Big 12 Summer Roundup: Kansas looking for a star, but still top dog
The Big 12 has more movement, intrigue than any other conference this offseason
Kansas freshman Ben McLemore could be the Jayhawks' much-needed X-factor
If Myck Kabongo can live up to the hype, Texas could be a serious contender
Feel like you're out of the college hoops loop? No problem. SI.com recaps everything you need to know as summer recruiting season winds to a close and a new crop of college players get ready to take the floor. Today Rob Dauster takes a look at the Big 12.
Conference realignment hasn't shifted Kansas' position atop the Big 12.
Realignment's finest: The Big 12 has had more rumors and movement than any conference in the country. Based on the speculations from the past two summers, the league was supposed to have imploded at this point. And while losing Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC put Chuck Neinas' conference in a bit of a perilous position, the Big 12 steadied itself by reaching into the Big East and pulling out TCU and West Virginia. At this point, the conference has actually become a buyer; Florida State and Louisville haven't exactly been subtle in their attempts to join the Big 12's party.
West Virginia, it should be noted, is not only transferring into the Big 12 conference, but it is adding a pair of talented transfers to its roster as well. Former La Salle big man Aaric Murray and former Dayton point guard Juwan Staten will give Bob Huggins a couple of more weapons to work with this year.
Frank Martin's scowl has moved on: The coach with the most intimidating stare in college hoops will no longer be stalking the sidelines of the Little Apple. A strained relationship with his athletic director reached a tipping point when Jamar Samuels was suspended the night before Kansas State's second round NCAA tournament game against Syracuse, resulting in Martin taking off for South Carolina. Bruce Weber, who had been fired by Illinois just a few weeks earlier, was ultimately hired by the Illini.
Weber should have some talent at his disposal. Leading scorer Rodney McGruder is back and will be teamed with Angel Rodriguez, Jordan Henriquez, Thomas Gibson and Will Spradling. That's not a bad starting five to work with.
TCU's new head coach: Instead of taking a team he struggled to win with in the Mountain West into its inaugural season in the Big 12, Jim Christian left TCU in the spring to take the head coaching position at Ohio, a school in the MAC. It's not often that you see a head coach back out of a Big 12 coaching gig for the same position in the middiest of mid-major leagues. He was replaced by Trent Johnson, who probably made the smart decision to get out of Baton Rouge before he was asked to leave.
Since it's always fun to follow the coaching carousel, Christian was able to make the jump to Ohio because John Groce took the Illinois job that was left open when Bruce Weber, the new Kansas State head coach, was fired.
Iowa State transfers: After riding the coattails of transfers Royce White (Minnesota), Chris Allen (Michigan State), and Scott Christopherson (Marquette) to their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2005, the Cyclones will be relying on the talents of another pair of one-year rentals to get them back into the Big Dance. Former Michigan State point guard Korie Lucious, who Maryland fans know well, and Utah transfer Will Clyburn may not have the impact of White, but with Chris Babb and Melvin Ejim returning and a solid recruiting class coming in, Fred Hoiberg has some pieces to work with in Ames.
Texas Tech do-over?: Billy Gillispie sure does know how to turn over a roster. After bringing in 10 kids in the Class of 2011, six players transferred out of his program this spring. Six. When you throw in the graduation of one senior, that means Gillispie had seven open scholarships available. That still wasn't enough, because his recruiting class for 2012 was originally nine. It looked as if everything had worked out when Rodrigo Silva, a Brazilian native and a JuCo transfer, was forced to head home and turn pro due to a family situation, but Gillispie then added another transfer, Blake Nash from South Florida. I would give you scholarship numbers, but my calculus is a bit rusty.
It's also worth noting that Wannah Bail, Gillispie's prized newcomer, left campus after one semester of summer school due to a reported academic issue.
Kansas is looking for their star: As you should expect by now, Bill Self once again brought in a talented recruiting class. Perry Ellis and Andrew White are big-time talents that should be able to contribute immediately. Landen Lucas and Zach Peters are big bodies that should provide depth up front. Anrio Adams is a talented guard that was recently cleared after dealing with some academic issues. But the Jayhawks' best freshman will actually be a guy that spent last season in the program. Ben McLemore was highly regarded in the Class of 2011, but was forced to spend last season watching from the bench as Kansas made its way to the national title game. An athletic scorer on the wing, McLemore is the guy many believe will be the X-factor for this group.
LeBryan Nash has a counterpart: Want to hear an impressive stat? With the addition of Marcus Smart this season, Oklahoma State now has more consensus top 10 recruits on its roster than there are in the entire ACC. Think about that for a second. They also just so happen to compliment each other well. Nash is a 6-foot-7 physical specimen whose mindset is to score but who struggles with aggressiveness and leadership. Smart is a 6-4 physical specimen who can play all three perimeter positions, impacts the game on both ends of the floor and has been lauded for his leadership and winning mentality. Travis Ford has some supporting talent -- J.P. Olukemi, Markel Brown -- on his roster. But with Guerrero's transfer and the legal troubles surrounding some of the Pokes' frontline, it is a roster made up almost entirely of wings.
Texas is reloading again: Over the past decade, Rick Barnes has turned Texas into one of the nation's premier programs in terms of aggregating talent, and that certainly didn't change in 2012. Barnes reeled in a six-man recruiting class that is headlined by five-star center Cameron Ridley and also includes four-star recruits Javan Felix, Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert. The Longhorns will be quite young this season, as their key returnees from last season -- Myck Kabongo, Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis -- will all be sophomores, but there will be quite a bit of talent on the roster. Is Texas a year away?
So is Baylor: Scott Drew did what he needed to do on the recruiting trail once again. With the important pieces of his frontline leaving school -- Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller went pro, Quincy Acy graduated -- Drew landed a top 10 recruit in center Isaiah Austin, as well as four-star power forward Ricardo Gathers, as part of a five-man recruiting class. With Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip back to anchor a deep backcourt and Cody Jefferson providing some experience up front, the Bears should be in the mix at the top of the conference once again.
As this point, the Jayhawks have earned the right to be considered the favorite in the Big 12 year in and year out. Bill Self has strung together eight straight seasons with a finish no worse than tied for first in the regular season standings. Think about that. The last time that Kansas didn't win at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title was 2004. They finished tied for second that season, two games behind an Oklahoma State team that featured Tony Allen, John Lucas and the Graham twins and made it all the way to the Final Four. Should I mention that Kansas also won the outright regular season titles in 2002 and 2003 under Roy Williams and that the 2003-2004 season was Bill Self's first in Lawrence?
Put that all together, and, since 2002, Kansas has won seven outright Big 12 titles, won a share of three Big 12 titles and had its worst season when it finished second to a Final Four team with four NBA players playing for a new head coach. That's the kind of domination you expect out of a school in the Big South, not the Big 12. Making that run all the more impressive is that Kansas has done it while having 17 players taken in the last 11 NBA draft, 11 of whom left school with eligibility remaining.
There is no dominant team in the Big 12 this season just like there was no dominant team in the Big 12 heading into last season. But there is a dominant program in the conference, and until proven otherwise, the Jayhawks will be perennially the favorite to win the league.
1. Kansas Jayhawks: Kansas will need a big season out of Ben McLemore -- who got banged up on the team's trip to Europe -- because Bill Self is not going to want to rely on Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford or Jeff Withey to be a go-to scorer. Those three are role players, very good role players even, but there is a reason that they've been in the Kansas program for this long and have yet to become stars.
2. Baylor Bears: I am a big fan of Pierre Jackson. He's explosive, he can score in bunches, and he's a highlight reel despite being all of about 5-9. He's also proven the ability to take and make a big shot. Jackson will be the catalyst for the Bears this season, but they are going to also need him to play in control. When he hits a couple of shots in a row, he has a tendency to get a bit out of control.
3. Texas Longhorns: This may be a bit of a stretch, but I think the Longhorns make the jump. I know they're young and I know they're still coached by Rick Barnes, but if Myck Kabongo can come anywhere close to the expectations he had coming in as a freshman and Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan can make that sophomore jump, this roster will have the talent to make noise in a wide-open league race.