Big 12 Primer (cont.)
5. Texas (South: 2)
The Longhorns should be an interesting team, especially if their two prized recruits (and high school teammates), point guard Cory Joseph and forward Tristan Thompson, can step in and deliver as advertised. Texas' season was compromised last year in part by injuries at the point guard spot, but there are a number of returning options to mix and match with Joseph and emerging sophomore wing Jordan Hamilton. Gary Johnson will have to fill a bigger role in the frontcourt, as well, with the losses of Damion James and Dexter Pittman.
6. Colorado (North: 4)
In Cory Higgins and Alec Burks, Colorado has two of the league's top 10 players. If third-leading scorer Marcus Relphorde and the rest of the Buffaloes supporting cast can emerge, CU can be the surprise team in the league this season. A lot will depend on whether the Buffs can improve on the glass. It would be hard not to; they were in the nation's bottom 15 in rebounding rate at both ends of the floor last season under Jeff Bzdelik. New coach Tad Boyle will need to find a way to coax more physicality out of essentially the same cast of players.
7. Oklahoma State (South: 3)
Losing James Anderson and Obi Muonelo was a big enough issue, but now the Cowboys have suspended returning forward Matt Pilgrim indefinitely. Assuming he's back sooner than later, though, he should pair with Marshall Moses and juco transfer Darrell Williams to provide a solid frontcourt complement to the cadre of returning small and/or decent shooting guards. Freshman Markel Brown, the Louisiana high school player of the year, could be a breakout newcomer in the backcourt.
8. Texas A&M (South: 4)
It wasn't an easy offseason in College Station. Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis are big losses, as is the non-return of Derrick Roland, who was not granted an extra year by the NCAA after shattering his leg last season. Plus, heralded recruit Tobi Oyedeji died in a car accident in the spring. It's hard to know where the scoring will come from. Can B.J. Holmes be consistent enough to lead a team? Will Khris Middleton blossom? You know Mark Turgeon's Aggies will defend well, though. Watch for freshman Kourtney Roberson, former A&M star Bernard King's half-brother, to have an impact.
9. Texas Tech (South: 5)
The Red Raiders have most of their scoring punch back from an NIT quarterfinal squad last season, but they must improve defensively to have a chance to make the NCAAs. The top half of the Big 12 shredded the Red Raiders' defense in league games last year, with eight different opponents posting at least 1.10 points per possession against Tech. In Mike Singletary and John Roberson, they definitely have the explosive scorers to compete, but need them and the complementary pieces to be more consistent and efficient.
10. Nebraska (North: 5)
The Huskers' relative lack of size last year was exploited. Sophomore Jorge Brian Diaz will hope to get some help from beefy Brazilian juco transfer Andre Almeida. This is Nebraska's final season in the league before moving to the Big Ten, so it will be a transitional campaign in more ways than one. New rivalries and a new arena are coming, and despite a lack of obvious scoring punch, likely a few more league wins this season, too.
11. Oklahoma (South: 6)
The Sooners fell off badly last season with on- and off-court problems leading to a 13-18 campaign and then a postseason house cleaning by coach Jeff Capel. This year won't be good, as there's very little returning talent on the roster to help support the wave of newcomers. Senior guard Cade Davis is the best returnee and he'll get help from University of New Orleans transfer Carl Blair. Freshman wing Cameron Clark will be expected to provide immediate perimeter punch.
12. Iowa State (North: 6)
Getting school legend Fred Hoiberg to take over as head coach was a p.r. coup, but the arrival of "The Mayor" probably will be the best thing Cyclones fans get this season. After losing forwards Craig Brackens and Marquis Gilstrap from last year's team that went 4-12 in league play, Iowa State is really hurting for high-major talent. It could be a year or two before all this season's newcomers start to pan out, so spending this season watching native son Harrison Barnes' one year at North Carolina may have to do.