Lonely at the top
For most of the last decade, Kansas has owned the Big XII. The Jayhawks will be gunning for their ninth consecutive conference championship. Putting that into perspective, there hasn't been that type of a dominate run in a major conference since the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden, was leading UCLA. The Jayhawks again were voted as the preseason favorite by the league coaches, and it's hard to doubt their logic. Bill Self has earned a place among the nation's elite coaches and despite losing Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas might have a better shot at a national title in 2012-2013 than they did last year.
After Kansas, this league figures to be wide open. Baylor features one of the better back courts in the country, led by Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip, but will be inexperienced inside. Oklahoma State will rely heavily on two potential lottery picks in Le'Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart, but the Pokes are young. Texas, West Virginia and Kansas State all have solid rosters and a good deal of talent, but it's hard to see any of them really challenging the Jayhawks. Then again, could an experienced team like Oklahoma sneak up and catch everyone by surprise? How about Iowa State? The Cyclones also bring a wealth of experience to the table and The Mayor has successfully been able to blend transfers with the rest of the roster. Whether any of these schools can truly challenge Kansas, we'll see, but it should be an exciting year in Big XII country.
All Big XII Teams
G Pierre Jackson - Baylor
G Rodney McGruder - Kansas State
C Jeff Withey - Kansas
F Le'Bryan Nash - Oklahoma State
F Aaric Murray - West Virginia
Jackson, McGruder and Withey all had breakout years a season ago and figure to wreak more havoc this winter. Nash had a solid but unspectacular freshman season and as a sophomore, much more production is expected. You may be scratching your head about the inclusion of Murray. If you haven't heard of him, get to know him. The 6'10" junior played two years at La Salle before transferring to West Virginia, and he can score. Murray has been compared to former Mountaineers star Kevin Jones, who led the Big East in scoring and rebounding a season ago.
G Myck Kabongo - Texas
G Marcus Smart - Oklahoma State
G Steven Pledger - Oklahoma
G Elijah Johnson - Kansas
F Will Clyburn - Iowa State
Okay, it's not a conventional team, but I couldn't justify putting any of the league's other big guys on the second team. Romero Osby and Andrew Fitzgerald from Oklahoma earned consideration, but they kind of split the vote. Isaiah Austin from Baylor, Jordan Henriquez from Kansas State and Sheldon McClellan from Texas are also honorable mentions.
For the guys that I chose as second-teamers though, Smart might be the best pro prospect in the conference and could be a one-and-done guy. Pledger can flat score, as can Clyburn, who averaged 17.7 points at Utah before transferring to Iowa State. Kabongo and Johnson will take on bigger roles and emerge as stars.
G Marcus Smart - Oklahoma State
C Isaiah Austin - Baylor
F Cameron Ridley - Texas
G Ben McLemore - Kansas (redshirted '11-'12)
F Will Clyburn - Iowa State (from Utah)
G Korie Lucious - Iowa State (from Michigan State)
F Aaric Murray - West Virginia (from La Salle)
F Amath M'Baye - Oklahoma (from Wyoming)
G Brady Heslip - Baylor
G Steven Pledger - Oklahoma
G Tyrus McGee - Iowa State
Let's get a couple things out of the way. I didn't set out to skew these ratings and go back and adjust based on where I see Team X finishing compared to Team Y. I rated each individual category and then simply added them up. Are there other factors to consider and should certain categories be weighted differently? You bet. I'd argue that the Experience category is overrated to some degree, whereas Talent and Coaching hold more value. You can skew this in a lot of different ways. For instance, if we factor in recruiting rankings, you'd see Oklahoma State and Texas shoot toward the top. As far as experience goes, I just looked at projected rotations and how many seniors and juniors they featured, but what about the type of experience the guys on the roster have had? Kansas brings back three starters from a team that played in the National Championship game and a couple rotational guys from that team as well. Do the Jayhawks have better experience than a senior-heavy team like Oklahoma that failed to make a post-season tournament last year?
The point is, this subjective "Predictor" probably isn't the best tool to project how things will shake out this year. It's hard to argue, however, against Kansas' spot in table, but after that, it's up for interpretation. If anything, this goes to show just how even and deep the conference is. There are eight teams in this league that can make a legitimate case for why they'll be dancing in March, so that is why I chose the categories I did.
We'll do a full preview of each school prior to the season, but I did want to hit on a few quick blurbs about each team, wrapping up this Predictor. Again, these are not the actual predicted finishes.
Bill Self is high on Ben McLemore, who redshirted last season, but I think Elijah Johnson is the breakout star of this team. That being said, I do think outside shooting will be a weakness for the Jayhawks.
For a full preview, check this out, but I'm very high on the defensive potential of this team. The Cyclones will have the versatility to match up with any team in the league
The Mountaineers will attempt to blend several transfers with a talented, but young roster. Sound familiar?
I see the Bears as a true wild card. Their back court is the best in the league, but can Scott Drew get consistent minutes out of veterans J'Mison Morgan and Cory Jefferson as well as newcomers Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers up front?
I'd be higher on K-State if Frank Martin was still in Manhattan, but Bruce Weber is a defensive-minded coach that should be a decent fit. I'm very interested to see the continued development of Jordan Henriquez.
Their in-state rivals are getting most of the headlines, but the Sooners might be the conference's surprise team. I really like their roster and Lon Kruger is one of the best in the business.
Well, they're young - really young. The Longhorns don't lack in talent though. It will likely be another inconsistent year in Austin, but with a ridiculously tough non-conference schedule, Texas will have their chances for some statement wins.
Chill out Cowboy fans. I'm not predicting Oklahoma State 8th. Travis Ford has what figures to be the most athletic team in the league, but who's the point guard and who's going to step up inside?
It's going to be a rough first year in Fort Worth. At least the Frogs have a head coach though, right?
With an interim coach and an underwhelming collection of "talent", things are going to stay bad in Lubbock for at least another year.