Big 12 Conference Preview
by Zach Ewing
With the college semester halfway over, the wait is also over. College basketball season, brought on by Midnight Madness celebrations across the country, is underway. And perhaps nowhere in the country is it more anticipated than in the Midwest where the talent, unlike the size of the campus towns, is large. From John Lucas down in Stillwater to Wayne Simien in Lawrence and then back south to Austin where P.J. Tucker resides, there are Big 12 superstars waiting for the season to begin. Here’s a full preview.
It was an off season of recovery and expectations in the Big 12. Texas A&M spent its off-season trying to rebound from a disastrous 0-16 Big 12 record in 2003. Coach Melvin Watkins resigned before the Aggies’ token appearance in last years’ Big 12 Tournament. Two weeks later, A&M hired Billy Gillispie away from Texas-El Paso. Gillispie had a horrible first season with UTEP, but turned it around to go 24-8 and advance to the NCAA Tournament.
Meanwhile, Baylor and Missouri used the off-season to recover from much more serious problems than a bad season. The Bears weren’t allowed to participate in the postseason last year due to allegations surrounding the controversy involving the murder of former player Patrick Dennehy by another former player, Carlton Dotson. Dotson’s trial was scheduled to begin in August, but an insanity defense has caused a delay and the trial has not yet started. Meanwhile, the Bears’ basketball team, which surpassed what little expectations they had last season, will feel the effect of a number of transfers and an early departure on the court in the coming season. The Bears don’t have a returning starter.
For Mizzou, the summer was spent hearing about NCAA infractions and then attempting to get over them. For Tiger fans, the verdict wasn’t a bad one. Quin Snyder and his program were called on several minor violations, including one that said assistant coach Tony Harvey gave former player Ricky Clemons $20. But, as a penalty, MU suffered only some recruiting restrictions, as opposed to TV appearance restrictions or a postseason ban. The assistant coaches, Harvey and Lane Odom, took the brunt of the penalty; both resigned before the end of the summer. MU responded by hiring two coaches with ethical reputations: Melvin Watkins, recently resigned from Texas A&M, and Jeff Meyer from Butler.
The rest of the Big 12 is waiting for the season to start because it could bring some exciting things. Kansas, despite the transfer of freshman phenom David Padgett, will have a consensus top-five team. An off-season Canadian tour in which the Jayhawks obliterated the competition proved their merit. Elsewhere, Oklahoma State will look to build on a Final Four appearance, but will do so without leading scorer Tony Allen, who was a senior last year. Down in Texas, Bobby Knight’s Texas Tech team will have overcome the loss of the conference’s leading scorer, Andre Emmett, and Texas has a bunch of returning players and one of the nation’s finest recruiting classes.
It will certainly be an intriguing season in the Big 12 and around the country. But which Big 12 players will be the most exciting, most improved and all-around best?
Hoopville Preseason All-Big 12 First Team
John Lucas, guard, Oklahoma State
Keith Langford, guard, Kansas
Jason Conley, wing, Missouri
Wayne Simien, forward, Kansas
Jason Klotz, center, Texas
Curtis Stinson, guard, Iowa State
J.R. Giddens, guard, Kansas
LaMarcus Aldridge, forward, Texas
Ivan McFarlin, forward, Oklahoma State
Jeremiah Massey, forward, Kansas State
Preseason MVP: Wayne Simien, forward, Kansas
The big guy in the middle was downright dominant for the Jayhawks at times last year. Another year of polish may make him unstoppable.
Preseason Comeback Player: Kevin Bookout, center, Oklahoma
An injury last year limited Bookout’s effectiveness and eventually his season. An intact shoulder means a big year.
Preseason Freshman of the Year: LaMarcus Aldridge forward, Texas
Aldridge thought about going pro, but instead came to Texas where he could be the next Dajuan Wagner or Carmelo Anthony. He’s 6-foot-10 and will be hard for anybody to stop once he gains some experience.
Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: John Lucas, Oklahoma State
The opposing point guard can never feel safe with Lucas on the floor. He had 37 steals last year.
Coach of the Year: Wayne Morgan, Iowa State
Larry Eustachy’s replacement may very well bring the Cyclones back to the Big 12′s upper echelon.
Coach on the Hot Seat: Quin Snyder, Missouri
Another underachieving year like last season and MU will leave Snyder behind.
Team-by-team previews (in predicted order of finish)
1. Kansas Jayhawks
2003-04: 24-9, overall, 12-4 Big 12, third place
Lost in NCAA regional final to Georgia Tech
Projected Starting Five: senior guard Aaron Miles, sophomore guard J.R. Giddens, senior guard Keith Langford, freshman center Sasha Kaun
Outlook: The Jayhawks are going to be absolutely loaded. Jeff Graves graduated, but he was kind of a head-case anyway and had his ups and downs over his career. David Padgett, on the other hand, would have replaced Graves in the starting lineup but decided to transfer to Louisville because he was unhappy with how coach Bill Self was using him at KU. Freshman Sasha Kaun will likely start in Padgett’s place. That said, Kaun has Padgett’s talent if not his experience, and the rest of the starting lineup is stacked. Giddens and Langford are scoring machines on the outside, Simien is the conference’s best player inside and Miles has the poise to control it all. Look for Bill Self’s team to be in the top five all year and have a shot at cutting down the nets in March.
Prediction: Will win NCAA championship
2. Texas Longhorns
2003-04: 25-8, 12-4, second place
Lost in NCAA Sweet Sixteen to Xavier
Projected Starting Five: junior guard Kenton Paulino, senior guard Kenny Taylor, sophomore forward P.J. Tucker, junior forward Brad Buckman, senior center Jason Klotz
Outlook: The Longhorns won last year with a very balanced attack and relentless depth. Expect more of the same this season, although Texas will have to replace go-to scorer Brandon Mouton and his backcourt mate Royal Ivey. Fortunately for UT, it signed one of the country’s best recruiting classes and has some of that aforementioned depth to step in and fill the void left by those players. Tucker can be explosive; he’s the best rebounder for his size in the country. And keep your eyes on LaMarcus Aldridge, because the freshman may be in the NBA next year.
Prediction: Will lose in NCAA regional final
3. Oklahoma State Cowboys
2003-04: 31-4, 14-2, first place
Lost in NCAA Final Four to Georgia Tech
Projected Starting Five: senior guard John Lucas, senior guard Daniel Bobik, freshman guard JamesOn Curry, senior forward Ivan McFarlin, senior forward Joey Graham
Outlook: The defending Big 12 and East Rutherford regional champions have four starters coming back, but the one lost was Tony Allen, the Cowboys’ scoring and defensive leader. John Lucas and JamesOn Curry will be keys for this season. Lucas is OSU’s emotional leader and can take and hit big shots, but he’ll have to pick up a lot of the slack left by Allen’s departure. Curry is an intriguing case. He has overcome some personal problems, landed under Eddie Sutton’s wing, and has the talent to start and succeed before the season is over.
Prediction: Will lose in NCAA regional final
4. Oklahoma Sooners
2003-04: 20-11, 8-8, seventh place
Lost in NIT second round to Michigan
Projected Starting Five: sophomore guard Drew Lavender, senior guard Jaison Williams, sophomore forward Brandon Foust, junior forward Kevin Bookout, senior center Johnnie Gilbert
Outlook: Things snowballed on Kelvin Sampson’s squad last year. After a 10-0 start, OU was blasted by UConn and Oklahoma State in back-to-back games, lost Bookout to injury and then limped to an NIT appearance. By the time the end of the season rolled around, the Sooners had only a skeleton left from their original team. This year should bring back some of the Sooners’ memories from the days of Hollis Price and Ebi Ere, though. Lavender is a great point guard and having a healthy Bookout should complement an improved Gilbert on the inside and make the Sooners a tough opponent.
Prediction: Will lose in NCAA second round
5. Missouri Tigers
2003-04: 16-14, 9-7, sixth place
Lost in NIT first round to Michigan
Projected Starting Five: freshman guard Jason Horton, junior guard Jimmy McKinney, junior forward Jason Conley, sophomore forward Linas Kleiza, junior center Kevin Young
Outlook: With four freshman, a transfer and a player coming off a red shirt, the Tigers will have a completely different look than last year’s veteran-laden club. That may be a good thing in disguise for MU, though, because last year was a nightmare and a breath of fresh air is needed. A new $75-million arena will add to the new feel of this season. The Tigers’ main concern on the court is the inside, where Kleiza will have to handle much of the scoring. Kevin Young is a good rebounder, but an offensive nightmare, so freshman Kalen Grimes may be in the starting mix before long.
Prediction: Will lose in NCAA second round
6. Iowa State Cyclones
2003-04: 20-13, 7-9, eighth place
Lost in NIT semifinal to Rutgers
Projected Starting Five: sophomore guard Curtis Stinson, sophomore guard Will Blalock, junior guard Anthony Davis, freshman forward Rahshon Clark, senior center Jared Homan
Outlook: A great home-court advantage will give Iowa State seven to eight conference wins just like it did last year, and the Cyclones, led by the explosive Stinson, should be able to win some on the road this year, too. Stinson and Blalock will give opposing backcourts fits, but can the frontcourt replace Jackson Vroman, who averaged a double-double a game last year? Homan can rebound well and has shown signs of offensive prowess, but it will have to develop. Freshman and junior-college transfers will provide shaky depth for the ISU; if Clark, who had a double-double in an exhibition tour in Mexico, can be counted on, Iowa State will finish higher than sixth.
Prediction: Will lose in NCAA first round
7. Texas Tech Red Raiders
2003-04: 23-11, 9-7, fifth place
Lost in NCAA second round to St. Joseph’s
Projected Starting Five: senior guard Ronald Ross, sophomore guard Jarrius Jackson, freshman guard Martin Zeno, senior forward Devonne Giles, sophomore forward Darryl Dora
Outlook: Bob Knight was rumored to be going to Ohio State in the off-season, but instead he’ll lead Texas Tech against his alma mater in Dallas in December. He’ll do so with a team that lost all-world wing Andre Emmett and inside presence Robert Tomaszek. The big man had fallen out of Knight’s favor by the end of last season anyway, but the loss of Emmett will be nearly impossible to overcome in one year. Knight has a team on which anyone could have a big game, but no one is even guaranteed double digits in points. As a result, the Red Raiders will likely struggle with consistency.
8. Nebraska Cornhuskers
2003-04: 18-13, 6-10, 10th place
Lost in NIT second round to Hawaii
Projected Starting Five: junior guard Jason Dourisseau, senior guard Jake Muhleisen, senior guard Marcus Neal, senior forward John Turek, freshman center Aleks Maric
Outlook: Barry Collier is slowly but steadily building a basketball program in Lincoln. This is the year that Husker fans may finally see some results. John Turek is a threat inside and can also step out and hit the three-pointer. Maric is an Australian whom the Huskers hope will be like Utah’s Andrew Bogut in his first year, but how much Nebraska can expect from him in the paint is a mystery. Muhleisen, on the other hand, is a sure thing. He won’t put up big numbers but will be this team’s emotional leader and This team beat Kansas badly last year and has the potential to spring many upsets this season as well.
9. Colorado Buffaloes
2003-04: 18-11, 10-6, fourth place
Lost in NIT first round to Oregon
Projected Starting Five: junior guard Jayson Obazuaye, freshman guard Richard Roby, junior forward Andy Osborn, junior forward Glean Eddy, junior center Lamont Arrington
Outlook: The good news is the Buffaloes get many of their tough conference games (Texas and Oklahoma State) at home, but that’s about it. The bad news is that David Harrison, Michel Morandais and Blair Wilson are all gone, leaving roughly a third or less of CU’s production returning in every statistical category. Coach Ricardo Patton has tried to counter those losses with bringing in junior college transfers, but it may be another year before this nearly senior less team can compete again in the Big 12.
10. Texas A&M Aggies
2003-04: 7-21, 0-16, 12th place
Projected Starting Five: sophomore guard Acie Law, senior guard Bobby Leach, junior wing Luis Clemente, junior forward Antoine Wright, sophomore forward Marlon Pompey
Outlook: Billy Gillispie will bring some much-needed energy immediately to College Station. He introduced his first assistant coach after parachuting onto the A&M football field, a prime example of the attitude he brings. Melvin Watkins wasn’t a bad coach, just not the one that Texas A&M needs. And the Aggies have talent also. Wright and newcomer Clemente could provide a nice 1-2 scoring punch, and Law is as quick as anyone in the league, except maybe John Lucas. The bottom line is, the Aggies will not only break their Big 12 losing streak, but also have a chance to knock off an unsuspecting visitor or two.
Prediction: No Postseason
11. Kansas State Wildcats
2003-04: 14-14, 6-10, 10th place
Projected Starting Five: freshman guard Clent Stewart, sophomore guard Fred Peete, sophomore forward Cartier Martin, junior forward Marques Hayden, senior forward Jeremiah Massey
Outlook: K-State looked sharp in going 3-1 in a preseason tour through British Columbia, with Jeremiah Massey and Fred Peete combining for some huge numbers, but this team was really hurt by the post-season transfer of Dez Willingham. With that transfer, K-State lost its starting point guard and will have to go with the inexperience of Stewart and Peete in the backcourt. That won’t be a good thing when the Wildcats start to go through the rugged Big 12 schedule. Massey, on the other hand, is a force in the middle and could keep Kansas State in some games down the stretch.
Prediction: No Postseason
12. Baylor Bears
2003-04: 8-21, 3-13, 11th place
Projected Starting Five: sophomore guard Roscoe Biggers, junior guard Kevis Shipman, sophomore forward Patrick Fields, sophomore forward Tim Bush (after fall semester), junior center Tommy Swanson
Outlook: Although the off-court picture in Waco is clearing up, the scenario on the court just keeps getting worse and worse. After a season in which the Bears surpassed all expectations by winning three Big 12 games, Harvey Thomas, easily Baylor’s best returning player, left for the NBA draft. Then, to make matters worse, two players who would have been starters this year, Corey Herring and Carl Marshall, decided to transfer from Baylor. That makes Swanson the only scholarship player returning for coach Scott Drew. On top of that, Senegalese freshman Mamadou Diene won’t be available until the end of the first semester. Drew has brought in a good recruiting class, but it will be a long time before this team sees any light at the end of the tunnel.
Prediction: No Postseason
So there you have it. The Big 12 will send six teams to the Big Dance and three more to the NIT. Some teams will improve their stock from last year (Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Texas A&M) while others will fall (Oklahoma State, Colorado, Baylor), while still others may have about the same results with a different squad to get them there (Texas, Missouri).
But keep this in mind: last year, everyone thought Missouri was the Big 12′s hands-down favorite and no one saw Oklahoma State coming out of nowhere to dominate the league. Will Kansas falter under their favorite’s status? Seems unlikely, given that Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and Wayne Simien have so much experience. Will there be an Oklahoma State this year, a team that everyone expects to simply be good but turns out great? My guess is that there will. Who it will be, however, is anybody’s guess. The only sure things are that it will be fun, and that my predictions will make me look downright foolish before long.