Friday , Nov , 04 , 2005 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: With perennial power Kansas likely to take a step back this year,
there could be more than a few teams ready to grab the mantle in the Big 12.
Let’s start with the Texas Longhorns, who have won 20 or more games each of
the last six seasons and have the talent in place to make a run at not only
the conference crown, but also their fourth Final Four appearance. Oklahoma
has won at least 25 games in five of the last six years, and the 2005-06
Sooners appear to have the piece in place to challenge Texas for the top spot
in the conference. The Iowa State Cyclones have arguably the best backcourt in
the league, but plenty of questions down low, while Bob Knight’s Texas Tech
Red Raiders return some potent offensive performers, but will also feature
several fresh faces. Oklahoma State and Kansas are in rebuilding mode, but
both could either exceed preseason expectations or fall even farther off the
pace. As for Texas A&M, Colorado and Missouri, there is talent in place, but
not enough to challenge the Big 12’s elite. Nebraska, Kansas State and Baylor
will likely bring up the rear, although it wouldn’t be all that surprising to
see one or two of them finish a bit higher. This isn’t the dominant Big 12
that has struck fear in the hearts of opponents the last few years, but the
top two or three teams are certainly on par with most in the country — at
least at the outset.


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


TEXAS – With the disappointment of last year’s NCAA Tournament first-round
loss to Nevada still lingering, the Longhorns are hoping to make the nation
stand up and take notice early as they embark on what they hope is their most
memorable campaign ever. The return of standout performers Daniel Gibson (14.2
ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.98 apg) and P.J. Tucker (13.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg) will help the
squad immensely, but it is the loss of a guy who never even donned a Texas
uniform that has coach Rick Barnes and the Longhorn faithful contemplating
“what if”, as gifted swingman C.J. Miles opted to turn pro rather than bring
his game to Austin. Moving on, the ‘Horns will count heavily on Gibson and
Tucker, but will also expect 6-10 sophomore LaMarcus Aldridge (9.9 ppg, 5.9
rpg) and 6-8 senior Brad Buckman (12.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg) to contribute at both
ends of the floor. Both Tucker (suspension) and Aldridge (hip injury) missed a
large chunk of last season, and each is chomping at the bit to get back at it.
Pairing Gibson, last year’s Big 12 Freshman of the Year, with 6-1 senior
Kenton Paulino (6.9 ppg, 2.1 apg) will give the Longhorns some serious court
savvy, while a guy like 5-10 freshman A.J. Abrams could see significant
minutes at the point, allowing Gibson to spend more time lining up his shot.

OKLAHOMA – Kelvin Sampson’s Sooners finished the 2004-05 season an impressive
25-9, which included a 12-4 mark in conference that earned them a share of the
Big 12 title — their first ever and first league crown of any kind in 16
years. Unfortunately, OU’s dreams of a long, prosperous run in the NCAA
Tournament ended with a 67-58 loss to Utah in the second round. With
productive forwards Kevin Bookout and Taj Gray back in the fold, there is
plenty of reason for optimism as this season is set to get underway. The two
seniors averaged a combined 26.1 points and 15.0 rebounds per game last year,
and will be joined by senior guard Terrell Everett (12.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 5.0
apg) to give Sampson an experienced trio that will hopefully lead Oklahoma to
what many think will be another banner year. One guy who could figure into the
Sooners’ plans, particularly once league play rolls around, is UC-Riverside
transfer Nate Carter. The 2003 Big West Conference Freshman of the Year,
Carter brings strength and versatility to the UT lineup. The loss of guards
Drew Lavender and Lawrence McKenzie, who both transferred, will hurt, but the
hope is sophomore David Godbold can raise his level of play enough to take
some of the pressure off Everett in the backcourt. Keep an eye on junior guard
Michael Neal, a former juco All-American who should help the Sooners out on
the perimeter.

IOWA STATE – The Cyclones had moments of brilliance last season, closing the
campaign with wins in 11 of their final 15 games. In fact, coach Wayne
Morgan’s squad started off Big 12 play 0-5, but claimed victory in nine of its
last 11 league games to finish a respectable 9-7, 19-12 overall. With the
talented backcourt tandem of Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock back for another
go, this could be the year Iowa State makes a serious run at the Big 12 title.
Stinson could get consideration for conference player of the year if he is
able to surpass the 17.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game he
averaged a year ago. Not quite as well-rounded, Blalock prefers the role of
primary playmaker (4.9 apg), but certainly has the ability to find the bottom
of the net (12.3 ppg). Look for Philadelphia native Tasheed Carr (5.8 ppg, 2.2
rpg) to see his time on the court increase, and some talented newcomers could
also figure into the mix. At just 6-7, Justin Streff is the tallest returnee,
but not to worry as Morgan went out and landed three 6-10 guys and one at
6-11. How those newcomers fit into the equation remains to be seen, but as
long as Stinson and Blalock are free to do their thing, the Cyclones will be
in the thick of things all season long.

TEXAS TECH – When talking about a Bob Knight coached team, one of the first
things that comes to mind is intensity. Texas Tech, despite not being the most
talented team in the Big 12, will come to play every night and will get
terrific individual efforts from guys who aren’t exactly household names. That
said, the Red Raiders come into this, Knight’s fifth year at the helm, with a
couple of top-notch players on the roster in Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno.
Jackson, a 47 percent shooter from the field, averaged 15.3 points and 3.5
assists per game last season, while Zeno added 12.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and
3.4 assists per contest. While Tech is likely to be among the league’s more
prolific scoring teams, the key to the team’s overall success could lie in its
ability, or lack thereof, to rebound the basketball. Junior forward Darryl
Dora is the Red Raiders’ leading returning rebounder, although his average of
just 4.3 caroms per bout makes you wonder just how effective the club is going
to be on the glass. Could a fifth straight trip to the postseason be in the
cards for Texas Tech? Well, if the team stay healthy and plays up to its
potential, there is no reason to think otherwise.

OKLAHOMA STATE – One might think that coming off a Sweet 16 appearance would
leave a fan base chomping at the bit for more, but such is not the case at
Oklahoma State this year as the loss of three double-digit scorers means the
Cowboys need to re-tool. Legendary coach Eddie Sutton enters his 16th year in
Stillwater, and while this is far from his best team, the 2005-06 Cowboys
aren’t totally devoid of talent. Clearly the best player on the roster,
sophomore guard JamesOn Curry will need to load the Pokes on his back and
carry them most nights. Curry, a former North Carolina recruit, averaged 9.4
ppg last season, but with his playing time likely to increase considerably,
that number should certainly climb. Beyond Curry, there isn’t a returning
player who put up more than 1.3 ppg last year, although a guy like 6-8 junior
David Monds could prove quite valuable. Help will also hopefully come from
some skilled newcomers, among them 6-7 former Florida Gator Mario Boggan and
6-8 freshman Keith Brumbaugh. The team’s starting point guard is likely to be
rookie Byron Eaton, and it will be his job to get the ball to Curry, who will
look to both slash to the basket as well as spot up from three-point range,
where he shot 43 percent from last season helping the Cowboys lead the nation
in that department (.426).

KANSAS – This is clearly going to be the toughest season of the Bill Self-era
in Lawrence, as the Jayhawks, long the class of the Big 12, are likely to
struggle to keep up as the talent on the roster, while undeniable, is pretty
much unproven at this point. Not one guy averaged double figures in scoring
last season, with forward Christian Moody being the closest at just 5.8 ppg.
Adding insult to injury, Moody is also the team’s top returning rebounder, but
he grabbed just 4.3 boards per bout. Self has some skilled newcomers sporting
the red, white and blue, but time will tell whether or not they will be a
factor this season. All three freshman could actually find themselves in the
starting lineup, as Mario Chalmers, Julian Wright and Micah Downs all bring
something different to the table, while a guy like former USC Trojan Rodrick
Stewart could figure into the mix as well. Outside of Oklahoma State, no team
in the conference lost more following last season than the Jayhawks, as former
standouts Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, J.R. Giddens and Aaron Miles accounted
for much of the club’s production. Still, if the rookies and other new faces
prove their worth sooner rather than later, Kansas could wind up surprising
some folks.

TEXAS A&M – Year two of Billy Gillispie’s tenure in College Station should be
every bit as exciting as his first, when the Aggies finished 21-10, completing
the best turnaround in the nation after going a dismal 7-21 in 2003-04. The
return of two double-digit scorers in 6-9 sophomore Joseph Jones (12.7 ppg,
7.3 rpg) and junior guard Acie Law (12.0 ppg, 4.9 apg) means A&M has the
capability to do some positive things on offense, but in the end, someone else
is going to have to step up and make a name for himself for the Aggies to make
a serious climb up the conference ladder. The two most likely candidates are
senior guard Eddie Smith, last year’s NJCAA National Player of the Year, and
6-10 junior center Antanas Kavaliauskas. Both figure to see plenty of playing
time, while a guy like sophomore guard Dominique Kirk will provide stability
in the backcourt, complementing Law’s style with his gritty play at both ends
of the floor. Can the Aggies make it back to the postseason where they won a
pair of NIT games last spring? Perhaps. Although getting there will depend on
several factors, chief among them, health and getting consistent efforts from
players who haven’t shown it at this level yet.

COLORADO – Of the 18 players currently listed on the roster, 10 are seniors
meaning this year’s Colorado squad should be long on maturity. Unfortunately
for coach Ricardo Patton’s club, it’s rather short on talent. Richard Roby is
the Buffaloes’ top returning scorer as he averaged 16 ppg in shooting nearly
45 percent from the field last season. Chris Copeland and Marcus Hall were
both productive guys as well, netting 11.7 and 11.2 ppg, respectively, but
beyond them the cupboard is pretty bare. Hall is CU’s primary playmaker,
having dished out 4.3 apg last season. The Buffs are rather undersized in the
paint, and while 6-9 senior Julius Ashby could up the 6.0 rpg he collected on
average last season, he will definitely need help. Look for 6-3 junior guard
Dominique Coleman to add some scoring punch to the lineup after leading the
juco ranks last season with an average of 27.1 ppg. A tremendous all-around
player, Coleman also grabbed 7.3 rebounds and came up with 3.8 steals per
contest. Playing much bigger and tougher than they did last year is the key to
these Buffs achieving on the court. Well, that and shooting better than the
poor 63 percent they did from the free-throw line.

MISSOURI – Could this be coach Quin Snyder’s last year in Columbia? The safe
money says yes, that is if the Tigers flounder as many expect they will.
Missouri is coming off back-to-back 16-win seasons, but with just one double-
digit scorer back in the fold, it’s going to be difficult to even match that
mediocre number. Thomas Gardner averaged 10.4 ppg from his guard position in
2004-05, but he shot just 36 percent from the floor, including a dismal 27
percent from beyond the arc, and will need to demonstrate a more patient
approach and select his shots better to truly be effective. As for backcourt
mate, Jimmy McKinney, he scored just 7.2 ppg last year, but has the ability to
raise that figure if he too can do a better job than the dreadful 26 percent
he shot from three-point land. Up front, the Tigers will rely heavily on 6-7
sophomore Marshall Brown and 6-9 freshman Leo Criswell. Sophomore guard Jason
Horton played more than 30 minutes per game last season, but averaged just 5.9
points and 3.2 assists per outing, so obviously his ability to raise his
overall level of play will go a long way in helping Mizzou reach its goals,
which at this point would be to simply extend its current run of consecutive
postseason appearances to nine.

NEBRASKA – The Cornhuskers aren’t going to challenge for the Big 12 this
season, but it won’t be for a lack of effort. Coach Barry Collier will have
his team prepared to play each night, but with a glaring lack of proven
talent outside of perhaps one or two guys, Nebraska is almost assured of
finishing in the lower half of the league standings once again. Guard Joe
McCray is coming off a sensational rookie campaign in which he set both a
school and Big 12 freshman record by nailing 80 three-pointers, while 6-11
center Aleks Maric also enjoyed a record-setting first season in Lincoln,
establishing a new school mark for rebounds by a freshman with 169. Senior
guard Jason Dourisseau tallied 9.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game in
2004-05, and he will serve as a solid complement to McCray’s exploits, which
will hopefully yield a better shooting percentage than the .397 he hit for
last year. A couple of talented newcomers should pay dividends almost
immediately, as guards Jamel White and Marcus Walker both have the tools
needed to shine at the major college level. Defense will once again be the key
to the Huskers’ success this season, as they are coming off a year in which
they allowed just 63.9 ppg.

KANSAS STATE – Coming off their best year since winning 20 games in 1998-99,
it will be interesting to see if the Wildcats have what it takes to put
together another successful campaign. K-State went 17-10 in 2004-05, but
finished four games under .500 in Big 12 play (6-10). With three starters back
in the fold the hope is for even better things this time around, but when the
leading scorer among that group, 6-8 forward Cartier Martin, put up just 10.5
ppg, getting overly optimistic about the immediate future is just setting
yourself up for heartache. Joining Martin in the KSU frontcourt could be any a
number of guys, with the best of the bunch probably being Tyler Hughes or
Dramane Diarra. Coach Jim Wooldridge will likely go with four guards in the
starting lineup on most nights, with junior Lance Harris leading the way.
Harris averaged 10.4 ppg in logging just over 26 minutes per contest, and will
need to up his production if the ‘Cats are to play better than .500 ball this
season. Other players who figure to see plenty of action in the K-State
backcourt include sophomore Clent Stewart (5.0 ppg, 4.0 apg), who started
every game last year as a rookie and set a new school record for assists in a
season, as well as juco transfer Mario Taybron. Freshman Delivez Yearby, last
year’s “Mr. Basketball” in the city of Detroit as well as transfer David
Hoskins could also flourish if given the opportunity.

BAYLOR – When it rains it pours, and such is the case with the Baylor men’s
basketball program. As if winning just 17 games the past two seasons combined
isn’t bad enough, the Bears were slapped with one of the most severe penalties
ever (for past infractions), as they will not play a non-conference game this
season. As a result, the Bears won’t open the campaign until January 11, 2006
when they play at Texas Tech. Unlike every other team in the conference, or
the country for that matter, coach Scott Drew won’t know how good his team is
until then so for now it’s just practice, practice and more practice. Guard
Aaron Bruce scored 20 or more points 11 times last season and finished with an
average of 18.2 ppg (tops among all Division I freshmen), and he will be
joined by three other double-digit scorers — Tim Bush (12.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg),
Tommy Swanson (11.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg) and Patrick Fields (11.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.4
apg). The Bears should benefit from having a full complement of scholarship
players, but in order for them to win considerably more than the one lonely
conference game they did last year, some of the new recruits and transfers
will need to contribute right away. Some guys to keep an eye on include 6-9
forward Kevin Rogers, 7-0 Senegal native Mamadou Diene, and 6-11 French import
Mohamed Kone.