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Settling for the NIT, and losing to Stanford in the championship game, was a humbling experience for Oklahoma last season. The Sooners don't like to be humbled, so it won't be too much of a surprise if they give Oklahoma State a tussle for the Big Eight title. Injuries and academic difficulties damaged Oklahoma a year ago; they shouldn't be problems this season. Forward Jeff Webster (18.3 points per game) was the conference's newcomer of the year last season, and 6'8" center Bryan Sallier seemed to find himself during the NIT. If streaky guard Brent Price gets more consistent, the Sooners will be tough to beat.
At Kansas , the Jayhawks are hoping forward Alonzo Jamison plays as well all season as he did during last year's NCAA tournament, in which he averaged 11.8 points. Kansas also has the conference's best point guard in Adonis Jordan, and Rex Walters, a 6'4" transfer from Northwestern, should be a nice complement at shooting guard. The Jayhawks don't really have any stars, but they usually don't need any.
Missouri is the conference's wild card. Senior guard Anthony Peeler has NBA potential but a history of injuries and academic problems. If he keeps his concentration, he might finally have the spectacular season Tiger fans have expected from him. Nebraska lost four starters from the team that finished a surprising 26-8 in 1990-91. Without them, the Cornhuskers will do well to finish in the middle of the Big Eight pack.
Kansas State is hoping that a group of highly regarded junior college transfers, including 6'3" guard Gaylon Nickerson and 6'6" swingman Trasel Rone, will make the difference in close games. Last season, the Wildcats lost six games by seven points or less. Guard Justus Thigpen was the only sure starter youthful Iowa State had heading into this year's preseason practice. Coach Johnny Orr may spend much of the season trying to settle on a consistent lineup. The same could be true of Colorado coach Joe Harrington, who has only one player who scored in double figures last year, guard James Hunter.
With the departure of three-time defending conference champ Arkansas, the Southwest Conference will have a hard time convincing anyone it has much to offer. Says Houston coach Pat Foster, a five-year SWC veteran, "From one to six, it will be the toughest it's been since I have been here, but not from one to three. There won't be any team as good as Arkansas was the last three years."
Texas will probably come out on top. Even though they lost four starters, the Longhorns are about 10 players deep, with senior forwards Dexter Cambridge and Benford Williams among the most important. Point guard B.J. Tyler, a transfer from DePaul, and freshman guard Terrence Rencher, the New York City high school player of the year, give the Longhorns the makings of a solid back-court. "With so many new elements, we could be great or up-and-down all year," says coach Tom Penders. Houston is also trying to piece together a unit out of several new parts. Senior forward Craig Up-church, a former all-conference choice, is back after missing all of last year because of back surgery, and 6'8" junior college transfer Charles Outlaw is expected to help on the boards. The Cougars also welcome much-traveled 6'7" senior Sam Mack, who is with his fourth school—Iowa State, Arizona State and Tyler (Texas) Junior College were the first three—in five years.
This could be the year that Rice actually challenges for the conference title. The Owls probably have the league's best big man in 6'10" center Brent Scott, who led the SWC with 10.1 rebounds per game last year. It may come as a surprise that Texas Christian has had three straight winning seasons. With 6'11" senior center Reggie Smith (17.5 points, 9.9 rebounds a game), the Horned Frogs should make it four in a row.
At Baylor , forward Kelvin Chalmers has recovered from surgery for an irregular heartbeat and guard Dennis Lindsey is over his back surgery, which should enable the Bears to win a conference game at home, something they failed to do last season. Even the departure of Arkansas from the league won't help SMU and Texas Tech much. The Mustangs need someone to provide more offense (they shot a league-worst 41.9% last year), and new Texas Tech coach James Dickey needs a healthy season from forward Will Flemons, who missed most of last year with a broken foot.