By: David Kay
The big boys in the Big 12 are BIG BOYS. Part four of The Sports Bank’s Big 12 is all about the conference title contenders; two of which have a legit chance of being crowned NCAA Champions when it is all said and done.
Kansas had a re-loading year last season but is almost the consensus pre-season pick for the top-ranked team in the country. Right behind the Jayhawks is a Texas team (ranked #3 in the pre-season polls) looking to rebound from a frustrating 2008-2009 season. Blake Griffin is no longer a Sooner, but Oklahoma still has the talent to be a force on the national scene.
1. Kansas (1st, 14-2 in Big 12, 27-8 overall, NCAA Sweet 16)
Two seasons removed a National Championship, Rock, Chalk, Jayhawks is poised to make another run at a title despite somewhat of a turbulent off-season that not only saw several ballers get into an altercation with members of the Kansas football team, but also the first semester suspension of Brady Morningstar stemming from a drunken driving arrest. Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins decided to return to school rather than go to the NBA and on top of being two of the most skilled players in the conference, bring plenty of experience and leadership to KU. Add in the fact that everyone else is back from a young team last year and that Bill Self landed a major recruit in swing player Xavier (pronounced Zav-ee-ay) Henry, and there is no questioning why Kansas is ranked #1 in the pre-season polls.
Projected Depth Chart
C: Cole Aldrich (Jr)/Jeff Withey (So)
PF: Marcus Morris (So)/Markieff Morris (So)/Thomas Robinson (Fr)
G/F: Xavier Henry (Fr)/Mario Little (Sr)/Travis Releford (So)
G: Tyshawn Taylor (So)/Brady Morningstar (Jr)/Tyrel Reed (Jr)
PG: Sherron Collins (Sr)/Elijah Johnson (Fr)
Gone: G-Tyrone Appleton (transfer-Southwest Baptist), F-Quintrell Thomas (transfer-UNLV)
Player to Watch: Taylor- Bill Self really cashed in last off-season when Tyshawn Taylor de-committed from Marquette due to Tom Crean taking the head coaching job at Indiana. Coming off a promising freshman season, Taylor was critical in helping lead the U.S. U-19 team to a gold medal in the World Championships. He was at the center of the incident with the football team earlier this school year and will still take a backseat to Collins and Aldrich, but could be the x-factor in the Jayhawks journey to a national title.
2. Texas (T-4th, 9-7, 23-12, NCAA Second Round)
Coming off an extremely disappointing 2008-2009 season, the Longhorns are ready to make a major splash on the national scene. Damion James chose to return to school after a less than stellar junior year and Florida transfer Jai Lucas will finally give Texas the stability at the point that they lacked last season. That’s not it though. The ‘Horns boast one of the top recruiting classes in the country led by ESPN.com’s #1 recruit in the 2009 class; the uber-athletic, defensive stopping combo guard Avery Bradley. Expectations have anything less than a trip to a Final Four would be considered a disappointment.
Projected Depth Chart
C: Dexter Pittman (Sr)/Clint Chapman (Jr)/Matt Hill (Jr)
F: Gary Johnson (Jr)/Jordan Hamilton (Fr)/Alexis Wangneme (Jr)
F: Damion James (Sr)/Shawn Williams (Fr)
SG: Avery Bradley (Fr)/Justin Mason (Sr)/Varez Ward (So)
PG: Jai Lucas (So)/Dogus Balbay (Jr)/J’Covan Brown (Fr)
Gone: G-A.J. Abrams, F/C Connor Atchley, G-Harrison Smith (transfer-Stephen F. Austin)
Player to Watch: Lucas- The son of former NBA’er John Lucas decided to transfer from Florida because Nick Calathes was taking his role as the point guard. He won’t be eligible until after the fall semester but should step in right away and provide the Longhorns with a true distributor at the point, a major void that hurt their team a year ago.
3. Oklahoma (2nd, 13-3, 30-6, NCAA Elite Eight)
Life in Norman post-Blake Griffin begins. With the National Player of the Year gone, Jeff Capel’s team will have some major shoes to fill since Griffin did it all for the Sooners last season. Besides losing Blake, Oklahoma will be without two other starters and their top bench contributor. With all that said, OU is still in good shape. Sharp-shooting combo guard Willie Warren turned down a spot in the NBA lottery to return to school and be “the guy” at Oklahoma. Capel also brings in a pair of talented freshmen in Tiny Gallon and Tommy-Mason Griffin who should start right away. The talent is there, it will just be a matter how quickly the new players can acclimate themselves to their new roles.
Projected Depth Chart
C: Keith “Tiny” Gallon (Fr)/Orlando Allen (Jr)
F: Ryan Wright (Sr)/ Andrew Fitzgerald (Fr)/Kyle Hardrick (Fr)
G/F: Tony Crocker (Sr)/Ray Willis (So)
SG: Willie Warren (So)/Cade Davis (Jr)/Steven Pledger (Fr)
PG: Tommy Mason-Griffin (Fr)/T.J. Franklin (So)
Gone: PF-Blake Griffin, F/C-Taylor Griffin, PG-Austin Johnson, F- Juan Pattillo
Player to Watch: Warren- He wants to be the new Blake Griffin at OU, and while he won’t dominate the college like Griffin did, Warren should be an All-American candidate and a Top-5 pick in next year’s NBA Draft. The sophomore is explosive off the dribble and can also knock it down from deep. He should become a common name in the college game by the start of conference play.
The Sports Bank Big 12 Preview Continues:
Tuesday: Teams 10-12 (Colorado, Texas Tech, Nebraska)
Wednesday: Teams 7-9 (Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State)
Thursday: Teams 4-6 (Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M)
The Sports Bank ACC Previews/Power Rankings:
Teams 10-12 (Virginia Tech, Virginia, N.C. State)
Teams 7-9 (Wake Forest, Miami FL, Boston College)
Teams 4-6 (Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech)
Teams 1-3 (UNC, Duke, Maryland)
The Sports Bank SEC Previews/Power Rankings:
SEC East Teams 4-6 (Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Georgia)
SEC East Teams 1-3 (Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida)
SEC West Teams 4-6 (Arkansas, Auburn, LSU)
SEC West Teams 1-3 (Mississippi State, Mississippi, Alabama)
The Sports Bank Pac-10 Preview/Power Rankings:
Teams 8-10 (Washingon State, Arizona State, Stanford)
Teams 5-7 (Arizona, USC, Oregon)
Teams 1-4 (Oregon State, UCLA, Washington, Cal)
The Sports Bank Big East Previews/Power Rankings
Teams 13-16 (Rutgers, South Florida, Providence, DePaul)
Teams 9-12 (Notre Dame, Pitt, Marquette, St. John’s)
Teams 5-8 (Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, Seton Hall)
Teams 1-4 (Villanova, West Virginia, UConn, Georgetown)
Post-Season Award Predictions
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