Brian Goodman is the lead Big 12 correspondent for RTC. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.
The 2012-13 season saw a handful of freshmen throughout the Big 12 make their presences felt around the league. Everyone knows about Marcus Smart, but he was far from the only rookie player who proved himself capable. Perry Ellis, Isaiah Austin, Rico Gathers and Georges Niang also showed opposing players and coaches that they belonged in the conference too. Further down the standings, Josh Gray, Javan Felix and Terry Henderson gave glimpses of what they can do when given opportunities to show their stuff (although Gray later transferred out of the conference).
Once again, the Big 12 will welcome a stellar class of incoming talent this season. We took a look around the conference and plucked one freshman from each team who we think will make the strongest impression. Top to bottom, the Big 12 doesn’t offer quite the depth the SEC — which claims eight of the top 12 prospects from ESPNU’s Top 100 (just to use one recruiting service) — will roll out, but we’re looking forward to watching newcomers from every Big 12 team make strong impressions in their opening campaigns.
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: Like you, we’ve seen the YouTube clips and read the scouting reports and articles in publications ranging from Sports Illustrated to GQ. Also, like you, we’re ready for Wiggins to make his debut and show everyone in actual games why he’s been the projected top overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft for so long. We agree with Bill Self in that we don’t expect Wiggins to average 20 points per game – today’s suppressed scoring environments and Self’s reputation as a coach who prefers a balanced attack makes that outcome a longshot. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t think the phenom will make a huge impact on both ends of the floor.
Matt Thomas, Iowa State: Despite starting just two games last season, Tyrus McGee was the Cyclones’ second-leading scorer thanks to a white-hot 46.4% shooting clip from long range. Now that he’s gone, though, Fred Hoiberg needs someone to fill the shooting void, and we can easily see Thomas emerging as that guy. The 51st-ranked recruit on ESPNU’s Top 100, Thomas boasts the kind of range that can break games open and cut deficits in a hurry. Once he commands the attention of the league’s defenses, passing lanes will open up to deliver the ball to the likes of Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang.