Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Best-case/Worst-case in the Big 12
By Eamonn Brennan
As part of our Summer Shootaround series, here are the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Big 12:
Baylor's backcourt should be solid this season with Brady Heslip, left, and Pierre Jackson returning.
Best-case: Whatever your final appraisal on the Perry Jones III era is -- relatively successful but ultimately disappointing is what I'd probably go with -- said era is decidedly over. Jones left for the NBA draft, as did freshman forward Quincy Miller. Senior forward Quincy Acy is gone too. And guess what? The Bears will be every bit as talented in the frontcourt. That's thanks to the arrival of 7-foot center Isaiah Austin, the No. 3-ranked player in the Class of 2012, and power forward Ricardo Gathers, the No. 10-ranked power forward. Meanwhile, Baylor brings back guards Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip as well as touted 2011 recruit Deuce Bello and former transfer Gary Franklin. Based on the sheer talent Scott Drew has managed to bring to this once-downtrodden program, Baylor should be targeting the Big 12 title -- not to mention a deep NCAA tournament run.
Worst-case: ESPN's recruiting scouts call Austin the most talented player in the class. Part of this assessment has to do with his ability to handle the ball on the perimeter, not to mention knock down 3s and block shots. This is all well and good, but one can't help but think that appraisal sounds dangerously similar to Jones, who could have dominated college post defenders but maddeningly elected to play midrange offense more often than not. In other words, sure, the Bears are crazy-talented again, but will they be structured? Will Austin float, a la Jones? If not, will Gathers pick up that interior slack? How do these disparate pieces fit, and if the learning curve is large, will Drew be able to put it all together in time for a conference title run? Despite its talent, Baylor has lacked that certain cohesive je ne sais quoi in recent seasons. The worst-case is a repeat.
Best-case: After resurrecting the career of once-troubled forward Royce White and ending Iowa State's seven-year NCAA tournament drought, what can the Mayor conjure in his third season? It doesn't need to be a huge step back. Continuing the transfer trend in Ames, former Michigan State point guard Korie Lucious and former Utah swingman Will Clyburn will take up the reins in 2012-13. A host of last season's contributors (Melvin Ejim, Chris Babb, Tyrus McGee, Anthony Booker, Percy Gibson) are back, and if No. 14-ranked power forward Georges Niang -- touted for his versatility and range out to the 3-point line -- can replace some of what made White so dangerous, this team could look very similar to last season's breakout crew.
Worst-case: Then again, hoping that Niang can replicate even some measure of White's performance is setting an awfully high bar for a freshman ranked No. 56 overall in the incoming class. White was key to everything this team did on offense; it's a big ask. Meanwhile, this team's two main 3-point sharpshooters (Chris Allen, Scott Christopherson) have graduated. It wouldn't be surprising to see Iowa State take a step back this season and flirt more tenuously with the NCAA tournament bubble than it ever had to last season.
Jeff Withey returns to a KU team aiming for a ninth straight Big 12 title.
Best-case: A Big 12 regular-season title and a deep NCAA tournament run. KU's best-case scenarios are always easily calculated, because Bill Self so often achieves them. The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the past eight regular-season conference titles. Projecting them to do anything less than that seems like folly -- regardless of personnel.
Worst-case: With that said, the 2012-13 season will be a personnel challenge, even by Self's frequently reloaded standards. Thanks to the partial qualifier status of 2011 freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, Self essentially has eight freshmen on his bench this season. Three of the 2012 additions -- power forward Perry Ellis, small forward Andrew White and power forward Landon Lucas -- will hunt for minutes in a lineup whose most experienced players are shot-blocking center Jeff Withey and strong guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford. Thomas Robinson is gone. Tyshawn Taylor is gone. Conner Teahan is gone. Those departures leave a lot of question marks: how Self will plot his rotation, how quickly he'll feature McLemore, Ellis, Naadir Tharpe and others and whether those players have enough to maintain the Big 12 dominance. At this point, we really don't know.
Best-case: The best-case is pretty straightforward. New coach Bruce Weber, one of the nation's best man-to-man defensive coaches, takes over Frank Martin's big, physical, ugly defensive team -- which returns basically everyone, save Jamar Samuels -- and the combination is a match made in heaven. After years of struggling with barely committed Illinois defenders, Weber relishes the ethos of this bunch, and the Wildcats become of the nation's least-relished matchups in turn.
Worst-case: This team and Weber were as close to a perfect match as K-State fans could possibly hope. But there may be a bit of worst-case in that too. Weber's teams have struggled to score in the past, and the Cats were turnover prone and inaccurate from the field in 2011-12, relying on dominant offensive rebounding for the majority of their attack. Perhaps the worst-case is that this dynamic repeats itself and Kansas State is merely decent as a result.
Best-case: Considering the crater this program found itself in after an NCAA investigation and the departure of coach Jeff Capel, a 15-16 finish in Lon Kruger's first season must be seen as something of a success. At the very least, he knows how to get the most out of his guys. The entire rotation is back in 2012, joined by at least one recruit (shooting guard Buddy Hield) who could earn minutes right away. But until Kruger has time to develop his young guys and replenish the recruiting ranks, it will be difficult to expect much more than what we saw last season.
Worst-case: When you're rebuilding, you just want to (A) get (or keep) fans excited, (B) develop young players and (C) make positive, program-wide steps toward a more promising future. Whatever the won-loss record in 2012-13, a failure to do those things would count as the worst-case scenario. The bar is not high, at least not right now.
Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series is catching up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For the rest of the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Big 12, click here.