Friday, April 07, 2006

2006-07 Preview: Big 12

Big 12 Conference

Conversation regarding the Big 12 has to begin with this past year's regular season champion, Kansas. They obviously have a ton of young talent as every important player on the team was a freshman or sophomore this past year. The big question is how many of those young players will stay for another year. The fact that their season ended up abrubtly (to #13 Bradley in the first round) is probably a positive for this coming year, as both Brandon Rush (14 ppg, 6 rpg) and 6'11" C.J. Giles (6 ppg, 5 rpg) said after the game that they'd return for another year to get the bad taste out of their mouths. If the Jayhawks can return their entire team, and then add McDonald's All American Sherron Collins at the guard position, they will be a very tough team for anyone to beat. Of course, no team has had more success against Kansas recently than Texas, although the Longhorns will have quite a different lineup next year with LeMarcus Aldridge (15 ppg, 9 rpg) and Daniel Gibson (13 ppg, 4 rpg) probably going pro. P.J. Tucker (16 ppg, 10 rpg) is "testing the water" right now, but for now BasketballPredictions will assume that he stays one more year. That said, the Longhorns will still be a force to reckon with next year, with an absolutely amazing recruiting class. Rick Barnes is bringing in McDonald's All-American Kevin Durant (Scouts: 1 SF, Rivals: 2) and D.J. Augustin (Scouts: 7 PG, Rivals: 8 PG). They also bring several other blue-chippers, including 6'10" big men Dexter Pittman (Scouts: 10 C) and Matt Hill (Scouts: 15 C, Rivals: 19 PF), as well as Harrison Smith (Scouts: 21 SG, Rivals: 18 SG) and Justin M ason (Rivals: 79). The Longhorns will have a ton of size and depth, even without Gibson, Aldridge and graduating seniors Brad Buckman and Kenton Paulino.

Another top team with an excellent recruiting class will be Oklahoma, as the Sooners bring in a Top 10 class punctuated by McDonald's All-American Scott Reynolds (Scouts: 5 PG, Rivals: 12 PG) and outstanding athlete Damion Jones (Scouts: 5 SF, Rivals: 16). The Sooners are desperately in need of the help as well, since the entire backbone of the team will be graduating in the persons of Taj Gray, Terrell Everett and Kevin Bookout (a combined 38.1 ppg and 18.3 rpg). Even with the incoming players, it's hard to see the Sooners improving next year - especially while trying to learn the system of a new coach. A team in the rise, however, is Texas A&M. Under Billy Gillispie, the Aggies ran all the way to a 1-point 2nd round loss to LSU. Even better, the Aggies did not have a single senior contributing more than 4 points per game. NBA defections shouldn't be too bad, with only Acie Law IV (16 ppg, 4 apg) likely to jump ship. The Aggies also have a solid recruiting class, led by 6'8" low-post threat Bryan Davis (Scouts: 15 PF, Rivals: 11 PF). If Josh Carter (8 ppg, 2 apg) and Dominique Kirk (7 ppg, 4 rpg, 3 apg) can lead the backcourt in Law's absense, the Aggies will have enough of a down-low presence to hang with just about anyone in the Big 12. Expect Texas A&M to improve next year. Unfortunately for them, it will take more a mild improvement to catch a Kansas team that should be even better than this past year's occasionaly-Top-Ten team. Right now, they have to be considered the early favorites in the Big 12:

1. Kansas - The biggest question is how Bill Self will figure out how to get enough playing time for all of his stars. When you think of teams starting out McDonald's All-Americans on the bench, you usually think about Duke, but it's hard to see how Sherron Collins can get a starting gig next year. In other words, they're going to have an excellent bench.
2. Texas - Can't drop the Londhorns because they have too many good young players coming in. Besides, P.J. Tucker and A.J. Abrams provide enough experienced talent to hold down the fort while the new freshmen progress. The cupboard is not bare in Austin.
3. Texas A&M - The Aggies are a team on the rise, and the only reason BasketballPredictions can't move them up one more spot is because Texas is Texas, and you have to figure that some of those recruits are going to become stars. Texas A&M should have higher goals this year, regardless. It's not about making the tournament, but about how high their seed will be.
4. Texas Tech - It's hard to see Bobby Knight missing the tournament for the second straight year. The Red Raiders had zero seniors on the roster last year, and return a solid rising-senior core of Jarrius Jackson (21 ppg, 4 rpg) and Darryl Dora (14 ppg, 4 apg). They struggled on the offensive end for much of the past year, but the talent around Jackson should be good enough next year to allow for some other top options. The Red Raiders don't have enough size on the inside to pose too much of a challenge to Texas or Kansas, but they should be vastly improved regardless.
5. Oklahoma State - This team struggled with distractions all year, but still has a lot of top talent. They will have a lot of elder talent, featuring Mario Boggan and JamesOn Curry. It wouldn't be too big of a surprise to see the Cowboys improve in their first full year of the Sean Sutton era.
6. Kansas State - Hopefully this high ranking isn't merely due to the Bob Huggins Kool Aid, because the Wildcats do have a pretty good core of talent. Their top four scorers return, assuming Huggins can convince Cartier Martin (18 ppg, 7 rpg) to stick around for another year. The team will have a lot of experienced juniors and seniors, and Huggins might even be able to bring in some recruits or transfers before the year starts. It's hard to see the Wildcats as anything other than a team on the rise.
7. Oklahoma - It could be a long year for the Sooners, who don't even have a coach yet. And with the below-the-radar search they're conducting, it would be surprising to see them land a big name. With all the graduations, Kelvin Sampson was probably leaving a sinking ship anyway. It would have to be considered a surprise if this team limps back into the tournament in 2007.
8. Missouri - The Tigers made an excellent decision in hiring Mike Anderson as their new coach. He is outstanding at getting more wins out of a team than talent would otherwise dictate, which is what the Tigers will need after a poor season and the expected NBA entrance of Thomas Gardner (20 ppg, 3 rpg). This team won't be too talented, but they'll hustle and steal a few solid victories before the year is out.
9. Nebraska - The Cornhuskers had a few good moments in 2006, but didn't have enough talent to make a serious tournament run. With the graduation of their two top scorers, they could be even worse in 2007.
10. Colorado - The Buffs lose a lot of senior talent and, probably, leading scorer Richard Roby to graduation.
11. Baylor - The Bears had a wasted season in 2006, but they return all of their top players and always seem to have a solid recruiting base. There are always a lot of good basketball players in the state of Texas, and Baylor gets their share. Expect this team to be improved in '07.
12. Iowa State - Greg McDermott is a solid choice for the next head coach in Ames, but the Cyclones clearly need some time to rebuild. Especially with their two leading scorers, Curtis Stinson and Will Blaylock, expected to jump into the draft.

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