College Basketball Previews: Big 12 gets two new teams, but business as usual at top

By Jeff Goodman | College Basketball Insider
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.

What I don't like: Texas Tech aftermath, Myck Kabongo's situation, legal issues at Oklahoma State.

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:

Pierre Jackson (Baylor)
Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State)
Elijah Johnson (Kansas)
Aaric Murray (West Virginia)
Le'Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State)

And the five after that:

Rodney McGruder (Kansas State)
Myck Kabongo (Texas)
Will Clyburn (Iowa State)
Ben McLemore (Kansas)
Isaiah Austin (Baylor)

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.

BEST GUESS ON FIRST TO WORST
1. Kansas Jayhawks
Bill Self and the Jayhawks have won eight consecutive regular-season titles. Don't bet against it getting to nine. Sure, T-Rob and Tyshawn are gone. But there's still plenty of talent -- and experience.
2. Baylor Bears
Pierre Jackson was the one player the Bears could ill-afford to lose off last year's team. He's one of the best guards in the nation, but the key is up front where Scott Drew needs Isaiah Austin to mature quickly.
3. West Virginia Mountaineers
Bob Huggins back in the Big 12, where he spent one season at K-State. He's got two transfers -- Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten -- who will make a difference.
4. Kansas State Wildcats
How will the players adjust to going from Frank Martin to Bruce Weber? That's the most pressing question in Manhattan because the Wildcats have the pieces in place to be a Top 25 club.
5. Texas Longhorns
The loss of J'Covan Brown may wind up being addition by subtraction. It's still a young group, but the Longhorns have added big man Cameron Ridley -- and that'll change things in Austin.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
When you've got Le'Bryan Nash and Marcus Smart, you've got a chance. Travis Ford has two of the best in the league and that means the Cowboys can finish higher than this.
7. Iowa State Cyclones
A new crop of transfers for Fred Hoiberg, highlighted by ex-Utah forward Will Clyburn and former Michigan State guard Korie Lucious.
8. Oklahoma Sooners
Lon Kruger's got a resume of overachieving. It could happen again this year in Norman, especially if the Sooners freshman guards come along quickly.
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
Billy Clyde Gillispie's out and Chris Walker is in on an interim basis. The Red Raiders have Jordan Tolbert and talented freshman guard Josh Gray.
10. TCU Horned Frogs
New coach Trent Johnson inherits a mediocre group that isn't ready for the Big 12. It's gonna be a long year for the Horned Frogs.

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

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