The Jayhawks are coming off an outstanding year in which they went 35-3, but unfortunately, it is how the season ended that the fans will remember. The Jayhawks were upset as the number one seed by last year’s Cinderella VCU in the Elite Eight.
The Jayhawks lost a lot of talent from last year’s team. The Morris twins as well as sharpshooters Brady Morningstar and Tyrell Reed are no longer on the team. However, as is the case at KU, there still is a lot of talent on the cupboard.
The Jayhawks will feature the Big 12 Conference’s best starting backcourt in Tyshawn Taylor and the super-athletic Elijah Johnson. Inside the Jayhawks will be led by Thomas Robinson who emerged as a potential lottery pick at the end of last season.
The key to the Jayhawks’ season will be how the role-players play alongside the three stars. If they can get good contributions from guys like Travis Releford, Jeff Withey and Naadir Tharpe, then this team has the potential to get back to where they were last year and potentially farther.
On paper, the Bears have as much talent as any team in the country. If this talent can coexist, then this team will have a legitimate chance at a final four berth.
The team did not expect Perry Jones to come back after his freshman year. However, that is just what he did. Jones, who stands at 6″11″, is an absolute beast that can score from anywhere on the field.
Jones is the leader on what is one of the deepest front courts in the country. Joining Jones is senior bruiser Quincy Acy, the athletic Anthony Jones, former McDonald’s All-American J’Mison Morgan, and freshman sensation Quincy Miller. These five interior players will be able to dominate teams on the backboards due to their incredible depth. As good as their frontcourt is, it may be the play of the backcourt that determines if this team can achieve what they have the potential to achieve.
The Bears’ weakness last season was the play of the guards. They really missed Tweety Carter, who graduated the year before. With another year under his belt, point guard A.J. Walton has the potential to be able to run the show in Waco, Texas. He is not needed to score 20 points, just to handle the ball and get it inside to the big guys.
Deuce Bello, a high school teammate of Quincy Miller’s, will be looked upon to give the Bears scoring from the outside. Bello should be able to thrive off of the post play and get many opportunities to get to the bucket.
Baylor has a plethora of guys that can put the ball in the basket. If this team comes together like coach Scott Drew thinks it can, then this team could be playing important games in April.
3. Texas A&M-
The Aggies always seem to be a team that gets a lot out of its players. They play hard on the defensive end and rebound very well, all without ever having a star player. However, this year’s Texas A&M team appears to have a potential star.
Khris Middleton, a 6’7″ junior from South Carolina, led the team last year with 14.4 points per game. Middleton has the complete offensive game and can score from anywhere on the court. With new head coach Billy Kennedy coming to College Station, Texas, Middleton will be counted on to help the team adjust to his coaching philosophies. Middleton will also have a lot of other players around him that can make plays.
Elston Turner, a transfer from Washington, will be counted on to give the team that second perimeter scorer. Turner, two years ago at Washington, shot 38 percent from the three point line, and will be counted on to keep shooting like that at Texas A&M. Inside David Loubeau will man the middle.
Loubeau, a very athletic big man, is a rebounding presence. His ability to get up and down the court will give opposing big men problems, and should enable the Aggies to push the tempo a little more than in the past.
The Aggies will once again be one of the hardest working and best rebounding teams in the country. Middleton has the capability to put the team on his back and carry them through tough games, which is a great ability to have come tournament time.
After another disappointing exit in the NCAA tournament and then losing three players early to the NBA draft, many would expect the Longhorns to have a major slip this year. However, as Rick Barnes has shown in the past, he can flat recruit.
In comes in Myck Kabongo, a freshman from Toronto, that has big time potential. Team him up with junior J’Covan Brown and you have the potential for a backcourt capable of having monster games.
Joining them in the backcourt will be Julien Lewis, another freshman that can put the ball in the hoop from all over the court. The backcourt will be counted on as the frontcourt is a little thinner than it has been in the past.
Alexis Wangmene played a significant amount down the stretch and will be counted upon to pick up some of the slack. Wangmene is a little undersized at 6’7″, but he has a high motor and is very athletic.
Texas will be a team that might struggle early as they have so many new faces, but by the end of the year, their backcourt will give a lot of teams fits.
5. Kansas State-
The Wildcats were an interesting team last year. They were a preseason pick to reach the Final Four. However, things did not start out very well for the Wildcats.
However, late in the year the team started to play some great basketball and were very close to reaching the Sweet 16 for the second consecutive season. The Wildcats will look to continue this success into the season.
Rodney McGruder will be looked upon to be the leader of the team. McGruder averaged over 11 points and six rebounds a game last year and should now be able to increase those statistics as he will be the focal point on the offense.
Will Spradling was a pleasant surprise as a freshman. As a sophomore, he will be counted on to run the offense. Spradling has a great understanding of the game and is under control when handling the ball. With his great outisde shooting and effort on defense, Spradling should emerge as a true threat for the Wildcats. A key will be the emergence of Jamar Samuels.
Samuels has always been a spark of the bench, but will be looked upon now to be more of a scorer. Samuels has the talent to be a 10-12 point scorer and a seven or eight rebounds per game type of guy, he just needs to be more consistent.
Coach Martin is one of the most passionate coaches in the country, and his players feed off his energy. Martin has said this is the most athletic team he has had at K-State, so look for the Wildcats to get after teams on the defensive end of the court.
Very rarely does a team rely on a freshman to be its go-to-guy. However, most teams do not have a freshman quite like LeBryan Nash.
Nash is a 6’7″ 230 pound freshman who has ability to be a program-changing type of player. Nash is an extremely athletic forward that has a nasty side to his game. He is the type of player who does not care if an opponent is at the rim, he is still going to take it to the rim hard.
Look for Oklahoma State to use him in a lot of different positions. He will mainly play the three, but if the Cowboys elect to go to a small lineup, they can put him at the four to create a matchup. Senior point guard Keiton Page will benefit from having Nash on the team.
Page, a sharpshooting point guard, should have a lot of open three-point attempts due to teams focusing on Nash.
Page will team up with Fred Gulley for a solid backcourt that will be able to score from the perimeter.
The Cowboys, like many teams in the Big 12, are young, but they have the potential to be a sleeper in the NCAA tournament.
7 Iowa State-
With most of the Big 12 teams looking for freshmen to help their teams this year, the Cyclones will be leaning on transfers.
The Cyclones have a lot of transfers, but will look to a couple of former Big 10 Conference players to lead their team.
Royce White, a big time recruit, comes in from Minnesota. White was never able to see the court as issues off the court derailed his career at Minnesota. He comes to Iowa State hoping to take advantage of a second chance.
White is a bruising power forward that has a nice touch at the rim. He will give the Cyclones a true post presence in a league that does not have many. However, it is the perimeter play that makes the Cyclones a sleeper in the Conference.
In from Michigan State is Chris Allen. He will team up with Scott Christopherson to form a backcourt that complements White in the frontcourt. Christopherson was among the nation’s leaders from the three-point line, and with Allen’s slashing ability and White’s inside presence, he should have even more shots from deep.
The Tigers have had a rough offseason. The Tigers lost their coach Mike Anderson to Arkansas and hired Frank Haith from Miami.
However, the transition has not been that smooth due to the allegations that Haith knew that his players were involved with the infamous Shapiro scandal. Missouri has stood behind their coach and are expecting great things from him.
However, the worst news from the off-season is the injury to Laurence Bowers. Bowers tore his ACL and is presumably out for the year. This makes a backcourt that was going to be heavily depended on that much more important.
Marcus Denmon and Kim English will look to provide more scoring to make up for the loss of Bowers. Denmon is the leading returning scorer after averaging just under 17 point per game and English also average 10 a game.
Even though Anderson is gone, expect with the players that are still on the team that Missouri will still play that full-court defense. With a frontcourt without much depth, it will be key for the Tigers to not allow the game to turn in a half-court game.
The Lon Kruger era begins at Oklahoma. The Sooners have been down the past two years due to players such as Blake Griffin and Willie Warren leaving school early. However, there is some talent at Oklahoma that should have the Sooners competitive this season.
Power forward Andrew Fitzgerald came on last year and averaged 12 points to go along with five rebounds a game. He will be counted on to battle down low with some of the explosive athletes in the Big 12. Another guy that will be counted on to help Fitzgerald down low is Mississippi State transfer Romero Osby. Osby is similar to Fitzgerald in stature and should give the Sooners a good one-two punch down low.
On the perimeter, Steven Pledger will look to build off a successful year and give the Sooners outside scoring. Pledger averaged 11 point per game and also led the team, shooting 35 percent from three and 85 percent from the free throw line.
The Sooners are still probably at least a year from getting back to competing in the Big 12, but Kruger at the helm, it will happen.
10. Texas Tech –
Like Oklahoma, a new coach is taking over at Texas Tech. Red Raider fans know him very will as he was the coach at Texas A&M from 2004-2007.
Gillispie will look to get the Red Raiders back to being able to compete in the loaded Big 12. However, it may take a little while for the Red Raiders to get back to the days when Ronald Ross and Andre Emmett were flying up and down the court.
This team lost their top four scorers and will be led by Robert Lewandowski, a senior from Overland Park,KS. The center averaged 8.5 points a game last year and will be looked upon to increase that average in order to help the team compete.
Texas Tech is a young team that is not quite where they want to be. The Red Raiders will give out great effort night in and out, but the overall talent is not there for them to be a legitimate contender.
The Big 12 this year may not quite have the top team like in year’s past, but this may be the deepest the conference has been in years. The top eight teams all have a legitimate chance at playing in the NCAA tournament, which should make a for a heck of a regular season race.