The Texas A&M Aggies are making the jump to the SEC next year, but we see them bowing out of the Big 12 in style by nipping Baylor for the conference title in their final year, with Kansas falling to third.
The 2011-12 NCAA Basketball season is now just two weeks away, so after looking at the ACC and the Big Ten in previous articles, we now continue our preseason previews with the Big 12.
The Big 12 could be running on fumes these days, as this is now actually a 10-team conference after the defections of the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Colorado Buffaloes. There is already another confirmed defection coming up with the Texas A&M Aggies moving to the SEC next season, and odds are becoming increasingly good that the Missouri Tigers are set to jump as well.
It looks like it will also be a new era for this conference on the court as well, as after winning the regular season title the last seven consecutive seasons, this looks like the year that the Kansas Jayhawks finally come back to the pack. We predict Kansas to have a third place finish this season in a year where the conference really has no serious national title contenders.
The Baylor Bears are a popular NCAA Basketball pick to win the conference this season, and they are indeed currently the +150 favorites to do so. While we agree that the Bears are the team to beat, we are looking for Texas A&M to bow out of the Big 12 with style by winning the conference in their final season in the conference at a decent +500 price.
Here is our entire Big 12 Basketball Preview, including the current odds from The Greek Sports Book for each team to win the regular season conference title.
1 – Texas A&M (+500): The Aggies were a seventh seeds in the NCAA Tournament last season, but they lost their first game in the Big Dance to 10th seeded Florida State. That was not a bad loss though considering how far the Seminoles went, and the Aggies now return their two leading scorers in Khris Middleton and David Loubeau. This is a team that finished at 24-9 last year while getting mediocre at best point guard play, but they may have solved that problem with blue-chip recruit Jamal Branch, who is a great distributor and should start from the get-go. We feel that Texas A&M offers the best value at this price to win the conference.
2 – Baylor (+150): The Bears disappointingly missed out on post-season play last season after taking eventual national champion Duke down to the wire in the Elite Eight two years ago. The good news is that Baylor returns four starters from what was one of the best rebounding teams in the country last year, including the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year Perry Jones III. The bad news is that the one starter not returning is the all time leading scorer in the Big 12, LaceDarius Dunn. That said, the Bears reloaded nicely with Junior College Player of the Year Pierre Jackson and freshman Deuce Bello, and although they are young, that duo can comprise an exciting backcourt.
3 – Kansas (+175): The Jayhawks have dominated this conference for seven years, only to disappoint many times in the NCAA Tournament, such as last year’s shocking loss to VCU. Maybe they will perform better with lower expectations? The Jayhawks return only one starter and lost six of the top eight scorers from a team that finished 35-3 last season, and to add insult to injury, top signee Ben McLemore is ineligible to play in games this season and they lost another signee Braeden Anderson because of academic injuries. Kansas has not been this vulnerable in a long time and they will always get the opposing team’s best shot after beating up on the opposition for so many years, making the Jayhawks terrible bets in our eyes at this price.
4 – Missouri (+650): The Tigers could end up in the top three in the conference if new coach Frank Haith, who was often criticized for not being able to make in-game adjustments while coaching the Miami Hurricanes, does not hold back the offense. This is a very experienced club that returns five players that averaged double-digits in points last season. One thing that Haith has always done well is coach defense, so he should enjoy coaching a club that creates offense with its pressing defense. Missouri forced turnovers on 24.5 percent of opponents’ possessions last season, which was ninth best in the country.
5 – Texas (+800): Speaking of defense, the Longhorns were playing like the best team in the country in the middle of last year thanks to a great defense that ended up ranking second in the nation in defensive efficiency according to the Pomeroy Ratings. Unfortunately, that becomes moot with no returning starters. That said, the Horns do have one of the best recruiting classes in the country led by Canadian point guard Myck Kabongo, and that could be enough be beat out the other five teams is what looks like a down year for this conference after the top four teams.
6 – Kansas State (+1200): Kansas State earned a five-seed in the Big Dance last season and it beat 12th seeded Utah State before losing to the Wisconsin Badgers in the next round. However, the Wildcats lost the school’s leading scorer of all time in Jacob Pullen. That kind of production cannot be replaced at a school not known for outstanding recruiting, so a couple of role players from last season, swingman Rodney McGruder and forward Jamar Samuels, will be asked to pick up the slack offensively. One thing that Kansas State does have is a great head coach in Frank Martin that has allowed teams to overachieve in the past, but this year’s group is definitely a work-in-progress.
7 – Oklahoma State (+1000): The Cowboys are looking for one of the top recruits in the country, small forward LeBryan Nash, to lead them this season, which should give you an idea of just how limited the returning talent is. Oklahoma State won 20 games last season, but the Cowboys return only two starters, and only one of them will start for the time being as the other, Darrell Williams, has been suspended while facing felony rape charges. That leaves this club very thin up front and needing to rely on junior college transfer Phillip Jurick and redshirt freshman Mike Cobbins, which along with Nash makes this a very young squad.
8 – Iowa State (+2000): Iowa State returns leading scorer Scott Christopherson, who hit on an amazing 44 percent of his three-point attempts last season, and he may have a better supporting cast around him than last year, albeit with a lot of turnover. The Cyclones lost three seniors as well as three other players that transferred out of the school, but they also added four transfers in with three of those coming from Big Ten schools. The transfers include Chris Allen from Michigan State and Chris Babb from Penn State, and along with Christopherson, Coach Fred Hoiberg may elect to utilize that trio in a small three-guard offense.
9 – Oklahoma (+2000): The Sooners may be experienced with four starters returning, but remember that this was a very bad team last year and the one starter not returning was their leading scorer in Cade Davis. The team does add some size in 6-foot-8 Mississippi State transfer Romero Osby, who will actually start at the small forward position. The problem is that the starting power forward will again be Andrew Fitzgerald, and while he is the team’s leading returning scorer and rebounder, he too is 6-foot-8, meaning that the team will again struggle on the boards like last season.
10 – Texas Tech (+5000): The Red Raiders could end up being one of the worst Division I teams in the country, as they return just one starter from a team that went 13-19 last season with nine incoming freshman, and none of those are regarded as blue-chippers. However, Texas Tech does have a fine new head coach in Billy Gillispie, formerly the coach at Texas A&M and Kentucky and a very good recruiter, but this team will go though some severe growing pains this season, although its future may be bright.