Big 12 Whiffs in First Day of Early Signing Period

Posted by Chris Stone on November 13th, 2014

Wednesday marked the beginning of the early signing period in college basketball, and the Big 12 is off to a rather slow start. Midway through the day, Eric Bossi, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com, tweeted, “As of this moment, the Big 12 is getting lapped by the field.” So far, the conference has only managed to sign five top 100 recruits, according to Rivals, and by way of a comparison, former conference member Texas A&M — certainly no traditional basketball power by any stretch — has already signed four top 100 players. Here’s a quick look at each of the top 100 players that signed with the Big 12 yesterday.

Rick Barnes is Carrying the Big 12 Recruiting Flag This Week (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

Rick Barnes is Carrying the Big 12 Recruiting Flag This Week (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports Images)

  • Jawun Evans (Oklahoma State) – Evans is the highest ranked player to commit to the Big 12 from the Class of 2015. He’s been described by ESPN‘s Fran Fraschilla as a “classic college point guard.” And according to Jerry Meyer of 247Sports, Evans is “lightning quick with the basketball, excels at penetrating defenses and has a great balance to his decision making.” It would seem likely that Evans will compete for a starting spot in Stillwater as soon as he steps on campus.
  • Kerwin Roach Jr. (Texas) – Roach committed to the Longhorns in late October and officially signed with Texas on Wednesday. He was attracted to Texas because of their development of elite guards, including D.J. Augustin and T.J. Ford. Roach, the Texas 5A state record holder in the triple jump, will offer the Longhorns incredible athleticism on the perimeter. Head coach Rick Barnes praised his basketball IQ, scoring ability and work ethic in announcing the signing.

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Big 12 M5: 11.07.14 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 7th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Good news for Iowa State fans: The Cyclones look to finally be healthy heading into their exhibition tonight against Viterbo University tonight in Hilton Coliseum. From a sprained ankle to mono, as Des Moines Register writer writer Randy Peterson points out, the Cycones have been far from 100% the last few weeks. That changed this weekend for the 14th ranked team in the country. They defeated Minnesota 103-78 last week in a closed scrimmage on Sunday and open the regular season next Friday against Oakland.
  2. Bill Self took some time for a Twitter Q&A on Thursday. Nothing earth-shattering was shared by the Kansas coach, but hey, it’s still the off-season and anything is better than nothing. In case you were wondering, Self said Brady Morningstar was the best perimeter defender he has had at Kansas, Mario Chalmers is the one player he would want taking a last-second shot, and he likes bacon in his grilled cheese sandwiches. He also wants to play at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Good luck getting Coach K to schedule an actual opponent at home, Bill.
  3. In recent years there has always seemed to be a “sexy pick” to finally knock Kansas off the top of the Big 12 standings. Kansas State and Oklahoma State were picked by some the last few years. Not surprisingly, Texas is this year’s pick. Burntorangenation.com previewed the Longhorns this season and asked some good questions surrounding the Texas players. They have a solid core coming back and added one of the best recruits in the country in Myles Turner as well. I don’t think they will have the firepower to dethrone the Jayhawks, but make sure you tune into both (possibly three) meetings, you won’t be disappointed.
  4. From the Not-So-Shocking department, Charleston Daily Mail writer Mike Casazza has a good piece on West Virginia and senior guard Juwan Staten, and how the former will have to rely heavily on the latter if the Mountaineers want to make a serious run at the Big 12 title. The conference pre-season player of the year led the league in points and assists last season and will be shadowed in every game this season. Someone will have to step up if the Mountaineers are to be successful in 2014-15.
  5. Pre-season No. 1 Kentucky and No. 5 Kansas face off again in the Champions Classic in a few weeks, and a Kentucky blogger wrote about what he believes are the three best games in the Kansas/Kentucky rivalry. Not surprisingly, all three games were won by the Wildcats. Kansas fans would probably point to the 150-90 shellacking they gave Kentucky in Allen Fieldhouse in 1989. This year’s game, played in Indianapolis along with Duke and Michigan State, should be another great one. Does Kansas have the talent to keep up with Kentucky? I don’t know, especially this early in the year. But the Champions Classic has been great every year, and this year should be no different.
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Cousy Award List Reveals Kansas Struggles at Point Guard Position

Posted by Chris Stone on November 5th, 2014

Preseason award lists continued to roll in on Tuesday afternoon with the release of the 2014-15 Bob Cousy Award Watch List. For those unfamiliar, the Cousy Award is given annually to the top point guard in men’s college basketball. This year’s list is led by Preseason AP All-Americans and likely favorites Marcus Paige of North Carolina and Fred VanVleet of Wichita State. The list also exhibits the strength of the position in the Big 12 this year. Four of the league’s 10 teams are represented, including Iowa State’s Monte Morris, Oklahoma’s Jordan Woodard, Texas’ Isaiah Taylor and West Virginia’s Juwan Staten. No Big 12 player has won the award since going back-to-back in 2006-07 (Acie Law IV, Texas A&M) and 2007-08 (D.J. Augustin, Texas), but this crop of league point guards provides plenty of talent that can compete for the prize this year.

The tourney upsets his Kansas teams have suffered will not be forgotten (Getty).

Despite being considered the favorites once again to win the Big 12, Bill Self and Kansas might have some question marks at the point guard position. (Getty)

  • Monte Morris averaged 6.8 points and 3.7 assists per game for the Cyclones during his freshman season and projects to replace DeAndre Kane as the starting point guard in Ames as a sophomore. The challenge for him will be to maintain his NCAA leading assist-to-turnover ratio (4.8-to-1) and great three-point shooting (40.6%) as he transitions into the role of Fred Hoiberg’s primary ball-handler.
  • Another sophomore poised to have an excellent season is Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard. As a freshman, Woodard averaged 10.3 points and 4.6 assists per game as the Sooners made the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year. He will, however, need to improve his two-point field goal shooting (35.2%) to become a more complete offensive player this season. According to Hoop-Math.com, he connected on only 29.0% of his shots away from the rim last season, which has to improve.

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Big 12 M5: 11.05.14 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 5th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. To say TCU struggled last season would be an understatement. The Horned Frogs didn’t win a single game in the Big 12, finishing 0-18 in the round-robin format. A year later, they are picked to finish in last place again. As a result, head coach Trent Johnson doesn’t want his players talking about last year’s performance, and I don’t blame him. Senior guard Kyan Anderson is taking a little different approach, says Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Carlos Mendez. If TCU is healthy this year, which was rarely the case last season, they will surely pick up a few wins in Big 12 play. “Why am I so happy? Why am I so excited?” Johnson asked reporters at media day. “No. 1 is, for the first time since I’ve been at TCU, we’ve had nine practices and I have a full complement of players — 13 guys on scholarship and three walk-ons, and we’re healthy.”
  2. It was just an exhibition against an overmatched Washburn team, but Kansas freshman forward Cliff Alexander gave us a glimpse last night of what he is capable of doing this season. Big 12 front lines should be afraid, as Alexander finished with 14 points and nine rebounds in just 17 minutes of action. It seemed like a flashback to his high school days where he was able to bully smaller players down low. That won’t be the case in most games against quality competition this season, but smaller frontcourts could be in for very long nights against the beefy freshman. “They were so dominant,” Washburn head coach Bob Chipman told the Lawrence Journal-World‘s Matt Tait. Again, the opponent was just a Division-II school, but Alexander playing well early could be huge for Kansas.
  3. Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg has been involved in numerous NBA coaching rumors since returning to the college game a few years ago. It’s widely assumed that he will one day leave Ames for an NBA head coaching job, but when that might happen is anyone’s guess. But as FoxSports.com‘s Reid Forgrave writes, Hoiberg’s relationship with Iowa State and the city of Ames is perhaps more unique than any coach in the country. Forgrave tells a great story of Hoiberg’s family life,  NBA career, and the heart problem that cut his playing days short in this fine article.
  4. West Virginia will definitely look different than last season, thanks to a few transfers that left plenty of question marks in their wakes. The Mountaineers still have Bob Huggins, however, and that’s a pretty good place to start. Seven new players will make their debuts with this year’s team, but senior guard Juwan Staten seems optimistic. “They’re coming along very fast, in my opinion,” Staten told Matt Hauswirth of West Virginia Illustrated. With the losses of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, the Mountaineers will need at least a few of these newcomers to seamlessly integrate into the team dynamic if they want to compete for a Big 12 title and an NCAA Tournament berth.
  5. Sure, Oklahoma State lost 1st round pick (and flopper extraordinaire) Marcus Smart from last year’s team, but head coach Travis Ford welcomes back senior forward Michael Cobbins, who missed the entire Big 12 season after tearing his Achilles against Robert Morris on December 30. Le’Bryan Nash admitted to the Oklahoman‘s John Helsley that last year’s team definitely missed Cobbins’ defensive presence during the second half of the year. The Cowboys were 12-1 before Cobbins was injured but finished the season with a disappointing 10-11 stretch. If you argued that Cobbins was more valuable to the success of this team than Smart, I wouldn’t disagree.
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AP Preseason All-America Team Snubs Big 12 Talent

Posted by Chris Stone on November 4th, 2014

On Monday, the Associated Press released its 2014-15 preseason All-America team. The leading vote getter was North Carolina junior guard Marcus Paige, who appeared on 58 of the 68 ballots after averaging 17.5 points and 4.2 assists per game for the Tar Heels last season. He is joined in the backcourt by Wichita State junior Fred VanVleet. The leading vote getter in the frontcourt was Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell, a 6’8″, 240-pounder who figures to be a force inside for the Cardinals this season. Harrell is joined up front by Wisconsin senior big man Frank Kaminsky and Duke’s highly touted freshman, Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is only the third freshman to make the preseason All-America team in the past five years, joining North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins in receiving the honor.

Georges Niang (AP)

Georges Niang (AP)

Noticeably absent from this preseason’s AP team were any players from the Big 12, which is a bit of a surprise given the projected strength of the league as a whole. The Big 12 has four teams ranked in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, including Kansas (#5), Texas (#10), Iowa State (#14) and Oklahoma (#19). The conference also has four other teams — Kansas State, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Baylor — that received votes in that poll. With so many quality squads playing in the conference this year, there are certainly some players who could find their way on to one of the AP All-American teams by the end of the season.

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Big 12 M5: 11.03.14 Edition

Posted by Kory Carpenter on November 3rd, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Guys like Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Isaiah Austin and DeAndre Kane might be gone from the league, but the Big 12 could be as good as ever this season. As was pointed out here, this is the first season when four Big 12 teams have made an appearance in the Preseason AP Top 25. Those four teams are Kansas (#5), Texas (#10), Iowa State (#14), and Oklahoma (#19). The quartet of Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and West Virginia all received votes as well. Kansas was picked by Big 12 scribes to win the conference for the 11th consecutive year and the AP voters rightfully gave the Jayhawks the highest ranking of any Big 12 team. But as you can see, there isn’t much of a gap between Kansas and the other schools, which should make for a great conference race.
  2. Former President Bill Clinton was campaigning for Democrats in Iowa over the weekend when he stopped at a coffee shop in Ames. “You have a very interesting team,” he told a small group of people, referring to Fred Hoiberg’s Iowa State team [see full video below]. It’s not every day when someone can talk hoops with a former president, and while Clinton didn’t give any amazing breakdowns during the conversation, it was still pretty cool to see. For someone who probably doesn’t watch a ton of Cyclones basketball, his wasn’t a terrible point to make. If the Cyclones are anything like what they’ve been in the past few years under Hoiberg, they’ll shoot well enough in some games to beat anybody and go cold in others, making them as upset-prone as nearly any team in the country.
  3. If Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas becomes eligible this season, Crimson and Cream Review believes that Oklahoma might be able to knock Kansas off the top spot in the Big 12 for the first time in over a decade. That’s good news for their readers, who seem to believe that Thomas will receive a waiver to play soon. The Sooners winning the conference wouldn’t be a stunner on the level of a TCU or Texas Tech winning the Big 12 title, but getting past Kansas and Texas this year? I don’t know about that one.
  4. Kansas freshman forward Cliff Alexander seemed to be a guy who might need a few weeks to get used to the college game. If you watched his high school clips, he basically did whatever he wanted inside simply because he was five inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than anyone else on the court. And while Kansas coach Bill Self recently told beat writer Gary Bedore that Alexander “had done great,” it still looks like he will need a month or so to get the hang of things in college. “Tarik averaged more fouls than rebounds and points until Christmas, and Cliff has the same potential to do that,” Self said. “But when he gets it, he’s going to be really good. I think by the end of the year, he could be one of the harder players to deal with in the league.”
  5. CBSSports.com recently ranked its top 100 college basketball players heading into the season, and surprisingly (at least to this writer), incoming freshman Jahlil Okafor was their No. 1 player ahead of guys like Sam Dekker, Montrezl Harrell and Frank Kaminsky. The list’s top Big 12 player is Iowa State forward Georges Niang, who will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents this season with the losses of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim from the Cyclones. He is joined in the top 25 by West Virginia’s Juwan Staten (#12), Kansas’ Cliff Alexander (#14), Texas’ Myles Turner (#16), Kansas State’s Marcus Foster (#20), Kansas’ Kelly Oubre (#21), Kansas’ Perry Ellis (#22), and Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield (#25). That’s not a bad collection of talent for what looks to be the second-best conference in the country, behind only the ACC.

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Big 12 Season Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted by Kory Carpenter on October 31st, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: West Virginia.

West Virginia

West Virginia rebounded in its second Big 12 season last year, finishing 9-9 in conference play and above .500 overall at 17-16. Both were improvements from its inagural Big 12 campaign, in which it finished 13-19 (6-12) in 2012-13. The Mountaineers ended the season with an opening round NIT loss to Georgetown and are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. They should make the Big Dance if their upward trend continues, but they have a few pieces to replace if that is to happen. They still have one of the best coaches in the Big 12 in Bob Huggins, who has won 739 games and made two Final Four appearances in a long Division I career that began at Akron in 1984. The Mountaineers also have a soft non-conference schedule this year, so racking up early wins should not be a problem. Only three of West Virginia’s 11 non-conference opponents are from Power 5 conferences, and they might be favored in all 11 of those contests. But like I said, there are definitely holes to fills thanks to a few transfers.

Bob Huggins will need to work some magic after some big losses this offseason.

Bob Huggins will need to work some magic after some big losses this offseason.

Strengths: Juwan Staten. The 6’1″ senior guard led last year’s team with 18.1 PPG and shot 48.5 percent from the field. He had a number of big games, including 23 points and seven assists on 8-of-13 shooting in the season-ending loss against Georgetown. You certainly couldn’t say that loss was on him. Staten will be joined in the backcourt by fellow senior Gary Browne, who has been consistently average at West Virginia (6.5, 5.6, and 5.9 PPG in three seasons) but will help form one of the most experienced backcourts in the nation this season. Then you have sophomore forward Devin Williams, who averaged 8.4 PPG and 7.2 RPG in his first college season — the 6’9″ forward should make a considerable leap and average double-figure points for the Mountaineers.

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Big 12 M5: 10.23.2014 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 23rd, 2014

morning5_big12

 

  1. Yesterday afternoon, a report surfaced alleging that Texas would start paying its student-athletes an amount in the area of $10,000 per year on top of the typical scholarship. Initially, the report set Twitter abuzz, as it would be the biggest domino to fall in the wake of the O’Bannon ruling, but it later turned out that Texas Athletic Director Steve Patterson was merely speaking hypothetically in response to a question about what might happen if the NCAA were to lose all of its appeals from the landmark. Despite the initial misinterpretation, it was interesting to get a glimpse from an administrator at a big athletics school into what the future may hold as the NCAA model is continuously challenged.
  2. Travis Ford has faced a lot of scrutiny over the past year (most of it deserved), but it hasn’t stopped him from making hay on the recruiting trail. Oklahoma State‘s latest commit came in Tuesday from 2016 guard Tre Evans. One interesting angle to Evans’ recruitment is that although his father, Terry, was a 1,300-point scorer for rival Oklahoma and later a staffer for Kelvin Sampson, the Sooners never came calling for Tre. A chip understandably developed on Tre’s shoulder, so even though he’s only a junior, he sounds very eager to get to Stillwater.
  3. In the current age of freshmen hype, we’ve seen how easy it can be for good upperclassmen to get lost in the shuffle. Last season, Kansas forward Perry Ellis flew under the radar compared to the Jayhawks’ one-and-done guys, and as of now, he’s one of college basketball’s most underrated players. That status is likely to change during the preview season as regional and national outlets take a closer look at what will make the Jayhawks go this year (especially as Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre take time to get settled) but for the time being, Ellis is about as underrated as a player for an annual contender can be. While Ellis is reliable around the rim, he was also a factor in Kansas’ disappointing defensive performance this season, so he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.
  4. Over 20 years after his tough 1992 Cincinnati team crashed the Final Four, Bob Huggins is still fighting a reputation as a perceived villain, according to Fox Sports’ Reid Forgrave. A given fan’s impression of the coaching vet probably depends on how long they’ve been following his career and whether they view teams as an extension of their coach. Huggins’ best teams — whether they’ve been at Dayton, Cincinnati or West Virginia — have always had an edge to them and thrived during a time when many coaches had a defensive philosophy based in some part on the idea that refs can only call so much contact. However, it’s also true that Huggins has always cared deeply for his players and never minces words when it comes to his teams’ performance in a given game or season. Huggins isn’t without flaws, but in today’s college basketball landscape, there are definitely more sketchy characters.
  5. Iowa State forward Georgios Tsalmpouris suffered a mild ankle sprain in practice, but should be ready to go for the start of the season. At 7’1″, Tsalmpouris is the tallest player to suit up for the Cyclones since 2004, but at 220 pounds, he has some bulking up to do before he becomes a key cog in Iowa State’s rotation. There isn’t much reason to worry about Tsalmpouris’ injury, but someone as raw as him needs all the development he can get.
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Big 12 M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 21st, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas State‘s frontcourt depth will suffer a minor hit after it was announced that Jack Karapetyan has withdrawn from school and will look to transfer. The California native played in just six games before losing his season to a foot injury last year. Fortunately for him, the injury came early enough in the season that he qualified for a medical hardship waiver, which means he will have all of his eligibility at his new school. The Wildcats don’t figure to miss him, though, as they have plenty of bodies up front.
  2. If there’s one team in need of a fresh start this season, it’s Oklahoma State. Though the Cowboys rallied to make the NCAA Tournament, they finished far below expectations and are ready for a clean slate. The team is looking to Le’Bryan Nash to fill the leadership void left by the departures of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. Nash came to Stillwater three years ago and developed a reputation for hunting shots as he struggled to accept a complimentary role. Now that he is Oklahoma State’s returning scorer, however, he will need to step up and build on a very solid junior year.
  3. A chance to play for a coach who is so well-regarded that he is approached by NBA teams on an annual basis, a rabid fan base that packs its home court every night, and the opportunity to be tested in arguably the country’s toughest conference. What’s not to like about Iowa State basketball? That’s a question we have for 6’10” Indian Hills Community College prospect Malik Dime, who verbally committed to Washington over the Cyclones on Monday. If you are going to turn down The Mayor, you better have a good reason, and according to the linked article, a couple of Washington connections were the difference.
  4. Current Southern Methodist coach and former Kansas head coach Larry Brown recalled some fond memories of coaching in Allen Fieldhouse in advance of the building’s 60th anniversary, which will be celebrated with a gala next week. Brown was only in Lawrence for five seasons, but he left a lasting legacy as the conductor of the 1988 national championship team following a prolonged stretch of mediocrity in the twilight of his predecessor’s (Ted Owens) career.
  5. As if it were even possible, West Virginia projects to lean more heavily on Juwan Staten than it did last year. Only 20 players in the country played a higher percentage of available minutes than Staten in 2014 so it’s tough imagine a bigger workload coming his way in 2015. If you ask us, the key to the Mountaineers’ season isn’t Staten’s performance, since he is more or less a known quantity, but rather the improvement of West Virginia’s abysmal defense.
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Big 12 Media Day Recap: A Photo For The Ages

Posted by Nate Kotisso on October 16th, 2014

If you haven’t heard, Kansas City’s a happening place these days. Aside from that ALCS thing in town yesterday, the Big 12 also held its annual men’s basketball media day at the Sprint Center (here’s all that stuff, if it tickles your fancy). It was your run-of-the-mill media day: Reporters asked bland questions, players and coaches gave calculated answers, and no one really learned anything new. The apex of the festivities came, however, when the Big 12’s Twitter account tweeted out a group photo will all 10 of the conference’s head coaches. Here it is below:

Bask in all its glory (photo via @Big12Conference on Twitter)

Bask in All of its Glory (photo via @Big12Conference)

Instead of breaking down the nonstop action from media day, the following were the “thoughts” that went through each coach’s mind at the time the above photo was taken.*

  • Baylor’s Scott Drew: “I hate coming here when the Tournament is in an odd-numbered year. (sighs) OK, what should I do here, hands together or apart? Together? Apart? Wait, did I use all my timeouts yet? [camera takes photo] Ah heck, they’re apart.”
  • Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg: “Put me in the back, will ya? That’s fine. I’ll end up dreamier than I was before.”
  • Kansas’ Bill Self: “Really wanted to wear Wiggins’ draft day suit again. Knew I shouldn’t have had that glass of butter with dinner.”
  • Kansas State’s Bruce Weber: (chuckles to himself) “I can’t believe Ford was in ‘The 6th Man.’ That’s the best movie of all-time! I bet that made a heckuva lot of money in theaters!”
  • Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger:  “I would take another coaching job right now if it meant I didn’t have to take this photo.”
  • Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford: “This contract I have means that I’m pretty much bulletproof. I could pull down Drew’s pants right now and I’d STILL get that check next week. [mulls it over] Nah, I won’t do that to ‘em. He’s probably worried that he has to call a timeout here or something.”
  • Texas’ Rick Barnes: “I bet if I left media day, traveled the world and missed the entire year, we’d still have a better record than the football team.”
  • TCU’s Trent Johnson: “I don’t know why this camera guy told me to move this far up. He could have gotten a much better shot of me if I stood at half-court like I wanted.”
  • Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith: “I should have been more direct with people calling me Orlando instead of Tubby.”
  • West Virginia’s Bob Huggins:  “I don’t think anyone here gets my E. Gordon Gee Halloween costume.”

*thoughts confirmed by unnamed sources

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Five Takeaways From the Preseason Big 12 Coaches Poll

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 9th, 2014

We’re a little over a month away from the first games of the 2014-15 season, and that means the typical roll-out of preseason coaches polls, all-conference teams and all of the other fun stuff that comes with the countdown. This morning, the Big 12 Conference released its annual preseason coaches poll. You can find the complete rankings here, but here are the five biggest takeaways from the release.

  1. Kansas picked to lead the pack (again), though narrowly: Death, taxes, the sun shining in the east, Adam Sandler making terrible movies, and the Jayhawks winning the Big 12. Sometimes, there’s just no need to complicate life’s certainties. Kansas’ roster isn’t without questions, but whose isn’t? Until someone knocks the Jayhawks off the mountain, any predictions in favor of other teams are simply bold picks. The Longhorns are right behind the Jayhawks with three first-place votes to Kansas’ six in this poll, and have one of the best combinations of talent and depth in the country, but don’t count on the Jayhawks to give up their crown this season.
  2. Sooners on the rise: Oklahoma checks in after Texas and was one of the bigger overachievers in college basketball last season. Lon Kruger returns nearly everyone from a young roster that racked up 23 wins, a second-place finish in the Big 12, and an NCAA Tournament bid. While the team’s defense will need to improve, the offensive firepower should still be there, and the squad can catch a huge break if Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas is ruled eligible. Combine all of that with Kruger’s track record and there are plenty of reasons to believe the Sooners will build on last year’s success.

    Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)

    Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)

  3. Is the Big 12 selling Fred Hoiberg short?: Before the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the league’s coaches penciled Iowa State in the bottom half of the standings, and both times, Fred Hoiberg exceeded expectations. Last year, the coaches appeared to finally smarten up, as they tabbed the Cyclones to finish fourth, but Iowa State still outperformed those projections, finishing third in the league and winning the Big 12 Tournament. The departures of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim appear to have given the coaches pause this season in sliding the Cyclones down to fifth, but we’ve seen The Mayor rebuild too many times to believe he can’t muster a top-four finish, possibly top three if things break right for his club. Look for Bryce Dejean-Jones, Georges Niang and Monte Morris to do some big things in 2014-15.
  4. What to make of the perceptions of Kansas State and Baylor: Both the Wildcats and Bears face significant roster turnover from last season’s NCAA Tournament teams, but Bruce Weber’s team was tabbed fourth and Scott Drew’s team sixth. It appears as though the league’s coaches are looking for Wildcats guard Marcus Foster to make a big leap as a sophomore and for Baylor to continue its every-other-year pattern, because I just don’t see what else can explain the 17-point difference in the preseason vote tally.
  5. At 7th and 8th place, Bob Huggins and Travis Ford face big seasons: West Virginia’s transition to the Big 12 has been a rocky one. The Mountaineers are just 49-49 over the last three seasons, and while it’s tough to picture Bob Huggins’ seat getting too hot in Morgantown, it’s time for him to produce. Juwan Staten could be the best player in the Big 12, but his amazing talent will be wasted if West Virginia doesn’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Meanwhile, in Stillwater, Travis Ford looks to pick up the pieces from one of the most disappointing seasons by a Power Five conference school in recent memory. To his credit, he’s made some inroads on the recruiting circuit, but it’s hard to see freshmen like Joe Burton and Mitch Solomon being good enough complements to Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte for the Cowboys to make a run.
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Breaking Down the Top Five Big 12/SEC Challenge Match-ups

Posted by Brian Goodman on June 3rd, 2014

Over the last few years, college basketball has taken some big steps to become more relevant in the national consciousness before non-conference play. The second annual Big 12/SEC Challenge will attempt to drum up some early December interest in basketball before bowl season hits in earnest. The Big 12 won last season’s rendition with seven victories in 10 games and will look to pick up the pieces of its fractured national reputation after a middling March performance. Here’s a quick look at the top five match-ups of next season’s edition.

Cameron Ridley will look to build on an impressive 2013-14 campaign when Texas faces the prohibitive #1 team in the country. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

Cameron Ridley will look to build on an impressive 2013-14 campaign when Texas faces the prohibitive #1 team in the country. (Brendan Maloney/USA Today)

  1. Texas at Kentucky (December 5) – Just 12 months ago, Rick Barnes was squarely on the hot seat. Now he finds his team in the Challenge’s marquee game against last year’s national runner-up and what is sure to be the preseason #1 team in the country. Both squads will enter this game with crazy depth, so look for this one to be decided by how each team’s coach handles its pieces at this early juncture. The Longhorns will have a slight leg up on Kentucky in experience with Cameron Ridley, Jonathan Holmes and Prince Ibeh to side with blue-chip prospect Myles Turner,  but much of Kentucky’s frontcourt will be back too after Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson announced their returns in surprising fashion. The guard battles will be nothing to sneeze at, either, with Javan Felix, Isaiah Taylor and Demarcus Holland going up against the loaded Kentucky backcourt of Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis.
  2. Florida at Kansas (December 5) - Andrew Wiggins nearly led the Jayhawks to an improbable comeback in Gainesville last season, but Kansas ultimately fell short in that effort. They’ll have a chance to make it good at Allen Fieldhouse, where despite their overall struggles last season, was a relative safe haven for Bill Self’s team. Wiggins and Joel Embiid are of course now gone, but Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander and Sviatoslav Mykhaliuk will step in, and hopefully Bill Self will find a steady point guard who can be relied on to make everything come together. Florida’s Final Four core has moved on as well, so this will be a great chance to see how incumbents Michael Frazier, Kasey Hill, Chris Walker and Dorian Finney-Smith handle a big early test on the road. Read the rest of this entry »
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