For the rest of the week, we’ll be picking the players, coaches and teams most likely to do some big things, or, well, bad things for the upcoming season. We’ll start today with four individuals poised for big seasons.
Most Likely to Win National Player of the Year:
Cody Zeller: Easy answer, right? He’s being heralded as the best player in the nation on the best team in the nation. As someone who grew up in southern Indiana watching and reading about all three Zeller brothers, I’m pretty excited to see what Cody is capable of this year. Simply put, he can do it all. With freshman year averages of 15.6 points per game, 6.6 rebounds and a 62 percent field goal percentage, Zeller helped bring an IU team back from the dead into one of the top 10 teams in the nation. He also averaged over a steal and a block each time out. The Hoosiers have a really deep team this year, but I still anticipate Zeller getting more touches this year. Last season he only had 11 games with more than 10 field goal attempts. This is Zeller’s award to lose, as expectations are as high as they’ve been in over 20 years in Bloomington. Creighton’s Doug McDermott and Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan are the two guys that could challenge Zeller the most.
Most Likely to Lead the Nation in Scoring:
Doug McDermott: One of the guys that could possibly give Zeller a run for his money for PoY, McDermott can flat out score. Averaging 22.9 points per game last year for Creighton, good for third in the nation, McDermott did so shooting a staggering 60 percent from the field. Plenty of people shoot 60 percent, but very few of them are also deadly 3-point shooters. The Creighton sharpshooter connected on 49 percent of his three’s last season, making 1.5 a game. Word is he’s improved his shot off the dribble, so the Missouri Valley better be on the lookout now more than ever.
Brady Heslip: With apologies to Indiana’s Jordan Hulls and Butler’s Rotnei Clarke, I just can’t get Heslip’s performance from last year’s NCAA Tournament for Baylor out of my head. In a second-round game against Colorado, he made nine threes and scored 27 points. For the year he made 100 of them. All this kid does is shoot three’s, but why fault him when he makes 44 percent of them? He made 2.6 three’s per contest, and only 0.6 two-point field goals. Something tells me the folks down in Waco don’t mind, though.
Most Likely to Lead the Nation in Rebounding:
Andre Roberson: Fifth in the nation in rebounding last year, I think this Colorado big man has the tools to finish out on top for 2012-13. Last season he averaged 11.1 rebounds per game, grabbing down double figure boards 26 times. He helped Colorado upset UNLV in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year, hauling down 16 rebounds to go with 12 points.
Images: Google Images/SI.com
When someone asks you who you like in the Big 12 this season, go ahead and find the Big 12 standings from five years ago, or any year since, and tell them whoever is on top of them, is your team that you think will win. Because that will be Kansas. It’s a tale as old as Hug Hefner. Who still is doing better than all of us.
BIG-12 PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS
1.) Kansas - This seems too easy, but I’m not one to look off a sure thing. Withey is back. Travis Releford at the point with Elijah Johnston in the backcourt. Perry Ellis is going to make a name for himself while Bill Self continues to prove he’s an elite coach even though he’s probably the most overlooked coach with a national title, in all of America.
2.) Baylor - It’s really a two-team race in the Big 12. Scott Drew has brought the Bears out of the depths of college basketball and continuously hauls in top recruiting classes. This season, Isaiah Austin will compliment Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip on the perimeter. Look at Duece Bello and A.J. Walton to have better season defensively for a Baylor team that really needs to disrupt passing lanes to stay competitive.
3.) West Virginia - We all keep forgetting that the Mountaineers have made the move to the Big 12. Coach Bob Huggins doesn’t mind. West Virginia has two key transfers eligible this season in LaSalle defector Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten from Dayton. Jabarie Hinds (7.4 ppg, team-leading 108 assists) and Deniz Kilicli (10.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg) return and as long as WVU can make up for the losses of Kevin Jones’ 19.9 ppg and 10.9 rpg and Darryl “Truck” Bryant’s 16.9 ppg — which will probably happen by-committee — they should compete in their first year in the league.
4.) Kansas State - The Wildcats enter the Bruce Weber era with the promise of a team still coached by Frank Martin. I guess that’s a good thing. Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez return, and what’s more, the leading-scorer Rodney MacGruder’s 15.8 points and 5.2 boards and 50 made three’s return, as does Will Spradling’s 9.3 points and 47 made three’s also makes its way back to Bramlage Coliseum. If the team can get even the gist of Weber’s system early-on, expect fireworks and deep run into March for K-State.
5.) Oklahoma State - How does a team that went 15-18 last season make the Top 5? They return everyone but their leading scorer, at least all the guys that matter. And really, that’s one guy: LeBryan Nash and his 13.3 points per game. Marcus Smart hits Gallagher-Iba Arena and Markel Brown brings his numbers back. Travis Ford has a legitimate NCAA Tournament team on his hands. The only question is depth.
8.) Iowa State
10.) Texas Tech
Pierre Jackson, Baylor – Junior college players in big-time college basketball are normally quick-fix guys. Jackson is one of those exceptions. He averaged 13.8 points and 5.9 assists for the Bears last season and with the addition of Isaiah Austin, the lobs should still be aplenty. He’s quick, defends the perimeter well — leading the team with 68 steals — and has total control of the offense under coach Scott Drew. He’s headed for the Cousy Award.
Jeff Withey, Kansas – Seems like he’s been around forever, right? The talented shot-blocker for the Jayhawks is ready to take leadership with the departure of Thomas Robinson to the NBA. He averaged 9 points, 6.3 boards and had 140 blocks in 2011-12 and this season he’ll need more of the same now that he’s the sole guy in the post. Perry Ellis will take some of the burden off Withey, but it won’t stop him from being a human bruise.
Myck Kabongo, Texas – The sophomore has no choice. Kabongo learned for one season under J’Covan Brown and now school is out — on the court, at least — for the point guard. There isn’t a ton of hype on this team going into the season, so they’ve got that going for them. But that’s because the number of high-profile players is at one: Kabongo. More that likely, this will be it for him as a collegian, because this kid can lead the nation in assists (averaged 5.1 assists per game last season) if he minimizes the turnovers (102 in 2011-12).
LaBryan Nash – He’ll be the top offensive weapon for the Cowboys. He’ll be spelled by Markel Brown and Marcus Smart, but he’s the epicenter of this half-court-centric attack that commands discipline in the post. Nash has it after some freshman season bumps. This will more-than-likely be his final season in Stillwater, so leaving the program with an NCAA Tournament berth will be on his mind. A double-double year isn’t out of the question.
Jordan Tolbert, Texas Tech – The bright spot on an otherwise horrible team. Blame Billy Gillispie. Tolbert quietly had a serious season for the Red Raiders in BCG’s lone season, and now he’ll have to do the same under interim coach Chris Walker. He averaged 11.5 ppg and 5.7 rpg for the 8-23 Red Raiders and I expect him to do more now that he’s not being chain-whipped in practice by BCG (KIDDING!). Expect an 18-and-8 year from him, because he has to do it for Texas Tech to even sniff a .500 record.
MOST UNDERVALUED TEAM
Texas – No, this isn’t supposed to be below in the “overrated team” category. Rick Barnes is one of the best at getting average out of great talent. This season, he’s giving Myck Kabongo the keys to the system, and hoping that he does something right. This team lacks talent, and strangely, that’s why this team will do well. Prince Ibeh is the prize incoming recruit, and the Longhorns return Sheldon McClellan (11.3 ppg) and Julien Lewis (7.8 ppg) in terms of scoring to go along with Kabongo’s 9.6 ppg. They also bring back Jonathan Holmes’ 4.8 rebounds per game. If Kabongo can be the man that J’Covan Brown was last season, this team could shock the Big 12.
MOST OVERRATED TEAM
Kansas State – Forgive me, Bruce Weber. One of the nicest guys in the business inherits great talents in Jordan Henriquez and Angel Rodriguez, and he’ll get to the NCAA Tournament in his first season. But I think a lot of people overvalue Weber’s buffer time between getting his team to adjust to his style of play. Weber utilizes more zone than Frank Martin did, and that’s a lot tougher to get used to that one would imagine. It’s not going to be a bad first year for Wildcat fans under Weber, just not a great one.
SLEEPER IMPACT PLAYER
Romero Osby, Oklahoma – He’s not that traditional sleeper. Osby was third on the Sooners in scoring (12.9 ppg) in his first season since transferring in from Mississippi State in 2011-12. He also led the team in rebounding at 7.3 per game. The sleeper part of it is that he was on a 15-16 team. The Sooners should be better this season, but if that team is going to be good, Osby is going to be the reason why. Wouldn’t be surprised to see a double-double out of this guy.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Pierre Jackson, Baylor- I’m one of the most skeptical people when it comes to junior college players making the jump to Division I. The ones that make it normally are the ones that didn’t qualify out of high school, and even those have a tough time keeping it together for two/three years in D-I. Jackson is one of the exceptions. He’s got the speed and court vision and has commanded control of the Bears on the court since Day 1. He’s going to make some late-first-round team very happy in the 2013 NBA Draft.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Travis Ford, Oklahoma State – The Cowboys had the roughest of rough years in 2011-12. This year, a huge recruiting haul for Ford including point guard Marcus Smart could create a deadly one-two punch with LeBryan Nash. Back comes Nash’s 13.3 ppg and 5 rpg along with Markel Brown’s 10.5 and 5.1 per. Don’t forget Jean-Paul Olukemi (9.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) and Brian Williams (9.6 ppg) making a return. Smart will be this team’s starting point guard with Brown moving to the two. If Michael Cobbins and Phillip Jurick (97 combined blocks) can improve their defensive presence, Ford could be a surprise 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
PHOTO: BIG 12 CONFERENCE
No. 23 Louisville 77, West Virginia 74
-Wayne Blackshear made his debut (24 games in) four Louisville, and scored 13 points. While there was a lot to talk about in this game — we’ll get to it — that has to be the most encouraging part for Louisville fans. Blackshear obviously kept himself in basketball shape while rehabbing. The future is bright…. Now, talk about going in opposite directions. The Cardinals (20-5, 8-4 Big East) reached 20 wins and have won six straight now, while the loss is the Mountaineers’ (16-10, 6-7) have lost five of their last six. WVU led for most of the game until a Kyle Kuric 3-pointer and a steal-and-score by Russ Smith on the ensuing inbounds play gave Louisville a 73-71 lead with 2:17 left. Kyle Kuric would steal a Gary Browne pass inside to Kevin Jones with 10 seconds left, hit two free throws after being fouled, and Truck Bryant’s left wing 3 went begging as time expired.
Butler 52, Cleveland State 49
-A big win for the Bulldogs (15-12, 9-6 Horizon League), who really needed this just for confidence heading into crunch time and the Horizon League tournament. The Vikings (20-6, 10-4) had a shot at an at-large bid, but those hopes are dashed now. All a matter of who gets hot in the tourney. Butler held Cleveland State to 26.3 percent from 3-point range and forced 16 turnovers, all the while overcoming an 0-for-8 3-point day and shooting 38 percent on their own.
No.5 North Carolina 70, No. 20 Virginia 52
-It was a game in the first half, with the Tar Heels (21-4, 8-2 ACC) leading just 35-32 at the half. The second half made a lot of people believe that the Cavaliers (19-5, 6-4) might not be the team everyone expected, what with Mike Scott getting completely owned and UNC showing no ill effects from that tough loss to Duke. Tyler Zeller had 25 points and nine rebounds for the Heels, with John Henson (10 and10) and Harrison Barnes (14 and 11) notching double-doubles. The bigs were obviously the difference in this one. Mike Scott has been carrying the Wahoos all season and had 18 in the loss.
No. 2 Syracuse 85, UConn 67
-I’m not saying that UConn (15-9, 5-7 Big East) can’t bounce back from a game that they basically quit in at Louisville, but they didn’t start with a loss at the ‘Cuse (25-1, 12-1). Four players finished in double-figures and Andre Drummond has 13 points and seven boards in the loss. But they never could match up athletically with the Orange, which if you’ve seen the Huskies, shouldn’t happen. They’ve got as much talent and athletic ability as any team in the nation.
No. 4 Missouri 72, No. 6 Baylor 57
-The Tigers (23-2, 9-2 Big 12) got the sweep over the Bears (21-4, 8-4) on the season, and wow, they did it quick. This team is guard-heavy, and they ran on Baylor’s athletic big men in the second half, using a 17-1 keyed by three 3-pointers midway through the second half to propel them to the W. Phil Pressey had 19 points and four three’s in the game and Mizzou shot 50 percent from 3-point range (14-for-28). They bombed it. Baylor still has to figure out it’s identity, which is scary considering it’s identity. They have long athletic forwards who play essentially like swingmen in Perry Jones III and the Quincy’s (Miller and Acy) but seem inept at finishing down low, though Acy has improved. Most telling stat? They out-rebounded Mizzou 35-22.
No. 17 Florida State 64, Miami 59
-The Hurricanes (15-8, 6-4 ACC) didn’t necessarily hurt their at-large hopes with this loss to the Seminoles (17-7, 8-2), but if they don’t get in, this is one game that Jim Larranaga will look at and shake his head. Reggie Johnson was held to four points (which can’t happen) to go with six rebounds, which really was the difference being that the game was never more than a three-possession game late. Bernard James ha 18 points, six boards and four blocks in the win.
Vanderbilt vs. No. 1 Kentucky (9 p.m., ESPN)
-A lot of folks taking Vandy (17-7, 6-4 SEC) in this one, especially being at home in Memorial Coliseum and the magic that seems to ensue in big games there for the Commodores. Kentucky (24-1, 10-0) is still Kentucky, they still have Anthony Davis and his Stretch Armstrong arms. It’s going to be tough for Festus Ezeli to be effective by himself, they’ll really need guys like Steve Tchiengang to show up down low and 6-8 Lance Gilbourne to provide a mid-range to draw out Davis and Kentucky’s other lengthy bigs.
No. 15 Creighton vs. Wichita State (5 p.m., ESPN2)
-Just another day in the Missouri Valley Conference. Creighton (21-4, 11-3 MVC) is somehow surviving in the Top-25 despite losses to Northern Iowa and Evansville on the road. Granted, they’ll fall come tomorrow, but a win over the Shockers (21-4, 12-2) would not only help them stay in the rankings, but also go a long way to help their confidence and steady their at-large hopes. Which to me, is the best a conference win can do, being that teams see these opponents automatically every year. Wichita State has won three in a row after a loss at Drake.
No. 16 UNLV vs. No. 14 San Diego State (4 p.m, The Mtn.)
-This one is set for a classic. The Rebels (21-4, 5-2 Mountain West Conference) losing at Wyoming in their last game took some luster off this game, but it’s still a battle of Top-20 teams. The Aztecs (20-3, 6-1) have only lost one game since Dec. 4, a bad one at Colorado State, but other than that have been soaring.
No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Michigan State (6 p.m., ESPN)
-It seems like every week, the Buckeyes (21-3, 9-2 Big Ten) play the second-best team in the B1G. Whoever it is. This week, it’s Michigan State (19-5, 8-3). It’ll be Jared Sullinger vs. Draymond Green for the most part, but can any of the Spartan’s guards get past ball-hawking Aaron Craft? That will probably be a big reason if Tom Izzo’s bunch can get a win. Look for William Buford to have a big game for tOSU, he had a career-high 29 last game, a victory at Purdue.
Temple vs. Xavier (9 p.m., ESPN2)
-What do the Owls have to do to get some serious poll love? They’ve beaten Duke this season, have a KenPom rating of 30 and have won eight in a row after a bad loss to Richmond on the road. They’re 18-5 overall and 7-2 in the Atlantic 10 and also have wins over Wichita State and Penn, two teams deep in the NCAA Tournament conversation. They won’t help themselves that much with a win over the Musketeers (16-8, 7-3), but it would certainly make me look stupid if they took a loss. Chris Mack’s squad, on the other hand, desperately needs a confidence W, losing three of their last six.
-PHOTO: GOOGLE IMAGES