Big 12 Conference Preview
by Mitch Schneider
It’s a great time to be a fan of Big 12 basketball. Many preseason polls have ranked three Big 12 squads within the nation’s top five (Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas), while a number of other schools have a decent shot at earning a March dance card.
Realistically, nine Big 12 teams could qualify for the season-ending NCAA Tournament, with all apologies to Nebraska, K-State and A&M (though football season’s right around the corner).
Most coaches and sportswriters agree the Big 12 is the country’s toughest and most talented conference. And, if it weren’t for the ACC, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-10 and SEC conferences, a Big 12 team might actually win the whole enchilada this year (for the first time since Kansas in ’88).
Speaking of Kansas, the Jayhawks are expected to do wonderful things, yet again. Sure, both Drew Gooden and Jeff Boschee are gone, but coach Roy Williams has another stellar squad that expects to run the Big 12 table once more. And, with one of the top frontcourts in the country, the ‘Hawks could very well repeat their previous 16-0 conference record – assuming Oklahoma and Texas drop their men’s basketball programs.
While Kansas has cornered the frontcourt market, both Red River rivals possess terrific backcourts. Guards Hollis Price (OU) and T.J. Ford (UT) have enough speed, talent and desire to carry their clubs into New Orleans for the 2003 Final Four. Fortunately, both Price and Ford have decent supporting casts to help them on their journey.
Other teams/storylines to watch for the upcoming 2002-03 season:
Colorado: Can the best frontcourt in team history get the Buffs into the dance for the first time since 1997 and a long-term contract for embattled coach Ricardo Patton?
Missouri: How will the Tigers respond without the services of Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert (combined 36.8 PPG in 2001-02)?
Oklahoma State: Will the Cowboys compete without a starter over 6-8?
Texas Tech: Can the General inspire another average Red Raider group to overachieve well into March?
Big 12: Will the Big 12 win it’s first-ever NCAA Championship (once called the Big 8, the Big 12 added four teams in 1996)?
Any way you slice it, it should be an exciting year for the Big 12 conference. Here’s a quick look at the predicted finish of all schools in the conference.
1. Kansas Jayhawks (33-4. Big 12: 16-0/first)
Projected starters: G Kirk Hinrich, G Aaron Miles, G/F Keith Langford, F Nick Collison, F Wayne Simien
Key players lost: G Jeff Boschee, F Jeff Carey, F Drew Gooden
Key additions: F Jeff Graves (CC), G Jeff Hawkins (RS), F Moulaye Niang (HS)
Schedule highlights: Dec. 7 at Oregon, Dec. 21 UCLA, Jan. 25 Arizona, Jan. 27 Texas, Feb. 23 at Oklahoma
While Kansas has plenty of talent, it may take them awhile to get running on all cylinders. The loss of Drew Gooden to the NBA means Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich must quickly assert some leadership in order to give this young, but talented team some direction. Though KU’s inside game is very solid, the Jayhawks lack perimeter shooting as three-point specialist Jeff Boschee is long gone. Regardless, the Jayhawks will be front and center come tourney time. How they fare in March, however, is another story.
2. Oklahoma Sooners (31-5. Big 12: 13-3/second)
Projected starters: G Hollis Price, G Quannas White, G Ebi Ere, F Kevin Bookout, C Jabahri Brown
Key players lost: F Aaron McGhee, F Daryan Selvy
Key additions: F Bookout (HS), G DeAngelo Alexander (HS), F Larry Turner (HS)
Schedule highlights: Jan. 4 Michigan State, Jan. 7 Connecticut, Feb. 10 at Texas, Feb. 23 Kansas
The Sooners’ backcourt is dynamite with three returning starters. Hollis Price is expected to contend for all-conference honors, though it will be interesting to see how he reacts to off-season ankle surgery. OU’s guards are terrific, but the Sooners’ front court is suspect. Jabahri Brown is too big and athletic to average less than five PPG. Oklahoma could very well finish its pre-conference schedule 11-0.
3. Texas Longhorns (22-12. Big 12: 10-6/tie-third)
Projected starters: G T.J. Ford, G Royal Ivey, G Brandon Mouton, F Brad Buckman, C James Thomas
Key players lost: F Chris Owens, G Freddie Williams
Key additions: F Buckman (HS), F Chris Wright (RS), G Kenton Paulino (HS)
Schedule highlights: Dec. 15 at Arizona, Dec. 22 Princeton, Jan. 27 at Kansas, Feb. 10 Oklahoma
After a brilliant freshman campaign, T.J. Ford is back to run the show in Austin. Ford led the nation with 8.3 APG, and that number could improve this season. The ‘Horns return four starters who averaged double-figures in scoring last season, and are, perhaps, the most athletic team in the conference. Questions surround Texas’ bench, outside shooting, and lack of an inside presence. At only 6-8/220, center James Thomas may have trouble with some of the conference’s bigger centers.
4. Missouri Tigers (24-12. Big 12: 9-7/sixth)
Projected starters: G Jimmy McKinney, G Ricky Clemons, F Rickey Paulding, F Travon Bryant, C Arthur Johnson
Key players lost: G Clarence Gilbert, G/F Kareem Rush, F Justin Gage
Key additions: G McKinney (HS), G Clemons (So. Idaho), F/C Kevin Young (HS)
Schedule highlights: Jan. 13 at Syracuse, Jan. 25 at Texas, Feb. 3 at Kansas, Feb. 26 Oklahoma
Though Mizzou has a lot to overcome this season (the loss of Kareem Rush and Clarence Gilbert, a short bench, two new starting guards), the Tigers have always played well as underdogs. Forward Rickey Paulding is an NBA-star in the making, while center Arthur Johnson has solid skills for a big man. Missouri does not have a team that will win the conference championship, but they do have a squad that could pull off a major upset on any given night.
5. Texas Tech Red Raiders (23-9. Big 12: 10-6/tie-third)
Projected starters: G Andre Emmett, G Nick Valdez, G Will Chavis, F Kasib Powell, F Pawel Storozynski
Key players lost: C Andy Ellis, G Marcus Shropshire
Key additions: F Robert Tomaszek (E. Wyoming), G Josh Washington (HS), F John Ofoegbu (HS)
Schedule highlights: Jan. 20 at Oklahoma, Feb. 17 at Texas, Mar. 3 Kansas
On paper, Texas Tech looks about as intimidating as NW Alaska State A&T (Go Frost Bite!). But with Bobby Knight at the helm, the Red Raiders are about as scary as the L.A. Lakers (with Shaq). Guard Andre Emmett had a sensational sophomore season, averaging 19 points and seven boards for a scrappy Tech squad last year. Unfortunately, the Red Raiders lost stand-out center Andy Ellis and don’t have anyone who can replace his size or scoring in the low-post. Like Missouri, Texas Tech won’t win the Big 12 crown, but they should have a say in which team does.
6. Colorado Buffaloes (15-14. Big 12: 5-11/ninth)
Projected starters: G Antoine McGee, G/F Blair Wilson, G/F Michel Morandais, F Stephane Pelle, C David Harrison
Key players lost: G/F D.J. Harrison, F Nick Mohr, G Chevis Brimmer
Key additions: G Jason Obazuaye (HS), G McGee (HS), F Lamar Harris (CC)
Schedule highlights: Dec. 3 at Georgia, Jan. 11 at Oklahoma, Jan. 22 Kansas, Feb. 4 Texas
Colorado is, perhaps, the Big 12’s sleeper team this season. The Buffs have a future NBA lottery pick in center David Harrison, the conference’s leading rebounder in F Stephane Pelle, and a superb athlete in G/F Michel Morandais. Unfortunately, the Buffs don’t have a backcourt that can bring all of this talent together. With such a powerful frontcourt, Colorado will win a few games this season and could make a run into the NCAA Tournament. However, the Buffs’ lack of perimeter scoring and ineffective guard play will be CU’s Achilles heel this season. On top of this, Ricardo Patton is on the hot seat more than any other coach in Big 12. If the Buffs don’t make it to the post-season, don’t expect Patton to be back in Boulder in 2003-04.
7. Baylor Bears (14-16. Big 12: 4-12/tie-tenth)
Projected starters: G John Lucas, G Ellis Kidd, Jr., F Terrance Thomas, F Lawrence Roberts, C R.T. Guinn
Key players lost: F Greg Davis, G/F Chad Eisley, F Logan Kosmalski
Key additions: F Thomas (CC), G Robert Hart (JC), G Kidd, Jr. (CC)
Schedule highlights: Jan. 15 Texas, Jan 18. at Texas Tech, Jan. 25 Oklahoma, Feb. 11 Kansas
Dave Bliss’ squad has a number of guys who can score and rebound. Unfortunately, only John Lucas is averaging more than 2.5 assists per game, as this team will have trouble passing and moving the ball up the court. The Bears have added a number of junior college players to their roster, and it’s hard to tell how they’ll affect the team. Sophomore Lawrence Roberts is a future all-Big 12 selection, if he sticks around.
8. Oklahoma State Cowboys (23-9. Big 12: 10-6/tie-third)
Projected starters: G Cheyne Gadson, G Victor Williams, G/F Melvin Sanders, F Ivan McFarlin, F Jason Miller
Key players lost: G Maurice Baker, F/C Fredrik Jonzen, G Aaron Hill
Key additions: F Miller (N. Texas), G Tony Allen (CC), G Janavor Weatherspoon (CC)
Schedule highlights: Jan. 13 Oklahoma, Feb. 1 at Texas, Feb. 8 at Cincinnati, Mar. 1 at Kansas
The Cowboys have a number of players who can score – that’s not a problem. Rebounding, however, is a major concern, as Eddie Sutton’s bunch is very small. Victor Williams and Ivan McFarlin should pace Oklahoma State’s scoring attack, and both will be looked upon to lead this group. Though they’re small, the Cowboys have a deep and quick bench which will try to run opponents out of the gym.
9. Iowa State Cyclones (12-19. Big 12: 4-12/tie-tenth)
Projected starters: G Jake Sullivan, G Tim Barnes, G/F Jerome Harper, F Jackson Vroman, C Chris Alexander
Key players lost: F Tyray Pearson, G Shane Power
Key additions: C Alexander (CC), G Barnes (CC), G/F Harper (CC)
Schedule highlights: Dec. 13 at Iowa, Jan. 6 Kansas, Jan. 11 at Texas, Jan. 18 Oklahoma
After last year’s disappointing season, Iowa State combed the community college market for players and came out with a few gems. Center Chris Alexander and guard Tim Barnes should make an immediate impact on a team that was only one year removed from back-to-back Big 12 titles in 2000 and 2001. Returning starter Jake Sullivan is one of the conference’s most underrated guards, though he will have to play a lot of minutes due to the Cyclone’s short bench. Immediately following an extremely weak pre-season schedule, Iowa State begins Big 12 play with Kansas, Texas and Oklahomaâ€¦ yikes!
10. Texas A&M Aggies (9-22. Big 12. 3-13/twelfth)
Projected starters: G Bernard King, G Bradley Jackson, G/F Jesse King, F Nick Anderson, C Andy Slocum
Key players lost: G Andy Leatherman, F Larry Scott
Key additions: F/G Antoine Wright (HS), G Leandro Garcia-Morales (CC), G Marcus Watkins (HS)
Schedule highlights: Nov. 26 at Miami (Fla.), Dec. 4 Tennessee, Jan. 18 at Texas, Jan. 28 at Oklahoma
The good news: A&M returns five starters. The bad newsâ€¦ those starters won only nine games last year. While Melvin Watkins has consistently brought in solid recruiting classes, the Aggies have not been able to put all their talent together. A&M does have some guys who can play. After all, Bernard King (no, not that Bernard King) and Nick Anderson (no, not that Nick Anderson) combine to average 27.3 PPG last season. The biggest problem, however, is the absence of a true point guard. And though they have some players who can take the ball to the rack, the Aggies need someone to run the offense. The last time A&M qualified for the NCAA Tournament, Ronald Reagan was president (1987).
11. Nebraska Cornhuskers (12-19. Big 12: 4-12/tie-tenth)
Projected starters: G Jake Muhleisen, G Brennon Clemmons, F Wes Wilkinson, F Brian Conklin, F/C John Turek
Key players lost: G Cary Cochran, G John Robinson
Key additions: G Nate Johnson (CC), F Wilkinson (HS), G Jason Dourisseau (HS)
Schedule highlights: Dec. 8 at Minnesota, Jan. 11 at Kansas, Jan. 18 Colorado, Feb. 15 Texas
The Cornhuskers do not have a single player who will make any all-Big 12 teams at the end of the season. They do, however, have a blue-collar squad that will scratch and claw for 40 minutes a night. Nebraska is hoping JuCo phenom Nate Johnson can add scoring to a team that returns only one player who averaged more than ten PPG (Jake Muhleisen). While the Husker guards will be looked upon to lead this young team, Nebraska needs 6-11 forward Brian Conklin to become more of a force in the paint.
12. Kansas State Wildcats (13-16. Big 12: 6-10/seventh)
Projected starters: G Gilson DeJesus, G Jarrett Hart, G Frank Richards, F Pervis Pasco, F Matt Siebrandt
Key players lost: G Larry Reid, F Travis Reynolds, G Phineas Atchison
Key additions: G Hart (Ark.-Fort Smith), G Richards (CC), G Tim Ellis (So. Idaho)
Schedule highlights: Dec. 22 at Oregon State, Jan. 18 at Kansas, Feb. 1 Oklahoma, Mar. 4 at Texas
The Wildcats lost a good chunk of their scoring with the departures of Larry Reid, Travis Reynolds and Phineas Atchison. However, K-State has a solid starting nucleus, led by senior forward Pervis Pasco. Pasco will be forced to shoulder much of the offensive burden, since he is the only returning Wildcat averaging double figures in scoring. Kansas State’s starting five will see plenty of time this year, as the rest of the team is fairly young and inexperienced. The ‘Cats haven’t danced since 1996, the third longest drought in the Big 12.
All Conference first team
G T.J. Ford, Texas
G Kirk Hinrich, Kansas
G Hollis Price, Oklahoma
F Nick Collison, Kansas
F Rickey Paulding, Missouri
All Conference second team
G Andre Emmett, Texas Tech
G Jake Sullivan, Iowa State
F Stephane Pelle, Colorado
F Lawrence Roberts, Baylor
C David Harrison, Colorado
Kirk Hinrich, Kansas
Hollis Price, Oklahoma
Andre Emmett, Texas Tech
Newcomer of the year
Jerome Harper, Iowa State
Coach of the year
Bob Knight, Texas Tech
Coach on the hot seat
Ricardo Patton, Colorado
Loaded with great teams and interesting storylines, the Big 12 conference will be fun to watch this season. Though it may not have the history of the Pac-10, the competitiveness of the SEC, or the glamour of the ACC, this year’s Big 12 is as tough and talented as any conference in the nation.
However, until some team finally breaks through in late March, this conference has very little to boast about. Though come springtime, don’t expect fans in Lawrence, Norman and Austin to be quiet much longer.