Conference Previews: Big Ten

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By Ryan Feldman
rfeldman@thehoopsreport.com

Friday, November 7, 2008

Projected All-Conference First Team
Curtis Jerrells 6-1 Sr. PG Baylor
A.J. Abrams 5-11 Sr. PG Texas
James Anderson 6-6 So. SG Oklahoma State
Damion James 6-7 Jr. SF Texas
Blake Griffin 6-10 So. PF Oklahoma

Projected All-Conference Second Team
Josh Carter 6-7 Sr. SF Texas A&M
LaceDarius Dunn 6-4 So. SG Baylor
DeMarre Carroll 6-8 Sr. PF Missouri
Leo Lyons 6-9 Sr. PF Missouri
Sherron Collins 5-11 Jr. PG Kansas

Projected All-Conference Third Team
Connor Atchley 6-10 Sr. C Texas
Jacob Pullen 6-1 So. PG Kansas State
Alan Voskuil 6-3 Sr. SG Texas Tech
Willie Warren 6-3 Fr. SG Oklahoma
Byron Eaton 5-11 Sr. PG Oklahoma State

Projected Player of the Year: Blake Griffin 6-10 So. PF Oklahoma

Projected Standings
1. Texas
2. Oklahoma
3. Baylor
4. Oklahoma State
5. Kansas
6. Texas A&M
7. Missouri
8. Kansas State
9. Texas Tech
10. Nebraska
11. Iowa State
12. Colorado

Despite the loss of players like Michael Beasley, Bill Walker, Mario Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur and D.J. Augustin, the top half of the Big 12 should still be as competitive as, if not more than, last season. The conference boasted six 20-win teams, all of which (Kansas, Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas A&M) were invited to the NCAA tournament, and Kansas went on to win the national championship in stunning fashion with an overtime win over Memphis. The Big 12 also had 10 players drafted in the 2008 NBA Draft, two of which (Beasley and Augustin) went in the top 10 and five that were on the national championship Kansas team.

The teams hit the hardest after the conclusion of last season are the reigning champions and their in-state neighbors, Kansas Sate. For the Jayhawks, Bill Self will have to replace all five starters from a team that went 31-3 and 13-3 in the conference. Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Russell Robinson accounted for 80 percent of the Kansas offense in 2007-08. Sherron Collins will be looked to for immense production, as will Cole Aldrich, the only returning players who factored into the championship run.

Kansas State will have to overcome the loss of phenom Michael Beasely, as well as the team's second leading scorer, Bill Walker. Both went pro following last season – Beasely was drafted No. 2 overall and Walker went in the second round. The two together combined to average over 42 points and almost 19 rebounds per game last year. That dominance will be sorely missed in Manhattan.

Getting to the teams that don't stand to lose too much despite departures from last year, Texas is primed for continued success. Even though D.J. Augustin is no longer wearing burnt orange and white, A.J. Abrams and Damion James will be ready to suit up for Rick Barnes and hope to bring home a Big 12 championship, if not more, to Austin. Abrams and James combined for nearly 30 points per game last year while also both averaging over 30 minutes per game.

The team that could surprise everyone in the Big 12 will be Baylor. The Bears broke 20 wins last season, and should improve upon that even more this year. They return 80 percent of their scoring from last season, including Curtis Jerrells, who is arguably one of the best guards in the conference and the country. An excellent shooting team (45 percent from field, 38 percent from 3-point range), Baylor should contend for the conference title and make a deep run in March.

The Oklahoma Sooners also look to get back to national prominence and their upward climb is moving along at a great pace. The loss of Longar Longar should be counter balanced by the dominance of Blake Griffin, one of the nation's best big men. Incoming McDonald's All-American Willie Warren will make waves early due to his incredibly athletic nature. If he sticks around for a few years, he could turn into one of the premier players in the country. Oklahoma posted an impressive 23-win mark last season, something that should be easily reached and surpassed this season.

No one named Sutton will be on the bench for the Oklahoma State Cowboys, but the top four scorers (James Anderson, Byron Eaton, Tarrel Harris, Obi Muonelo) do return for new head coach Travis Ford, and those four players provided well over half the offense last year. The new run and gun offense Ford is bringing in should benefit this already talented Cowboys team.

Josh Carter is the only returning weapon for the Aggies of Texas A&M. Last season, he averaged 12.2 points and nearly four rebounds and shot 42 percent from the field. A&M will need immediate production from freshman point guard Deshan Harris and power forward David Loubeau, who should both be starting in the season opener. These three impact players will all need to step up if the Aggies want to make a dent in the Big 12.

Pat Knight, son of legendary coach Bob Knight, is back on the bench for the Texas Tech Red Raiders, and he's bringing back his backcourt. John Roberson and Alan Voskuil averaged 12.3 and 13.1 points per game, respectively. Despite having these two experienced scorers back, the Red Raiders have no real frontcourt threat. If Knight can't put anyone on the court that can help Roberson and Voskuil carry the load, it's going to be a long year in Lubbock.

Coming off a 20-win season, the Nebraska Cornhuskers do lose their only dominate player form that squad in center Aleks Maric, who averaged 15.7 points, 10.2 rebounds and shot 57 percent from the field. The Huskers will have to get to work and find an identity early if they are to achieve back-to-back 20 win seasons for the first time this decade.

Once a solid program, Missouri has fallen off in recent years. The Tigers haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 2003, but things may be looking up. Coming off a disappointing season full of suspensions, Mizzou returns three of its top five scorers from a year ago, all three of whom bring senior leadership to an otherwise young team. A berth in the NIT would be considered a success for this team after finishing 10th in the conference a year ago.

The Iowa State Cyclones should be looking very similar, if not worse, than last year's team. They lose their top two scorers and three out the five to transfers, graduation or early entry in the NBA Draft. Iowa State will have a tough time racking up wins in the Big 12 this season.

The bottom of the barrel in the Big 12 will once again belong to the Colorado Buffaloes. The top two returning scorers only combined for 12.7 points last year, which is less than most teams' average bench points. A massive 65 percent of the scoring is gone from a year ago, not a good number for an already terrible team. Like Iowa State, the Buffaloes will be lucky to pick up a few wins in conference play this season.

The 2008-09 season should be just as exciting for fans of the Big 12 as it was last season. The top tier programs should not disappoint in providing high scoring, high energy basketball all season long. It should be fun to watch the new season unfold to see if any of the middle of the road teams step it up and challenge the top of the pack. Ford is the key word in the Big 12 this year. Not only is Travis Ford the new Oklahoma State coach, but Big 12 championship will be at the Ford Center in Oklahoma City, and if one or more of the Big 12 teams get lucky, they could be playing in the Final Four at Ford Field in Detroit.


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