Sunday, April 11, 2010

2010-11 Preview: Big 12

Big 12 Conference

The Big 12 had an interesting set of tiers in 2009-10. First we had Kansas, the team that was the best in the nation all season long until they were shocked in the NCAA Tournament by Northern Iowa. After that there was a group of six teams that all were never in much risk of missing the NCAA Tournament. And after that the bottom five teams in the conference never made much noise at all, and were at best pesky opponents that occasionally pulled an upset or two. Once again with the 2010 recruiting classes there is a huge gulf between the top and bottom teams, and so I'd expect that again in 2010-11 we'll see the same teams near the top and the same teams near the bottom. We can begin with Kansas, a team that will be highly motivated after that NCAA Tournament disaster, but will have a lot of turnover. Sherron Collins graduates, but he'll be the only loss to graduation because Mario Little was awarded a redshirt and will be back for one more season. The question is what will happen with NBA defections. Xavier Henry and Cole Aldrich have already declared for the NBA and are both expected to stay in the Draft, but right now it seems like Tyshawn Taylor and Marcus Morris will most likely stay at Kansas, and for now I'm going to assume both will be back. Tyshawn Taylor will start in the backcourt probably with Brady Morningstar, with Tyrel Reed getting plenty of time off the bench. Assuming Marcus Morris is back he'll also have his brother Markieff with him, along with Thomas Robinson. Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey are two players who didn't see much of the floor this past season but have the potential to earn 10-15 minutes per game in 2010-11. So far Kansas has only signed Royce Woolridge (Rivals: 117, Scout: 42 SG), but with scholarships opened up by the NBA defections you have to figure they'll be active in the April signing period. It will be hard to judge the 2010-11 potential for Kansas until they have their final roster.

Kansas State and Baylor separated themselves a bit from the pack as we got late into the season, and both made it all the way to the Elite 8 in the NCAA Tournament. Kansas State is going to have to replace both Denis Clemente and Luis Colon next season, although they will return Jacob Pullen, Curtis Kelly, Dominique Sutton and Jamar Samuels. Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving both shows flashes of very good potential as freshmen, and I expect both to play key roles this coming season. Both are backcourt players, and so those two along with Pullen should keep Kansas State strong at the guard position. Wally Judge will get expanded time to help replace Colon. They have a not great, but certainly very solid recruiting class led by Shane Southwell (Rivals: 123, Scout: 25 SF). Clemente's leadership qualities will be tough to replace, but Kansas State could potentially have even more total talent in 2010-11 than they did in 2009-10. Baylor, on the other hand, might be viewing 2010-11 as something of a re-loading season. They are going to lose a lot from this past year's roster: Tweety Carter and Josh Lomers graduate, while Ekpe Udoh and LaceDarius Dunn are both looking at possibly going pro. At this point I expect Udoh to go into the Draft while I expect Dunn to stay. Udoh will be impossible to replace because he was probably the second most intimidating shot blocker in the nation behind only Jarvis Varnado. But that said, Baylor put together an excllent freshman class, led A.J. Walton, Nolan Dennis, Givon Crump and Cory Jefferson. Throw in a sophomore class of Quincy Acy, Anthony Jones and Fred Ellis and that's potentially a really nice core going forward for the next two years. Walton will likely replace Carter at the point, while Quincy Acy will likely replace Udoh in the starting lineup unless Perry Jones (more on him in a moment) jumps right in and starts from day one. The question marks are Dennis, Crump and Jefferson, all of whom were hyped freshmen who didn't see much of the floor as true freshmen. If they can develop then Baylor could still finish in the top three or four spots in the Big 12 in 2010-11, and could potentially contend for the Big 12 title in 2011-12. And while Baylor only has one elite recruit coming in, it's a potential superfrosh in the form of Perry Jones (Rivals: 6, Scout: 2 C).

Texas is an interesting team because of how much they underperformed in 2009-10. After getting to #1 in the nation they fell apart down the stretch. The Dogus Balbay injury was devastating, but even without him they found new and interesting ways to blow games. Balbay, the team's best ball handler and perimeter defender, will be back in 2010-11. In addition, I think J'Covan Brown developed a lot from the experience of replacing Balbay, and he'll be a great secondary ball handler next season. Jai Lucas will be back, and Varez Ward will return from his own season-ending injury, so Texas will still be deep at the guard position. The question is down low where Dexter Pittman and Damion James will graduate, and Jordan Hamilton will potentially test the NBA Draft waters. I do think Hamilton will stay, but I don't think Avery Bradley will, who is being talked about as a Lottery pick. Justin Mason is the other graduation for Texas. But again, with Brown, Balbay, Lucas and Ward all back, Texas should still be good in the backcourt. Alexis Wangmene is a power forward who will get extended time next season, and Texas also has a 6'9 recruit in Tristan Thompson (Rivals: 17, Scout: 1 PF). Texas might have to add another recruit or two to add depth, but their seven or eight man rotation should be very good. Texas A&M loses a lot as well, with Donald Sloan, Bryan Davis and Derrick Roland graduating (Texas A&M is trying to get a medical redshirt for Roland after that gruesome injury, but it's very unlikely to be successful because of how many games he played before being injured in late December). Their backcourt of Dash Harris and B.J. Holmes will still be very good, with Naji Hibbert getting a lot of time as well. David Loubeau will be the leader down low, along with Nathan Walkup. Khris Middleton is a player who can potentially take a leap after playing very well as a freshman in 2009-10. The Aggies have a very good recruiting class, led by Tobi Oyedeji (Rivals: 82, Scout: 24 PF) and Daniel Alexander (Rivals: 88, Scout: 28 PF). Davis will be a very tough replacement because of all of the little things he did: he grew to be one of my favorite players in the nation this past season because it seemed like every time some little good thing happened that didn't show up the boxscore, Davis was the Texas A&M player involved. But with so many talented young bigs you have to figure that Mark Turgeon is going to have yet another NCAA tournament team.

Missouri and Oklahoma State were the other two NCAA Tournament teams from the Big 12 conference in 2009-10. Missouri was a team that lost a lot after their 2008-09 season, and now they'll lose even more, with J.T. Tiller, Zaire Taylor and Keith Ramsey graduating. That all said, Mike Anderson has proved that his system will make his team good defensively no matter who is there, and he's got a nice young core that he is developing. The sophomore class this past year had Marcus Denmon and Miguel Paul in the backcourt, with swingman Kim English along with Luarence Bowers and Steve Moore down low. The freshman class added guard Mike Dixon, Jr., and could potentially have some development of the other freshmen. And their incoming freshmen class is very good, led by Tony Mitchell (Rivals: 15, Scout: 8 SF) and Phil Pressey (Rivals: 54, Scout: 9 PG). Missouri will be talented but young in 2010-11, and the worry with Anderson's frenetic system is that it can lead to a lot of offensive turnovers. Without steady, experienced ball handlers their offense might keep them from being near the very top of the Big 12, but they'll be at worst a bubble team. Oklahoma State loses only Obi Muonelo to graduation, but James Anderson has already declared for the NBA Draft and Marshall Moses might enter as well. At this point I expect Anderson to go pro, but I expect Moses back. But Anderson was an offensive machine, collecting 20+ points in nearly every important game Oklahoma State played in all season. Keiton Page is a very good floor leader and he'll be back, along with Ray Penn and Fred Gulley in the backcourt. The question will be down low, where they've struggled to develop big men over the past few years. Assuming Moses is back he'll start down low with Matt Pilgrim, but there's not much else. And if Moses does leave then they'll be frighteningly thin down low. It's no surprise that their recruiting class is geared toward fixing some of those post problems, and is led by Michael Cobbins (Rivals: 38, Scout: 12 PF) and a good 6'7" Juco transfer, Darrell Williams.

If there's a sleeper team it's probably Oklahoma, after a very disappointing 2009-10 season. Willie Warren is expected to go pro, but he wasn't anywhere near the player as a sophomore as he was as a freshman, and he won't be as big of a loss as you might think. Tony Crocker is the key graduation, and Ryan Wright is the other graduation from the regular rotation. But Oklahoma has a very young core that should only get better with another year of seasoning. Tommy Mason-Griffin was one of the best freshmen in the country, and with his ball handling and shooting skills he could be one of the best players in the entire Big 12 as a sophomore. The other key freshmen this past season was Tiny Gallon, who led the team in rebounding. They also have some nice players coming in, with Barry Honore from Southern University along with a nice recruiting class led by Cameron Clark (Rivals: 30, Scout: 5 SF). If all of those young players develop then Oklahoma has a real chance of getting back to the Tournament in 2011.

I expect the top of the Big 12 to be very close in 2010-11. Baylor, Kansas State, Kansas and Texas will all be very good, and any of them can win the conference and/or end up in the national Top Ten. It's very tough to separate those four teams, although for now here's how I see things ending up:

1. Texas - I know I'm going to be pretty much the only person to pick Texas to win the Big 12, but I do think people forget that this was a Top 5 team nationally in terms of talent. Avery Bradley won't be a big loss because he wasn't a big contributor. Getting Balbay back will be huge, and they'll have as much total talent as any team in the Big 12.
2. Kansas State - I'm a little nervous about picking Kansas State here considering how they over-performed in 2009-10, and teams that over-perform in one season tend to return to the mean in 2010-11. But they had some freshmen who really developed over the course of the season and should blossom with extended playing time, and another year of experience should help clean up things like their bad turnover numbers.
3. Kansas - I can't drop them any further than this for now, although I will if Marcus Morris goes pro. They're going to be very young, but they were also very young in 2008-09 and that season worked out just fine. They should also be very motivated to work hard over the summer after the way their season ended.
4. Baylor - Despite picking them fourth, Baylor could easily be a Top Ten national team again. As I said, I could easily have picked any of these top four teams to win the Big 12. The big question is replacing Ekpe Udoh. There's no question they're very deep with young talent.
5. Texas A&M - They could be a Top 25 team again, and I expect them to get back to the Tournament.
6. Oklahoma State - I will drop them lower if Marshall Moses goes pro. But assuming he stays they should be good enough to get back to the Tournament.
7. Missouri - I can't drop them lower than this because Mike Anderson's system will work with anybody. But they will end up losing a lot of close games because they won't have that go-to scorer down the stretch, and I expect them to be on the bubble in March of 2011.
8. Oklahoma - I like them to bounce back after a disappointing season, and they should be a bubble team.
9. Colorado - They return most of their key contributors, but continue to fail to grab the type of recruits that would allow them to ever finish higher than eighth or ninth in the Big 12.
10. Texas Tech - The seat is going to start getting hot for Pat Knight. It just seems like he doesn't have a coherent plan in place, and there's no obvious positive momentum for the program.
11. Iowa State - With Marquis Gilstrap and Craig Brackins gone, along with at least three players transferring out, it's going to be a rebuilding season at Iowa State. Greg McDermott is having better success recruiting than Pat Knight, Jeff Bzdelik and Doc Sadler, so there's some hope of Iowa State getting back to the middle of the Big 12 in the near future, but it's going to be at least another year or two before he is really going to be able to put anything together.
12. Nebraska - They weren't very good in 2009-10, and they then lose two starters and three transfers, but they did have their best freshman class in several years so at least there's a glimmer of hope that they'll be able to get away from the Big 12 basement soon. But Doc Sadler is going to have to start winning some recruiting battles if his team is ever going to be anything other than a pesky potential upset.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Missouri lost three solid players but they return their three top scorers. Not to mention they are getting arguably the best juco player in the country as well as the top recruiting class in the big 12. Obviously I'm a Missouri fan but I'm confident this team will be better then last years team.