Big 12 Basketball 2011-12: Preview, Analysis and Final Standings

Austin MeekContributor IINovember 2, 2011

Big 12 Basketball 2011-12: Preview, Analysis and Final Standings

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    For the first time in many years, the landscape of Big 12 basketball looks to be a relatively even spread rather than one filled with peaks and valleys.

    Unlike in the past, when teams such as Kansas and Oklahoma began the season with realistic title hopes and squads like Texas Tech and Iowa State were doomed to fail, this year’s manifestation offers unprecedented parity.

    Baylor, Kansas, Texas A&M and Missouri are all ranked in the top 25, although no team resides in the top 10.

    Texas was left off the list after losing five starters, but with the infusion of talent Rick Barnes recruited, they’re just around the river bend from a national ranking.

    Other teams like Iowa State and Oklahoma State could be dancing come March if a few breaks fall their way.

    Here's a look at the Big 12 teams in order of where they'll finish by season's end. 

10. Oklahoma Sooners

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    They can’t be good at everything, right? New head coach Lon Kruger inherits a team with four returning starters, which sounds great until you remember this team won only five conference games last season.

    They finished with a mediocre 14-18 overall record.

    Kruger, hired away from UNLV, is known nationally for his ability to turn programs around, but it looks as though he won’t have enough horses in the stable to make a push in the Big 12 race.

     

    Keep An Eye On:

    Junior F Andrew Fitzgerald

    The 6'8" big man ranked second on the team with 12.6 PPG and scored 15 points or more 12 times.

    He’ll need to channel his inner Blake Griffin on both sides of the ball if the Sooners are to land in postseason play.

     

    Oklahoma Wins the Big 12 Title If:

    A serious bout of February influenza hits every Big 12 team outside Norman. 

9. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Ex-Texas A&M head coach Billy Gillespie is back in the coaching ranks after flaming out at Kentucky and assisting as the Wildcats missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 17 years.

    He did a masterful job of turning around programs at UTEP and Texas A&M, however, and Tech AD Kirby Hocutt is hoping two tough seasons in Lexington haven’t derailed Gillespie’s mojo.

    The cupboard lies bare in Lubbock with only one returning starter, forward Robert Lewandowski.

    The Red Raiders will rely on major development from Lewandowski and Jay Crockett as well as contributions from junior college transfers.

     

    Keep An Eye On:

    Junior G Ty Nurse

    Nurse averaged 9.1 PPG and shot 53 percent from three-point range last year at Midland College. He led the Chaparrals to a 63-7 record in two seasons.

    He’s known for his leadership and game management and will be running the Red Raider show.

     

    Texas Tech Wins the Big 12 Title If:

    God really does have a sadistic sense of humor after all.

8. Kansas State Wildcats

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    Head coach Frank Martin and the Wildcats return three starters from a team that finished third in the conference last season, but the Cats will have to find a new identity in the wake of Jacob Pullen’s departure.

    “The Beard” helped K-State to the Elite Eight in 2010, and his production and leadership will have to be replaced for Martin’s squad to succeed.

    Look for the Wildcats to build their identity around tenacious defense, anchored by seven-footer Jordan Henriquez’s patrol of the paint.

     

    Keep An Eye On:

    Junior G Rodney McGruder

    While starting all 34 games last sason, the 6'4" McGruder became the shortest player in school history to lead the team in rebounds (202).

    His 11.1 PPG were good for second on the team behind Pullen, and he’ll need to boost his scoring even more for the Wildcats to scare anyone in the Big 12. 

     

    Kansas State Wins the Big 12 Title If:

    The Wildcats continue playing excellent defense and McGruder leaps forward offensively.                                              

7. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Last year, guard Keiton Page led the Big 12 in free throws (63-of-68) and free throw percentage (89.4).

    The career 36 percent three-point shooter will need scoring and rebounding assistance following the departures of Marshall Moses and Matt Pilgrim.

    Thankfully for the Pokes, they landed one of the offseason’s most sought after prizes, Le’Bryan Nash. He is a top 10 national recruit.

    Jean-Paul Olukemi and Michael Collins will tandem with Nash to form a frontcourt that is high on length and versatility but lacking in size and interior strength.

     

    Keep An Eye On:

    Freshman G/F Le’Bryan Nash

    Nash, the No. 2 small forward and No. 6 overall player in the country, averaged 22 PPG and 8.7 RPG last year for Lincoln High School (Dallas) and draws comparisons to Ron Artest.

    He’s got an NBA frame and a quick first step that should allow him to win the Big 12’s Newcomer of the Year award.

     

    Oklahoma State Wins the Big 12 Title If:

    Le’Bryan Nash garners First-Team all-conference honors and proves to the nation he’s as real a deal as head coach Travis Ford believes him to be.

6. No. 25 Missouri Tigers

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    The Tigers were poised to return five players who all averaged double digits in scoring last season, but the knee injury to starting forward Lawrence Bowers brings that total down to four.

    Still, Mizzou returns the core of a team that has won 77 games over the past three years, the best three-year run in school history.

    If the Tigers can find consistent guard play to match their front line of Ricardo Ratcliff, Steve Moore and Kadeem Green, they could be a force to be reckoned with.

    Sophomore point guard Phil Pressley led all Big 12 freshmen with 61 steals last season and provides a defensive intensity that was matched only by Bowers.

     

    Keep An Eye On:

    Senior G Marcus Denmon

    A 2011 All-Big 12 First Teamer, Dennon finished the season strongly by scoring at least 19 points in seven of his last nine competitions.

    If Mizzou makes a strong play for the conference title, Denmon will be in the discussion for Big 12 Player of the Year.

     

    Missouri Wins the Big 12 Title If:

    The Tigers can replace Lawrence Bowers’s leadership and ball-swatting penchant. 

5. Iowa State Cyclones

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    There’s nowhere to go but up for the Cyclones, who finished last in the Big 12 with a 3-13 conference record.

    But head coach Fred Hoiberg steered his club to a 16-16 overall record, the first time ISU finished .500 or better since 2005-06.

    Last year’s team was marred by player ineligibility, as four transfers who figured to contribute were relegated to a full season on the bench .

    Their presence, especially that of ex-Michigan State point guard Chris Allen, should keep the Cyclones in the middle of the pack.

     

    Keep An Eye On:

    Senior G Scott Christopherson

    Last season, point guard Diante Garrett took 518 shots, good for 26 percent of Iowa State’s total field goal attempts.

    Christopherson and his lifetime .437 three-point percentage (good for second in the Big 12) will mitigate Garrett’s vacancy.

     

    Iowa State Wins the Big 12 Title If:

    Catastrophic injuries decimate every other legitimate threat and Christopherson shoulders the bulk of Garrett’s production.

4. Texas Longhorns

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    Head coach Rick Barnes, like his counterpart on the football field, is one of the best recruiters in college basketball.

    He’ll weather the mass exodus of talent in losing all five of last season’s starters with the arrival of eight newcomers, all highly desirable high school talents.

    Guard J’Covan Brown will feature prominently in the Longhorns’ offensive game plan. He scored 10.4 PPG coming off the bench last year and has averaged 21.4 PPG in three NCAA tournament contests.

     

    Keep An Eye On:

    Freshman G Myck Kabongo

    The No. 2 point guard in the class of 2011, Kabongo will be given the reins from day one.

    He plays with great speed and moxie and is a pass-first play-maker of the highest caliber.

     

    Texas Wins the Big 12 Title If:

    Barnes’s sensational crop of freshmen can weather the steep learning curve. 

3. No. 15 Kansas Jayhawks

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    Despite finishing the season 35-3 and winning the Big 12 title, Lawrence, Kansas shook its head in disappointment as its beloved Jayhawks were bounced in the NCAA tournament by an unheralded VCU team.

    Losing star forwards (and brothers) Marcus and Markieff Morris to the NBA hurts their front line depth, but head coach Bill Self will lean heavily on returning senior guard Tyshawn Taylor.

    They should find a way to March Madness for the 23rd consecutive season, currently the longest active streak in the nation.

     

    Keep An Eye On:

    Junior F Thomas Robinson

    If Robinson can fill the void left by the Morris twins, Kansas could win its eighth straight regular season title.

    Robinson averaged 7.6 PPG and 6.4 RPG last year while playing only 14.6 minutes per contest. If he can replicate those numbers with added playing time, he’ll be a shoo-in for First-Team All-Big 12.

     

    Kansas Wins the Big 12 Title If:

    Taylor and Robinson provide enough scoring punch and allow head coach Bill Self to fill in the gaps.

2. No. 19 Texas A&M Aggies

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    The Aggies have undergone a tumultuous 12-month span. Their beloved head coach, Mark Turgeon, fled for greener grass at Maryland. His hired replacement, Billy Kennedy, was then diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

    Now, the onus for readying the team for a long season has befallen assistant coach Glenn Cyprien.

    Thankfully, the roller coaster stops there as Texas A&M returns the majority of last season’s 24-9 squad.

    Junior Khris Middleton and senior David Loubeau comprise one of the conference’s best forward duos, and freshman Jamaal Branch (No. 9 point guard in the nation) will aid senior Dash Harris in ball distribution duties.

     

    Keep An Eye On:

    Junior G Elston Turner

    After transferring from the University of Washington, Turner was ruled ineligible to play last season.

    He’s taken the year to improve his already lethal shot. A 38 percent shooter from the three-point line, Elston could be the surprise leading scorer for the Aggies this season.

     

    Texas A&M Wins the Big 12 Title If:

    The Aggies get consistent offensive production from a source other than Middleton and Loubeau and Kourtney Roberson controls the paint.

1. No. 13 Baylor Bears

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    The 2011 Baylor Bears could be a television sitcom called “Perry and the Quincys.”

    Arguably the strongest frontcourt in the nation, the tandem of forwards Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller will terrorize every team in the Big 12.

    The Bears bring more talent to the table than any in the conference and, with the exit of ball-hogging guard LaceDarius Dunn opening up the floor for Jones to run wild, the Bears could sprint to the national title conversation in no time.

     

    Keep An Eye On:

    Sophomore F Perry Jones III

    Expectations are sky-high for the lanky 6'11" Jones after being named the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year by the league’s coaches.

    Jones has a legitimate shot at winning the National Player of the Year award, being chosen as a First-Team All-American and garnering the top spot in the 2012 NBA draft.

     

    Baylor Wins the Big 12 Title If:

    Jones stays engaged the entire season.