The Big 12 was a great conference last year, but lost a lot of talent to the NBA. Texas is undervalued right now, as I have them as not only the favorite in this conference but poised to make some noise in March. Kansas takes a step back due to all the departures of its top players. Baylor is the wild card in the conference right now. Oklahoma is going to be better, but I don't see them being as close to the top 10 as others do.
1. Texas – Losing point guard DJ Augustin will be hard to overcome, but I have the Longhorns ranked all the way at 4th in the country right now. Everyone else returns for this team, and they should be deeper and more capable of playing big or small lineups. Damion James is a beast at small forward, averaging a double-double last season while shooting 41.3 percent from behind the arc. Connor Atchley at 6’10” can also step out and hit threes and led the Big 12 in blocked shots last year. Depth in the frontline will be a strength this season with the likes of Dexter Pittman, Gary Johnson, and Alexis Wangmene amongst others. The backcourt is not as deep without Augustin, but AJ Abrams could slide over to the point guard. Justin Mason also played some point guard last season. Either way, I see the Longhorns playing better defensively if they are in a 2-guard offense as opposed to the 3-guard offense they played last year with Augustin, Abrams, and Mason.
2. Oklahoma – Louisville might still be scoring on Oklahoma in that lopsided game in the tournament last year. Expect the Sooners to be better this year. It starts up front with the return of Blake Griffin. While he is a workhorse down low, he will need help. Some of that help is on the way with Ryan Wright, a transfer from UCLA, and three other junior college transfers. Don’t forget the brother, Taylor Griffin, who has been a solid starter for the Sooners. The backcourt will receive a huge boost from combo guard Willie Warren who led all scorers in the McDonald’s All-American game. Tony Crocker also returns in the backcourt after averaging 11.3 points per game, and Austin Johnson will look to improve as a point guard by becoming more consistent.
3. Baylor – Nobody else in the country can boast such a quintet of guards that Baylor can for last year and this year. Aaron Bruce is the only player gone from last year’s team, but guards Curtis Jerrells, LaceDarius Dunn, Henry Dugat, and Tweety Carter return. Kendall Wright joins the backcourt as a freshman who plans on playing football and basketball. Kevin Rogers was counted on heavily in the frontcourt last year, but will be helped out by newcomers Artem Valov and Anthony Jones. If they can get a solid rotation of size up front, the defense should get better and complement their explosive offense.
4. Kansas – The Jayhawks will be in a similar situation as North Carolina was in 2005-06 after winning a championship and then everyone on the team turning pro or graduating. The Jayhawks only have Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich as players who contributed regularly last year. Collins and Aldrich is a good start. Collins will be joined by Mario Little who was rated as the top junior college player in the country last year. Travis Releford will be counted on as a scorer early on, as he can both shoot from outside and attack the basket. Aldrich will have help from twin Marcus and Markieff Morris. Markieff is the bigger brother who will slide in at power forward, while Marcus possesses more of a small-forward skill set at 6’8”. The year after North Carolina’s title, and with a fresh new team, they earned a 3-seed before being upset by George Mason. There is no reason to think the Jayhawks can’t also have a solid season as the talent will certainly be there.
5. Texas A&M – The Aggies are starting to take on a different identity as the players who brought A&M to the scene under Billy Gillespie leave. A year ago, Acie Law and Antanas Kavaliauskas left, and now three more starters are gone in Joseph Jones, Dominique Kirk and DeAndre Jordan. There shouldn’t be much of a drop-off. The frontcourt won’t be as deep and lengthy without Jones and Jordan, but Bryan Davis and Chinemelu Elonu return. They will be joined by a skilled and athletic big man in David Loubeau. Donald Sloan was Acie Law’s replacement last year but may move over for freshman point-guard Dashan Harris. If Josh Carter shoots like he did as a sophomore at the small forward position, that should help ease in the new backcourt.
6. Oklahoma State – The Cowboys bring in Travis Ford from UMass as the new head coach. He will implement a fast-paced offense that should take advantage of the guards this team has. Byron Eaton is back for his senior year at point guard, but Keiton Page is a freshman who averaged 40 points per game in high school. James Anderson returns on the wing after leading the team in scoring as a 6’6” wing. A couple more quality wings return in Obi Muonelo and Terrel Harris. The frontcourt is more of an issue with only Ibrahima Thomas returning with a full season under his belt. Anthony Brown missed time last year with a shoulder injury, but he will need to provide quality minutes along with junior college transfer Malcoln Kirkland. The best news for the Cowboys is that Travis Ford’s system doesn’t rely heavily on frontcourt players.
7. Missouri – The Tigers may still be a year or two away from making a jump up in the Big 12 under head coach Mike Anderson. Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll form a nice senior duo in the frontcourt. Justin Safford will have to improve to give the Tigers depth up front, and depth will be needed if Anderson is going to have his team playing a pressing style of basketball. Stefhon Hannah was dismissed mid-season last year and Keon Lawrence transferred to Seton Hall. That leaves Matt Lawrence and JT Tiller in the backcourt. The Tigers will have to find a point guard from either freshman Miguel Paul or Delaware transfer Zaire Taylor. With Lyons and Carroll anchoring the frontcourt, it’s up to the backcourt to ease the load.
8. Nebraska – Losing Aleks Maric will be a huge blow to the frontcourt, and the Huskers may have to continue to play scrappy against the more talented Big 12 opponents. The Huskers were dealt another huge blow to the front court when Christopher Nielmann was ruled ineligible by the NCAA clearinghouse. Up front without Maric or Nielmann, the Husker will only have two players who redshirted last year in Alex Chapman and Alonzo Edwards. The good news is that the Huskers have five different players who have starting experience in the backcourt in Steve Harley, Ade Dagunduro, Ryan Anderson, Cookie Miller, and Sek Henry. The addition of Brandon Richardson and Toney McCray should add shooting ability to the mix.
9. Texas Tech – Pat Knight will try to get the Red Raiders back on track in his first full season as head coach. Having shooters Alan Voskuil and John Roberson is a nice start along with small forward Mike Singletary. Still, it will be difficult to replace the scoring left by Martin Zeno. The big question mark is up front where the most productive player was Trevor Cook who averaged 4.9 points per game last year. Freshman Corbin Ray could be counted on early on up front as he can really shoot the ball which is a good fit for the Red Raider’s offense.
10. Kansas State – The Wildcats take an obvious step back without Michael Beasley or Bill Walker. Without Beasley, the frontcourt doesn’t return much. Ron Anderson did show some flashes with 10 points and 8 rebounds against USC in the NCAA Tournament. He will need help from either the newcomers Abdul Herrera or Jordan Henriquez or the returning players of Luis Colon, Darren Kent, or Jamar Samuels. The small forward position should be anchored by Dominique Sutton who is a good athlete. Jacob Pullen was the third leading scorer after Beasley and Walker last year, and he will return in the backcourt. Denis Clemente, the transfer from Miami, will likely grab a starting spot, bringing an element of speed to the lineup and another good 3-point shot.
11. Iowa State – The Cyclones lost a lot of scoring from a team that finished 4-12 last year. The frontcourt takes a huge hit with the departures of Rashon Clarke, Jiri Hubalek, and Wesley Johnson. As a result, Craig Brackins will be counted on heavily. He averaged 11.4 points per game last year, and will have to take on a larger role up front. He will be joined by former University of Iowa signee Jamie Vanderbeken who possesses a good 3-point shot at 6’11”. Justin Hamilton will also play a huge role up front, but is very raw having only played basketball for 3 years. The Cyclones at least have some experience at the point guard position with Diante Garrett and Bryan Peterson both capable of leading the offense. Expectations will be low with such a young team that has gone through a huge overhaul the last couple of years.
12. Colorado – The Buffaloes finished 3-13 last year, and they lose their top 3 scorers. The good news is head coach Jeff Bzdelik feels this year’s team will fit better in his system. Cory Higgins is the leading returning scorer, and will have to take on a leadership role in the backcourt. Nate Tomlinson is a freshman from Australia who will likely start at the point guard spot alongside Higgins. The frontcourt will look to Wake Forest transfer Casey Crawford and the lone senior Jermyl Jackson-Wilson. If there is any hope is that that Big 12 isn’t as strong as last year.