Proof that money does indeed dictate college sports is obvious in my ongoing countdown of the best leagues in the country. We're now to the top six, which just so happen to feature the six BCS-affiliated leagues. And no, that doesn't make me BCS-biased. It just makes me a sucker for reality.
Anyway, No. 6 is the Big 12.
|Julian Wright is gone, but Brandon Rush remains while Kansas looks to make a run at the Final Four. (Getty Images)|
The good: Brandon Rush's torn ACL forced him back to college, making Kansas one of the rare schools to benefit from an offseason injury. Along with Russell Robinson, Sherron Collins, Mario Chalmers, Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun, Rush gives the Jayhawks the most talented roster in the Big 12 and one that is among the most talented in the nation.
The bad: Though Kansas probably wouldn't have Rush if not for that injury, it is that injury that will not allow him to start the season. The 6-foot-6 wing was cleared to practice this week at full speed but without contact. So the Jayhawks will open Nov. 9 against Louisiana-Monroe without Rush and Julian Wright, who entered the NBA Draft early and was selected in the first round by the New Orleans Hornets.
The bottom line: Bill Self has been to four Elite Eights -- one at Tulsa, one at Illinois and two at Kansas. Eventually, he will break through and make a Final Four, and this season seems like as good a time as any.
2. Texas A&M
The good: Mark Turgeon took over for Billy Gillispie and kept most everything intact. Joseph Jones entered the NBA Draft but ultimately withdrew and returned to school. Meanwhile, DeAndre Jordan followed through on his commitment, giving the Aggies a potentially dominant frontcourt duo.
The bad: Acie Law is gone, off to the NBA. That means the Aggies are down 18.1 points, 5.0 assists and several big shots per game, stuck trying to find a new leader and somebody else to make a crucial play when a crucial play needs to be made.
The bottom line: Gillispie left Turgeon in good shape with Jones (averaged 13.4 points and 6.8 rebounds as a junior), Jordan (No. 2 prep center in the Class of 2007) and Josh Carter (shot 50 percent from 3-point range last season). So there's no reason to think the Aggies won't return to the NCAA Tournament and perhaps compete for another Sweet 16.
3. Kansas State
The good: Bill Walker is back from a torn ACL and looking great, getting 37 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a scrimmage this week. He'll be joined by a freshman class that ranked among the best nationally and is headlined by Michael Beasley, a 6-9 scorer capable of putting up numbers similar to those that freshman at Texas did last season.
The bad: The Wildcats have seven players who have never played a game at Kansas State, and then there's Walker, who only practiced 10 times and played six games last season. So inexperience and youth could be a problem early, despite the impressive talent level.
The bottom line: The hiring of Frank Martin will ultimately be judged by whether he wins or loses with the roster he and assistant Dalonte Hill helped former coach Bob Huggins build. If KSU makes the NCAA Tournament people will no longer care that Martin was hired without any Division I head coaching experience, and he'll start garnering comparisons to Jamie Dixon (Pitt) and Mark Few (Gonzaga), both of whom were once similarly promoted.
The good: Because Kevin Durant was so dominant, people forget D.J. Augustin had a spectacular freshman season by any normal standards, averaging 14.4 points and 6.7 assists per game. Now he's back in Austin preparing to better those numbers and perhaps have more off-the-chart performances like that 19-point, 13-assist game against Kansas and 31-point, six-assist game against Iowa State.
|2. Texas A&M||NCAA|
|3. Kansas State||NCAA|
|7. Texas Tech||NIT|
|8. Oklahoma State||NIT|
|10. Iowa State||none|
The bad: With Durant gone the Longhorns are looking for a new leader in scoring (25.8), rebounding (11.1), minutes (35.9), blocked shots (1.9) and steals (1.9). The numbers of sophomore Damion James will naturally increase, but there is no good way to fully replace somebody who did as much as last season's National Player of the Year.
The bottom line: Even with Durant missing, the Longhorns are plenty talented enough to finish in the top four of the Big 12. In fact, they could easily finish in the top two, and wouldn't it be wild if they actually advanced farther in the NCAA Tournament without Durant than they did with him?
The good: Stefhon Hannah headlines a nice group of returnees that helped Missouri jump from 12 to 18 wins in Mike Anderson's first year. Also on board is DeMarre Carroll, a 6-8 transfer who averaged 10.8 points and 6.4 rebounds two seasons ago at Vanderbilt.
The bad: The Tigers suffered their share of off-court incidents this offseason. First, Carroll was shot in the ankle outside a nightclub in July. Then Kalen Grimes was dismissed after allegedly striking another man with the butt of a loaded shotgun. And Darryl Butterfield was suspended earlier this month after he was arrested following an incident with his girlfriend.
The bottom line: There is little question Anderson will return Missouri to prominence in the Big 12, this season or not. For now I have the Tigers just missing the NCAA Tournament, one of the final teams I omitted. But I admit up front that I could be wrong, and I probably will be if Carroll adjusts well and the lack of depth up front doesn't become an issue.
The good: McDonald's All-American Blake Griffin joins Longar Longar in the frontcourt to form a duo rivaling Jones and Jordan at Texas A&M. They are solid enough to make the Sooners competitive again after a 6-10 finish in the Big 12 last season.
The bad: The Sooners ranked 11th in the Big 12 and 209th nationally last season in scoring. Losing two double-digit scorers (Michael Neal and Nate Carter) probably isn't the best way to significantly improve in that department.
The bottom line: Oklahoma is still recovering from the mess Kelvin Sampson left behind and how that 2007 recruiting class -- featuring, among others, current Villanova star Scottie Reynolds -- never materialized. The Sooners will be better and should return to the postseason after missing it last season for the first time in 26 years. But the NIT is the likely destination, an NCAA Tournament berth seemingly a bit out of reach.
7. Texas Tech
The good: Martin Zeno returns, and it's likely he'll compete with Beasley, Walker and Hannah (to name a few) for the league's scoring title. Also, Ezmir Rizvic is back after missing the second part of last season with a fractured eye socket. The hope is that the 7-footer can help the Red Raiders on the boards; they ranked 12th in the Big 12 in rebounding margin last season.
The bad: The loss of Jarrius Jackson (plus Jon Plefka and Darryl Dora) leaves what wasn't an immensely talented roster by Big 12 standards even less so. Jackson averaged 19.9 points in 38 minutes per game last season, meaning the Red Raiders have a lot for which to compensate.
The bottom line: Bob Knight has been to 28 NCAA Tournaments, but making a 29th this season will be difficult.
The good: Obi Muonelo is fully recovered from a leg injury that cost him 18 games last season. He'll join Byron Eaton, Terrel Harris and Marcus Dove to give Sean Sutton a quartet of solid returners
The bad: Mario Boggan exhausted his eligibility and JamesOn Curry opted to leave school early. That's 36.3 points per game missing, and it's hard to go from the NIT to the NCAA Tournament with such significant departures.
|G - D.J. Augustin, Texas|
|G - Sherron Collins, Kansas|
|F - Brandon Rush, Kansas|
|F - Michael Beasley, Kansas State|
|C - Aleks Maric, Nebraska|
|G - Mario Chalmers, Kansas|
|G - Martin Zeno, Texas Tech|
|F - Bill Walker, Kansas State|
|F - Darrell Arthur, Kansas|
|C - Joseph Jones, Texas A&M|
| Player of the Year |
Michael Beasley, Kansas State
| Newcomer of the Year |
Michael Beasley, Kansas State
| Breakthrough Player |
Damion James, Texas
The bottom line: Oklahoma State had a slew of offseason headlines, from Dove's arrest for drinking and driving to Muonelo's arrest for being in a bar under age to Harris' arrest for possessing a fake ID and obstructing an officer. The developments brought some heat on Sutton, about to begin his second season. And if he is to quiet his critics, he'll probably need to do better than the eighth-place finish predicted here.
The good: All five starters return, and blue-chip prospect LaceDarius Dunn gives the Bears another backcourt weapon to join Aaron Bruce (11.3 points), Curtis Jerrells (15.0 points) and Henry Dugat (11.7 points). It's proof that Scott Drew is building a solid base of talent that will soon be capable of competing in the Big 12.
The bad: Though the backcourt is strong and experienced, it was also sloppy with the ball last season. The Bears averaged 14.5 turnovers per game, which ranked 162nd in the nation. So that must improve for them to improve.
The bottom line: If you're looking for a sleeper in the league that could finish much higher than predicted, this is the school. It's difficult to give the benefit of the doubt to a team that won four league games last season, but the talent level gives Baylor a chance to be significantly better.
10. Iowa State
The good: Assistant T.J. Otzelberger used his West Coast connections to help lure California native Craig Brackins to campus. He's one of the highest-rated players to ever sign with Iowa State, and the 6-10 forward should help revamp a roster that needed a major revamping.
The bad: Mike Taylor couldn't stop getting arrested and screwing up in general this offseason, leaving Greg McDermott no choice but to dismiss the talented guard. Consequently, the Cyclones are without last season's leading scorer, and that's not good for a team that finished 12th in the Big 12 in points per game.
The bottom line: Iowa State still doesn't have the players to compete with the powers in this league, and it'll take more than just McDermott's coaching skill to get it done. In the end, he'll need more prospects like Brackins, and right now he doesn't have them, particularly in the backcourt.
The good: Aleks Maric is back after nearly averaging a double-double last season. He had games of 41 points (against Kansas State) and 36 points (Iowa State) in 2006-07, and he's capable of such performances pretty much any night.
The bad: The problem here is that Maric doesn't have much help. There isn't a notable experienced player on the roster taller than 6-4.
The bottom line: The Huskers haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 1998. The streak will continue this season.
The good: Jeff Bzdelik's arrival gives Colorado one of the better tacticians in college basketball. His transition from Air Force will be made easier by the presence of Richard Roby, a pro talent who averaged 17.3 points last season.
The bad: Outside of Roby and perhaps Xavier Silas there just isn't much Big 12-caliber talent on the roster. It's one thing to win with unheralded prospects in the Mountain West, but quite another to try to do it in this league.
The bottom line: The pay raise and move to a BCS league was too much for Bzdelik to pass up. But rest assured there will be times this season when he wishes he did.
|2007-08 Season Preview/Conference Countdown Schedule|
|Monday, Oct. 15||Preseason Top 25 (and one)||Thursday, Oct. 25||No. 7: Missouri Valley|
|Tuesday, Oct. 16||Preseason All-Amercia Team||Friday, Oct. 26||No. 6: Big 12|
|Wednesday, Oct. 17||No. 13: West Coast||Monday, Oct. 29||No. 5: Big Ten|
|Thursday, Oct. 18||No. 12: Colonial||Tuesday, Oct. 30||No. 4: SEC|
|Friday, Oct. 19||No. 11: Mountain West||Wednesday, Oct. 31||No. 3: ACC|
|Monday, Oct. 22||No. 10: Western Athletic||Thursday, Nov. 1||No. 2: Big East|
|Tuesday, Oct. 23||No. 9: Conference USA||Friday, Nov. 2||No. 1: Pac-10|
|Wednesday, Oct. 24||No. 8: Atlantic 10||Monday, Nov. 5||Preseason Projecting the Field|