Sunday, 5 November 2006

College Basketball Preview: Big 12

We started things off with the ACC Preview, now it's time to move on to the next major conference, the Big 12, a conference that had an influx of solid coaches (more on that later) which will only help the league in the long run.

Player of the Year: Loads of candidates here, but we have to start at the top, and that is the Kansas Jayhawks, who have a couple of candidates. First is Brandon Rush, who shot nearly 50% from downtown last year, is athletic, and rebounds well. As a freshman he averaged 13.5 PPG and about 6 rebounds per contest. His teammate Julian Wright is equally skilled. At 6'8'' he causes matchup problems, can get to the hoop, finish, and find the open man. Just has all the skills you'd want in a wing man.

Moving away from Kansas, there are still a lot of great candidates. From up-and-comer Texas A&M there is guard Acie Law and post Joseph Jones. Law is solid on both ends of the floor and is a very good outside shooter. Jones flirted with going to the draft before deciding to return to school. These guys are a big reason why there is lots of excitement in Aggie-Land this year. Elsewhere in Texas, Jarrious Jackson returns for his senior year at Texas Tech. He's seemingly been in Lubbock forever (at least to me), and will be a leader for TT. He's very quick and herky-jerky off the dribble, has a great floater in the lane, and keeps the defender honest with a nice outside jumper. Other candidates include JamesOn Curry of Oklahoma St. (was it really only two years ago he was on the team with John Lucas, Joey Graham, Ivan McFarlin, & Co. making a run in the Tourney?), Richard Roby of Colorado, and maybe even Kevin Durant of Texas.

But then it comes down to it, I think Brandon Rush is the best player in the Big 12. Combine that with him being on what should be an excellent team, and that equals up to him being my preseason Big 12 Player of the Year.

Freshmen to Watch: Judging from all of the scouting reports, this list starts with Kevin Durant of Texas. He is one of the top 2 incoming freshmen in the nation (along with Greg Oden), and should have immediate impact for the Longhorns. He's athletic, finishes at the rim, and can shoot from outside. This will likely be his only season in Austin. Also for the Longhorns is DJ Augustine in the backcourt, who will also get big minutes from Day 1. Kansas returns lots of guys, but they've also got talent coming in, with players like Darrell Arthur and Sherron Collins. At the very least, they will push the incumbent starters for playing time and could supplant them in the lineup at some point. For new coach Bob Huggins at Kansas St., the 7'3'' BIG man Jason Bennett will be counted on early, as will JUCO Transfer (close enough) SG Blake Young.

Breakout Players: One candidate is Curtis Jerrells from Baylor, a guy many may not know but is a real nice looking player. Baylor looks to be much improved this year, and Jerrells is at the heart of that. Then there is Martin Zeno from Texas Tech. He was very good as a freshman, but struggled a little bit last year according to Bobby Knight. Still, I like this lefty's game, and he can score in a variety of ways as a #2 option to Jarrious Jackson. Iowa St. lost a lot of guys, but Rahshon Clark will be back, and should emerge for the Cyclones in the absence of the two guards from last year. Last is AJ Abrams, one of the lone holdovers that was a big contributor for the Texas Longhorns last year. Only a sophomore, he will have to take on a big leadership role for Texas as well as handling the ball very often.

What else to Watch: I hinted at it earlier, but there are lots of new coaches in the Big 12. Most notably is Bob Huggins for Kansas St., but there are lots of intriguing questions surrounding the rest. Will Mike Anderson's up-and-down style from UAB work with Mizzou in the Big 12? Can Greg McDermott continue with the success he had in the MVC? Can Sean Sutton continue the work of Eddie Sutton? Can Jeff Capel continue the success of the past tournament runs Kelvin Sampson had (without the scandals)? All the more reasons that the Big 12 will be one of the more interesting conferences in the nation this year.

Predicted Order of Finish
1. Kansas
2. Texas A&M
3. Texas
4. Kansas St.
5. Oklahoma St.
6. Texas Tech
7. Baylor
8. Oklahoma
9. Colorado
10. Iowa St.
11. Missouri
12. Nebraska