Big 12 Hoops: Life After Schools Leaving, Coaching Changes and Player Departures
Talk about a conference in transition...
When fall rolls around and the basketball season begins, the Big 12 is going to be an entirely different animal:
Two schools will have moved on to play in other leagues.
Three teams will have new coaches prowling the sidelines.
Most everyone will have vastly different lineups because of players saying "Good-bye" to their respective campuses.
The following is a Power Ranking Preview of what 2011-12 Big 12 Basketball will look like after the dust settles and things get going in October.
This ranking could change big-time depending on which players return to campus. Even still, the Big 12 will have more competitive balance in 2011-12 then any time in the past several years.
10. Texas Tech Red Raiders
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After two years out of coaching, Billy Gillispie returns to take over a challenging situation in Lubbock.
Tech is losing five (all seniors) of their top six players in terms of minutes played and points scored.
Robert Lewandowski, a 6'10 256 lbs forward, is the only player returning who saw at least 20 minutes per game of action this past season.
Lewandowski (8.5 ppg; 4.8 rpg), who will be a senior, is a solid post player who was Tech's No. 2 defensive rebounder in '10-11.
Sophomore-to-be forward Jaye Crockett (6'7" 200 lbs; 4.8 ppg; 3.0 rpg) will need to elevate his game immediately.
With all of that said, Billy Clyde hasn't conceded next year. He is bringing in NINE (That's right...I said nine!) new players to campus.
Three are JuCo transfers. All will have their chance to win playing time, if not starting positions.
While the Red Raiders will probably end up at the bottom of the Big 12 next season, Gillispie will have them applying pressure on the defensive end and pushing the ball whenever possible.
9. Iowa State Cyclones
Hometown Hero Fred Hoiberg made it through his first year as Iowa State's head coach with a 16-16 record which sounds respectable.
Unfortunately, the Cyclones were 3-15 in the Big 12, and they lose three (all seniors) of their top four players.
Rising-senior Scott Christopherson (pictured) is a sharpshooting guard (No. 3 in the Big 12 last season in three-point shooting -44 percent from beyond the arc) that provides solid scoring (13.7 ppg).
Sophomores-to-be Melvin Ejim (6'6" 215 lbs - 10.3 ppg; 6.7 rpg) and Calvin Godfrey (6'8" 240 lbs - 5.7 ppg; 5.4 rpg) are a solid front-court players who will keep getting better.
ISU had a decent three-commit recruiting class that could contribute soon.
But the Cyclones still look to be over-matched when they go head-to-head with most of their conference foes.
8. Oklahoma Sooners
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Veteran head coach Lon Kruger is the man tasked with re-establishing the Oklahoma basketball program that hasn't been the same since Blake Griffin's departure two years ago.
The Sooners only lose Cade Davis, but he was their '10-11 leading scorer (14.2 ppg) and tied for leading rebounder (5.0 rpg)
To start with, Kruger has a solid nucleus of rising-juniors Andrew Fitzgerald (pictured, 6'8" 237 - 12.6 ppg; 5 rpg), Steven Pledger (6'4" 206 lbs - 10.9 ppg; 2.1 rpg) and sophomore-to-be Cameron Clark (6'6" 190 lbs - 9.3 ppg; 4.5 rpg).
Kruger also has two JuCo transfers (Robert Goff and Sam Grooms) arriving.
Grooms comes in as one of the top-rated Juco transfers in the nation.
The Sooners will need to get career-years from several players to jump into the upper-tier of the Big 12.
But with the conference being in a state of flux and with Kruger's experience, Oklahoma could see some instant improvement.
7. Kansas State Wildcats
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Its been a long time since a Kansas State Wildcat team started a season without Jacob Pullen on the floor.
Pullen played in 135 games over the last four years and became the school's all-time leading scorer.
Head coach Frank Martin will have to not only figure out how to make up for Pullen's point production and leadership, but he is also losing another four-year player in Curtis Kelly (6'8" 245 lbs, 10.5 ppg; 5.5 rpg in '10-11).
Junior-to-be guard Rodney McGruder (pictured, 11.1 ppg; 5.9 rpg) is a capable scorer. Rising senior forward Jamar Samuels (8.5 ppg; 5.4 rpg) can be counted on to contribute. Guard Will Spradling brings competence and confidence to the Wildcats backcourt.
Martin is bringing in six new players (three high school, three JuCo recruits) to add to the mix.
He will have the Wildcats playing in-your-face, up-tempo, pressure defense, which will help Kansas State to be competitive.
But it's hard to imagine that this team from the Little Apple will make as big of a noise in '10-11 in the Big 12 as they have over the last couple of years.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
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Oklahoma State's basketball program is still reeling from a spring filled with court hearings and appearances relating to the rape/sexual battery charges being brought against starting forward Darrell Williams.
In early January, the Cowboys were riding high with a13-2 record as they started their Big 12 schedule. They finished the season going 7-12 and sliding into ninth place in the conference.
Along with the dark cloud of Williams court proceedings looming overhead, head coach Travis Ford has to figure out how to replace Marshall Moses' team leading scoring (14.1 ppg) and rebounding (7.3 rpg).
OSU returns double-digit scorers mighty-mite Keiton Page (pictured 13.2 ppg; 2.1 rpg) and J.P. Olukemi (11.1 ppg; 4.1 rpg).
Help is on the way. Ford has a five-star recruit, LeBryan Nash (6'7" 230 lbs), arriving this fall.
If Oklahoma State can effectively sort through their various issues, they could jump back up into the upper half of the conference standings.
5. Kansas Jayhawks
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One of the biggest questions moving towards next season in the Big 12 is: What kind of team will Kansas put on the floor?
They are losing the Morris Twins (entered the NBA Draft), who led the team in scoring and rebounds. It's hard to replace not only their numbers (Together, they scored 30.8 ppg. and grabbed 16 rgp), but their presence on the team.
Even though Josh Selby (7.9 ppg; 2.2 rpg) ended up having a disappointing freshman season ((7.9 ppg; 2.2 apg), he also has left the program for the NBA (or other places in professional basketball?).
On top of these losses, the Jayhawks will miss seniors Tyrel Reed (9.7 ppg; 3.1 rpg), Brady Morningstar (7.1 ppg; 3.3 apg), and Mario Little (5.1 ppg; 2.9 rpg).
All together, that means that Bill Self will have to rediscover 60 points and 26 rebounds per game...not an easy task, even in Lawrence.
Tyshawn Taylor (9.3 ppg; 4.6 apg) and Thomas Robinson (pictured, 7.6 ppg; 6.4 rpg) will form the nucleus to the Kansas lineup.
Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson bring some game experience, but they have not been counted on up until now to play a major role for the team.
Self is bringing in a good (not great) recruiting class that will add further talent and depth, but there are no centerpiece players arriving to build around.
This could be one of the most lean years in a long time for Kansas. They will not be bad, but they will not be anything close to the dominating Jayhawks team that we have come to expect either.
4. Texas Longhorns
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Rick Barnes is playing a wait-and-see game these days.
He is trying to figure out who he will have to put on the court in Austin in '10-11.
Three of his top players (Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, and Cory Joseph) have all declared for the NBA Draft. Hamilton is the only one who has signed with an agent, so it is possible that Thompson and Joseph could return.
If they did, the Longhorns will be in good shape. If they don't, it will be an interesting year for the Longhorns.
Not only is Texas potential losing these three players, they will miss departing seniors Gary Johnson (11.5 ppg; 6.8 rpg) and Dogus Balbay (4.1 ppg; 2.7 rpg).
Barnes, as usual, has a fantastic recruiting class coming to campus. He just didn't think he might be looking at using them right away as his starters next season.
J'Covan Brown (pictured, 10.4 ppg; 2.2 rpg) might be the only returning player who logged at least 20 minutes per game last season.
Texas is used to players leaving the program early (LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, etc), but this year's exits collectively could have a bigger short-term impact than the previous departures.
3. Missouri Tigers
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Frank Haith is the new coach in town, and he inherits a talented group.
His first recruiting job is to see if he can get Marcus Denmon (pictured, No. 1 scorer and Three-point shooter) and Laurence Bowers (the team's No. 1 rebounder and No. 2 scorer) to stay out of the NBA Draft.
If Denmon, a 6'3" guard, and Bowers, a 6'8" forward, return, the Tigers will have all of their top six players back from last year's 23-11 team (8-8 in the Big 12).
Along with Denmon and Bowers, the Tigers have three other players returning that averaged double-figures last season: Ricardo Ratliffe (10.6 ppg; 6 rpg), Michael Dixon (10.3 ppg; 3.5 apg), and Kim English (10 ppg; 3.1 rpg).
Missouri hit a rough patch at the end of last season, losing five of their last six games.
In a time where the Big 12 is looking for a team to take the lead, if the Tigers get all of their players back, they could move into one of the top spots in the conference.
2. Baylor Bears
The Baylor Bears underperformed in 2010-11.
Going 18-13 overall and 7-9 in the Big 12 was not what Scott Drew had in mind for a team that returned a very talented core from their 09-10 team that went 28-8 and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament.
The only player that the Bears lose off of this year's team is Lacedarius Dunn, who was Baylor's leading scorer, averaging 19.5 ppg.
However, the Bears relied too much on Dunn's ability to take his man one-on-one, with the result being that the team ended up standing around on offense.
Scott Drew's returning front court may be the best and most established in the conference, with Perry Jones III (13.9 ppg; 7.2 rpg) passing up the NBA Draft.
Quincy Acy (12.4 ppg; 7.6 rpg) and Anthony Jones (8.5 ppg; 5.3 rpg) give Drew lots of options in the paint.
And that's before adding the super-long, very talented and versatile Quincy Miller in this year's recruiting class.
Baylor will be a team to watch in the Big 12. The talent is there. Drew simply needs to figure out how to put the pieces together.
1. Texas A&M Aggies
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Mark Turgeon has put together three very good seasons (73-31) in his first three years in College Station.
But the 2010-11 season could move into another level of success.
With the transitions that Kansas and Texas are going through, the opportunity is there for the Aggies to jump up to the top of the Big 12.
Texas A&M returns their top two players: Kris Middleton (14.4 ppg; 5.2 rpg) and David Loubeau (11.8 ppg; 5.0 rpg). Add rising sophomore Kourtney Roberson, and they form one of the more potent front-courts in the conference.
While Turgeon will need to find a suitable replacement for PG B.J. Holmes, but the Aggies are bringing in a pair of solid recruits (Jamal Branch and Jordan Green) who will automatically compete for playing time.
Watch out for Texas A&M next season. This could be a breakthrough year for the Aggies.