Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Big 12's most important players
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.
The most important player for each team in the conference ...
Baylor:Cory Jefferson The 6-foot-9, 210-pound forward would have started for almost every Big 12 team last season. Instead, he averaged just 3.6 points playing behind the Quincys (Acy and Miller) and Perry Jones III. The Bears need the junior to come up huge, especially early in the season while freshmen Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers are adapting to the college game.
Iowa State:Melvin Ejim As was the case last season, the Cyclones will be undersized in the paint. It will be up to the 6-6 Ejim to do the dirty work down low. He ranked second on the team in rebounds last season (6.6) while averaging 9.3 points per game, making him the team's leading returning scorer.
Kansas:Ben McLemore The redshirt freshman is receiving a quite a bit of buzz for a guy who has yet to play a single minute in college. Coach Bill Self has said McLemore is as talented of a player as he has ever recruited, and his teammates have compared him to former KU standout Brandon Rush. The Jayhawks desperately need another scorer after losing Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.
Kansas State:Rodney McGruder The small forward is one of the five best players in the Big 12 and has the potential to an All-American. Still, there are times when he becomes passive, which can be maddening to a coach. McGruder went nearly a month without a 20-point game during conference play last season but still averaged 15.8 points per game.
Oklahoma:Romero Osby The 6-8, 232-pound Osby did a little bit of everything for the Sooners last season, when he averaged 12.9 points and a team-high 7.3 rebounds. Osby's versatility will be vital once again for an Oklahoma squad that has realistic hopes of making the NCAA tournament under second-year coach Lon Kruger.
Oklahoma State:LeBryan Nash Nash entered college last season burdened with what proved to be unfair expectations. He wilted under the spotlight early in the season before showing flashes of brilliance as he became more comfortable. If Nash develops into a consistent player -- he needs to work on his defense and shot selection -- the Cowboys could blossom into a top-15-caliber team.
TCU:Garlon Green The 6-7 forward, who averaged 9.9 points as a junior, is the leading returning scorer from a squad that finished 18-15 last season. First-year Horned Frogs coach Trent Johnson will depend heavily on Green to help keep TCU out of the league cellar during its first season in the Big 12.
Texas:Myck Kabongo The Longhorns point guard shot just 39 percent from the field and 32 percent from 3-point range as a freshman last season. He also averaged three turnovers a game. Those numbers won't cut it if Texas has hopes of making a 15th straight NCAA tournament appearance. Look for Kabongo, an NBA draft prospect, to significantly improve his game. He is an excellent vocal leader.
Texas Tech:Jordan Tolbert With most of last season's team either graduated or transferred, Tolbert will be one of the few veterans on the Red Raiders' roster. And he's only a sophomore. The 6-7 forward led Texas Tech in scoring (11.5) and rebounding (5.7) last season. This season, he will be surrounded by more talent thanks to the arrival of freshmen Josh Gray and Wannah Bail.
West Virginia:Aaric Murray The 6-10 center, who is considered an NBA prospect, averaged 15.2 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks for La Salle in 2010-11. He and forward Deniz Kilicli should form a strong tandem in the paint for a team that lost leading scorers Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant.