Sizing up the Big 12 in the summer >>> Columbia Daily Tribune


Staff member
Oct 22, 2008
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We've still got almost three more months to wait before the start of college basketball practice, but I don't think it's ever too early to start breaking down the Big 12 Conference race. While I reserve the right to change my mind over the coming months, here's how I currently see things stacking up in the league in 2009-10:

What it's gained: A top-10 recruiting class led by one-time Memphis signee Xavier Henry, a year of experience for last year's heralded crop of freshman and the somewhat unexpected return of veterans Cole Aldrich AND Sherron Collins.

What it's lost: Nothing it can't replace

Prognosis: Give a one of the five best coaches in the country one of the five most talented rosters, and you have a national title contender. Kansas is surely that and should be considered the favorite because of its edge in experience over teams such as Kentucky. Aldrich has a chance to be one of the most dominant low-post defenders in the country and can also score and rebound. Sophomore Tyshawn Taylor seems ready to assume some leadership responsibilities after leading the United States to a gold medal in the U19 World Championships earlier this month.

Potential problems: Reports out of Lawrence have Collins looking out of shape this summer and the saga involving the Henry brothers -- and father Carl -- could create an explosive chemistry experiment.

What it's gained: The league's top recruiting class, led by shooting guard Avery Bradley, and the addition of Florida transfer Jai Lucas

What it's lost: Hot-shooting but erratic guard A.J. Abrams and center Conner Atchley

Prognosis: Rick Barnes' team hasn't gotten nearly as much attention as the Jayhawks, but it should also be considered a Final Four threat heading into the fall. Rugged and versatile forward Damion James pulled out of the NBA Draft and could turn into an All-Big 12 first-team performer. Some believe Bradley's the best recruit in the country and should lighten the impact of losing Abrams. If Dexter Pittman continues to progress, the Longhorns will also feature a dominant low-post player.

Potential problems: Lucas and Dogus Balbay have to give Texas better point guard play than it got last season. James, especially, needs someone to create scoring chances for him because he's not that adept at doing it himself.

What it's gained: A top-10 recruiting class led by Keith "Tiny" Gallon, who at 6-foot-9, 300 pounds should help plug a big hole in the Sooners frontcourt

What it's lost: The most dominant rebounder and low-post scorer in college basketball in No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin, two veteran role players in point guard Austin Johnson and forward Taylor Griffin

Prognosis: The return of Willie Warren, who could have easily bolted to the NBA after one college season, gives Jeff Capel's team a bonafide scorer and go-to player, and there's enough incoming talent with Gallon and point guard prospect Tommy Mason-Griffin for the Sooners to remain one of the top three teams in the Big 12.

Potential problems:It's hard to believe the Sooners won't take a step back after losing a talent such as Griffin, along with another 40 percent of its starting lineup. It's not like there were a lot of players waiting in the wings last season in Norman, and Capel's going to have a rookie point guard running the show.

What it's gained: A six-man recruiting class ranked in the top 20 nationally and headlined by McDonald's All-American Wally Judge, a 6-8 power forward from Maryland

What it's lost: Hard-working 6-11 forward Darren Kent, which K-State fans will tell you on some nights would have felt like a good thing

Prognosis: The Wildcats might have missed out on the NCAA Tournament in March, but I think last season should have given K-State supporters more faith in Frank Martin's coaching abilities. He held a young group together after an 0-4 league start and might have gotten them in the Dance with some better nonconference scheduling (you can't get away with playing that many cupcakes in college hoops). Martin will have more talent to work with this season and more guys who know their roles. I'm expecting fleet-footed guard Denis Clemente to pilot them to a top-four league finish.
Potential problems: It's always difficult to work six newcomers into a rotation, and the Wildcats are still awfully young under the rim.

What it's gained: A seven-man recruiting class ranked in the top 15 in the country and led by ultraquick point guard Ray Penn and power forward Karron Johnson, both top-60 recruits

What it's lost: Do-everything point guard Byron Eaton and wing player Terrell Harris, two of its top three scorers

Prognosis: Travis Ford did as much as he could to prepare for the loss of Eaton, adding three point guards in his recruiting class, with Penn is billed as the best of a bunch that also includes another one-time Missouri target, Fred Gulley. The freshmen should have an easier time adjusting to the college game if they make it a point to get the ball to high-scoring wing James Anderson, who I think is one of the most underrated players in the country. He's good enough to lead the young Cowboys back to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season.

Potential problems: There will be a lot of pressure on Johnson to give OSU some inside scoring punch, something it was sorely lacking most of last season, but there's not guarantee he'll be ready to do. The Cowboys also lost to exceptional defenders in Eaton and Harris.

What it's gained: The confidence that comes with winning three straight NCAA Tournament games to reach the Elite Eight, a seemingly Division I-ready point guard in reigning Mr. Show-Me Basketball Mike Dixon, two raw but athletic front court players in Tyler Stone and Jon Underwood; Missouri might also add skilled big man Keith Dewitt if he can become eligible (I unfortunately still can't offer any definitive information on Dewitt's status as no one seems to want to talk, but I'll keep you posted as soon as I know more)

What it's lost: Oh, only its emotional leader in DeMarre Carroll and the 40 points and 16 rebounds he and fellow seniors Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence accounted for on a nightly basis

Prognosis: I'd be a little surprised to see Missouri this high in most national rankings based on the production it lost when it said good-bye to Carroll, Lyons and Lawrence. But college basketball is really a guard's game, and I like what the Tigers have in the backcourt with seniors J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor and sophomores Kimmie English and Marcus Denmon. I'd expect all four to score more this season as Missouri becomes more perimeter oriented. Justin Safford showed he's ready to contribute more with his play against Connecticut, and Laurence Bowers always seemed ready for a bigger role. Plus, Anderson knows how to get the most out of his players and his system is still difficult to prepare for.

Potential problems: There's no proven lead scorer and a lack of depth up front, particularly if Dewitt doesn't make it on campus.

What it's gained: A solid recruiting class that should address the team's need for perimeter shooting with the addition of Naji Hibbert, Khris Middleton and Jeremy Adams

What it's lost: It's top scoring and perimeter shooter in Josh Carter and it's best rebounder and shot-blocker in Chinemelu Elonu, who skipped his final year of eligibility to remain in the NBA draft

Prognosis: The Aggies would be higher on this list if Elonu would have come back instead of becoming a second-round selection by the world champion Lakers. He was arguably the most improved player in the Big 12 last season and an important piece of the Aggies' frontcourt. But Coach Mark Turgeon still has enough talent to be in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth, particularly if one of the freshmen wings can turn into a reliable offensive threat and heralded power forward Kourtney Roberson can minimize the impact of Elonu's departure.

Potential problems: I still think the Aggies need to get better point guard play from senior Donald Sloan, and they're bound miss Elonu on the defensive end.

What it's gained: Greg McDermott is hoping some much-needed size and perimeter scoring with junior college transfers Marquis Gilstrap and LaRon Dendy and freshman shooting guard Chris Colvin

What it's lost: Not power forward Craig Brackins, who opted to return for his junior season instead of entering the draft, where he might have been a lottery pick

Prognosis: Brackins' return is the only reason the Cyclones have a chance to climb the Big 12 standings this season. He's arguably the league's toughest matchup with his skill on the low block and ability to step out and knock down 3-point shots (though he still takes a few more of those than he probably should). If Iowa State can get the improvement it was expecting out of point guard Diante Garrett last season, it will have one of the better inside-outside duos in the conference. Add in sharp-shooter Lucca Staiger, who flirted with heading home to Germany to play pro ball before deciding to remain in Ames, and McDermott could have a nucleus good enough to lead the Cyclones to an NIT bid after missing the postseason the past four years.

Potential problems: The Cyclones haven't significantly upgraded the talent level from last season, when they went 15-17.

What it's gained: Scott Drew assembled another top-25 recruiting class with the help of coaching changes at Memphis and Nevada which allowed him to land former signees Nolan Dennis and Mark McLaughlin

What it's lost: Curtis Jerrells, Kevin Rogers and Henry Dugat, the recruiting class that led the Bears out of the apocalypse created by former Coach Dave Bliss

Prognosis: Drew's proven he can lure talent to Waco, Texas, but he's seldom gotten the most out of it. That was true last season with a team loaded with experienced players such as Jerrells and Rogers, who led the team in scoring and rebounding, respectively. I'm having a hard time believing things will be better with a team leaning heavily on rookies. Baylor could wind up a lot like its best player, junior LaceDarius Dunn, who can score in bunches but hasn't shown much aptitude for sharing the ball or defense.

Potential problems: The Bears were a colossal disappointment for most of last season in part because they were too dependent on Rogers for inside scoring and rebounding. If they can't develop more depth in the frontcourt, they'll have little chance of moving up climbing in the conference standings.

What it's gained: A seven-man class that includes four junior college transfers who should arrive ready to contribute; The most important addition might be Vander Joaquim, a 6-10 center from the College of Southern Idaho who can score inside and out and provides some much-needed size

What it's lost: Three of its top four scorers in underrated (and undersized) Ade Dagunduro, Steve Harley and Cookie Miller, who combined to averaged 30.3 points, which might not sound like a lot until you realize the Huskers only averaged 64.5 points per game

Prognosis: I'm taking a big risk picking against Doc Sadler, who consistently does more with less than any coach in the country. He might again and prove me wrong. The Huskers have some experience with senior guards Sek Henry and Ryan Anderson, who might finally get to stop playing an undersized power forward. The recruiting class has also drawn good reviews, and Sadler is a master at getting his teams to play lock-down defense for 40 minutes. He might not play the up-tempo game he's always talking about, but nobody plays harder or out-hustles the Huskers.

Potential problems: Talent matters, and the Huskers don't exactly have an abundance of it. Plus, they'll be working in a new point guard after Miller decided to transfer closer to his home in West Virginia for family reasons.

What it's gained: Depth on the wing with junior college players Brad Reese, Theron Jenkins and David Tairu, not to mention prep players Jay Crockett and Aaron-Mike Davis

What it's lost: Sweet-shooting guard Alan Voskuil, one of the most accurate perimeter threats in the country, who averaged 13.8 points and 4.1 rebounds and also led the Red Raiders in steals

Prognosis: The Red Raiders have two big building blocks in point guard John Roberson, who led the Big 12 in assists last season, and Mike Singletary, who was the star of the Big 12 Tournament when he piled up 43 points in an upset victory over Texas A&M. But any coach would find it difficult to recruit much talent to Lubbock, Texas, and Coach Pat Knight simply doesn't have enough to compete with the likes of Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M and even Baylor. Somebody's got to be worst among teams in the southern half of the conference, and I think that role will fall to Tech again.

Potential problems: The Red Raiders' biggest handicap is its lack of size up front. Singletary is a powerful wing player, but Tech asks him to spend more time inside than is ideal. The recruiting class did little to address that need.

What it's gained: More players for a team that had four men average more than 30 minutes last season; Shane Harris-Tunks, a 6-11 center from Australia, and wing Marcus Relphorde, a junior college transfer who began his college career at Saint Louis U., are the most ready to contribute

What it's lost: Undersized forward Jermyl Jackson-Wilson

Prognosis: Jeff Bzdelik continues his slow construction of the Buffs basketball program. Cory Higgins gives Colorado one of the most well-rounded players in the Big 12. Australian Nate Tomlinson had a solid rookie season as the team's point guard. Bzdelik has the coaching prowess to eventually get things working if given the chance. It's just going to take more time given CU's limitations, from its undersized athletic budget to the lack of in-state talent available to Bzdelik. Things would go quicker if the next Chauncey Billups were available, but that's just not happening. So the Buffaloes will more than likely spend another season in the cellar.

Potential problems: Harris-Tunks, Relphorde or somebody else has to be capable of giving Colorado an inside presence opponents have to account for, but that might be asking too much.