Kansas State, West Virginia or Oklahoma – at least at this early stage. But when it comes specifically to the Wildcats, indulge me for a minute. If we believe that it isn’t until the previous coach’s holdovers leave that Bruce Weber really struggles, doesn’t that give him one more year to make the most out of the remaining core? I agree with the holes that Kory pointed out. Southwell, Spradling and Gipson will need to carry the team. As a group, they don’t inspire boatloads of confidence, but I do think Southwell will follow in McGruder’s footsteps as someone who wasn’t relied on to absorb many possessions as an underclassman but does well in a bigger role. I think a lack of depth is going to be Kansas State’s undoing, so while I’m not predicting them to crack the field of 68, I like the remaining pieces enough to put the Wildcats in the top half. If they finish worse, the ire of the Bruce Weber skeptics will be justified.