Another basketball season is upon us once again. Like most college basketball fans I’ve been anxiously awaiting the ‘madness’ known as college basketball to begin. The Big 12 conference has a rich tradition and it was never more evident with Kansas taking Kentucky to the wire last March in the national championship game. Looking forward to Friday, the Jayhawks are the odds on favorite to win the conference for a ninth straight time. Even with that being said the conference’s depth is deeper than it’s ever been heading into this season. Conferences throughout the country have taken part in realignments and the Big 12 is no different. The Big 12 has welcomed new traditions West Virginia and TCU, as Texas A&M and Missouri have left for the SEC. The shake-up will provide the opportunity for new rivalries to develop. I have had the pleasure of putting together how I think the conference will shape up.
Overview-When looking at the Baylor program that Scott Drew is building, one word comes to mind: talented. Drew has built the foundation on bringing some of the country’s top recruits to Waco. This year is no different with ESPN top 100 ranked recruits Isaiah Austin (#2 center), Ricardo Gathers (#10 power forward), L.J. Rose (#9 point guard). Talented Bear teams have reached the Elite 8 two out of the past three years. Even with new heights being reached there’s still a sense of under achievement in the amount of player production. The Bears will embark on a non-conference schedule that includes BYU, #21 Gonzaga and the defending National Champion Kentucky that will provide many challenges. This team will highly rely on its experience in back court with Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip while a talented, but inexperienced front court develops. I expect to that we will see a balanced offensive attack and many defensive looks. If this team find finds a 2nd gear, it will compete for a Big 12 title.
Conference Prediction- 3rd
Upcoming Games-November 9 vs. Lehigh 4pm, November 11 vs. Jackson State 4pm
Overview- There are big shoes to fill in Ames. The Mayor a.k.a. Fred Hoiberg will need to replace the Cyclones top three scorers (Scott Christopherson, Chris Allen and Royce White) from a season ago. Royce White posted one of the best seasons in Iowa State history by leading the Cyclones in five different statistical categories: scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and blocks, the only player in the country to do so. White at 6 foot 7 inches had a unique role as point-forward that presented many mismatches as he brought opposing big men out away from the blocks. In many regards, without a true point guard the offensive was limited to a much slower pace than Hoiberg would have preferred. Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious and highly talented freshman Naz Long will allow the Cyclones to run an up tempo offense and pick up pressure full court, much more to Hoiberg’s liking. There will be no need to sleep on this team as experience of transfers will outweigh the concern of team chemistry. In thus being an election year, I couldn’t bring myself to vote against The Mayor.
Conference Prediction- 1st
Upcoming Games-November 9 vs. Southern 7pm, November 12 vs. Alabama A&M 7pm
Overview- The national runner ups won’t have to worry about rebuilding. Bill Self has not only proven that he is one of the best coaches in the Big 12, but the entire country. His ability to continually develop players is very understated. Who will be the next Thomas Robinson to make an impact? Only time will tell. With a very talented, but young squad the experience of Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey will need to lead the way in order to not only to win the Big 12 regular season for a ninth straight time, but to make another deep run in March.
Conference Prediction- 2nd
Upcoming Games- November 9 vs. Southeast Missouri State 9pm, November 13 vs. Michigan State 6pm
Overview- Ability to use tough nose defense to win games was the calling card under previous coach Frank Martin. Now that Martin has left for South Carolina and Bruce Weber era begins in the Little Apple and changes have been made to the offensive playbook. The Wildcats are returning six of the team’s top scorers from a season ago which will make the transition for Weber’s motion offense a lot easier. Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling will need to play a big part in jump starting an offense that struggled to score at times last season. Spradling’s range beyond the arc will also play a big part in the team’s success. Even with the career successes of Weber, I foresee a transition period adjusting to a new system.
Conference Prediction- 8th
Upcoming Games- November 9 vs. North Dakota 8pm, November 12 vs. Lamar 7pm
Overview- Heading into year two under Ron Kruger, the Sooners have five highly motivated seniors that are eager to play post season basketball. Big 12 Preseason Newcomer of the Year, Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye has the ability to help this team make some noise. Protecting their home floor will help rebuild a program that has won twenty-one conference titles and has reached the Final Four, four times in school history. A post season appearance, yes. Whether it’s a trip to NIT or the big dance depends on this team’s attention to detail on the defensive end.
Conference Prediction- 7th
Upcoming Games- November 11 vs. ULM 2pm, November 16 at UT Arlington 7pm
Overview- The 2012-13 Cowboys will welcome in Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year Marcus Smart. Smart will most likely man the point guard position in return, complementing future NBA lottery pick Le’Bryan Nash. A good blend of experience and youth will help get the Cowboys back to the NCAA Tournament.
Conference Prediction- 6th
Upcoming Games- November 9 vs. UC Davis 8pm, November 15 vs. Akron 9:30am
Overview- The Horn Frogs move into the Big 12 with new coach Trent Johnson. Johnson has had successes which include taking Nevada, Stanford and LSU to the NCAA Tournament. This team will need to take advantage of a soft non-conference schedule to gain momentum heading into conference play. Recruiting will determine how fast this program will become competitive with the conference. With Johnson at the helm, the future is bright.
Conference Prediction- 9th
Upcoming Games- November 9 vs. Cal Poly 6pm, November 12 vs. Centenary 5pm
Overview- No one can ever accuse Rick Barnes for scheduling a soft schedule. Once again, Texas is playing one of the nation’s toughest schedules. There’s a high energy with the team mostly made up of freshman and sophomores. All reports out of Austin are that the team’s chemistry is good. Balanced scoring will be a must after losing the Big 12’s leading scorer, J’Covan Brown, leaving school a year early for the NBA draft. A tough non-conference schedule will prepare inexperienced players for the grind of Big 12.
Upcoming Games- November 9 vs. Fresno State 7pm, November 12 vs. Coppin State 7pm
Overview- I don’t see the fortune of the Red Raiders getting better anytime soon. Since, Bobby Knight passed the torch to his son, Pat Knight, the Raiders have been on the decline. Chris Walker was named interim head coach in October. Walker takes over a team with nine new faces. Getting this team to play hard night in and night out will be a challenge. Recruiting players with offensive skill sets needs to be a priority in the years to come.
Conference Prediction- 10th
Upcoming Games- November 9 vs. Prairie View 8pm, November 14 vs. Nebraska Omaha 7pm
Overview- Huggins just wins. I don’t expect the Mountaineers to have much trouble transitioning from the Big East to the Big 12. Huggins spent one season at Kansas State before making the move back to his alma mater. Transfers Aaric Murray, Matt Humphrey and Juwan Staten will be counted on to make an immediate impact. Huggins has the most depth since coming back to Morgantown six years ago. I wouldn’t be surprise to see this team finish higher than the 4th I have them picked to finish.
Upcoming Games- November 12 at Gonzaga 11pm, November 22 vs. Marist 12pm