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CBSSports.com Senior Writer

Big 12 preview: Competition could breed national contender

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Duke is the overwhelming favorite in the ACC, Washington in the Pac-10.

Those two leagues are seemingly predictable.

I can't say the same for the Big 12.

The smart pick is Kansas State, but a reasonable man could easily go with Baylor, Kansas, Missouri or even Texas. The Big 12 is that competitive, that wide open, and it'll be a blast watching it unfold. That the league also features great individual talent -- whether KU freshman Josh Selby ever plays or not -- is an added bonus that should make this conference that spent part of the summer on life-support one of the nation's best this season.

Here's a look at the Big 12:

(Schools listed in predicted order of finish.)

1. Kansas State

The Wildcats are, like I said, the smart pick to win the Big 12, but not without concerns. Their primary ball-handler and second-leading scorer (Denis Clemente) is gone from an Elite Eight team, and there's no experienced and proven point guard on the roster. Consequently, Jacob Pullen, a CBSSports.com First-team All-American, will be asked to dribble more than he's used to, and it's unclear if the Chicago native will flourish in that role or struggle to get the same types of shots that allowed him to average 19.3 points as a junior. So, again, there are question marks. But the prediction here is that Frank Martin figures it out, and that Pullen -- with the help of Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels and transfer Freddy Asprilla -- leads the Wildcats to another special year.
NCAA tournament? Yes

2. Baylor

There are no perfect ways to replace Ekpe Udoh in the frontcourt, but enrolling Perry Jones has to be among the best. The 6-foot-11 forward is a freak athlete and one-and-done player (if he chooses to go that route). He and senior LaceDarius Dunn could both have All-American campaigns, and if that happens don't be surprised when you look up in March and see Baylor one win away from making the Final Four, just like last season.
NCAA tournament? Yes

2011 Tournament:
March 9-12 -- Kansas City, Mo.
Quick facts
Defending regular-season champion:
Kansas
Defending regular-season champion:
Kansas
Top returning scorer:
LaceDarius Dunn (Baylor), 19.6 ppg
Top returning rebounder:
Marshall Moses (Oklahoma State), 8.1 rpg
Accolades
First team
G - Jacob Pullen, Kansas State
G - LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor
G - Kim English, Missouri
F - Marcus Morris, Kansas
F - Perry Jones, Baylor
Second team
G - Cory Joseph, Texas
G - Alec Burks, Colorado
G - Cory Higgins, Colorado
F - Mike Singletary, Texas Tech
F - David Loubeau, Texas A&M
Player of the year
Jacob Pullen, Kansas State
Newcomer of the year
Perry Jones, Baylor
Breakthrough player
David Loubeau, Texas A&M
Coach on the hot seat
Pat Knight, Texas Tech
Click here for more
conference previews

3. Kansas

The uncertainty surrounding Josh Selby makes the Jayhawks difficult to project, but they'll be good either way. Without him, they might still challenge for the league title. But with him, they could compete for a national championship, and that's why KU fans continue to hope the NCAA will clear the McDonald's All-American whose amateur status remains undetermined. In the meantime, Marcus Morris is KU's best talent. He got 28 points in 22 minutes in an exhibition this week, the latest sign he's about to start a season that could lead to Big 12 Player of the Year honors.
NCAA tournament? Yes

4. Missouri

I've watched Mike Anderson win enough with average rosters that I can't wait to see what he does with the group of seriously talented prospects he has recruited to Missouri. Kim English could be a Big 12 Player of the Year candidate, and Marcus Denmon and Laurence Bowers give the Tigers two more returning double-digit scorers. Add freshman point guard Phil Pressey and junior college standout Ricardo Ratliffe to the mix, and this Missouri team has the pieces to win the Big 12 and pretty much anything else.
NCAA tournament? Yes

5. Texas

Dogus Balbay is solid, sure. But Cory Joseph is special and the player who needs to be UT's primary ball-handler if the Longhorns are to avoid another disappointing season. A trio of Joseph, J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton could be really good with Gary Johnson and McDonald's All-American Tristan Thompson serving as frontcourt possibilities. If the chemistry problems from last season don't resurface, these Longhorns can be better than those Longhorns even though Texas lost two first-round draft picks in Damion James and Avery Bradley.
NCAA tournament? Yes

6. Texas A&M

It says something about what Billy Gillispie started and Mark Turgeon has continued when Texas A&M can lose its top two scorers (Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis) and still be projected to make the NCAA tournament. One of the reasons for that is David Loubeau, the 6-8 forward who averaged 9.2 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while playing just 22.5 minutes per game. Loubeau showed flashes of brilliance as a sophomore (19 points and nine rebounds against Texas Tech, 17 and nine vs. KU, 17 and eight vs. Missouri, etc.,) and figures to be a consistent scorer as a junior.
NCAA tournament? Yes

7. Texas Tech

Pat Knight's goal of a trip to the NCAA tournament is reasonable considering five of his top six scorers return. The star is Mike Singletary, who averaged 15.0 points and 6.8 rebounds as a junior and is capable of carrying Texas Tech to a win at any given time. Still, the prediction here is that the Red Raiders finish just on the wrong side of the bubble (although I won't be surprised if they somehow bounce into the top half of the league, make the Field of 68 and get Knight the contract extension he desires).
NCAA tournament? No

8. Colorado

Cory Higgins and Alec Burks give first-year coach Tad Boyle a pair of nice talents. But they've never won a thing, and that can't be overlooked. On one hand, I expect another so-so season from the Buffaloes. On the other, just like with Texas Tech, I won't be shocked if they ride the Higgins-Burks tandem into the top half of the league and make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003.
NCAA tournament? No

9. Oklahoma State

Travis Ford has talked about how this team will be more balanced than last season's team, but I would rather be lopsided and have James Anderson. The 6-5 guard averaged 22.3 points while attempting 152 more shots and 151 more free throws than any of his teammates. That's a formula that led the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament, and I'm not confident they can return without Anderson (and, it's worth noting, Obi Muonelo). There's just too much to replace and not enough to replace it with.
NCAA tournament? No

10. Nebraska

Nebraska is one of those programs that, even if things go better than expected, I just can't envision breaking through and jumping into the top half of the league, especially not in a year like this. So the question isn't whether they can be good as much as it's whether they can avoid being embarrassingly bad before moving into the Big Ten, because if not then Doc Sadler might not get to enjoy the new arena being built on campus.
NCAA tournament? No

11. Oklahoma

The best thing anybody can say for the Sooners is that they won't be a disappointment this season, mostly because nobody is expecting much. Oklahoma lost four starters from a surprisingly bad team, including three McDonald's All-Americans in Willie Warren, Tiny Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin. Cade Davis is a nice college player and Cameron Clark is an intriguing incoming freshman. But Blake Griffin is not walking through that door, and the Sooners will again struggle to find wins just two years removed from Griffin leading them to the Elite Eight.
NCAA tournament? No

12. Iowa State

Fred Hoiberg spent the offseason proving he understands the only way to rebuild Iowa State is to enroll gifted prospects by any means necessary, which is why he took a couple of talented (but troubled) transfers in Royce White (Minnesota) and Chris Allen (Michigan State). I like it. But the problem is that neither of those guys will be available this season because of NCAA transfer rules. So the Cyclones will have a hard time winning games, and Greg McDermott is going to look brilliant for leaving when he did and securing that fresh start and new contract at Creighton.
NCAA tournament? No

2010-11 Season Preview/Conference Countdown Schedule
DateFeatureDateFeature
Fri., Oct. 15Preseason Top 25 (and one) Fri., Oct. 29Conference No. 6: Pac-10
Mon., Oct. 18Preseason All-Americans Mon., Nov. 1Conference No. 5: SEC
Wed., Oct. 20Player rankings: Points/Combos Tues., Nov. 2Conference No. 4: ACC
Thurs., Oct. 21Player rankings: Wings Wed., Nov. 3Conference No. 3: Big East
Fri., Oct. 22Player rankings: Big men Thurs., Nov. 4Conference No. 2: Big 12
Mon., Oct. 25Coaches on the Hot Seat Fri., Nov. 5Conference No. 1: Big Ten
Wed., Oct. 27Best of the non-BCS Mon., Nov. 8Projections: Parrish | Palm

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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