Big 12 Primer (Cont.)
The Bears have the most top-end talent in the league, but last season's disappointment was fueled by a lack of capable point guard play and Baylor still may not have solved that issue. That's a potentially serious problem because the Bears remain heavy with frontcourt players and should see a lot of zone defense again this season. Consistent operation of the offense and feeding of the post will be required to make things work. Incumbent A.J. Walton returns and Scott Drew imported juco transfer Pierre Jackson as another option. It's possible the swap of departed shooting guard LaceDarius Dunn for freshman Deuce Bello, and sharpshooter Brady Heslip will help balance things out, but it's probably all going to come down to the quality of play at the point. If that's there consistently, the Bears will probably win the league.
4. Oklahoma State
LeBryan Nash has a nasty edge to go along with the go-to guy potential that the Pokes lacked last season. Nash's size and skill on the wing should help Travis Ford fulfill his hopes for a more up-tempo style this season. The Pokes were a suspect shooting team last season and especially poor from three-point range, where they converted less than 30 percent as a team. If Nash (and a faster tempo) can help create some easier baskets, OSU has the supporting cast to make a dark horse title run. Two returning double-digit scorers -- guard Keiton Page and swingman Jean-Paul Olukemi -- are joined by redshirt freshman forward Michael Cobbins and juco big man Philip Jurick. If Darrell Williams gets reinstated, that adds a quality rebounder to the mix.
Everything was setting up for a big season before both Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph left after their freshmen season for the NBA. Now the Longhorns are really young and really small, which is rarely a good combo. Junior guard J'Covan Brown is the Horns' only returning player who played more than 10 minutes a game last season and four of the five incoming recruits are guards, which leaves Clint Chapman (more of a perimeter-oriented big) as the only player taller than 6-8. Texas should be entertaining, at least. Freshman point guard Myck Kabongo should pair well with the maturing Brown in the backcourt along with former Maryland commit Sterling Gibbs. Throw in contributions from senior forward Alexis Wangmene and some shooting from freshman Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan, and the Horns should have some nights where they score in bunches. Whether they can defend well enough and keep teams off the glass is another question.
Departures may also compromise what was expected to be a blockbuster season in Columbia. In this case, it's the exit of coach Mike Anderson (to Arkansas) and then a preseason injury to Laurence Bowers, the league's best frontcourt defender, that will keep him out for the season. New coach Frank Haith still has some quality options, starting with underrated guard Marcus Denmon, effective forward Ricardo Ratliffe, jitterbug point Phil Pressey and Twitter All-Star Kim English (@EnglishScope24), but for a team that lacks size and defense presence, Bowers is an enormous loss. The good news: While Haith's team will play at a slower tempo than Anderson's squads, his Miami teams were similarly structured -- better on the offensive end than defensively -- so perhaps the adjustment period, even without Bowers, will be smoother than some expect.
7. Iowa State
The Cyclones will be one of the nation's most interesting teams thanks to a phalanx of transfers that should significantly upgrade the talent level in Ames. If team chemistry and cohesiveness rises to the level of the talent, they could be one of the surprise outfits in the league. ISU welcomes guards Chris Allen (from Michigan State) and Chris Babb (Penn State) along with forwards Royce White (a former elite recruit at Minnesota who hasn't played in college yet) and Anthony Booker (Southern Illinois). Three of them likely will start along with sharpshooting senior Scott Christopherson and promising sophomore forward Melvin Ejim. No one in that mix is really a true point guard, so 5-9 freshman Tavon Sledge could get a long look in what will be a crucial role keeping all the newbies (and shooters) happy.
8. Kansas State
After a rollercoaster campaign that included top-five preseason expectations, midseason suspensions and a period where it looked like they'd miss the NCAAs entirely, the Wildcats now move forward permanently without leading scorer Jacob Pullen and big man Curtis Kelly. The Cats will be young in spots, but do return Rodney McGruder, Will Spradling and Jamar Samuels, plus some promising freshmen and St. John's transfer Omari Lawrence. Frank Martin has established his coaching chops in this league and he should have a lot of options to shuttle in and out. How quickly the large group of newbies matures (and learns to play with Martin's desired defensive intensity) will determine the Cats' NCAA tournament hopes.
The Sooners shelled out big money to lure noted program builder Lon Kruger away from UNLV, and a young core that got a baptism by fire over the last two seasons is starting to mature. OU returns four starters, plus brings in promising Mississippi State transfer Romero Osby, who should help double-digit scorer Andrew Fitzgerald be more efficient. The Sooners were a poor rebounding team last season, and Kruger's Rebels teams weren't particularly good on the glass, either. How well this undersized club can battle on the boards will help determine how successful this initial season under Kruger will be.
10. Texas Tech
Pat Knight wasn't getting it done, so the Red Raiders turned to Billy Gillispie, whose previous successes in the state at UTEP and Texas A&M are hoped to portend better than his quick flameout at Kentucky and rocky off-court start in Lubbock. The roster has undergone a complete overhaul, with just a small handful of scholarship players returning and a big influx of freshmen and juco transfers filling things out. Dynamic scorer Mike Singletary is gone, but solid big man Robert Lewandowski (who has dropped about 25 pounds, according to local reports) returns. No one else on the roster averaged more than 13 minutes a game last season.
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