Yes, the Bears return all five starters from last season, but unless they have improved defensively, that's not necessarily a good thing. That said, the Bears have four quality guards returning and their perimeter strength will be further fortified by the arrival of top-25 recruit LaceDarius Dunn
. Look for many three- and even four-guard sets in Waco this season while also looking for continued production from junior Kevin Rogers
(12.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg), the lone frontcourt presence who delivered consistently last season.
Jeff Bzdelik may not yet have the talent in Boulder to compete every night, but you can bet the Buffaloes will play a more discplined brand of offensive basketball than they did last season. Princeton/Air Force offense or not, don't expect a repeat of a 23.8 percent turnover rate (293rd in D-I) or 30.8 percent shooting from the arc as a team (298th in D-I). A prime beneficiary should be senior guard Richard Roby
, who has scored consistently in his first three seasons but has seen his shooting percentages decrease significantly.
The Cyclones overachieved in Greg McDermott's first season in Ames but might be hardpressed to match those accomplishments this season. Iowa State looks fairly solid in the frontcourt, with all three starters -- Jiri Hubalek
, Rahshon Clark
and Wesley Johnson
-- returning, but the backcourt is a large question mark after the summer dismissal of leading scorer and assist man Mike Taylor
. Two other guards also transferred, meaning both perimeter positions will be in new hands. That's not good news for a team that struggled to score from everywhere on the floor last season.
Would you have guessed that Kansas was the best defensive team in the country last season? The Jayhawks had the stingiest defensive efficiency in the nation (allowing only 87.4 points per 100 possessions). While the loss of Julian Wright and the questionable mobility of Brandon Rush
when he returns from his ACL tear may impact the Jayhawks on that end, the bigger challenge for KU will be to improve its ability to get to and convert from the free throw line. Kansas shot a mediocre 66 percent at the free-throw line and made just 14 freebies a game.
If Michael Beasley
and Bill Walker
live up to billing, the Wildcats will be very tough because few teams in the league would have a better "third" option than senior forward David Hoskins
. The 6-5 Hoskins averaged 14.5 points and 5.9 rebounds a game last season and only needed 10 shots a game to do so.
The Tigers jumped from 12 wins to 18 in Mike Anderson's first season in charge and looks primed for more improvement this season. Mizzou returns the vast majority of its production from last season, including four starters, and adds quality Vanderbilt transfer forward DeMarre Carroll
, who averaged 10.9 points and 6.4 rebounds a game as a sophomore. Carroll could be a huge addition for a club that got pounded regularly on the glass last season. The Tigers also will have to tighten up on the perimeter a bit. They allowed way too many uncontested 3s (37.9 percent allowed).
brings his 18.5 points and 8.7 rebounds a game back to Lincoln for his senior season. He's the top returning scorer and rebounder in the Big 12. The Huskers aren't all Maric, though. Sophomore Ryan Anderson
had an excellent debut last season, averaging 10.1 points a game and shooting over 43 percent from the arc. A highly touted incoming class also includes 5-11 guard Steve Harley
, a first-team juco All-American at South Plains College in Texas.
Jeff Capel proved himself to be Jeff Capable last season in his Norman debut. Capel kept the Sooners playing determined defense. Now he needs to improve an offense that struggled, particularly from the arc (32.9 percent; 246th in D-I). Capel still has some pieces in place. Those include physical big man Longar Longar
(10.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg), guard Tony Crocker
(8.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg) and two highly regarded in-state freshmen, 6-9 forward Blake Griffin
and 6-5 guard Cade Davis
Returnees Byron Eaton
, Obi Muonelo
and Terrel Harris
will struggle to make up for the 36 points a night that left with Mario Boggan and JamesOn Curry. Defensive stopper Marcus Dove
should return from a suspension for DUI to provide some bite on the defensive end. Incoming freshmen James Anderson
should make an immediate impact and Brad Garrett
, a transfer from College of Southern Idaho, could provide the perimeter shooting that was lacking at times last season. But the Cowboys had an awful time handling the ball last season, turning it over on over 22 percent of possessions.
If Rick Barnes' beliefs about better balance and rebounding pan out, people might want to watch out for the Horns. Last season, without any true post players, Texas understandably was hurt on the defensive glass (209th in D-I in rebounding rate). Getting more minutes for true post players like Dexter Pittman
also should help remedy Texas' offensive imbalance from last season. Just think if the Horns eventually have highly touted freshman forward Gary Johnson
available. He hasn't been cleared for activity yet after suffering a heart ailment and could end up missing the season.
The Aggies should look different this season, as they lose Acie Law IV and Antanas Kavaliauskas but add stud freshman big man DeAndre Jordan
. Jordan should pair with senior Joseph Jones
to comprise one of the nation's most imposing frontcourt tandems. Then mix in guards Josh Carter
, Donald Sloan
and Dominique Kirk
, and new head coach Mark Turgeon has some very good pieces. "We'll have to pound it inside [more]," Turgeon said. "We're big, strong, we look good, [but] we have a lot of inexperience."
The loss of standout guard Jarrius Jackson is a big one, but the Red Raiders still have Martin Zeno
and Charlie Burgess
as notable returnees, and you know The General will make the sum of these parts better than the individual pieces. Given the Red Raiders' struggles in keeping foes off the glass last season, the additional losses of forwards Darryl Dora and Jon Plefka makes it imperative that Tech finds some size that can contribute. A prime option is 7-footer Elmer Rizvic, who is back after fracturing an eye socket midway through last season.
-- Andy Glockner