|Bob Huggins is back in the Big 12. His team was picked by coaches to finish sixth, which was dumb. (US Presswire)|
Kansas has lost Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, the Jayhawks don't have an intimidating roster -- but still have to be everyone's preseason favorite to win the league. Again. It has happened eight consecutive seasons. Despite semi-unproven Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey leading the way, Kansas should still be among the nation's top teams this year.
The question becomes who will battle Kansas for the Big 12 title. There is plenty of uncertainly. It could be Baylor, despite the loss of Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy. The Bears still have Pierre Jackson and bring in one of the most talented freshmen in the country in long 7-footer Isaiah Austin. Bob Huggins is back in the Big 12 (he had a brief one-year stint with K-State) and may have enough to challenge thanks to a couple of transfers. Bruce Weber's first season in Manhattan could be one to remember as he inherits a strong roster left behind by Frank Martin.
All those young freshmen in Austin are now sophomores, and Rick Barnes has added a couple of much-needed big men. Iowa State has reloaded with transfers -- and whose to question Fred Hoiberg after the formula worked a year ago. Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford brings in one of the nation's elite freshmen and he'll pair him with one of the country's most talented sophomores. Don't discount Oklahoma because, as history tells us, it's not smart to do that with a Lon Kruger-led team.
All we really know is that Kansas is the team to beat -- and there will be less drama in Lubbock as Billy Gillispie is gone. Well, that and the fact that the Red Raiders will still struggle -- even without Gillispie -- and so will Trent Johnson in his new spot at TCU .
Last year's regular-season winners: Kansas
Last year's tournament winner: Missouri
Conference tournament: March 13-16 (Sprint Center, Kansas City)
Dozen best non-conference games:
1. Michigan State vs. Kansas at Champions Classic in Atlanta (Nov. 13)
2. Kansas at Ohio State (Dec. 22)
3. Baylor at Kentucky (Dec. 1)
4. West Virginia vs. Michigan in Brooklyn (Dec. 15)
5. Baylor at Gonzaga (12-28)
6. Texas at Michigan State (Dec. 22)
7. North Carolina at Texas (Dec. 19)
8. West Virginia at Gonzaga (Nov. 12)
9. Florida vs. Kansas State in Kansas City (Dec. 22)
10. Gonzaga at Oklahoma State (Dec. 31)
11. Texas vs. UCLA at Houston (Dec. 8)
12. Kansas State vs. Gonzaga at Seattle (Dec. 15)
What I like: Huggins, Marcus Smart, Iowa State on the upswing.
|Jeff Withey had the best block rate in the nation last year, better than Anthony Davis. (US Presswire)|
Why: Anytime you can add a personality and a coach like Huggins, it's huge for the league. Huggins' teams are nearly a lock to make the NCAA tournament each and every year -- and this season should be no different. Huggins just might be the best active coach in the country yet to win a national title.
As for Marcus Smart, I don't just like Oklahoma State's freshman. I love this kid -- and I'm not alone. Just talk to Billy Donovan or any of the coaches on the staff on the U-18 team this past summer. They raved and raved and raved about this kid -- and rightfully so. He's a stud who just does it all.
Fred Hoiberg in Ames: I didn't think he'd do it, but The Mayor has Iowa State relevant again this season, largely due to a group of transfers. Will the Cyclones be what they were a year ago with Royce White? Probably not, but they do have Utah transfer Will Clyburn and Michigan State transfer Korie Lucious, who should help the program be back in some sort of postseason in 2012-13.
Why: It was a mess at Texas Tech in the Billy Gillispie regime, and a change was necessary. However, I do feel for Gillispie and hope he gets healthy -- both physically and emotionally. Now Chris Walker is heading the troops -- at least for this season -- and my guess is he won't have players running the steps of the arena with a pair of stress fractures.
As for Kabongo, Texas' talented guard was in Ohio working out with a trainer who's affiliated with an agent. He told the NCAA that his buddy, Tristan Thompson, paid for his stay. The organization is researching the situation, and Kabongo could wind up missing games this season.
Darrell Williams' legal issues. This is a kid who led the team in rebounding and was putting up 7.1 points per game when he was suspended by Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford in February 2011. Now he's facing a suspended sentence stemming from a sexual assault case. He continues to claim his innocence, but he faces up to two years in jail after a jury convicted him this past summer. He won't ever play in Stillwater again, but I just hope the legal system gets this right.
Player of the Year will be: Jeff Withey (Kansas). It's a safe bet to go with a Jayhawk, since they win the league just about every year. Withey's value isn't merely in the numbers. He's one of the top defensive players in the nation -- and should have a chance to put points on the board now that Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor are gone.
The next best five:
And the five after that:
Best freshman: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State). He's not a true point guard, but he'll play the position for Travis Ford this season. Smart is a tough, versatile winner. He's got all the intangibles and can do just about anything you need on the court -- and he does it all without ego.
Previously in previews:
No. 4 -- SEC
No. 5 -- ACC
No. 6 -- Pac-12
No. 7 -- Atlantic-10
No. 8 -- Mountain West
No. 9 -- Missouri Valley
No. 10 -- Conference USA
No. 11 -- West Coast
No. 12 -- Western Athletic
No. 13 -- Colonial
No. 14 -- Horizon League
No. 15 -- The Ivy League
No. 16 -- Summit League
No. 17 -- MAC
No. 18 -- Atlantic Sun
No. 19 -- Sun Belt
No. 20 -- MAAC
No. 21 -- Patriot League
No. 22 -- Ohio Valley
No. 23 -- Big West
No. 24 -- SoCon
No. 25 -- NEC
No. 26 -- Big South
No. 27 -- Southland
No. 28 -- Big Sky
No. 29 -- America East
No. 30 -- MEAC
No. 31 -- Great West
No. 32 -- SWAC