Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Five offseason storylines in the Big 12
By Jason King
Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on the Big 12, click here.
Five offseason storylines in the Big 12...
1. Eight straight Big 12 titles -- and counting -- for Kansas: The Jayhawks' mind-blowing streak of consecutive regular-season conference crowns is one of the most impressive in college basketball history. Not since UCLA won 13 straight from 1967-79 has a school from a major conference claimed this many league championships in a row. Bill Self's squad will be favored once again, although it certainly won't be a shoo-in for another trophy. The Jayhawks return starters Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford, but the roster also features eight freshmen, many of whom will have to contribute.
2. Can Baylor challenge the Jayhawks? Perhaps. The Bears tout one of the deepest backcourts in the nation. Point guard Pierre Jackson is a Big 12 Player of the Year candidate and Brady Heslip may be the top 3-point shooter in America. A.J. Walton, Gary Franklin and Deuce Bello all played significant minutes last season. The biggest question mark for Baylor involves its youth down low, where the Bears lost starters Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller. Cory Jefferson, who averaged 10.5 minutes off the bench last season, will have to step up along with freshmen Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers. Austin, a 7-footer, is expected to be a top-five pick in next summer's NBA draft.
3. Two new additions: West Virginia and TCU have replaced SEC defects Missouri and Texas A&M. Neither school, however, will be a factor in the Big 12 race. The Mountaineers lost their two leading scorers (Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant) and will depend heavily on transfers Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten. TCU will be playing its first season under coach Trent Johnson, who spent the past four years at LSU. Johnson will have a difficult time keeping this team out of the Big 12 cellar.
4. What's next for Texas? The Longhorns are one of the biggest enigmas heading into the 2012-13 season. Rick Barnes' squad would have been a sure bet for a 15th straight NCAA tournament appearance had leading scorer J'Covan Brown opted to return for his senior season. Instead, Texas is looking for someone to replace Brown's 20.1 points per game. Freshman Cameron Ridley is one of the highest-rated players in the Class of 2012, and Barnes expects returning starters Myck Kabongo (point guard) and Sheldon McClellan (winger) to make significant leaps.
5. Kansas State welcomes Bruce Weber: The former Illinois coach inherited an excellent situation when he was hired in March to replace Frank Martin. The Wildcats return nearly every key piece of last season's 22-win team. Weber has proved in the past that he can win with other people's players. In 2005, he led an Illini squad recruited largely by Self to the NCAA title game. It may be far-fetched to think he can take this season's K-State team that far, but there is plenty of reason for optimism in Manhattan.