Big 12 Conference
Amazingly enough, the story in the Big 12 is now Kansas State. Bob Huggins, as usual, acting like a degenerate and leaving the school after a year. Which would be fine except that he brought in a slew of transfers and the #1 recruiting class in the country, all of whom came to play with him. Those kids weren't coming for Kansas State. So now the fans of the school are in a panic, burning effigies of Huggins and worrying about which players will transfer out. First of all, I don't have much sympathy for Kansas State fans. They sold their soul to the devil in hiring Huggins, and had to know it would be messy in the end. They wouldn't have had a chance at any of those recruits anyway - if even half of them decide to stay then this team will be better off than before Huggins. A huge mistake would be if the Athletic Director follows through with his threats to not allow players out of their commitments. Not only would it be absurdly unfair to these recruits, most of whom couldn't have cared less about K-State until Huggins asked them to come, but it would set a bad precedent and hurt future recruiting. And who wants to have kids on the team that don't want to be there anyway?
Moving to other topics, let's just say it will be digusting how much talent Kansas is going to have next year. They had arguably the most talented team in the nation last year, and will definitely be even better next year. It's expected that only Brandon Rush will go pro, which would make him the only member of last year's team not to be back. And let's remember, at schools like Kansas you aren't supposed to have that many players return. You're supposed to have your stars go pro early to make room for the new insane recruiting class (see: Ohio State). To be fair, this isn't the greatest recruiting class Bill Self has ever had. I see two clear bluechippers, in Cole Aldrich (Scout: 4 C, Rivals: 5 C) and Tyrel Reed (Scout: 10 PG, Rivals: 16 PG). With Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Julian Wright, Sherron Collins and others, this will likely be the most talented team in the country. The knock on Bill Self has been that he is a great recruiter, but a poor bench coach. This year he no longer has any excuses, because next season will be a failure if this team doesn't make the Final Four.
Texas should also be an outstanding team next year, even without Kevin Durant. DJ Augustin is expected to stay, and a Top 20 recruiting class will join in as well. Texas also didn't have a single Senior getting double-digit minutes per game last year, so other than Durant this team will be improved at every other position. In a lot of ways, Durant held back this offense's development anyway. He would go stretches where he would be disinterested and Rick Barnes wouldn't care about getting him the ball. That would be followed by periods where Durant would take the ball up and try to do everything himself while the rest of the team watched. It wouldn't be unprecedented for a team to get better after losing a star like that. Rick Barnes, like Bill Self, has been tagged as a great recruiter and bad bench coach. And like Self, Barnes will have a ton of talent next year. Not quite as much as Self has, but enough that a Final Four trip isn't out of the question. This team could be really good if Barnes doesn't mess it up.
Texas A&M, on the other hand, could really struggle next year without Billy Gillespie. Acie Law and Antanas Kavaliauskas were really the heart and soul of this team, and will be missed. Without a great recruiting class, it's hard to see those guys being easily replaced. Texas Tech, too, will struggle finding ways to score without Jarrius Jackson, Jon Plefka and Darryl Dora.
Oklahoma and Oklahoma State should both be improved after off years, as both bring in top-ranked recruiting classes. Missouri, too, should be better with another year under the outstanding Mike Anderson. His 40 Minutes of Hell Version 2.0 was a double-edged sword last year as his team couldn't handle the pace on offense either. With another year in the system (every key player returns for another year) the team should be much more mature. Expect fewer turnovers and a better team, even without a Kansas- or Texas-level recruiting class. That covers all of the teams that will finish near the top of the Big 12, so let's get to the final predictions:
1. Kansas - This will most likely be unanimous in the media. Probably the most talent of any team in the country.
2. Texas - The only other team in the Big 12 with the talent to run with Kansas at all.
3. Oklahoma State - Should have a great backcourt with JamesOn Curry and Byron Eaton. Throw in a top recruiting class and this team should be improved in its second full season under Sean Sutton's control.
4. Missouri - One of the best teams to watch play. Mike Anderson should add to the excitement in the state of Missouri by bringing this team back to the Tournament for the first time in five years.
5. Texas Tech - The offense should be more balanced with Jarrius Jackson gone. If they can find a way to score points off of Charlie Burgess and Martin Zeno, this could be a dangerous team.
6. Oklahoma - Lose a lot to graduation, and this could be a rebuilding year, but on the back of the 15th ranked recruiting class (according to Rivals.com) this should be a pretty talented team. Expect them to struggle early and improve as the year goes on and the freshmen become more mature.
7. Texas A&M - They won't fall totally off the side of the Earth, but I can't see anything but a big drop without Gillespie and their two most important players.
8. Kansas State - This team could finish anywhere between third and 11th, to be honest. We have to see which players end up staying and which ask out of their commitments. You just can't help but view the situation here as a car wreck, and nothing good comes out of situations like that.
9. Iowa State - They return their starting five, which alone makes them a better team next year. But with no obvious stars, I can't see how they're going to duel with the big boys.
10. Baylor - A fast-improving program with another good recruiting class. We will have to see how these guys play together early on in the season, but it's not out of the question that this team makes a run up the standings and has a shot at an at-large bid.
11. Nebraska - No big time talent, but with a bunch of Junior College pickups, this team should be able to steal a few games.
12. Colorado - Jeff Bzdelik is a very good coach, but the cupboard is bare. They should improve in 2008-09, but fans should go into this coming year only looking for young talent to develop. They have no chance at a Tourney bid.