Big 12 2012-13 College Basketball Preview

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Bill Self and Kansas look to retain top spot in Big 12

<p> Big 12 2012-13 College Basketball Preview</p>

The Big 12 may be one of the most interesting leagues from top to bottom in 2012-13, but the smart pick at the top remains, as always, Kansas.

The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the last eight Big 12 regular season titles, including the last four outright. Thomas Robinson is gone from Lawrence, but Bill Self again has stars ready to emerge.

Elsewhere, seven other Big 12 teams have realistic aspirations to reach the NCAA Tournament, with the possible exceptions of Texas Tech and newcomer TCU.

Baylor adds a standout freshman class as does Texas. And teams like West Virginia, Oklahoma and Iowa State are relying on an influx of transfers to bolster their postseason hopes. How each team manages the new faces on its roster may determine the look of the Big 12 in 2012-13.

BIG 12 FACTS AND FIGURES BIG 12 SUPERLATIVES
2011-12 regular season champion: Kansas Player of the Year: Pierre Jackson, Baylor
2012 NCAA Tournament teams: Baylor, Kansas, Best Defensive Player: Jeff Withey, Kansas
Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas, West Virginia Most Underrated Player: Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
New coaches: Trent Johnson (TCU), Newcomer of the Year: Marcus Smart
Chris Walker (Texas Tech), Bruce Weber (Kansas State)  
Realignment: Lost Missouri and Texas A&M (SEC),  
Added TCU (Mountain West) and West Virginia (Big East)  
ATHLON ALL-BIG 12 FIRST TEAM ATHLON ALL-BIG 12 SECOND TEAM ATHLON ALL-BIG 12 THIRD TEAM
G Pierre Jackson, Baylor G Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State G Brady Heslip, Baylor
G Steven Pledger, Oklahoma G Myck Kabongo, Texas G/F Will Clyburn, Iowa State
G Rodney McGruder, Kansas State G Elijah Johnson, Kansas F Romero Osby, Oklahoma
G/F Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State F Jordan Henriquez, Kansas State F Jordan Tolbert, Texas Tech
C Jeff Withey, Kansas C Isaiah Austin, Baylor C Cameron Ridley, Texas

2012-13 BIG 12 PREVIEW
1. Kansas (32-7, 16-2)
The Jayhawks are ranked No. 4 in our preseason rankings: Full preview

Last year’s squad survived and thrived because of heart and will, but this year’s team figures to benefit from different strengths. Chief among them is depth, something the Jayhawks had little of a season ago. While KU’s roster will give coach Bill Self plenty of options, it also figures to provide a few growing pains as nearly half of the rotation could be first-year players. In addition, Self’s bench will feature two new faces — Norm Roberts steps in for his second stint at KU to replace Danny Manning (now the head coach at Tulsa), and Doc Sadler, formerly the head coach at Nebraska, takes over as the director of basketball operations. Self doesn’t seem to be concerned.”I love the makeup of this team, especially the newcomers,” says the veteran coach. “This is going to be a young group that will rely heavily on senior leadership.”
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Final Four

Related: 2012-13 Athlon Preseason All-America teams

2. Baylor (30-8, 12-6)
The Bears are ranked No. 17 in our preseason rankings: Full preview

Proud as they are of their recent success, the Bears are ready to take the next step by winning an outright conference championship for the first time since 1948. It certainly won’t be easy. Kansas has claimed the last eight Big 12 titles — and the Jayhawks will be the favorites to repeat again in 2013. The keys to Baylor ending Kansas’ streak will be another banner season from Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip, breakthrough performances from Deuce Bello and Cory Jefferson and significant contributions from freshmen Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers, both of whom must develop quickly. If those things occur, the Bears’ potential is limitless.

Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out

Related: Isaiah Austin, Marcus Smart among nation’s top freshmen

3. Oklahoma State (15-18, 7-11)
Travis Ford finds himself starting over in some ways. The Cowboys have missed the past two NCAA Tournaments and last year didn’t even warrant a spot in one of the lesser postseason tourneys, as they stumbled to a 15–18 finish, OSU’s first losing season in 24 years. Marcus Smart, although a freshman, projects as the key to the team’s improvement. An unselfish combo guard who prefers distributing to scoring, he brings a leadership and toughness recent Cowboys squads have lacked. Smart emerged as a key cog for the United States gold medal team at the FIBA Americas U18 Championships in Brazil, drawing rave reviews from coaches Billy Donovan and Mark Few. He’ll join another one-time heralded signee in sophomore Le’Bryan Nash, who endured an up-and-down debut season last year after arriving as a touted recruit. He averaged 13.3 points per game but shot less than 40 percent from the field. Nash should enjoy more freedom to roam and create on the fly with the Cowboys likely to run more than ever.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out

Related: Coaches on the hot seat include Travis Ford

4. Kansas State (22-11, 10-8)

Some college basketball teams face a difficult transition when it loses a successful coach. Kansas State is unlikely to be one of them. With a loaded roster coming back, the Wildcats appear poised to continue to win 20-plus games a season under new coach Bruce Weber the same way they did under former coaches Bob Huggins and Frank Martin. Yes, K-State will look — and act — differently on the sideline with a new coaching staff and attitude, but it should look eerily similar when the Wildcats take the floor in their first season under new leadership. Guard Rodney McGruder and forward Jordan Henriquez will return to comprise one of the top inside-outside combinations in the Big 12, and the pair of seniors could also form one of the best veteran duos in the country. But K-State’s experienced roster doesn’t stop there. After losing only one starter, the Wildcats are back in full force. They enter the upcoming season with high expectations, and for good reason. They have played in the last three NCAA Tournaments and appear on their way to a fourth.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out

Related: Weber among top coaching hires for 2012-13

5. Texas (20-14, 9-9)

Texas coach Rick Barnes kept his school-record streak of 14 straight NCAA Tournament appearances alive in 2011-12. Barely. Texas was one of the last at-large teams selected by the Selection Committee and followed that by losing Big 12 leading scorer J’Covan Brown, who declared prematurely for the NBA Draft. Sophomore shooting guard Sheldon McClellan, a Houston native, will be asked to fill some of the scoring void created by Brown’s departure. McClellan, the only other Texas player to average in double figures last season, lacks Brown’s feel for the game and pure scoring ability, but he’s a solid shooter and defender who appears poised to take the next step. The backcourt’s success will hinge largely on sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo, who has explosive speed with the ball in his hands but struggled through an up-and-down freshman year. Kabongo, however, is under NCAA investigation regarding his relationship with an agent. The frontcourt has a chance to take a huge step forward with the arrival of highly recruited center Cameron Ridley. At 6-9 and 270 pounds, Ridley is incredibly physical and brings a true, back-to-the-basket game to the paint.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament Two and Out

6. West Virginia (19-14, 9-9 Big East)
West Virginia is transferring from the Big East to the Big 12. And it’s the hope of Mountaineer coach Bob Huggins that a few transfers make the move a smooth one. Gone from last season’s 19–14 team that made it to the NCAA Tournament is Kevin Jones, who led the Big East in both scoring (19.9 ppg) and rebounding (10.9 rpg). But Huggins is hoping to offset that loss with the addition of transfers that offer height (6-10 Aaric Murray), speed (guard Juwan Staten) and experience (senior Matt Humphrey). It will be interesting to see how WVU’s main big men — Deniz Kilicli and Murray — coexist. Kilicli is a 6-9, 260-pound senior from Istanbul, Turkey, with a sweeping left-handed hook shot and a penchant for fouling. (He had 94 personal fouls last season.) When on, Kilicli can be effective. He was third on the team in scoring last season, averaging 10.7 points. Odds are, Huggins will go with the experienced Humphrey in the starting lineup, but he very well could start three guards. With his passing ability and leadership, Staten might be the key to the team.
Postseason prediction: NCAA Tournament One and Done

Related: West Virginia, Iowa State, Oklahoma relying heavily on transfers

7. Oklahoma (15-16, 5-13)

Lon Kruger’s first season at Oklahoma resulted in an extensive learning experience — for both Kruger and his players. For Kruger, a master rebuilder, the season was a time to survey what he had, both good and not so good. For the Sooners, it was an introduction to Kruger’s demands and expectations. Entering Year 2, the stakes have been raised. The Sooners return all five starters, yet jobs are hardly secure. Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye could start immediately, and a group of four newcomers — one junior college addition and three true freshmen — will be given every opportunity to seize significant roles. All Sooner eyes are on M’Baye, expected to provide a jolt of skill and length in the paint. Of the new faces, he’s the most ready and the most proven, having started 31 games at Wyoming two seasons ago, when he averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 rebounds as a sophomore. The year off seemed to serve him well for a transition to the Big 12. Steven Pledger, the team’s leading scorer and top 3-point threat, is the only guard assured of a starting spot. OU’s one reliable shooter and scorer, Pledger should benefit from a boost in surrounding talent and less intense focus from enemy defenses.
Postseason prediction: NIT

8. Iowa State (23-11, 12-6)


Hometown hero Fred Hoiberg returned his alma mater to prominence and the NCAA Tournament after an agonizingly long absence. Hoiberg’s got a roster full of talented players and last season’s experiment of meshing holdovers, high schoolers and high-major transfers yielded 23 wins and an impressive postseason run. The plan and cast is largely the same this year, minus All-America forward Royce White, who left early for the NBA after one incredible season. White led the Cyclones in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks and leaves some big shoes to fill. Utah transfer Will Clyburn and former Michigan State Spartan Korie Lucious are new to the Big 12 and will have a big say in whether this group is dancing again in March. Clyburn will shoulder a lot of the scoring burden, as he should. The 6-7 swingman averaged 17.1 points and 7.8 rebounds and shot 40.1 percent from 3-point range in his one season with the Utes.
Postseason prediction: NIT

9. TCU (18-15, 7-7 Mountain West)
Trent Johnson has his hands full. And that’s fine with him. TCU’s new basketball coach knew exactly what he was getting into when he left LSU to take over for Jim Christian, who bolted for the head job at Ohio. Although the Frogs are coming off their first winning season since 2005, Johnson inherits a program that is still looking for an identity. The move from the Mountain West to the Big 12 Conference should help recruiting, but the deeper league presents a whole new set of challenges. The void left by Hank Thorns’ graduation will fall on sophomore Kyan Anderson, who played well as a freshman. He’ll not only need to score (he averaged 8.3 points last season), but he’ll need to take over for Thorns’ ability to create easy baskets for his teammates. Thorns led the Frogs with 4.6 assists last season. Anderson was second with 2.8. Even when TCU has found scoring in its frontcourt the past few seasons, it was rarely from muscle in the paint. Forwards Amric Fields and Garlon Green have shown bursts of offense but usually relied on their perimeter games.

10. Texas Tech (8-23, 1-17)
A terrible season spilled into a tumultuous offseason for the Red Raiders. Though his hire brought guarded optimism, Billy Gillispie spent only one season in Lubbock as he resigned for health reasons in October. But before that, reports of player mistreatment surface. Now interim coach Chris Walker will pick up the pieces of a program that lost a handful of players during the short-lived Gillispie regime. Tech will return just five lettermen from its 2011-12 roster, but only three — Jaye Crockett, Ty Nurse and Jordan Tolbert — saw considerable playing time. The others either missed most or all of the season with an injury (Toddrick Gotcher, Kader Tapsoba) or sat out due to NCAA transfer rules (Dejan Kravic).
@AthlonSports

More previews for the 2012-13 season can be found in the Athlon Sports College Basketball annual available in the online store

Athlon Conference Previews and Power Rankings
5. SEC
6.
Pac-12

7. Mountain West
8. Atlantic 10

9. West Coast

10. Missouri Valley
11. Conference USA
12. Colonial
13. Sun Belt
14. MAC
15. Horizon

Athlon College Basketball Countdown:
1. Indiana
2. Louisville

3. Kentucky
4. Kansas
5. Syracuse
6. Michigan
7. Arizona
8. Ohio State
9. Duke
10. Michigan State
11. NC State
12. UCLA
13. UNLV
14. North Carolina
15. San Diego State
16. Missouri
17. Baylor
18. Memphis
19. Notre Dame

20. Florida

CBK Conferences: 

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