I seriously contemplated just writing his name, hitting publish post and calling it a day for my Big 12 basketball preview extravaganza. But alas, I will press on.
This season is looking like a transition year - sort of a changing of the guard. Here's something that truly blew my mind: This is the first time in Big 12 history, OU has been picked to win the conference. The first time. Unreal.
Baylor is up, Kansas is a little down. And by a little down, I mean, preseason fourth in the conference and still in the top 25. You know what the crazy part is? If Bill Self wills his team to a 20-10 record, goes 9-7 in conference and gets a seven seed in the tourney, some stupid sports pundit (Digger Phelps, I’m talking to you) will declare, “This is probably Bill Self’s best coaching job right here.” The idiots, er, analysts love to do this. When an excellent coach has a down year with a bunch of players that were sitting in warm-ups for 40 minutes last year, but manages to win a few ballgames, this is their best coaching job. That 2008 National Title? Pfff. Yeah, but he had Brandon Rush and Mario Chalmers. Those guys could have coached themselves. Give me Cole Aldrich and Brady Morningstar and I’ll show you a great coaching job.
Here's five fearless predictions for the upcoming season:
1. With Sean Sutton gone, Doc Sadler assumes the role of “Coach most likely to either pass out on the sideline or drive his car into a tree at 3 a.m.”
2. Scott Drew will wonder 134 times, “What in the crap am I still doing at Baylor?”
He's one of the most fantastic X's and O's guys in the entire country. He can recruit to basketball hell. He can put a tournament team together at BAYLOR. Yeah, why isn't he coaching at some super-school by now?
3. Texas will win the regular season title with a 14-2 record.
The Longhorns have talent all over the floor. If D.J. Augustin had come back, this team would probably be preseason No. 2 in the country and a favorite for the Final Four. But he left. But these guys have experience and these guys have talent. They are best suited to make it through the long haul of a conference season with relatively no slip-ups.
4. Oklahoma will win the Big 12 tournament.
Why? Because OU simply has more talent. The Sooners have the most talented player in the country in Blake Griffin, but they are also a fairly inexperienced team - especially off the bench. OU is more susceptible to a mid-season fall. A loss on the road to some team it should never lose to. But when the Sooners are focused and ready to go, they should be able to compete with anyone in this conference.
5. The Big 12 will have only five teams in the NCAA tournament.
But it will still be considered one of the strongest conferences in the country. Why? Because the Big 12 will have four teams sitting squarely on the bubble. Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Baylor and Oklahoma State will all be in. Nebraska, Texas A&M, Missouri and Texas Tech will all hover in the 6-10 to 9-7 conference record range and will all come up short.
First team All-Conference
G: Curtis Jerrells – Baylor
G: A.J. Abrams – Texas
G: Sherron Collins – Kansas
F: Damion James – Texas
C: Blake Griffin – Oklahoma
G: Byron Eaton – Oklahoma State
G: Josh Carter – Texas A&M
F: James Anderson – Oklahoma State
F: Leo Lyons – Missouri
C: Connor Atchley – Texas
Player of the Year
Blake Griffin. How could you not? The dude is absolutely nonsensical. He’s so big, so fast and so freaking strong that I honestly don’t think anyone can guard him one-on-one. He’s going to be doubled, tripled and maybe even quadrupled, but it’s not going to matter, because you can’t keep him off the glass. He’ll get half his points snatching up misses and throwing them back through. Last year he averaged 14 and nine for the season, but that was including two games where played under five minutes. In conference play he was something like 17 and 10. I’m thinking this year, he’s looking at a 20 and 12 season. Seriously. Say hello to the Amare Stoudemire of college basketball. This is what it would have looked like.
Freshman of the Year
Willie Warren. He’s going to press. He’s going to play tight. But he’s got so much skill and best of all, he’s got Blake Griffin in the post, that he’ll have a good season. He’s streaky from the outside, but what he does best is drive and slash. Once he settles in and shakes off the pressure that’s been placed on him and just plays, he’ll be fine. Oklahoma State's Keaton Page has me intrigued because 1) He looks like he's 14 and 2) because he can score, score and score. Consider him the dark horse in this race.
Coach of the Year
Jeff Capel. Let me tell you this about Jeff Capel - I think he's a good coach. I know he's a good man. But like I was telling a friend of mine last week, Capel really doesn't have a chance to prove anything this year other than he can't coach. Explanation: If OU goes 25-5, wins the Big 12, and gets a two-seed in the tourney, most won't give Capel credit because he's got Blake Griffin and a slew of talent around him. If he goes 20-10, finishes fourth conference and gets bounced in the first round of the tournament, it's all Capel's fault because the talent is there. Capel will be held to this awful standard. Some think this is Capel's make or break year to prove he's got it. I say he already proved it - last year. Seriously, rewind your brain to the preseason conversations you were having with buddies before OU tipped off last year. No way more than five percent of you thought the Sooners would win 23 games, get a six seed in the tourney and winning a game. Most thought a goal would be accomplished going to the NIT.
I think you can really break the Big 12 into three parts. The no-chance-in-heck group, the maybe-they'll-compete-a-little group and the actual contenders group. Or in simpler terms, break it with former and current Big 12 coaches. The crash-and-burn-you've-embarrassed-your-family coach, the win-a-few-lose-a-few-but-drive-the-fanbase-nuts coach and the I'm-obviously-the-best-of-the-bunch coach.
Dave Bliss Division
12. Iowa State
I follow Big 12 basketball pretty closely and honestly, the only guy I can say with some certainty that I've heard of is Sean Haluska. And that may be only because I'm getting him confused with former Iowa sharpshooter Adam Haluska. (I know Craig Brackins is really good, but that would've hurt the effectiveness of the joke.)
I spent 15 minutes studying their roster and trying to come up with something to say here. The conclusion: I've got nothing. It also tells you something when only one player has a picture on the roster page on rivals.com. Just sayin'.
10. Kansas State
Well with Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, this team has to be a favorite to win the conf---... what's that? They left? The only guys back that played significant minutes are Jacob Pullen, Dominique Sutton and Darren Kent? Oh. Well, I guess this could be a long year for Frank Martin and the Wildcats.
Danny Nee Division
9. Texas Tech
This is Pat Knight's first full season as head man. For the first time in 14 years, Martin Zeno will not be playing basketball in Lubbock. Alan Voskuhl is one of the deadliest shooters in the land and he'll keep Tech in games with his long-range bombs. This wouldn't be a Red Raider team without a couple stiff, white foreigners and lucky for us, Esmir Rizvic and Damir Suljagic are back to drive Fred White and Jon Sundvold crazy as they try to spit out those names.
They redshirted virtually their entire team last year prepping for a big year. It could happen. But that means this is basically a brand new team with really no actual playing experience. Toney McCray could be an all-conference sleeper and they once again have a player named Cookie on the team.
7. Texas A&M
Josh Carter is good. Brian Davis looks weird but he's good. Donald Sloan is a serviceable point guard. But other than that, this looks like a classic 8-8 conference team. They'll beat who they should, play slightly above average at home, but never get over the top.
Ok, this is the year. This should be a big step up year. Leo Lyons is one of the conference's elite. Demarre Carrol can dominate the post. Matt Lawrence is your classic "white guy shooter." But why does this group have 8-8 written all over them again? Because there's no point guard. Spencer Laurie could be that man, but if he's not, this team is headed to the NIT.
5. Oklahoma State
New coach. Same players. Kind of a big year for first-year man Travis Ford. Sean Sutton had these guys playing pretty well late in the year, even challenging for a tournament spot. Byron Eaton is solid, but inconsistent. James Anderson shouldn't crap out offensively like he did last year. Terrell Harris will continue to drive Cowboy fans mad. But this team should be good enough to get into the tournament. If they don't, well I think everyone will know where to point the finger.
Bill Self Division
Yeah, yeah, they lost Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur, Brandon Rush, Darnell Jackson and basically everybody else. So what they only have two guys back that played any significant time last year. This is Kansas. They have good players. Bill Self is an awesome coach. They'll win 20 and be in the top half of the conference.
This is a big year for the Bears. Curtis Jerrells is an excellent player. Kevin Rodgers is a freak athlete. LaceDarious Dunn and Henry Dugat are vicious outside threats. The pieces are there and this is their chance to be taken seriously. Tweety Carter will fulfill the role of "Annoying player on opposing team that makes you want to belly-flop onto a bed of nails." Yeah, they've got the pieces in place to contend.
Ridiculous scorer/outside shooter? Check. Athletic mid-range player that can finish and score? Check two. Tall white guy that does all the little intangible things? Triple check. Big dude that lost a bunch of weight and is supposed to be much better? Yep. the Longhorns have the players and the coach to put together another wonderful year. The only question is - can A.J. Abrams run the point and still get his points?
By Royce Young