Monday , Nov , 08 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Big 12 Conference

*** College Basketball Preview – Big 12 Conference ***

The Sports Network

By Frank Haynes, College Basketball Senior Editor

OUTLOOK: There was drama off the court in the Big 12 heading into last season,
and while some say the conference as a whole underachieved a bit in 2003-04,
there is no question this is still one of the premier leagues in all of
college basketball. All you have to do is consider that the Big 12 has sent
its champion to the Final Four each of the last three years and there is
little doubt as to just how powerful this conference can be. With the likes of
Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa State and Texas Tech
all setting up shop in the Big 12, the teams in this league should once again
send shivers down the spine of all who oppose them. And in fact, it wouldn’t
be all that surprising to see as many as a half dozen find their way into the
2005 NCAA Tournament. Kansas is clearly the class of the Big 12, and perhaps
the nation, heading into the year, although you can bet Eddie Sutton’s
Oklahoma State Cowboys are chomping at the bit to defend the conference crown
they won last year. In addition, Texas should once again be strong, as will
Oklahoma, although the consensus suggests maybe not as much in recent years.
Iowa State is a team on the rise, and Missouri could figure in the mix,
although the news that Quin Snyder’s program is on NCAA probation and had some
scholarships taken away could play into the team’s psyche as the season moves
along. Fortunately, the Tigers are still eligible for postseason play. Bob
Knight’s Texas Tech Red Raiders took a hit following last season, but there is
still enough talent in Lubbock to make some noise, and Nebraska is a
darkhorse, capable of causing nightmares to the team that faces the Huskers
next. Kansas State, Colorado and Texas A&M should all pick up their share of
wins, while Baylor is expected to battle night-in and night-out, but lacks the
overall talent and depth to run with the big boys.


PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Kansas; 2. Oklahoma State; 3. Texas; 4.
Oklahoma; 5. Iowa State; 6. Missouri; 7. Texas Tech; 8. Nebraska; 9. Kansas
State; 10. Colorado; 11. Texas A&M; 12. Baylor


KANSAS – The top-ranked Jayhawks have perhaps three of the top players in the
nation in seniors Wayne Simien and Keith Langford, and sophomore J.R. Giddens.
All three averaged double figures in scoring last season with Simien posting a
near double-double with 17.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Langford poured
in 15.5 ppg and finished second on the team in assists with 3.5 apg, while
Giddens is KU’s top three-point shooter, having drained 40.7 percent from
beyond the arc a year ago. Add senior PG Aaron Miles to the mix, who dished
out 7.3 apg to go with 9.1 ppg in 2003-04, and you have the makings of the Big
12’s top club. Coach Bill Self brought in one of the top recruiting classes in
the nation this offseason, which includes four talented freshman, each of whom
could make an immediate impact. The loss of David Padgett (transfer to
Louisville) was a surprise, but returnees like junior Jeff Hawkins and senior
Michael Lee should make the most of their opportunities. Overall, the Jayhawks
will be one of the more talented, deepest and most experienced teams in the
conference, and that could translate into a league crown and another trip to
the Final Four.

OKLAHOMA STATE – The defending Big 12 champs, Oklahoma State comes into the
2004-05 campaign with high expectations for a repeat run at the league’s top
spot. The Cowboys feature a starting five that boasts an exorbitant amount of
talent at both ends of the floor, including the return of senior PG John
Lucas. The athletic 5-11 Lucas is the team’s top returning scorer (15.1 ppg),
and while he will be asked to fill the basket once again, he will need to get
his teammates into the mix as well. Lucas dished out 4.5 apg last season, and
making sure that both Joey Graham (12.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Ivan McFarlin (12.2
ppg, 6.7 rpg) get more than their share of shots will be crucial to OSU’s
success this year. Graham was the Big 12’s top newcomers last year and he is
expected to become even more of a factor in this his senior season. Another
guy who figures to raise his game to the next level is veteran Daniel Bobik
(7.2 ppg, 2.7 apg). Juco transfer Aaron Pettway should be a bear defensively,
and join with Graham to give the Pokes a formidable presence down low.
Freshman JamesOn Curry brings a wealth a talent to the table as he is the
state of North Carolina’s all-time leading prep scorer, but he has had to deal
with some off-the-court legal issues and the jury is still out as to how that
might affect him.

TEXAS – The Longhorns lost quite a bit following the 2003-04 season, with
solid players like Brandon Mouton, Royal Ivey, Brian Boddicker and James
Thomas all moving on. That quartet accounted for nearly 37 ppg last year,
leaving only sophomore P.J. Tucker as the team’s most reliable scoring threat.
Tucker had a sensational rookie year, averaging 10.4 points and 6.8 rebounds
per game, and shooting a sensational 54.7 percent from the field. Tucker gets
help in the form of 6-8 junior Brad Buckman (5.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and 6-9 senior
Jason Klotz (7.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg). But the guys who could make the biggest splash
are freshmen Daniel Gibson and LaMarcus Aldridge. Gibson, the preseason choice
for Big 12 Freshman of the Year, is likely to start at the point and he has
been compared to former UT great T.J. Ford, while Aldridge, who is rather raw
offensively, could become an anchor down low on defense. Expect the ‘Horns to
falter at times due to an apparent lack of scoring punch, but for them to
certainly win more often than not and challenge both the Jayhawks and Cowboys
for league supremacy should they get find a groove at the offensive end.

OKLAHOMA – After failing to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in a
decade, Oklahoma is poised for a return to the Big Dance despite the loss of
some key personnel. Gone are solid players in Jason Detrick, Jabahri Brown and
De’Angelo Alexander, the last of which really hurts as Alexander was expected
to be one of the centerpieces of this year’s Sooner squad but decided to
transfer to Charlotte. Still, coach Kelvin Sampson won’t have to go into
battle without ammunition as guys like Drew Lavender, Lawrence McKenzie
and Kevin Bookout have the skills needed to carry the team. Lavender and
McKenzie are both sophomores who combined for nearly 20 ppg last season,
while Bookout, a junior, has been hampered by injuries in the past but
averaged 7.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in 2003-04. Former juco All-
American Taj Gray is someone to keep an eye on as he is a terror at both ends
of the floor, while sophomore Brandon Foust really came on at the end of last
season and will be counted on to become a more effective scorer. The bottom
line for Oklahoma is that it will need to find someone, or a few guys,
to really raise their game offensively as scoring is the one area that
appears to be the team’s most glaring weakness.

IOWA STATE – The Cyclones could make a major splash this season, particularly
if sophomore Curtis Stinson is able to continue the kind of dominance he
displayed as a rookie last year when he averaged 16.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and
4.3 assists per game. Even then, ISU will need to get consistent play from
sophomore Will Blalock (7.5 ppg, 4.1 apg) and senior Jared Homan (11.1 ppg,
6.3 rpg) for the team to be truly successful. Frontcourt depth could be a
problem, especially if Homan isn’t able to live up to expectations. A couple
of former juco standouts could also figure into the mix, with 6-8 sophomore
Robert Faulkner expected to see plenty of minutes at power forward after
missing last season with a knee injury, and 6-5 junior Anthony Davis expected
to bring a certain toughness to the court, especially at the defensive end.
Coach Wayne Morgan is sure to have his Cyclones ready to blow through the
competition, but unlike last year when they snuck up on some people and
claimed big-time wins over ranked league foes in Kansas and Texas en route to
20 victories and a run to the NIT semifinals, few teams will take them lightly
this time around.

MISSOURI – The Tigers come into the season having recently been reprimanded by
the NCAA for what many view as some minor infractions. Coach Snyder now has
the task of getting his team focused and ready for the wars that lie ahead,
and fortunately for him he has highly skilled guys like Linas Kleiza and Jason
Conley at his disposal. Conley is a former NCAA scoring champion while at VMI,
but is coming off a year in which he averaged just 7.6 ppg, his first at
Missouri. Conley got off to a slow start last season, but came on strong and
was one of the Tigers’ top offensive performers at season’s end. Kleiza, a 6-8
sophomore who averaged 11.1 points and 8.4 rebounds per contest last year
before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury, is expected to continue his
progression and serve as a nice complement to Conley. Snyder will also look to
junior Jimmy McKinney to pick up some of the scoring lost when Arthur Johnson,
Ricky Paulding and Travon Bryant took their combined 42.1 ppg out of Columbia
following last season. Snyder brought in a talented crop of freshmen,
including point guard Jason Horton who could push for a ton of playing time

TEXAS TECH – The loss of the Big 12’s all-time leading scorer in Andre Emmett
will certainly hurt the Red Raiders, but coach Knight’s squad should still
cause the opposition fits as they look to climb the ladder and challenge for
the league title. Emmett averaged 20.6 points and 6.6 caroms per contest last
year, and that kind of production and bona fide star power is simply something
you can’t make up, unless you have a stable of talented guys ready to assume
that role. Fortunately for Tech, it has one of the best backcourts in the
conference in sophomore Jarrius Jackson and senior Ronald Ross. Jackson
averaged 11.3 ppg last year, while Ross led the team with 3.1 apg and added
10.1 ppg in hitting nearly 50 percent of his field goal attempts. Rebounding
may be the team’s Achilles’ heel this season as the tallest guy on the roster
is just 6-9 (sophomore Darryl Dora) and the leading returning board sweeper
averaged only 5.0rpg (senior Devonne Giles). Still, Knight has a knack for
getting his guys to overachieve so it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see the Red
Raiders pulling off more than a few upsets on the way to a possible postseason

NEBRASKA – Despite the loss of the team’s top two scorers, expectations are
high in Lincoln to repeat or possibly even exceed last year’s 18-13 mark. The
Cornhuskers went just 6-10 in league play, but they were competitive in
several of those losses. For coach Barry Collier’s squad to be successful this
time around, the four senior starters are going to have to lead by example.
The backcourt tandem of Jake Muhleisen and Marcus Neal combined for just 13.0
points and 3.7 assists per game last year, so needless to say they will have
to raise their level of play considerably. Up front, veterans Corey Simms (4.8
ppg, 3.6 rpg) and John Turek (9.8 ppg, 5.9 rpg) should get theirs, and big
things are also expected from Jason Dourisseau and Aleks Maric, the latter of
whom is a highly regarded freshman who could fill a real need down low.
Dourisseau, a 6-5 junior, has the ability to score in bunches and will be
looked upon to add some offensive punch off the bench. Keep an eye on newcomer
Marcus Perry who could wind up the starting point guard after averaging better
than 25 ppg last year en route to being named a juco All-American honorable
mention selection.

KANSAS STATE – With one of the Big 12’s top players on the roster, the
Wildcats are poised to make some real noise this season. Senior Jeremiah
Massey earned the league’s Newcomer of the Year award in 2003-04 after
averaging 14.7 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. Massey is clearly the
centerpiece of the Wildcat attack, but he should get help from junior Marques
Hayden (8.0 ppg, 6.5 rpg), sophomore Cartier Martin (6.9 ppg, 3.0 rpg), and
the ‘Cats are hoping former juco Third-Team All-American Fred Peete can make
the transition to major college basketball rather easily. K-State won just six
Big 12 games last season, and getting off to a fast start in the non-
conference portion of its schedule is crucial for building confidence, which
the Wildcats will need plenty of come the league opener in early January.

COLORADO – Coach Ricardo Patton has his work cut out for him as he must find
replacements for four starters, including three double-digit scorers. It
appears as if the starting lineup will consist of four juniors and a
sophomore, none of whom averaged more than 5.0 ppg last year. Patton welcomes
a slew of newcomers, the most talented of which is 6-7 junior Martane Freeman
who averaged 19.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.0 steals per contest as a juco
standout a year ago. There is a huge hole in the middle as shot-blocking fiend
David Harrison is gone, but expect 6-11 junior Lamont Arrington and 6-9 junior
Julius Ashby to both see time there, as will former Loyola Marymount Lion Andy
Osborn. It will probably take some time for the Buffs to gain the kind of
cohesiveness needed to make a run at the postseason, but an aggressive early
non-conference schedule should have the team prepared for the rigors of a
long, grueling Big 12 campaign.

TEXAS A&M – Former UTEP head coach Billy Gillispie is the new man in charge of
the Aggies, replacing Melvin Watkins whose team went a dismal 7-21 last year
and lost all 12 conference games. Just a year after leading the Miners to a
miserable a 6-24 mark, Gillispie shined in 2003-04 as UTEP went a stellar 24-8
and earned an NCAA Tournament berth, and the hope is he can do something
similar for an A&M program that hasn’t been invited to the Big Dance since
1987. There is only one player of note on this year’s roster, junior Antoine
Wright (13.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.3 apg), so Gillispie certainly has some work to
do. The Aggie faithful hope that sophomore Acie Law (7.5 ppg) can raise his
level of play, and that newcomers Marcus McIntosh, Edjuan Green and Joseph
Jones get into a comfort zone in their new digs sooner rather than later. The
key to the season will be the play of Wright and whether or not at least one
or two others make a positive impact. While the first part of that equation
should come to fruition, the latter is anyone’s guess at this point.

BAYLOR – The cupboard is pretty bare in Waco these days, although second-year
head coach Scott Drew has a plan and is hoping his current roster of players
can play above their means and execute it to perfection. If they are able to
play consistent basketball at both ends of the court, the Bears could actually
steal some games. If they do so, it will be because sophomore transfers
Patrick Fields, Tim Bush and Roscoe Biggers make the kind of impact Drew and
the BU faithful hopes. Bush played previously at LSU and came over midway
through last season, while Biggers is expected to see plenty of playing time
at the point, and Fields is probably the team’s most versatile player. With
just one returning starter, 6-9 junior Tommy Swanson (6.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg), the
Bears are likely to struggle at both ends of the floor, at least until the
newcomers find their rhythm and the unit as a whole shows some cohesion.