Friday, September 30, 2011

30 In 30: Big 12

Texas A&M's Khris Middleton is one of many who can make a statement this year in a crapshoot Big 12. (Photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

The Big 12 is the Big Ten! The Big Ten is the Big 12! Einhorn is Finkle! Finkle is Einhorn! Einhorn is a man!

Now that we have that assist from Ace Ventura, let's take a look at the Big 12, or Big Ten...

1) Texas A&M - The Aggies only return three starters and have a new coach coming in after Billy Kennedy takes over for new Maryland head man Mark Turgeon, but the man who is potentially the most dynamic wing in the conference comes back to College Station in the form of junior forward Khris Middleton. Only averaging fourteen points per game last season, Middleton does a little bit of everything; and with the increased opportunities to produce, his stats should get their expected increase. Senior power forward David Loubeau is also back to join Middleton up front while Dash Harris takes over the point guard duties full-time after serving as a combo guard alongside B.J. Holmes last season. Reserves Kourtney Roberson and Naji Hibbert comprised the top two off Turgeon's bench last year, and should move into Kennedy's starting five.

2) Missouri - Another Big 12 team with a new leader, as former Miami head coach Frank Haith leaves an uncertain future in South Florida to take over for Mike Anderson in Columbia after the "40 Minutes Of Hell" architect returned to Arkansas, where he was once an assistant. The Tigers return all five starters from last year's NCAA Tournament team that was eliminated by Cincinnati in the round of 64, and boast a potential Big 12 Player of the Year candidate and likely NBA lottery pick in senior guard Marcus Denmon. Mike Dixon and Kim English will be Denmon's primary backcourt partners, with brothers Matt and Phil Pressey also seeing their fair share of minutes. Up front, Ricardo Ratliffe and Laurence Bowers will be just as imposing with the ball in their hands as they will be on the defensive glass as Mizzou looks to make a run this March.

3) Baylor - Eight years ago, Baylor basketball was at an all-time low after the shooting tragedy surrounding Patrick Dennehy. What head coach Scott Drew has done with the Bears since then has been simply nothing short of heroic. Leading scorer LaceDarius Dunn is gone, but Drew has a potential Top 10 team both this year and next year with the amount of talent staying in Waco. Big man Perry Jones and hybrid forward Quincy Acy return up front and are joined by highly touted prep star Quincy Miler, who could be the Big 12 version of North Carolina's John Henson. Miller's prep school teammate Deuce Bello also committed to Baylor, and will join incumbent point guard A.J. Walton in the backcourt while Anthony Jones also returns to the starting lineup for a team that could be running up and down the court with a nine-man rotation when conference play opens in December.

4) Kansas State - Do-it-all point guard Jacob Pullen has graduated, which allows Frank Martin to move Will Spradling to the point after the sophomore made a bigger impact than expected playing off the ball in his rookie season. Rodney McGruder comes back for his junior season to once again man the shooting guard position while Jamar Samuels anchors a rather inexperienced inside game for the Wildcats. Former St. John's transfer Omari Lawrence is eligible once again after sitting last season out, and returns to the hardwood with three years of eligibility remaining. Lawrence's arrival could move 6-6 swingman Shane Southwell to the frontline alongside Samuels, who is more of a power forward as it is.

5) Kansas - Bill Self had a potential national championship team on his bench in Lawrence last season, but VCU's miracle run came between the Jayhawks and their second national title in four years. Twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have left for the NBA, and guards Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar are gone as well. Tyshawn Taylor is back to run the point for his senior season, and the former Bob Hurley product from St. Anthony's in Jersey City also has a new backcourt partner after Josh Selby left Kansas early. Travis Releford will more than likely move into the starting lineup until incoming 5-11 freshman Naadir Tharpe is ready to crack Self's starting five. Up front, Thomas Robinson will attempt to replace the versatility of the Morris twins alongside seven-foot junior center Jeff Withey.

6) Texas - Rick Barnes loses all of his starting five from last season, three of whom were underclassmen who each became a first-round NBA draft pick in Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton, and Cory Joseph. Seniors Gary Johnson and Dogus Balbay have graduated as well, leaving reserve guard J'Covan Brown as the Longhorns' top incumbent this season. Reserves Jai Lucas and Matt Hill are also gone, leaving 6-7 big man Alexis Wangmene to pick up the pieces up front. Freshmen Myck Kabongo and Sterling Gibbs are solid pieces from Barnes' recruiting class, but this year's incarnation of Texas basketball will need time to develop as a team before the Erwin Center plays host to a dominant program again.

7) Iowa State - Former Cyclones player and ex-Indiana Pacer Fred Hoiberg actually has a solid team in Ames this season, led by former Michigan State shooting guard Chris Allen, who regains his eligibility this season and will finish his collegiate career this year. Also coming from East Lansing is fellow Spartan expatriate Korie Lucious, but he will not be eligible until next year for his senior campaign. Senior sharpshooter Scott Christopherson gives the Cyclones the luxury of a second shooting guard who can play off the ball with Allen when he is not running the point, but Christopherson will likely be more of a facilitator this season with Diante Garrett no longer around. Sophomore forward Melvin Ejim anchors the paint for Iowa State with 6-11 center Jordan Railey moving into the starting lineup on a full-time basis.

8) Oklahoma - Lon Kruger arrives in Norman fresh off an NCAA Tournament appearance with UNLV, and he acquires four returning starters and six of the Sooners' top eight scorers from last season. Expect a lot of three-guard sets right away for OU, with sharpshooters Steven Pledger and Cameron Clark playing off the ball while Carl Blair runs the point. Junior forward Andrew Fitzgerald is the Sooners' top returning big man, and either Tyler Neal or C.J. Washington will be his supporting cast inside.

9) Oklahoma State - Senior guard Keiton Page returns to run the point in Stillwater one more time, and the 5-9 dynamo will pick up incoming swingman LeBryan Nash to help make things happen offensively after the Dallas native was the centerpiece of Travis Ford's recruiting class. Sophomore Markel Brown will join those two in the backcourt while Darrell Williams gets things going for the Cowboys up front.

10) Texas Tech - The Billy Gillispie show returns in its fourth location as the controversial head man has resurfaced following a disastrous two-year stint at Kentucky. Four starters are gone, but the one who remains is 6-10 big man Robert Lewandowski. Swingman Jaye Crockett and 5-11 sophomore Javarez Willis should get the chance to become key contributors right away for a young Red Raider squad.

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