Big 12 Conference Basketball Predictions and Betting Preview
by Robert Ferringo - 11/10/2008
In this country we obviously have elections in a four-year cycle. And apparently the Big 12 decides to dominate college basketball in a five-year cycle.
Last year the Big 12 was the No. 1 power conference according to both the Pomeroy Ratings and the RPI and provided us with Kansas, the national champions. That the Jayhawks cut down the nets was a perfect coronation for the league that has been the best in the sport over the last 24 months. And the last time that the Big 12 has enjoyed such a lofty national stature? That would be since 2003, which is the last time a Jayhawks squad took a shot at the national title.
Since we are holding up Kansas as a microcosm of the Big 12 it's safe to spin that forward and say that, much like the Jayhawks, the league is in for one hell of a hangover.
The premature exodus of an incredible amount of young talent, along with the usual graduation attrition, from the Big 12 has left the league as top-heavy, predictable, and not nearly as nasty on a national stage as it has been recently. Just the thought of guys like Kevin Durant, Mike Beasley, and D.J. Augustin getting geared up to start the season, ensuring a thrilling and skillful quest for the championship, is enough to make Bob Knight's nipples harden. But instead this year offers us a two-horse race (and it's not even that close) and the promise of a lot of shuffling of mediocre teams in the standings over the next four months.
This year the Big 12 is going to be one of the most top-heavy of all BCS conferences. I really would love to tell you that it's going to be full of surprise and intrigue, with upsets and upheaval sweeping across the plains. But that isn't the case. Either Texas or Oklahoma is going to win the conference crown, with Baylor serving as the No. 3 team that will do everything it can to factor into the race. (By the way, it's going to be Texas that wins it. By a lot.) After that this league is a free-for-all, with inexperience and youth creating a vacuum that should make for a testy minefield throughout the conference slate.
Without further ado, here is some analysis and some predictions in Doc's Sports 2008 Big 12 predictions and betting preview:
The Favorite: Texas
UT ain't just a football factory anymore. The Longhorns have just continued to pump out Top 10 NBA picks over the last few years and once again have some talent that will eventually end up in the pay-for-play league. In the meantime Rick Barnes' bunch will be gunning for (at least) its third trip to the Elite Eight in the last four years. Texas lost point guard savant D.J. Augustin to The League last summer - but that's about all it lost. The Longhorns welcome back four starters, 76 percent of its total points, 90 percent of its rebounds, and 80 percent of its total minutes played. And all of that comes from a team that beat Kansas head-to-head and finished tied with the NCAA champions for the Big 12 crown. It's the Longhorns' title to lose. And because of the fact that the public still doesn't think of Texas as a "basketball school" I believe there is still plenty of cash left to be banked from this Final Four contender. A.J. Abrams is the triggerman, but Connor Atchley and Co. forms a stellar supporting cast.
The Challenger: Oklahoma
The Griffin Boys - Blake and Taylor - form the core of one of the Midwest's best frontcourts. But the key to whether or not the Sooners can take the next step and topple the Horns will be the production from the backcourt. Returning starters Austin Johnson and Tony Crocker are serviceable. But we aren't looking for an oil change. Highly touted frosh Willie Warren is supposed to be the difference maker. But teams that are led by a freshman and a sophomore are rarely consistent wagers and are rarely still standing late in March. This team is tough. But is tough enough?
The Dark Horse: Baylor
Much like Miami in the ACC, Baylor was a team that I was on early last season. The Bears can score, and score, and score some more. They have, arguably, the best group of guards in the country, with their four top guns combining to average 50.7 points per game. Curtis Jerrells is a stud and a proven go-to guy for this team, which also rotates two legit seven footers at center and a gritty glue guy at power forward that chips in 12 and nine every night. The issue with this team is that they get reckless and out of control on offense and they forget to play defense most of the time. This is a dangerous squad that can beat the best teams in the country on any given night. But they are tough to trust because even if they get a big lead they'll let teams back into games with shoddy defensive play.
The X-Factor: Texas A&M
The Aggies were definitely a disappointment last year, with their near miss at an upset of UCLA as a fitting finale for this underachieving group. But I'm not 100 percent sure where A&M fits in this year. They should be rebuilding when you consider what they've lost over the past two offseasons. They watched both of their big men leave and there are just three players on the roster that played more than 20 minutes per game last season. But those three players have a load of experience and include one of the league's better starting backcourts. The Aggies could sink like a stone if they don't get any post play. But this club could also play competitive ball and slide into the No. 4 slot if they catch a break or two.
The Disappointment: Kansas
It's hangover time. The Jayhawks lucked out an NCAA title (they were a very good team, but Memphis lost that game much more than Kansas won it) and then waved goodbye to five of their top six scorers and rebounders. That is complete attrition, and KU is left with just one player who averaged more than nine minutes per game. Simply put, this team is going to stink out of the game and not come close to matching the 13-conference wins average that they have managed over the last five seasons. Kansas plays a rugged schedule and I can really see them getting beaten by some of the lower-end teams in this conference. Only one way to play KU this year: play against.
The Surprise Team: Oklahoma State
Travis Ford worked wonders with the Massachusetts program over the last two seasons and may become the rare situation where a new coach blends in perfectly with the players on his new team. Ford's fast-and-loose style should play to the strengths of OSU's guard-heavy roster. This program has been in a downward spiral since a Final Four trip in 2004, and their three straight NIT berths, while being one of the worst bets in the nation, are not what backers had in mind. Three double-digit scorers are back, and Obi Muonelo provides some punch off the bench. They key is whether or not they can take care of the ball, which has been a problem in the past, and whether they can defend and rebound well enough to be a competitor. If not, they will remain the same shaky squad that we've seen these past three years.
Missouri - I really feel for the Tigers. They were playing at a really high level last season before injuries and suspensions zapped them of their top players right when it looked like Mike Anderson was going to turn the corner with this crew. The remnants for 2008-09 include one of the top frontcourts in the league. But this team has a shaky backcourt and will be relying on four of five guys with little-to-no experience on the D-I level. This team is dangerous. Anderson's full-court pressure defense might be able to nip some scalps in the nonconference slate. But once league play gets rolling the Tigers are likely going to be a team to stay away from betting on, either for or against.
Nebraska - The four-out, one-in scheme that the Huskers work relies exclusively on a talented big man to score near the basket in one-on-one situations and to be able to kick the ball out to open shooters if the double team comes. Nebraska lost that big man, as Aleks Maric used up his 12 years of eligibility last year. The problem with Nebraska last year was that while Maric held up his end of the deal the shooters that surrounded him were terrible. If this team could have knocked down anything last year - they were ninth in the league at .342 - they could have been a covering machine. But now without that rock in the center there is even more pressure on an overwhelmed backcourt.
Texas Tech - Tech is a club that relies an awful lot on the three-ball, so it will be interesting to see how the new three-point line impacts their offense. I absolutely love John Roberson and think he's going to be one of the top guards in the league. And we all know that Alan Voskuil can stroke it (50.0 percent on three-point shots). But Bobby Knight left his son Pat a pretty unathletic team that has a whole lot of nothing to work with on the interior.
Kansas State - The perfect comparison with K-State hoops this year is the Arkansas football team. Both relied on two absolute studs to carry them last season and those two future pros were able to mask a lot of deficiencies. Well, last year Arkansas' weakness was its passing game and this year they adopted a pass-happy scheme. You know how that's gone. Last year Kansas State's weakness was poor guard play and this year they are going to rely on the backcourt to get things done. It won't go well.
Iowa State - Honestly, what do you expect from this team? Yup, and that's about what you're going to get. This team is bad and it's not getting any better. Three of its top four scorers are no longer with the squad and the only three upperclassmen on the roster combined to average all of 11.4 points per game. This team will simply not be competitive.
Colorado - If Jeff Bzdelik sticks around long enough - and there are rumors that he may already be eyeing a return to the NBA - he will build a winner at Colorado. Just not this year. Last season he was shackled with unathletic players that didn't know his system. Now he lost any "talent" that he had, and with it any understanding that his guys had of the Princeton offense. So it's back to square one. But this is Bzdelik's first recruiting class so he should at least have the pieces to mold. Think Michigan last year in Year 1 of the Beilein Era: it won't be pretty but could have its moments.
For more information on Ferringo's college basketball picks, check out his Insider Page here.