Big 12 Basketball: Preseason Team Rankings

Andrew Doughty@adoughty88Correspondent IINovember 7, 2012

Big 12 Basketball: Preseason Team Rankings

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    The Big 12 conference has experienced tremendous turmoil during the fascinating wave of conference realignment since 2010, but it appears to have regained much-needed stability.

    Kansas returns three starters from a national runner-up team but also welcomes seven newcomers to Lawrence as they seek a ninth straight Big 12 title, while Baylor, Texas and others object. 

    Rodney McGruder, Myck Kabongo and Le'Bryan Nash lead their respective teams in the 10-team conference as they seek to dethrone Bill Self and the Kansas Jayhawks.

10. TCU Horned Frogs

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    Season Opener

    Friday, November 9th vs. Cal Poly

    Key Games

    November 23rd vs. Northwestern

    January 5th vs. Texas Tech

    January 16th vs. Kansas State

    A historically below-average program ushering in a new coach, joining a conference that includes Kansas, Baylor and Texas does not produce much optimism outside of the Horned Frogs' locker room. 

    TCU's non-conference matchup with Northwestern gives them their best chance for an early-season morale-boosting victory before they run their inaugural Big 12 gauntlet.

9. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Season Opener

    November 9th vs. Prairie View A&M

    Key Games

    December 1st vs. Arizona

    December 19th vs. Alabama

    January 8th vs. Baylor

    Does anyone else feel bad for the Red Raiders?

    The Knight family merry-go-round finally ended last year, but their newest high-profile replacement, Billy Gillispie, resigned amid health concerns and player treatment issues following a dreadful 8-23 (1-17 Big 12) season.

    Chris Walker takes over a surprisingly talented roster led by Jordan Tolbert, but aside from TCU, they have the worst depth in the conference.  Texas Tech will not win their December game vs. Arizona, but a close loss could do wonders for yet another rebuilding year.

8. Oklahoma Sooners

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    Season Opener

    November 11th vs. Louisiana-Monroe

    Key Games

    December 4th at Arkansas

    December 29th vs. Ohio

    February 9th vs. Kansas

    Lon Kruger left UNLV with hopes of resurrecting a program that rode the Blake Griffin wave just two years earlier to a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament but suffered through a long 2011-12 season.

    The return of Steven Pledger and Andrew Fitzgerald provides veteran stability, and while they welcome Buddy Hield to the backcourt, they still lack depth across the front line. 

    The non-conference games at Arkansas and vs. Ohio will give Sooners fans a great idea how much progress the potential Big 12 Coach of the Year candidate Kruger is making in Norman.

7. Iowa State Cyclones

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    Season Opener

    November 9th vs. Southern University

    Key Games

    November 23rd vs. Cincinnati

    January 12th vs. Texas

    February 25th vs. Kansas

    The loss of Royce White, a spark plug that put Fred Hoiberg and the Iowa State Cyclones back on the Big 12 map, destroys a frontcourt that will rely on freshman George Niang along with returnees Percy Gibson and Tyrus McGee. 

    They must grab more signature conference victories like the ones that pushed them to an NCAA tournament appearance last season (Kansas, Baylor) with the leadership of McGee and senior Korie Lucious. 

    Iowa State certainly can duplicate their 2011-12 effort, but they might have most question marks among Big 12 teams.

6. Kansas State Wildcats

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    Season Opener

    November 9th vs. North Dakota

    Key Games

    December 15th vs. Gonzaga

    January 12th at West Virginia

    March 2nd at Baylor

    Bruce Weber was not unemployed for long, as he headed west to Manhattan to take over a veteran Wildcats team that includes seniors Rodney McGruder, Jordan Henriquez and Will Spradling. 

    Frank Martin's departure for South Carolina was unexpected, as he left behind an underachieving team with a near-empty 2012 recruiting class. Their December game against Gonzaga is nearly a must-win for Kansas State before Big 12 play begins. 

    Look for them to pull a couple upset road victories behind those upperclassmen, but anything beyond a sixth-place conference finish and early NCAA tournament exit would be a bonus in year one.

5. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Season Opener

    November 9th vs. UC-Davis

    Key Games

    December 31st vs. Gonzaga

    January 21st at Baylor

    March 2nd vs. Texas

    Le'Bryan Nash might be the most exciting player in the conference, and the second-most could be arriving in Stillwater this season in freshman Marcus Smart. Smart, a 6'4" shooting guard from Flower Mound, Texas, hopes to bring consistency to a Cowboys team could not string quality wins together in 2011-12.

    Head coach Travis Ford will rely heavily on those two, as he heads into the season with only five upperclassmen and a host of question marks but a world of potential. 

    Nash and Smart might both declare for the NBA draft in 2013. Therefore, this is a critical season for Oklahoma State.

4. West Virginia Mountaineers

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    Season Opener

    November 12th at Gonzaga

    Key Games

    December 5th vs. Michigan

    January 9th at Texas

    February 23rd vs. Oklahoma State

    Fred Hoiberg is not the only Big 12 coach cleaning up on transfers, as Bob Huggins returns to the conference without Kevin Jones but with Juwan Staten and Aaric Murray.  With any new conference schedule, expectations remain cautiously optimistic, and it will be no different in Morgantown.

    While the Mountaineers will have no problem running with the quick guards of Kansas, Texas and others, they must remain out of foul trouble and consistently impose defensive force with Murray and Deniz Kilicli.

    Michigan is their biggest game on the schedule but their January visit to Texas will immensely determine their conference fate for 2012-13.

3. Texas Longhorns

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    Season Opener

    November 9th vs. Fresno State

    Key Games

    December 19th vs. North Carolina

    January 19th vs. Kansas

    March 4th vs. Baylor

    When sophomore guard Myck Kabongo goes, the Longhorns go.  Further improvement from Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis and Jonathan should relieve pressure along the perimeter for Kabongo as he attempts to revive a suddenly bland, one-dimensional Texas team.

    With a loaded non-conference slate headlined by their December 19th matchup with North Carolina, a group of hungry youngsters must split their four games with UNC, Michigan State, UCLA, and Georgetown if they expect to build their tournament resume before Big 12 play begins in January with a visit to No. 19 Baylor.

2. Baylor Bears

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    Season Opener

    November 9th vs. Lehigh

    Key Games

    December 1st at Kentucky

    December 28th at Gonzaga

    March 9th vs. Kansas

    Scott Drew loses Perry Jones, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller but welcomes blue-chip recruit Isaiah Austin to Waco to attract double-teams away from Brady Heslip and Pierre Jackson on the perimeter.

    Jackson burst onto the scene last season with his lightning-quick penetration and is undoubtedly the Bears' most important player in 2012-13.  Very few are expecting a victory vs. Kentucky, but Baylor would love revenge after an embarrassing end to their tournament run in March.

    Recent years of high expectations have led to disappointments, and they still play second-fiddle to Kansas

1. Kansas Jayhawks

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    Season Opener

    November 9th vs. Southeast Missouri State

    Key Games

    December 22nd at Ohio State

    January 22nd at Kansas State

    February 25th at Iowa State

    Everyone knows about the Jayhawks' eight straight Big 12 regular season titles, and everyone knows about Self's savvy ability to rebuild on the fly, something he must do once again in 2012-13 after losing Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor.

    Two high-profile freshman in Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis are expected to provide the extra scoring punch they lacked last season as Travis Releford and Jeff Withey look to keep opponents confused on the defensive end as two of the elite defenders in the country.

    Their early matchup with Michigan State will provide an early look into the potential of this team but a December visit to Columbus will carry significantly more weight in projecting a possible ninth straight conference title.