Sunday, November 6, 2005

Big 12 Conference Preview


Player of the Year: Taj Gray, PF, Oklahoma

Newcomer of the Year: Julian Wright, F, Kansas

All-Conference Team:
G- Curtis Stinson, Iowa State
G- Daniel Gibson, Texas
G- Jarrius Jackson, Texas Tech
F- P.J. Tucker, Texas
F- Taj Gray, Oklahoma

Second Team:
G- Terrell Everett, Oklahoma
G- JamesOn Curry, Oklahoma State
F- Richard Roby, Colorado
F- Brad Buckman, Texas
C- Kevin Bookout, Oklahoma

Third Team:

G- Aaron Bruce, Baylor
G- Martin Zeno, Texas Tech
G- Will Blalock, Iowa State
F- Joseph Jones, Texas A&M
C- LaMarcus Aldridge, Texas

1. Texas- The Big 12 is going to be a two-team race this season. Texas and Oklahoma are head and shoulders above everyone else. However, Texas gets the preseason nod due to the fact that they are, in short, a better team. They have two potential All-Americans, including the second best point guard in the country. Overall, the Longhorns have up to four All-Big 12 performers in the starting lineup. Daniel Gibson leads the way. As a freshman a season ago, Gibson was one of the better newcomers in the country. He really came into his own after PJ Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge were lost for the season. If he takes the anticipated step that most freshman take into their sophomore years, he is a sure-fire All-American. His backcourt partner will likely be shooter Kenton Paulino. He hits three-pointers at a 48-percent clip. He is a good defender and a solid distributor. Also in the mix at the off-guard spot will be newcomers J.D. Lewis, A.J. Abrams, and Craig Winder. Lewis is an excellent shooter that finds ways to score. Abrams is a solid combo guard that can penetrate most defenders to get into the lane. Winder is athletic and a good defender. Up front, P.J. Tucker, Brad Buckman, and LaMarcus Aldridge form one of the best frontcourts in the country. Tucker sat out the last 14 games of last season due to academics. He uses his strength to post up weaker small forwards and could be an all-American this season. Aldridge was lost after 16 games due to a hip injury. He may be the best center in the Big 12. Buckman is strong and tough to stop in the post. He averaged 13 points and 8 boards per game a year ago. All three should be All-Conference performers. Mike Williams and Dion Dowell should provide solid depth. Williams is a good rebounder that can also score, while Dowell is an athletic forward whose numbers will improve with more minutes. Texas is stacked at every position, and have quality depth all over. If a two-guard steps up to provide some shooting and perimeter scoring, the Longhorns can make a run at the National Title. Prediction: NCAA

2. Oklahoma- Oklahoma surprised some last season with the sort of year that they had in the Big 12, sharing the regular season title. They received a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but was upset by Andrew Bogut and Utah in the second round. This year, they should go much further than the first weekend. Like Texas, they are led by their frontcourt. Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout comprise the best post tandem in the country. Gray is a favorite for the Big 12 Player of the Year after using his athleticism to dominate on both ends of the court. He runs the floor better than most of his opponents, as well. Bookout is the leader of the team and more of a back to the basket player than Gray. He shot nearly 60 percent from the floor last season. His hands and size make him tough to stop. Nate Carter is a transfer from UC Riverside and is expected to have an immediate impact. He should give the Sooners the wing scorer that they were lacking a season ago. He can shoot the ball well. Taylor Griffin and Longar Longar are quality options off the bench. In the backcourt, Oklahoma has one of the most underrated and versatile players in the country in Terrell Everett. He can play any of the perimeter positions and will do that this season. He was second in the conference in assists, and only played the point for the stretch run of the season. He is tough to stop off the dribble and is also a very good rebounder. Essentially, he can do it all. Two-guard David Godbold started the final ten games of last season, and demonstrated his worth to the Sooners. He is an excellent defender, and is a solid rebounder. Newcomers Michael Neal and Chris Walker are expected to fight for starting spots. Walker could step in at the point and move Everett to the wing. He is an excellent distributor. Neal is a very good shooter who will see time on the perimeter. Oklahoma is loaded. In most conferences, and most years, the Sooners would be the favorite to win the league. This year, however, Texas is too good all-around for OU to win the conference. The Sooners will be a Final Four threat, though. Prediction: NCAA

3. Iowa State- Iowa State came out of nowhere last season to make the NCAA Tournament after a late-season surge put them in the nation's eye. That final surge was thanks mainly to the installation of a pressure defense that caused turnover after turnover. The backcourt is the reason why the Cyclones are so highly regarded, though. Curtis Stinson is one of the best all-around players in the country, and can put ISU on his back at the end of games. He can play both guard positions and makes plays in all aspects of the game. He and Will Blalock form the best 2-man backcourt in the country. Blalock is a good passer and takes some of the pressure off Stinson on offense. Stinson overshadows him somewhat, but Blalock could be an all-conference player by the end of the season. Tasheed Carr is a strong wing that works mainly in the mid-range. He might start, but it is more likely that he will play in the sixth man role again this season. Depth in the backcourt comes from Anthony Davis and John Neal. Davis provides good scoring, while Neal also sees quality minutes. Forward Rashon Clark returns in the frontcourt. He is versatile and might have to play inside again if Carr gets a starting role. Clark is very athletic and quick, allowing him to get into passing lanes and be a tough defender. His offensive game is also fairly solid. Freshman Shawn Taggart needs to step in in the low post. He is a good scorer and rebounder, but will need to become a go-to-option in the paint. With no proven post players, Taggart and other newcomers will have to step up. Center Jiri Hubalek is a good shot blocker who can score in a few different ways. Iowa State is loaded on the perimeter with Stinson and co. If Taggart becomes the sort of low-post option that the Cyclones need, they can make a Sweet 16 run. For now, though, an NCAA Tournament bid is in the foreseeable future. Prediction: NCAA

4. Texas Tech- Ever since Bobby Knight took over the coaching reins at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders basketball program has turned around. Four straight seasons with at least 22 wins should continue this year, as well, provided some unproven players step in. Texas Tech revolves around its backcourt. However, w ith the loss of Ronald Ross, the Red Raiders need to fill his shoes on the perimeter somehow. Jarrius Jackson is a Wooden Award candidate. Not a pure point guard, he is a great scorer that can shoot the three at an outstanding clip of 46 percent. He will be an all-conference player this season. Zeno is a versatile wing that has a solid mid-range game. He reminds me a little of former Syracuse player Josh Pace. Kevin Martin was the best recruit Tech picked up. He will be asked to fill some of the void left by Ross, and he is a very good scorer. Returnees Drew Coffman and LucQuente White will provide some depth in the backcourt, but could see increased minutes from last season. Up front, Darryl Dora returns as the lone starter. He has the potential to be a good scorer and rebounder, and is also a solid passer. Returning forward Damir Suljagic could step in at the other forward spot, if he is healthy. He had ACL surgery in June, and might not be ready for the season. If he is not, newcomer Jeremy Buttell could see extensive minutes. He is a good rebounder that will need to make an impact. Bobby Knight always has his teams in the thick of things. With Jackson, Zeno, and Dora returning as starters, the Red Raiders should be fine. Even if this doesn't look like an NCAA Tournament team right now, check back in March. They will be in your bracket. Prediction: NCAA

5. Kansas- Kansas underachieved last season en route to a first-round flameout at the hands of Bucknell. From that team, they lost three seniors, including first-round pick Wayne Simien, and another starter in J.R. Giddens, who transferred to New Mexico. However, Bill Self brought in one of the best recruiting classes of all time, hoping to lead the Jayhawks past the first round. At the point, freshman Mario Chalmers should come in and start right away for Bill Self. He is a good scorer and can get into the lane with ease. Sophomore Russell Robinson got good minutes at the beginning of last season, but saw his playing time decrease as the year wore on. There were rumors of him transferring, but he decided to return to KU for another year. Senior Jeff Hawkins got Robinson's minutes at the end of the season. He shot nearly 50 percent from behind the arc. On the two wings, four newcomers will get the minutes. Brandon Rush and Julian Wright will most likely start. Rush is a good scorer that can get to the basket using his athleticism. He has developed a solid mid-range game to complement his driving ability. Wright is the most versatile player on the roster. He can play any position the floor, and might do that sometime during his tenure at Kansas. Wright has the potential to be a match-up nightmare for opponents. Another McDonald's All-American, Micah Downs, will come off the bench on the wing. He is a very good shooter, but is known to have some attitude problems. Rodrick Stewart, a USC transfer, is an athletic player who can dunk anything. He is a solid defender and will be excellent on the fast break. Inside, four returning players will hold down the fort. Christian Moody, who Billy Packer said was "the best walk-on player" ever, will start at power forward. He is a hard worker and is a good passer. He will be the leader of the young team as the lone returning starter. CJ Giles will most likely start at center. He started five games last season. Giles is an excellent shot blocker and will be a defensive presence in the paint. Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun will back up the post players. Jackson started one game last year, and averaged only seven minutes per game. He is a hard worker and a good rebounder. Kaun started getting more minutes as the season went on, and developed into a good inside player. He can block shots and get some easy buckets in the post. If all the freshman come through and have the immediate impact that is expected, the Jayhawks could be a team that you don't want to see in your bracket come March. But they will be in the Field of 65. Prediction: NCAA

6. Oklahoma State- Oklahoma State, other than North Carolina and possibly Mississippi State, may have been hit the hardest by personnel losses and graduation. However, like North Carolina (and not like Miss. St.), the Cowboys have one of the best recruiting classes in the country ready to take over. But one returnee leads the way and will carry the team. JamesOn Curry is going to become one of the best two-guards in the country, and one of the best players in the conference. He is an excellent scorer who can shoot the jumper and take a defender off the dribble. Three players return in the frontcourt, although none are very productive. David Monds, Marcus Dove, and Aaron Pettway are not likely to see loads of time up front. The newcomers will make or break this team. At the point, freshman Byron Eaton and JC transfer Jamaal Brown will run the show. Eaton is a tough point guard that will become a very good one by the end of the season. Brown will see immediate playing time and could play alongside Eaton. He is an excellent passer. Up front, freshman Keith Brumbaugh will start right away at forward. He is a versatile inside-outside scorer that will have an immediate impact. JC transfers Mario Boggan and Torre Johnson will also see playing time right away down low. Johnson was one of the best junior college players last season, and is going to be an excellent Big 12 player. Boggan, originally from Florida, could start at center if the Cowboys decide to go with a traditional lineup. If the newcomers come in right away, and provide solid production, Oklahoma State will be a postseason team. However, like North Carolina, they will fall just short of the NCAA Tournament this season. Prediction: NIT

7. Texas A&M- Texas A&M surprised nearly everyone last season when they went .500 in the Big 12 and 21-10 overall. The season before, the Aggies went 7-21 with 0 wins in the Big 12. They lose first-round pick Antoine Wright, who left early, but they return a quality team led by two all-conference candidates. Guard Acie Law IV and post man Joseph Jones form one of the best inside-outside combos in the conference. Law is a very good distributor that shoots the ball very well. His scoring load could increase this season without Wright. Jones is one of the most underrated big men in the country. He is very athletic and is a good shot-blocker. In addition, he is tough to stop on the low block and is an excellent rebounder. Two other starters also return in wings Dominique Kirk and forward Chris Walker. Kirk is an all-around solid player, who can play good defense and score on the offensive end. Walker is an excellent defender who is out until January with a torn ACL. Two more forwards return to give the Aggies experience up front. Marlon Pompey is an athletic role player that could have a big season this year if he starts. Edjuan Green is an excellent rebounder. JC transfer Antanas Kavalauskas could start down low with Jones. He is a very good option in the paint that would take some of the pressure off of Jones. Eddie Smith, the National Junior College Player of the Year, could start at the point, which would relieve Law of those duties and allow him to score more from the wing. Smith is an excellent defender and is quick with the ball. The Aggies have several guys that can play. If the role players and the newcomers step up to support Law and Jones, the Aggies could make a run at an NCAA berth. However, they will fall short. Prediction: NIT

8. Colorado- Even though the Buffaloes went 14-16 last season, they should improve upon that with the return of eight seniors and one of the best players in the league in Richard Roby. He can do everything and produces in all aspects of the game. Roby is vastly underrated on a national level, but will have another big season on the wing in Boulder, showing the country what he can do. Chris Copeland and Andy Osborn comprise a formidable forward duo. Copeland is a versatile player. He can shoot the three with efficiency and is also a solid inside scorer. Copeland can also block shots and rebound well. Osborn started down the stretch, and demonstrated that he could hit the three and rebound. Marcus Hall and Jayson Obazuaye are two excellent options in the backcourt. Hall will move from the point spot to the off-guard. He is a good scorer that can also distribute the ball and play tough defense. Obazuaye is a returning starter that will move to the bench this season. He is a hard-worker that can do many things on the court. The reason for all the shifts in the backcourt? JC transfer Dominique Coleman. He should come in and start right away for the Buffaloes. He is extremely quick and is an excellent scorer. He can also play tough defense, creating turnovers and easy baskets for his teammates. Julius Ashby and Marcus King-Stockton are solid rebounders on the interior. Ashby is outstanding on the boards. He is also a very good shot blocker and a decent scorer. King-Stockton could start. He is an efficient low-post scorer who can hit the mid-range jumper if needed. Glean Eddy will provide depth on the wing. He was a part-time starter that is a solid all-around player due to his 6-6 size and athleticism. With all of the depth and options that Colorado has, if Coleman and the newcomers produce admirably, and the role players contribute, Roby can carry them to the brink of an NCAA berth. Without a consistent second and third scorer, though, the Buffaloes will fall short. Prediction: NIT

9. Nebraska- Nebraska is another potential sleeper team in the Big 12, albeit a very deep sleeper. They are likely an NIT team, due to the host of newcomers they brought in. However, they too are lead by a returnee, potential all-Big 12 performer Joe McCray. He is an outstanding scorer that could become one of the best point producers in the country. He is also a good rebounder. Joining him on the wing is Jason Dourisseau. The 6-6 senior was a part-time starter that can perform well on both sides of the ball, including rebounding. Two returnees anchor the inside. Sophomore Aleks Maric was a very good rebounder and scorer that could become one of the best low post options in the conference. Senior Wes Wilkinson is a solid role player that does a little of everything on the inside. Newcomer B.J. Walker is expected to have an immediate impact in the frontcourt for the Cornhuskers. He is athletic and can score in the paint and on the perimeter. He will give Nebraska even more height in the lineup. Freshman guard Jamel White could see time at the point. He is a very good passer and a quick penetrator. Nebraska has a lot of talent, and a lot of size. If the sophomores and the newcomers develop as expected, the Cornhuskers will be a team that the top contenders won't want to play down the stretch. They don't have enough to make the Field of 65, but an NIT bid could be in the offing. Prediction: NIT

10. Missouri- Missouri has not lived up to expectations in the past few years. With not so lofty expectations, will the Tigers exceed them and become a sleeper team in the Big 12? Not likely. An NIT team last year, Missouri will look to get back there this season. The perimeter should be in good hands with two returning starters and the team's leading scorer. Point guard Jason Horton is a good distributor and defender, but his offense needs to improve for Missouri to make noise. On the wing, Jimmy McKinney is an excellent defender who is very athletic and can shoot the ball from long-range. Leading scorer Thomas Gardner is a good all-around player that tends to be a little shot-happy at times. If he plays more under control and within the system, the Tigers will be better off. Texas A&M transfer Marcus Watkins will provide depth at the guard positions, while wing man Glen Dandridge is athletic and can shoot. Up front, center Kevin Young returns as a starter. He is a good rebounder and a solid shot-blocker that can score as well. Forwards Marshall Brown and Kalen Grimes return after seeing extended minutes last season. Brown could have a big year in the frontcourt. He is a very good three-point shooter that plays good defense. Freshman forward Leo Criswell is expected to make an immediate impact on the interior. The Tigers have some talent in Columbia. It is mostly young talent, but it will develop even more over the course of the season. A repeat NIT berth should be in store come March. Prediction: NIT

11. Kansas State- Kansas State had a mildly successful season by their standards, going 17-12, and going 11-2 in their non-conference portion of the schedule. Three starters return from that group. Lance Harris is a very good scorer and will be the team's go-to-guy this season. He is a very good three-point shooter. Forward Cartier Martin is another very good long-range shooter that produces in various aspects of the game. He is a good scorer who is tough to match-up with because of his size (6-8). He does not venture into the paint too often, but is still difficult to stop on the perimeter. Clent Stewart is a solid point guard who can distribute the ball well. Central Michigan transfer David Hoskins is a solid scorer who will see minutes on the perimeter. He could start. JC transfers Mario Tayburn and Akeen Wright will also get playing time. Inside, not much proven talent returns. Tyler Hughes is a solid post man that tends to foul too often. He is athletic and can rebound the ball well. With more minutes given to him, his production should rise. Prediction: No postseason

12. Baylor- Baylor will be off until January, thanks to an NCAA-given punishment not allowing them to play the non-conference portion of their season. Therefore, the nation will have to wait to see one of the best players in the conference in guard Aaron Bruce. He is an outstanding scorer who is also a good passer and defender. Bruce is an efficient shooter, from inside the arc and beyond the three-point line. Joining him on the perimeter will be wing Patrick Fields and guard Kevis Shipman. Fields is a consistent scorer that can also rebound, pass, and defend well. Shipman is an excellent three-point shooter that mainly stays behind the arc and shoots. Wing forward Richard Hurd also returns. He was a part-time starter last season that shot 44 percent from deep. Up front, two double-figure scorers return in forwards Tim Bush and Tommy Swanson. Bush is a versatile frontcourt player. He was the second leading scorer on the team, and also was a solid rebounder. Swanson is a legit low-post option in the paint. He is good scorer on the block, and can rebound well. Surprisingly, he also averaged over a steal per game. Three freshman are expected to see plenty of playing time for the Bears. Forward Kevin Rogers could start in the frontcourt, while guard Henry Dugat is a solid all-around producer. Baylor has a lot of talent in Waco, but not enough games to play in. They are certainly not ready to go .500 in the Big 12 after winning only one game in the conference last season. They could win some games that they shouldn't, though, with Bruce and a host of solid sidekicks leading the way. Prediction: No postseason

1 comment:

  1. As a Michigan State grad and die hard fan, i appreaciate and agree with your comments about the Spartans. I feel the national media has vastly underrated Mo Ager and Shannon Brown. I´m very excited for our upcoming season. I hope we can make another serious run in March. Take care.