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2008 Big-12 Conference Preview

Tue, 11/13/2007 - 8:22am

By James Burbridge
11/13/07

[img_assist|nid=3623|title=Sherron Collins - Credit: Larry Smith/Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=430]In what many are pegging as a down year for Big 12 basketball, there are some bright spots to focus on this season, starting with title contender Kansas. Once again, Bill Self has the pieces in place to challenge for a 1 seed and a national title, but can he get over the hump and take the Jayhawk faithful back to the Final Four? If not, expect there to be grumblings in Lawrence in the offseason and people wanting Self replaced. Don’t overlook the freshman class brought in by Big 12 coaches this season, headlined by Kansas State’s Michael Beasley and Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin. Both are big, athletic, skilled and ready to not only make an immediate impact but dominate the conference. Also in the mix are Kansas State’s Bill Walker, Kansas’s Cole Aldrich, Oklahoma State’s James Anderson, Baylor’s LaceDarius Dunn, Texas’s Gary Johnson, to name the headliners. Top it all off with some intriguing new head coaches, Jeff Bzdelik and his Princeton offense at Colorado, Mark Turgeon at Texas A&M, Frank Martin at Kansas St., plus Scott Drew’s Baylor team, who is talented enough to make the tournament for the first time since the tragic end of the Dave Bliss era, and the first season post Kevin Durant for Texas fans, and you have some compelling storylines for the 2007-’08 season. Look for roughly 4-6 teams to make it to the NCAA tournament.

Projected Team Finish

1. Kansas
2. Texas A&M
3. Texas
4. Kansas St.
5. Oklahoma
6. Missouri
7. Baylor
8. Nebraska
9. Texas Tech
10. Iowa St.
11. Oklahoma St.
12. Colorado

Player of the Year: Michael Beasley, Kansas St.
Freshman of the Year: Michael Beasley, Kansas St.
Coach of the Year: Frank Martin, Kansas St.

Team Previews

Baylor Bears

The Bears return all five starters from last years 15-16 squad, which doesn’t sound like a necessarily great thing. This team relied on young backcourt players last year, which rarely translates into success. Defense is an issue with this team, but another year together should help with rotation issues. This is a team built to outscore opponents, not stop them on the defensive end and could play up to four guards at once conceivably.. They are led by senior guard Aaron Bruce, an All Big 12 selection his three previous seasons, but this team will only go as far as the rest of the team goes, which starts with junior guard Curtis Jerrells and sophomore guard Tweety Carter. Both are prolific scorers in undersized bodies but are more than capable of putting up twenty on any given night. Freshman LaceDarius Dunn, the highest rated recruit to ever come to Baylor, will give the backcourt some much needed size and scoring punch off the bench. The frontcourt will be the X-factor with this team, led by junior Kevin Rogers, a member of the 2007 Big 12 All-Improved team. If he can continue his improvement, Baylor’s chances of success instantly improve. The center position is manned by a pair of 7 footers, junior Mamadou Diene, a shot blocking specialist, and Josh Lomers, a highly recruited, well-rounded sophomore. Another player to keep an eye on will be redshirt freshman Djibril Thiam, a versatile 6’9” small forward that could give the Bears some more size and athleticism along with slashing ability.

KEY LOSSES
None

NBA PROSPECTS
Kevin Rogers 6’8” Jr. F
Curtis Jerrells 6’1” Jr. G
LaceDarius Dunn 6’4” Fr. G
Mamadou Diene 7'0" C

BIG GAME
November 30th vs. Washington State – This game will dictate the rest of Baylor’s season. I don’t even think Baylor needs to win, obviously that would be nice, but if the Bears can prove that they can hang with a former 3 seed in the NCAA tourney, they would put themselves on the map. Washington State is coming off a great season and is looking to continue that success this season. This should be a great game to watch as both teams are heavily guard orientated. Baylor has the talent and athletes to run with the Cougars.

Colorado

It’s going to be another long year in Boulder, 7-20 in ‘06-’07, but the future is definitely looking brighter. The hiring of Jeff Bzdelik was one of the best coaching hires of the past year and his style of play should benefit both the players and the fans. Sweet shooting Richard Roby should benefit the most from the spread out Princeton offense that Bzdelik employs, as well as sophomore Xavier Silas who put together an impressive freshman season. Colorado fans should expect another rough couple of years until Bzdelik gets some recruiting classes under his belt and gets some more talent in Boulder.

KEY LOSSES
None

NBA PROSPECTS
Richard Roby 6’6” Sr. G/F

BIG GAME
December 2nd vs. Stanford – With the uncertainty facing Brook Lopez’s status with the team at the time of this writing, this looks like a very winnable, impressive non-conference game. Not to say that it won’t be difficult, the Cardinals are more than just Brook Lopez, but he is their best player and with him not on the floor Colorado should have a better shot at competing and we all know how important big non-conference wins are to the NCAA selection committee.

Iowa St.

In his first year at Iowa State, Greg McDermott was faced with a seemingly impossible task; be competitive in the Big 12 with only 4 returning scholarship players. Surprisingly enough, McDermott did just that with a team that played with heart night in and night out, sneaking up on teams on their way to a 15-16 record, a victory considering the level of talent the Cyclones were bringing to the table. Although leading scorer Mike Taylor was dismissed from the team over the summer, Iowa State will look to build off last years experience with a young, but talented team filled with promise and potential. Rahshon Clark will be the elder statesman of this team, but look for sophomore and all Big 12 rookie Wesley Johnson to build off the success of this freshman campaign, along with freshman Craig Brackens, one of the highest rated players to ever come play for Iowa State.

KEY LOSSES
Mike Taylor 16 ppg

NBA PROSPECTS
Craig Brackens 6’10” Fr. F

BIG GAME
December 5th vs. Iowa – Sure, Iowa St. has bigger opponents on their schedule, but a home game with in state rival Iowa is without a doubt the biggest game Hilton Coliseum will see all year. Cyclone fans are some of the most loyal in the country, and aggravating if you are an opposing player or fan, making Hilton Coliseum one of the toughest places to play in the Big XII. Expect lots of heart and hustle in this rivalry fueled showdown.

Kansas

At the beginning of every season, only a handful of teams can claim to have the talent level to be true championship contenders. Kansas is one of those teams this season. Having lost only one player from an Elite Eight team the previous year, the Jayhawks are loaded at every position and have all the necessary pieces needed to cut down the nets in April. Beginning with the backcourt, which many have identified as the best in the country, Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush form a defensive nightmare for any opposing team and with Sherron Collins coming off the bench, teams can expect an unrelenting attack for 40 straight minutes. The frontcourt is equally impressive, beginning with Darrell Arthur. With Julian Wright now playing for the New Orleans Hornets, Arthur will be asked to do a lot more and all indicators point that he is up to the task. Joining him on the frontline are seniors Sasha Kaun and Darrell Jackson, who are more than capable of the supporting role that will be asked of them. Also looking for minutes are two promising freshmen, 6’11” center and former McDonalds All American Cole Aldrich and 6’3” point guard Tyrel Reed, whom Coach Bill Self has been raving about since practice began. Offensively and defensively, this team is truly elite and will look to erase difficult memories of March with a championship in ’08.

KEY LOSSES
Julian Wright 12 ppg, 7.8 rpg

NBA PROSPECTS
Brandon Rush 6’6” Jr. G/F
Darrell Arthur 6’9” So. F
Sherron Collins 5’11” So. G
Mario Chalmers 6’1” Jr. G
Russell Robinson 6’1” Sr. G
Cole Aldrich 6’11” Fr. C

BIG GAME
December 2nd at USC – This will be the biggest test for the Jayhawks up to this point. USC seems to be fairly well stocked with national level talent and are a program on the rise with coach Tim Floyd recruiting like a man possessed. USC will want to make a name for themselves on national television against a superior Kansas team and the Trojan fans will look to make life hard on the Hawks. This is not a game to be missed.

Kansas St.

While the loss of former coach Bob Huggins after one season sets the team back, fans can at least be thankful he stocked Manhattan, KS with two of the most dynamic players in the nation before he left. Rivals.com’s top ranked player Michael Beasley and number 7 ranked Bill Walker should combine to give opposing teams fits. Both players are top tier athletes and both skilled players. Beasley, a small forward in a power forward’s body, is drawing comparisons to Carmelo Anthony for his size, skill and offensive prowess while Bill Walker has been likened to Vince Carter for his ability to play above the rim. Throw in 4-star recruit Dominique Sutton and you have the makings of a NCAA tournament team. Unfortunately the team may be without senior forward David Hoskins, who might miss the entire year due to a knee injury. It will be up to first year head coach Frank Martin to get these players to play together and build some chemistry quickly because it appears likely Beasley and Walker bolt for the NBA after one season.

KEY LOSSES
Cartier Martin 17.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg
Jason Bennett

NBA PROSPECTS
Michael Beasley 6’9” Fr. F
Bill Walker 6’6” Fr. F

BIG GAME
January 30th vs. Kansas – Heralded freshman Michael Beasley has been talking the whole off season about how the Wildcats will sweep the Jayhawks this season. As unlikely as this seems, the first test of Beasley’s prediction comes in late January as the Hawks visit Manhattan. Even if the Wildcats can split with Kansas, this season would be special for the Wildcat faithful, who don’t too often experience victories over the Jayhawks during the basketball season.

Missouri

Second year Missouri head coach Mike Anderson, famous for the implementation of the “40 Minutes of Hell” philosophy and for upsetting then 1 seeded Kentucky in the 2004 NCAA tournament, will look to build upon an impressive 18-12 season with more success and a NCAA tournament bid. After returning just 37 percent of the scoring from the previous year, Anderson had an uphill battle in returning Missouri to Big 12 prominence. But with Anderson’s relentless coaching style and the emergence of Big 12 Newcomer of the Year Stephon Hannah, Missouri was able to run their way to 18 victories and prove that Anderson was no fluke at UAB. He will need more production from Hannah this year, who is a superb defender and scoring point guard who needs to better control his turnovers, as well as junior forward Leo Lyons, senior guard Jason Horton and senior forward Marshall Brown. While the Tigers don’t have the talent and heralded recruits that other programs may have, they do have a coach with a winning attitude and a game plan that gives opposing head coaches headaches preparing for.

KEY LOSSES
Kalen Grimes 7 ppg, 5.6 rpg

NBA PROSPECTS
Stefhon Hannah 6’1” Sr. G
Leo Lyons 6’9” Jr. F

BIG GAME
January 19th vs. Kansas – Year in and year out, this is one of the premier rivalries in the nation, one fueled with bad history and bloodshed. Regardless of records or rankings, both of these teams always seem to step it up a notch to play each other, battling it out until the final second ticks off the clock. These two defensive minded teams should put on quite a show in their first meeting of the 2007-’08 season.

Nebraska

Besides Colorado’s Richard Roby, no other team in the Big 12 is as dependent of their star as Nebraska is with Aleks Maric. The Big 12’s returning leading scorer and rebounder, at 18.5 and 8.7 respectively, is also among the nations top returning players, ranking as the nation’s third leading scorer behind Tennessee’s Chris Lofton and Virginia’s Sean Singletary, putting him in very respectable territory. Sophomore guard Ryan Anderson, a 6’4” shooting guard who played out of position at the four spot most of the time his freshman year, should continue to develop his 2nd year under Doc Sadler. Anderson seemed to play his best against top competition, proving himself to be a deadeye from the land of three knocking down 43% of his shots from beyond the arc, a source of optimism on a team that lacks the talent to be a true contender in the Big 12. A major question mark going into the season will be the point guard position, where the job is up for grabs after Charles Richardson’s graduation. Competing for the job will be diminutive 3 star freshman Cookie Miller, freshman Brandon Richardson and returning backup point guard Jay-R Strowbridge. While the competition for the spot looks to be interesting, the lack of a proven collegiate floor general will hinder the Cornhuskers chances of making any real noise this season.

KEY LOSSES
Charles Richardson 7.8 ppg, 5.8 apg, 3.4 rpg

NBA PROSPECTS
Aleks Maric 6’11” Sr. C

BIG GAME
November 24th at Creighton – If Nebraska is to establish itself as a contender in the Big 12, it first must prove itself to be the best basketball team in the state, a title Creighton currently holds. Dana Altman has built himself quite a little program with the Blue Jays, and it will prove to be vital to the recruiting efforts of Doc Sadler to assert himself and take control of this rivalry.

Oklahoma

The 2006-’07 season saw Kelvin Sampson leave amidst a cloud of recruiting violations and watched as his highly regarded recruiting class disbanded. In steps Jeff Capel, former Virginia Commonwealth University coach, and leads the Sooners to a 16-15 record with trademark Oklahoma defense. Now if Capel could add some offense, the Sooners tied for 10th in the Big 12 in points per game coming in at a measly 66.8 ppg, then they could really go places. The 2006 season also saw the emergence of Longar Longar, the 6’11” Sudanese center who brought 10.4 ppg and 7.1 rpg. Add to the mix 6’10” high school All American Blake Griffin who with the body of a pro and skills to match is likely to take the conference by storm, and four star guard Tony Neysmith and you can start to see some offensive weaponry. The strength of this team lies in its frontcourt, so the question becomes will the backcourt step up its game or will they hold the big guys hostage and keep the Sooners from realizing their potential?

KEY LOSSES
Nate Carter 11.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg
Michael Neal 10 ppg

NBA PROSPECTS
Blake Griffin 6’10” Fr. F
Longar Longar 6’11” Sr. C
Tony Crocker 6'5" So. G

BIG GAME
November 29th at USC – This game should be fun to watch based solely off the contrasting styles each team employs. Oklahoma will look to ugly this game up and play a physical, punishing brand of basketball while the Trojans will look to run and gun and please the L.A. crowd. This game also features two likely one-and-done candidates in O.J. Mayo and Blake Griffin. Catch ‘em while you can.

Oklahoma St.

Sean Sutton’s first year driving his dad’s old ride couldn’t have gone worse. After starting the season on a high note winning 15 of their first 16 games and rising to 10th in the nation, Oklahoma St. got blown out by Kansas and could only muster 7 more victories for the rest of the season. This should prove to be another difficult year in Stillwater with the departure of their two leading scorers from last year, Mario Boggan and JamesOn Curry. For this year to be considered a success, the first person that has to step up is Byron Eaton, a former All American point guard who has failed to live up to expectations by and large. Marcus Dove, the 2007 Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year, will also have to repeat what he accomplished last year and play lights out on the defensive end of the floor. Obi Muonelo’s successful freshman campaign, cut short by a broken leg, is a source of optimism for the Cowboys, as well as the arrival of All American guard James Anderson. There is some good young talent in Stillwater, but whether or not that equals a winning season is very much in doubt.

KEY LOSSES
Mario Boggan 17.8 ppg, 8.2rpg
JamesOn Curry 16.9 ppg

NBA PROSPECTS
Obi Muonelo 6’5” So. G
James Anderson 6’6” Fr. G

BIG GAME
November 19th vs. LSU in Maui – Like so many other teams with numerous question marks going into the season, Oklahoma St. can set the tone for their season with a strong performance against LSU. If they play well and win, then it is conceivable the Cowboys could ride the high into their other two big non-conference games against Washington and Pittsburgh. Play poorly and, well, no one could give you a more accurate description of what it is like to play downhill the rest of the year.

Texas

This is season number 1 A.D. (After Durant). That is how big this kid was to Texas basketball and NCAA basketball for that matter. In what was the most dominating season by a college player that I have ever seen, K.D. stoked the imagination with thoughts of what was possible when a kid with heart, skills and physical gifts could do on the basketball court. But that was last year and its time to move on in Austin. Lost amongst all the hype that K.D. created last year was D.J. Augustin’s stellar freshman season. Leading the Big 12 in assists is no easy feat, but especially as a freshman with other 4 other underclassmen starting and at the breakneck pace Texas played at. Augustin proved himself to be an elite college point guard, though life wont be quite as easy playing sans Durant. Damion James was asked to play out of position his freshman year and bang with the big boys. This year, with the departure of K.D.’s 29 ppg, James will be asked to roam a bit more on the perimeter, where his natural talents are more evident, and assert himself more on the offensive end. Throw in diminutive shooting guard A.J. Abrams’s sweet shooting and the talk that Texas could be better overall this year than last doesn’t seem so out there, especially if heralded recruit Gary Johnson can return fully from heart complications and give them something on the court.

KEY LOSSES
Kevin Durant 28.9 ppg, 12.5 rpg

NBA PROSPECTS
D.J. Augustin 6’0” So. G
Damion James 6’7” So. F

BIG GAME
December 2nd at UCLA – There are some intriguing matchups in this game, most notably Augustin vs. Darren Collison, two of the best point guards in the land who squared off in New Orleans at the adidas Nations camp during the summer with many scouts coming away claiming Augustin won the match up. With these two setting the pace of the game, along with the numerous other McDonalds All Americans playing here as well, this one should certainly make your Tivo schedule.

Texas A&M

How do you quantify what Acie Law brought to each game? Sure, nearly 21 ppg looks great on a stat sheet, but where Acie really excelled was the forth quarter when the game was on the line. His ability to take and make fearlessly, clutch shots separated him from all the other guards in the country. So with his departure, along with head coach Billy Gillespie, the entire Aggie game plan has changed, going from a guard oriented offense with hulking bruisers in the frontcourt, to the frontcourt now being the focal point of the offense, starting with forward Josh Carter. This deadly long range shooter was relegated to mostly spot of jump shots off Acie Law drives. This season new head coach Mark Turgeon will need Carter to assert himself more and draw some of the attention off of the punishing Joseph Jones and likely top 10 pick DeAndre Jordan, two big guys capable of controlling the paint. The rest of the lineup should be filled out by defensive specialist Dominique Kirk and promising sophomore Donald Sloan. This team has the size, skill and senior leadership necessary to compete in the Big 12 and in the NCAA tournament.

KEY LOSSES
Acie Law IV 20.8 ppg, 4.8 apg

NBA PROSPECTS
DeAndre Jordan 7’0” Fr. C
Josh Carter 6’7” Jr. G/F
Joseph Jones 6’9” Sr. F/C

BIG GAME
Preseason NIT Tournament November 13th-23rd – Ok, so this isn’t one game. But the championship round should promise some big games to watch. Texas A&M should conceivably face either Washington or Utah in the semifinals, then Syracuse or Ohio St. in the finals. Tell me those games wouldn’t be exciting? This will be Mark Turgeon’s official welcoming party to the ranks of big time D-I basketball, facing off against either Lorenzo Romar, Jim Boeheim or Thad Matta.

Texas Tech

Coach Bob Knight has always had an ability to make a whole better than the sum of its parts, and this year should be no different. The Red Raiders lost the top scorer in the Big 12 in Jarrius Jackson, but should replace him with its new top scorer, Martin Zeno. With Jackson gone, Zeno should look to score more often, giving him a prime opportunity to win the scoring title this year. Joining Zeno in the backcourt with be senior Charlie Burgess along with freshman John Roberson backing up the point guard position. Knight brought in his most talented recruiting class to date to Lubbock this season, signing 3 of the state’s top 11 players, including Roberson, forward Mike Singletary and forward D’walyn Roberts, so the influx of talented youth is in place for the future. Up front the Raiders look to be fairly big with the 6’10” Brazilian junior Ricardo De Bem and 7’0” Bosnian senior Esmir Rizvic. The makings are there for another pesky Bob Knight team, but a strong, competitive season is a couple years away while this year’s freshmen class develops and build some continuity.

KEY LOSSES
Jarrius Jackson 19.1 ppg

NBA PROSPECTS
Martin Zeno 6’5” Sr. G

BIG GAME
Great Alaska Shootout November 22nd-24th – I love these early season tournaments, if you couldn’t already tell. The possibility of Bob Knight going up against Mark Few and Gonzaga again, last time he played them he knocked them out of the NCAA tournament in the first round, makes for compelling basketball. And to follow that up a potential matchup with new minted Michigan head coach John Beilein and you have quite a slate of interesting games. Knight’s defensive approach gave the Bulldogs fits last time around, so expect Few to prepare his team a little better to handle the pressure.

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