Ask A Writer: Big 12 basketball discussion
Which team has the best chance of ending KU’s incredible streak of Big 12 titles?
Dana O'Neil: I honestly make this pick without a lot of conviction, because until someone actually unseats Kansas I won’t believe anyone can. But forced to pick -- as I am here -- the team with the best chance this year, I have to go with Baylor. Scott Drew’s team is once again top-heavy with talent, with a ridiculously talented backcourt in the form of Pierre Jackson, Deuce Bello and Brady Heslip, plus a stud in big man freshman Isaiah Austin. Of course we heard this last season with the Bears and they still finished four games behind KU in the Big 12 standings. But if Baylor can put its game on par with its résumé, the Bears should and could be the one to finally stop the Kansas Big 12 monarchy.
How will newcomers West Virginia and TCU do in their first seasons?
Myron Medcalf: Bob Huggins and Trent Johnson are in different situations as they prepare for their programs’ first season in the Big 12. The Mountaineers lost Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant. But Deniz Kilicli (10.7 ppg) is a bruiser in a league that embraces that physicality. Transfers Aaric Murray (15.2 ppg in 2010-11 for LaSalle), Matt Humphrey (10.3 ppg in 2011-12 for Boston College) and Juwan Staten (8.5 ppg in 2010-11 for Dayton) give Huggins the athletes he’ll need to compete in the Big 12. I think West Virginia will finish fifth in the league behind Kansas, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Possibly higher.
I can’t say the same about TCU, which lacks the talent necessary to escape a last-place finish in the Big 12. Mountain West freshman of the year Kyan Anderson (8.3 ppg) could blossom in his second season, and the addition of Arkansas transfer Devonta Abron will help. But TCU will get off to a rough start in the Big 12 by finishing at the bottom of the league. But that’s where rebuilding often begins.
Eamonn Brennan: Texas point guard Myck Kabongo is hardly under the radar -- he arrived in Austin last season with loads of hype, and was under the spotlight during his so-so freshman season. But I can see him making something of a leap as a sophomore, particularly now that he doesn't have to worry about shot-gobbling J'Covan Brown getting his. (This could likewise benefit fellow sophomore guard Sheldon McClellan, who was efficient in his first season.)
Oklahoma State's Le'Bryan Nash is in a similar position. Counting stats-wise, he was OK as a freshman, but solid averages belie what was a truly uneven, often inefficient season. But the dude has loads of talent. If he tightens a few things up, and cleans up some of the decision making on the offensive end, he has the potential to be a serious force.
Who do you see as the sleeper team in the Big 12?
Jason King: I’m a little surprised more people aren’t talking about Oklahoma State. I realize the Cowboys have missed the NCAA tournament the past two seasons and that they went just 15-18 last year. But something tells me their fortunes are about to change. When it comes to pure talent, Travis Ford’s squad stacks up with any team in the Big 12. Nash averaged 13.3 points as a freshman last season, but overall his performance was deemed disappointing because he shot just 39 percent from the field and only 23 percent from 3-point range. That won’t happen again. Nash, who missed the final five games with a wrist injury, will make gargantuan strides from his freshman to his sophomore season.
And part of the reason will be Marcus Smart. No one would be surprised if Smart, a freshman shooting guard and McDonald’s All-American, is one of the Big 12‘s top players by season’s end. As good as he is on the court, Smart is lauded equally for his leadership skills. His presence will take some of the pressure off of Nash, who often tried to do too much last season. Both players are projected as first-round draft picks.
Junior Markel Brown and sophomore Brian Williams are also back. The guards combined to average 20.1 points last season. A season-ending injury kept forward J.P. Olukemi off the court for the entire Big 12 season, but he scored 11.1 points per contest the previous year, so he’s proven he can excel at a high level. The bottom line is that the Cowboys have weapons -- lots of them. One area of concern is in the paint, where there is a lack of height and depth, which means rebounding could be an issue. Oklahoma State has also lacked discipline at times under Ford. Still, in a wide-open conference like the Big 12, a team as talented as this one could finish as high as second. And I don’t envision Ford’s unit falling anywhere below fifth place.
How many NCAA bids does the Big 12 get this season?
Andy Katz: I wrestled with how to handle the Big 12 teams in the preseason Top 25 poll I recently submitted. I ended up having just two: Kansas and Baylor. But don't read into that in terms of the depth of this conference. I'm confident that four teams will be in the tourney for sure in KU, Baylor, Texas and Kansas State. I will be surprised if Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia aren't pushing for a bid come February. But I'll safely say six out of 10 teams will get bids and that's as good a percentage as probably any conference in the country.
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