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