Big 12 Basketball 2011-12: The Best Player on Each Team in the Conference
With Colorado and Nebraska gone, and Texas A&M potentially on its way out, the Big 12 is going to look very different this season. Along with the two departed teams, the loss of star players like Tristan Thompson and the Morris twins will mean major changes on the court as well.
Which players will step into the vacuum and take over as the faces of the conference in 2011-12? One obvious candidate is presumptive lottery pick Perry Jones, who surprised many pundits by staying at Baylor for his sophomore season.
Read on for a look at Jones and the rest of the top Big 12 players hoping to carry their teams next season.
Baylor: Perry Jones
When Perry Jones opted not to declare for this spring’s draft, he immediately became a contender for Player of the Year honors in 2011-12. The Baylor standout averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds as a freshman.
With LaceDarius Dunn gone, Jones’ role in the offense is only going to get bigger. The 6’11” center will have pro scouts salivating, and Bears fans cheering, all year.
Iowa State: Royce White
With star Diante Garrett and his classmates gone, coach Fred Hoiberg's Cyclones will be leaning heavily on some transfer players who will be making their first appearances for Iowa State. The most intriguing, and mysterious, is ex-Minnesota forward Royce White.
White, a former Mr. Basketball in the state of Minnesota, never played for the Gophers due to off-court run-ins with the law. However, his 6’8” frame and high-flying athleticism could give the Cyclones an interior presence they haven’t had in a long time.
Kansas: Tyshawn Taylor
Losing three NBA draft picks is little more than par for the course in Lawrence, where the Kansas Jayhawks are used to reloading for another conference title run. With the Morris twins and Josh Selby gone, fourth-year starting PG Tyshawn Taylor is ready for his close-up.
Taylor averaged 4.6 assists per contest last year, and with Thomas Robinson ready to step into the vacuum down low, that total isn’t likely to drop in 2011-12. Taylor also stands a good chance of improving on his 9.3 points per game from last season.
Kansas State: Jamar Samuels
This pick is a virtual tossup between Samuels and Rodney McGruder, the top two returnees who are both coming out of the very big shadows of Curtis Kelly and Jacob Pullen. Samuels gets the nod largely because he’ll be a senior and McGruder a junior.
Samuels, a 6’7” forward, averaged 8.5 points and 5.4 boards per game last season. He’ll need to pick up some of the slack inside now that Kelly (the only Wildcats forward who outscored Samuels a year ago) has graduated.
Missouri: Marcus Denmon
With new coach Frank Haith under a cloud because of the investigation of his former school, there’s a lot up in the air for the Tigers right now. One thing that isn’t is that on the court, they’ll be able to count on Marcus Denmon.
The rising senior SG is Mizzou’s most reliable scorer, leading the team with 16.9 ppg and .448 overall shooting accuracy from three-point range last season. He also racked up 1.8 steals per contest, and while the departure of coach Mike Anderson may cut down on the Tigers’ steal totals, Denmon is still a good bet to get his share.
Oklahoma: Carl Blair
Star senior Cade Davis is gone, and that means the pressure is on the returning Sooners to step up. One player who looks to be up to that challenge is New Orleans transfer Carl Blair.
In his first season in Norman, Blair led the Sooners with 4.7 assists per game. If he can cut down on his turnovers (3.0 per game last year), he’ll give Oklahoma a much-needed steadying presence on the offensive end.
Oklahoma State: LeBryan Nash
Despite their 20 wins overall, Oklahoma State can only have been disappointed in its 6-10 conference finish last season. Luckily for the Cowboys, they scored a major recruiting victory by landing 6’7” swingman LeBryan Nash for 2011-12.
An inside-out offensive threat whose greatest strength is his finishing ability, Nash will likely be one of the conference’s top pure athletes from the get-go. With Marshall Moses gone, the Cowboys will be counting on Nash to be a leader as a true freshman.
Texas: Myck Kabongo
Graduation and the draft gutted the Longhorns’ roster, putting the pressure squarely on the shoulders of star recruit Myck Kabongo. The 6’2” point guard out of Toronto is one of the most highly touted freshmen in the country.
Kabongo is considered an elite playmaker and a very good scorer to boot. The big question may turn out to be whether he has enough weapons around him to make the most of his talents in his first season in Austin.
Texas A&M: Khris Middleton
As a sophomore, SF Khris Middleton was already the lynchpin of the Aggies’ team on offense and defense last season. They’ll need him to be even better if they hope to repeat last year’s impressive NCAA tournament run without the graduated Nathan Walkup.
Middleton had an unfortunate tendency to disappear in some games, but still led A&M with 14.4 ppg last season. If he can start creating more of his own shots, the rest of the conference will need to watch out.
Texas Tech: Cameron Forte
With much of the 2010-11 squad lost to graduation, Texas Tech seems ripe for a talented freshman to step in and make a splash. Luckily for Red Raider fans, it appears that new coach Billy Gillispie may have pulled a rabbit out of his hat.
A late recruiting coup (signed just a few weeks ago), Cameron Forte set an Arizona high-school record by scoring 36.2 ppg last year. The 6’6” swingman will have every opportunity to step into a leading role in Lubbock this season.
Photo from Rivals.com