Big 12 Primer: Pullen-led K-State tops highly competitive conference
Kansas, Missouri and Baylor all have the potential to challenge for the league title
With the dynamic duo of Cory Higgins and Alec Burks, watch out for Colorado
OU fell off badly last season, and the 2010-11 campaign doesn't look promising
Player of the Year: Jacob Pullen, Kansas State
The senior guard averaged 19.3 points per game last season and will have the opportunity to do it all in the Wildcats' backcourt in 2010-11 with the departure of talented point guard Denis Clemente. Pullen is a worthy pick and also a "safe" one, with the lingering uncertainty around the eligibility of Baylor senior shooting guard LaceDarius Dunn and Kansas stud freshman point guard Josh Selby (Selby's situation also impacts the POY potential for KU forward Marcus Morris).
Impact Freshman: Perry Jones, Baylor
If Selby becomes eligible (more on that issue below), this is a two-horse race. Actually, if Tony Mitchell gets eligible at Missouri, throw him in, too. Jones, a top-10 recruit himself, probably will have more of an obvious statistical impact, though, for a Baylor team expected to do a lot despite significant personnel losses from last season's Elite Eight team. With Ekpe Udoh leaving early, there's ample room for Jones to step in, providing the inside complement to Dunn's outside scoring (assuming he is reinstated).
Breakout Candidate: Alec Burks, Colorado
The Buffaloes escaped the Big 12 basement last year for the first time in four seasons. While leading scorer Cory Higgins is back, CU's success in Tad Boyle's first season will be determined by how much of a next step Burks takes. As a freshman last season, the wing averaged more than 17 points and five rebounds and was incredibly efficient while maintaining a star-level possession-usage rate. Burks could be a potential NBA lottery pick in 2011 if he can round out his game (and continue to fill out his frame) this season.
Inside the Numbers: 28-12
That was the Big 12's record last season against other BCS-conference teams -- by far the best mark of any of those conferences against their peers. The next-best league was the ACC at 24-21. The Big East, Big Ten and SEC were all slightly under .500 and the Pac-10 was 9-24. The Big 12's 13-4 mark against the down Pac-10 helped pad the numbers, and it matters who plays whom and where, but outperforming its peer group to that extent is a good indication of how solid and deep the league was. Expect more of the same this season.
1. Kansas State (North: 1)
How well the Wildcats can replace Denis Clemente as the primary ballhandler will determine how far they go. The Cats have enough in the frontcourt with Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels and transfer Freddy Asprilla to supplement Jacob Pullen's expected scoring, but questions remain as to how well Pullen will adjust to orchestrating and who will spot him some minutes at the point. If both those issues are answered to some level of satisfaction, K-State could end the season in Houston for the Final Four.
2. Kansas (North: 2)
The status of coveted point guard recruit Josh Selby remains the key question with this team. The NCAA has cleared Selby academically, but his amateurism status is still under review, and Bill Self doesn't expect a decision before the season begins. If Selby eventually gets eligible to go with Marcus Morris and Tyshawn Taylor, that's a terrific nucleus around which Kansas can layer some athletic and/or experienced complementary pieces. KU lost a lot with the departures of Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry. This year's Jayhawks could end up being more explosive, but it will take some time to gel before they can be as good. Don't doubt that they can, though. This is a really talented team that, with Selby at the point, is Final Four quality.
3. Missouri (North: 3)
Every year Missouri seems to be overlooked nationally, and this season is no exception, especially if prized forward recruit Tony Mitchell can get eligible for the spring semester. Mitchell would immediately help answer Missouri's questions in the frontcourt, although Laurence Bowers should also take another big step this season. Mix in sharpshooting Kim English, top point guard recruit Phil Pressey and a bunch of other talented pieces, and the deep, athletic Tigers could make a run at the Big 12 crown if they get Mitchell into the lineup.
4. Baylor (South: 1)
If LaceDarius Dunn regains his eligibility after a domestic incident in which he allegedly hit his girlfriend (she denies it happened), Baylor is the fourth team that could challenge for the league title. If he's back and Perry Jones lives up to his billing, guys like Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones can be the prototypical supporting cast on an elite team. Point guard, with the departure of Tweety Carter, could be a major Achilles' heel. Baylor has the talent to back up what it did last season, but expectations may be running a bit high at this point, given what the Bears lost from the roster and their new status as the hunted.
Penguins squeak past Ducks in shootout
Johan Franzen scores two as Red Wings pound Devils in Detroit