Originally Published: August 27, 2010

Five things to know this offseason

Eamonn Brennan
ESPN.com

1. That's enough realignment for now, thanks: Though it won't have much effect on the upcoming season, conference realignment was the biggest story of the Big 12 offseason. For a while there, it looked as though the conference would essentially disintegrate, with a few schools fleeing for the Pac-10 and the rest -- including traditional hoops powerhouse Kansas -- desperately scrambling to find a home. It almost got that bad. Fortunately, the damage was minimal. The Big 12 (now the, um, Big 10?) was spared. Only Nebraska (2011) and Colorado (2012) will be leaving the conference, and while those departures have major implications for the football side of things, their effect on Big 12 hoops should amount to addition by subtraction. By this time in two years, the Big 12 will be a taut, highly competitive league with nary a doormat to step on. Assuming conference realignment is over, that is. Ahem.

Ron Chenoy/US PresswireIf the Big 12 is to remain among the nation's elite, LaceDarius Dunn and Baylor have to continue their upward trajectory.

2. So, just how good can this league be? Most agree that the departure of CU and Nebraska will make the Big 12 a tougher league top to bottom; had both schools been gone in 2009-10, the conference would have been one of the strongest in the past 10 years. Still, in the here and now, is the 2010-11 Big 12 the best conference in the country? It just might be. Kansas State, Kansas, and Baylor could all be Final Four teams. Missouri and Texas are both talented enough to compete with that group and make deep tournament runs. Oklahoma State and Texas A&M are rebuilding but should manage to find a way into the league's top half. The Big Ten might have a better elite contingent, and the Big East should still be a force, but the Big 12 -- even with a steep dropoff and its two historic also-rans in hoops purgatory for another season -- will be top of mind in any "best conference" discussion in the months to come.

3. Can Rick Barnes put it together? Last season was not Barnes' finest. The Texas Longhorns were one of the nation's most talented teams, and for the first half of the season they looked it. Then, inexplicably, the wheels came off, and the Horns went from being the undefeated No. 1 team in the country to a 9-7 Big 12 finish. Somewhere in there, Barnes admitted to an ESPN The Magazine reporter that he was less concerned with winning a national championship than with getting players to the NBA. Whoops. This season's Longhorns are nearly as talented as last season's team. Barnes put together another impressive recruiting class that features two of the best recruits you'll see anywhere in forward Tristan Thompson and guard Cory Joseph. So talent is not the problem. Whether Barnes can find a way to get that talent to co-exist -- to function as more than the sum of its impressive parts, especially in the backcourt -- will say a lot about whether UT's head man is a college basketball coach or a talent scout with nicer suits.

4. Dude, where's my ticket? The Kansas basketball program had a rough few months. First, there was the shocking loss to Northern Iowa that ended KU's brilliant 33-win campaign faster than you can say Ali Farokhmanesh (which, given the syllables at work there, is probably a bad example). Then the summer scandal came: An internal investigation revealed that Kansas employees had stolen and resold at least 17,609 premium basketball tickets, siphoning off at least $1 million (and possibly much more than that) from the school's athletics department. Other reports surfaced detailing the sale of tickets by players' families to seedy brokers like the Pump brothers, one of college basketball's most unseemly duos. The scandal and ensuing federal investigation may have impacted athletic director Lew Perkins' decision to retire after the 2011-12 school year. The only good news is that KU's ticket issues shouldn't impact the basketball program on the court. If you have to have an offseason scandal, it's probably better this way.

5. Don't believe me? Just ask Oklahoma: Speaking of bad offseasons, OU coach Jeff Capel's has been one of the worst in the country. After a disappointing, disjointed 13-18 season, Capel learned that freshman point guard Tommy Mason-Griffin and freshman forward Keith "Tiny" Gallon were hastily heading to the NBA. Sophomore Willie Warren joined them. Much more troubling is Oklahoma's internal investigation, which the school opened after media reports that Gallon had allegedly accepted $3,000 from a Florida financial advisor by way of a former Sooners assistant. Thanks to Kelvin Sampson's phone habits, the basketball program was already on NCAA probation. And if all that wasn't bad enough, the departures of Oklahoma's three young stars have left Capel scrambling to fill out his roster. The Sooners have little chance of remaining competitive in 2010-11, and that might be the least of their worries.

Fran Fraschilla's Big 12 predictions

Fran Fraschilla
ESPN.com

1. Kansas: A big key to the Jayhawks' season is in the hands of the NCAA right now as it investigates the eligibility of star freshman Josh Selby. Meanwhile, 6-foot-8 junior Marcus Morris is primed for an All-American year, and there is still a bevy of talented players on Bill Self's roster capable of winning another Big 12 title.

2. Kansas State: No team in the country mirrors its coach's intensity better than the Wildcats and Frank Martin. Senior point guard Jacob Pullen put himself on the radar of NBA scouts after a solid summer with the USA Basketball select team that practiced with the pros. Jamar Samuels is an under-the-radar warrior, 6-10 juco transfer Fred Asprilla is a beast, and if 6-10 senior Curtis Kelly continues to improve his intensity, another deep NCAA run is a probability.

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Ron Chenoy/US PresswireMorris and Kelly will again be two key players in not only the Sunflower State, but the Big 12.

3. Missouri: The eligibility of star recruit Tony Mitchell is iffy at this point, but Mike Anderson has a boatload of quality guards from which to unleash on Big 12 opponents. Juniors Kim English and Marcus Denmon and sophomore Michael Dixon Jr. are all capable scorers, and 5-10 freshman point guard Phil Pressey will dazzle with his passing.

4. Baylor: Replacing senior point guard Tweety Carter may be just as hard as replacing NBA lottery selection Ekpe Udoh. Fortunately, Baylor continues to attract quality recruits to Waco. Perry Jones, a 6-11 freshman, is one solid season away from being a top-five selection in next June's NBA draft. And, of course, LaceDarius Dunn -- who scores like he breathes -- is back for what should be a prolific senior season.

5. Texas: After a 17-0 start, nothing seemed to go right for Rick Barnes and the Longhorns. Graduation hit Texas hard, so fellow Canadian freshmen and McDonald's All-Americans, Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, will get to jump-start this team immediately. Joseph's leadership at point guard is sorely needed and will allow sophomore J'Covan Brown to play off the ball more.

6. Texas A&M: The Aggies were hit hard by the graduation of Bryan Davis and Donald Sloan, but they left behind a residue of recent success under coach Mark Turgeon. David Loubeau is just some more consistency -- especially on the glass -- away from being a Big 12 star as he enters his junior season. Senior B.J. Holmes is a spark plug.

7. Oklahoma State: Losing Big 12 player of the year James Anderson is a blow, but Travis Ford has recruited well. If 6-8 freshman Michael Cobbins and the other Cowboys newcomers are as good as advertised, the Pokes will be sneaky good.

8. Texas Tech: Pat Knight has his deepest team since taking over at Texas Tech. Seniors Mike Singletary and John Roberson helped the Red Raiders to the third round of the NIT last season and can use the strong finish to push for the top half of the conference this time around.

9. Colorado: New Buffs coach Tad Boyle inherits two of the Big 12's most underrated players and one of the league's four best backcourts as well in senior Cory Higgins and sophomore Alec Burks. In fact, if the coaching transition goes smoothly, a postseason appearance is not out of the question.

10. Nebraska: No one gets more out of his team in the conference than Nebraska head coach Doc Sadler. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much talent to work with recently. Junior college help is on the way for the nation's shortest team a year ago.

11. Oklahoma: The Sooners lost 52 points, 20 rebounds and four starters from a team that massively underachieved with three McDonald's All-Americans a season ago. It's back to the drawing board as Jeff Capel and his staff put an emphasis on character as well as talent this year. Senior Cade Davis fits that mold to a tee, but it probably won't be enough.

12. Iowa State: The big star in Ames right now is hometown hero and former Cyclones star Fred Hoiberg, who has taken over the coaching duties. He will have great support initially, but "The Mayor" takes over a team whose cupboard is almost completely bare.

10 key players around the league

Eamonn Brennan
ESPN.com

Jacob Pullen, Kansas State: If KSU is going to win its first regular-season Big 12 title in more than 30 years, Pullen will be a big reason. The Wildcats will need him to score at the same high rate as last year's breakout performance, but they'll also need him to push the pace and manage the game at the same breakneck pace as departed point guard Denis Clemente.

Curtis Kelly, Kansas State: With Clemente gone and Pullen assuming even more of the scoring load, the Wildcats will need Kelly to do even more at forward. Kelly is a big-time rebounder and post defender already, but he'll have to be a consistent scorer in the post, too.

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Andrew Shurtleff for ESPN.comCameron Clark will lead the rebuilding effort at Oklahoma.

Josh Selby, Kansas: Assuming he gets eligible in time for the season, Selby could end up being the difference between a good Kansas team and a great one. He is one of a few true stars in the incoming class, a run-first point guard that could help the Jayhawks get over the loss of high-scoring backcourt mates Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry.

Marcus Morris, Kansas: Morris has always been somewhat of a role player during his time at Kansas, but with Cole Aldrich now patrolling NBA interiors, Morris will have to be much more than that. Fortunately, he has the game; few players of Morris' size and strength can play inside out and hit jumpers from the perimeter with consistency.

Kim English, Missouri: English was Mizzou's leading scorer in 2009-10, and he's back for what should be a productive junior season. The famously dedicated player -- he once bunked down in the Missouri gym so he could work out in the mornings before class -- will also need to be a leader, as the Tigers' top-15 recruiting class, while talented, will only go as far as the team's veterans can take them.

LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor: Much like Pullen, Dunn went from relative obscurity in 2008-09 to stardom in 2009-10. Much like Pullen, Dunn's team will need him to do even more, as the graduation of Tweety Carter leaves a big gap in the Baylor backcourt.

Perry Jones, Baylor: The Bears will also need their star freshman to live up to his hype. Jones is arguably the most tantalizing NBA prospect in the 2010 class, but he has the lottery-sized shoes of athletic forward Ekpe Udoh to fill. If he can approximate some of Udoh's production alongside Quincy Acy, Baylor could be even better than last season's Elite Eight team.

Jordan Hamilton, Texas: Hamilton was wild as a freshman in 2009-10 -- he often seemed to think he was in the game for no other reason than to shoot -- but his talent and pedigree are undeniable. If the swingman becomes more consistent and harnesses all that talent, he could make Texas' backcourt rotation woes a thing of the past.

Cory Joseph, Texas: Speaking of Texas backcourt rotation woes, much of the Longhorns' long slide in 2009-10 was due to an inconsistent backcourt with plenty of talent but little cohesion. Joseph is by all accounts a complete player, and he'll need to bring some measure of balance to the Texas guard corps if the Horns expect to compete for the Big 12 title.

David Loubeau, Texas A&M: Loubeau isn't a household name. What he is, after the departures of Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis, is A&M's leading returning rebounder (4.7) and second-leading scorer (9.2, just a smidge behind B.J. Holmes). If the Aggies want to avoid an uncharacteristic slide in 2010-11, Loubeau will have to prove he's more than a complementary piece.

10 freshmen we can't wait to see

John Stovall
ESPN Recruiting

Perry Jones, PF, Baylor: Based on talent alone, he should be one of the best impact freshmen in the country. There is very little that Jones can't do on the court, and he is probably the most talented incoming freshman in the Big 12. The loss of Ekpe Udoh leaves a hole on the interior. Jones is looking to go one-and-done, and the opportunity is there for him to put up major numbers.

Josh Selby, PG, Kansas: He is a dynamic scoring guard whose game is made for transition. It will be interesting to see him in a little more structure, assuming his eligibility issues are cleared up. Selby is a player that is looking to get to the NBA as soon as possible. The losses of Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry leave some openings on the perimeter for the Jayhawks, and Selby will be hunting those openings.

Tony Mitchell, PF, Missouri: Another player facing NCAA eligibility issues, Mitchell is a versatile forward who can play the wing forward or power forward positions, and is one of the better sleeper recruits in the country. He was definitely good enough to have been a McDonald's All-American. If he plays, look for him to be a major contributor, because Mizzou's baseline was not great last season.

Cameron Clark, SF, Oklahoma: The Sooners will be reloading after suffering three early-entry draft defections. But Clark is a great piece to start that process. He is an exceptional athlete who is great in transition and has a surprisingly effective mid-range game. He should be an impact player as a freshman.

Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas: The big Canadian lefty is one of the better post players entering college. Texas graduated Dexter Pittman to the NBA, so playing time is available. Thompson can score inside, rebound and help clog the lane. He will definitely play, and don't be surprised to see him starting. How much he progresses will determine how much he is on the court.

Cory Joseph, PG, Texas: He is a tremendous talent, but Texas has a crowded backcourt. From a total-package standpoint, he may be the best point guard on campus; however, he does lack experience. Joseph may have a tough time starting, but he will get significant playing time because he's just too talented not to.

Phil Pressey, PG, Missouri: He can play, but the Tigers' backcourt also has a few returning players. However (like Joseph), Pressey has as much, if not more, talent than all the point guard returnees. He is quick, strong, fast and a solid decision-maker. He will force coach Mike Anderson to put him on the floor.

Michael Cobbins, PF, Oklahoma State: He was injured as a junior, so it will be interesting to see how far he has progressed two years later. The Cowboys need impactful size inside, and though Cobbins is not thick, he is long and active and can block a shot.

Daniel Alexander, PF, Texas A&M: Alexander is a very good high-post player who can stretch the defense offensively. He is a solid athlete and a little undervalued nationally. As long as he stays aggressive, Alexander will see the court with his unique skill set.

Shane Southwell, SF, Kansas State: He is a mismatch offensively thanks to his size and skill set. Southwell could be a point-forward type for the Wildcats because he is a good passer and a solid decision-maker. He will give K-State solid size on the perimeter.

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