Big 12 Basketball: The Best Player on Every Team for 2012-13
The Big 12 conference welcomes two new teams for the 2012-13 season, and the league is getting a healthy supply of (mostly) new star power to lead the way.
The departures of big names such as Thomas Robinson and Perry Jones III have left openings for other standouts to take over the leadership roles on many Big 12 contenders.
At Robinson’s old Kansas program, the pressure will fall squarely on his former low-post partner, Jeff Withey.
The seven-foot senior, already one of the nation’s best shot-blockers, will need to show that he can shine in other areas as KU makes a bid to return to the Final Four.
Herein, more on Withey and the rest of the most impressive talents on each of the Big 12’s rosters this season.
Baylor: Isaiah Austin
Senior PG Pierre Jackson may do more of the heavy lifting early in the year, but by season’s end, look for Isaiah Austin to be the Bears’ main man.
The seven-foot freshman ranks as the nation’s third-best recruit for a reason.
Austin is amazingly agile for a player his size, and has the skill set to handle the ball and score from the perimeter when he wants to—not to mention the low-post ability you'd expect in a top-drawer center.
He’s not quite in Jeff Withey’s league yet, but match him up against any other shot-blocker in the conference and Austin will be as good or better than any of them in his first (and only) collegiate season.
Iowa State: Will Clyburn
Transfers turned Iowa State from a .500 team in coach Fred Hoiberg’s first season to a 23-11 NCAA Tournament squad last year.
Royce White is gone, but Hoiberg hopes to keep the momentum going with another influx of impressive transfers, headlined by Will Clyburn.
In his lone season at Utah, the 6’7” Clyburn led the Utes with 17.1 points and 7.8 rebounds a game.
He’s also a first-class long-range shooter (.403), a quality that will serve him well in a Cyclones offense that often lives and dies by the three-pointer.
Kansas: Jeff Withey
The Jayhawks ranked third in the country in field-goal defense a year ago, and Jeff Withey was the primary reason for that success.
The seven-foot center placed seventh nationally with 3.3 blocks per game.
Now a senior, Withey will need to expand his offensive game (9.0 points per game) to help fill the void left by Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.
He’s also a safe bet to pull down more than 6.3 boards per game now that he’s not competing with Robinson in that category.
Kansas State: Rodney McGruder
New Wildcats coach Bruce Weber has typically thrived with offense-first teams, making many of the returning pieces of defensive-minded Frank Martin’s roster a tenuous fit.
Rodney McGruder, however, is a top-notch defender who also has some serious scoring punch.
The physical 6’4” McGruder led K-State last season with 15.8 points per game, while also pulling down 5.2 rebounds a night.
Now a senior, he’ll provide leadership for the perimeter defense (1.2 steals per contest) as well as the offense on a team with a good shot to return to the Big Dance.
Oklahoma: Steven Pledger
In spite of last year’s atrocious 5-13 record in conference play, Oklahoma could actually be a dangerous sleeper in the Big 12 in 2012-13.
The Sooners boast a trio of impressive seniors, with SG Steven Pledger leading the pack.
The 6’4” Pledger blossomed into a star when he was handed the keys to the offense last season, raising his scoring average more than five points to 16.2 points a night.
He’s at his most dangerous from beyond the arc, having drained 72 treys last season at a dazzling .416 clip.
Oklahoma State: Le’Bryan Nash
After arriving in Stillwater to enormous hype, Le’Bryan didn’t exactly turn out to be LeBron.
Still, Le’Bryan Nash’s solid freshman campaign bodes well for him blossoming into a bona fide star in 2012-13.
The 6’7” swingman averaged 13.3 points per game (much of it by attacking the rim with his prodigious athleticism) along with five rebounds a night.
It will be interesting to see whether prize freshman SG Marcus Smart gels with Nash more or less successfully than now-graduated senior Keiton Page did last season.
TCU: Devonta Abron
The fact that 6’5” senior guard J.R. Cadot led TCU in rebounding (by a wide margin) should be a pretty big clue that the Horned Frogs needed an upgrade in the frontcourt.
Fortunately for new coach Trent Johnson, Arkansas transfer Devonta Abron has arrived to provide one.
The 6’8”, 255-pound Abron wasn’t an ideal fit in Mike Anderson’s high-speed offense with the Razorbacks, but his big body will be a welcome addition for TCU.
Despite playing just 16.3 minutes a night as a freshman, Abron averaged 5.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game, so he should give the Horned Frogs a legitimate physical presence down low.
Texas: Myck Kabongo
Rick Barnes’ loaded recruiting class deserves all the attention it has received in Austin these days, but nobody has more to say about the Longhorns’ chances for success than their returning floor leader.
Sophomore PG Myck Kabongo’s leadership and passing skills (5.2 assists per game last year) will be vital in tying together a talented but wildly inexperienced Texas team.
Kabongo is a better scorer than his 9.6 points a night might suggest, and with shot-hungry J’Covan Brown gone, he’ll get a chance to prove it.
In a conference with plenty of other top-notch point guards, he’ll also get plenty of opportunities to show off his defensive abilities (1.3 steals per contest in 2011-12).
Texas Tech: Jordan Tolbert
Interim coach Chris Walker is in for a long season replacing the departed Billy Gillispie in Lubbock, but at least he still has Gillispie’s best player from last year to lead the team.
Sophomore forward Jordan Tolbert was the lone bright spot on an 8-23 squad, and he’ll likely (to his chagrin) reprise that role for another overmatched Red Raiders team in 2012-13.
The 6’7” Tolbert led Texas Tech with 11.5 points per game and shared the team high with 5.7 boards a night.
As Walker looks to raise the tempo with a guard-heavy lineup, Tolbert will need to step up his minimal defensive contributions (0.5 steals and 0.7 blocks per contest in 2011-12).
West Virginia: Aaric Murray
Kevin Jones may be gone, but West Virginia will still have a frontcourt to be reckoned with this season.
Hardworking senior Deniz Kilicli will have something to say about that, but the biggest weapon up front will be a new one: La Salle transfer Aaric Murray.
Murray dominated against Atlantic 10 competition—hardly a bunch of pushovers—averaging 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds a night in his last season with the Explorers.
He was just as devastating on defense, blocking 2.3 shots per contest.