Big 12 College Basketball Picks With Projected Order of Finish and NCAA Bids
by Robert Ferringo - 11/8/2010
As is the case throughout all of college basketball, change is in the air in the Big 12 this season.
A team from Kansas is the consensus preseason No. 1 in this league, which is no different than just about any other year. But this year it is the Kansas State Wildcats and not the Kansas Jayhawks that are enjoying the hype and plaudits that come from being the league favorite. To say that’s a significant change is an understatement.
Colorado and Nebraska, two Big 12 bottom feeders, are ready to change conferences. Both are bolting for the Big Ten next year as part of the football realignment. But before they go they are looking to play spoiler in one of the nation’s toughest hoops conferences. And looking at the rosters they boast one of the top backcourts (Colorado) and one of the largest frontcourts (Nebraska) in the league.
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Finally, with just 28 of 60 returning starters back from last year’s league the Big 12 is the least experienced conference in the nation. That level of turnover on the rosters signifies a major change and should have a ripple effect on both the standings and the overall power structure of this league. And in a conference that has been dominated by Kansas and Texas over the last decade it could mean that we’ve only begun to see the changes in store for Big 12 basketball.
Here are my 2010-11 Big 12 college basketball predictions to help you with your college basketball picks (with college basketball odds to win the league title in parentheses) and projected order of finish and possible NCAA bids at the bottom:
The Favorite: Kansas State (+250)
The Wildcats are in completely (unfound) territory: they are the Big 12 favorites. They are enjoying their highest preseason ranking ever (No. 3) and they even garnered a pair of first-place votes in the AP Top 25. This is pretty heady territory for this program.
The strength of this team is, well, its strength. The Wildcats are the most athletic team in the nation and if you just look at these guys getting off the bus you would think it was part of an NFL team. As a result, like we saw with teams like Syracuse and Kentucky last year, there are some teams that have zero shot of beating the Wildcats simply because they can’t come close to matching up with the size that K-State brings to the table.
They have four, count ‘em, four pro-level athletes that stand between 6-7 and 6-10 and dominate the lane: Wally Judge, Jamar Samuels, Curtis Kelly and transfer Freddy Asprilla. The ringleader is stud scoring guard Jacob Pullen and his neck beard. This team picked up excellent experience last year and is an upperclassmen-dominated team with a killer home court advantage. All good things. Except this: they have no prayer of winning the national championship.
The main reason is that they don’t have anything even close to resembling a point guard now that Denis Clemente moved on. The general consensus is that Pullen can run the show. However, I’m getting shades of Texas a couple years ago and their disastrous A.J. Abrams experiment at point.
Frank Martin needs to just put the ball in someone’s hands and tell them, “Look, just dribble it up the court, set up the offense, and get it in the hands of our ballers. Oh, and make your free throws and play defense.” If they can find that kind of role player then the sky is the limit.
But this team is one of the most wretched free throw shooting teams in the country. And without a quality point guard teams generally stand about a zero percent chance of winning a title.
The Challenger: Kansas (+320)
It seems like as quickly as things peaked for the Jayhawks they have just as quickly crested. Last year they were shoo-ins for the Final Four (which didn’t happen) and the consensus No. 1 team in the land. This year the hype has subsided, but not necessarily the expectations.
Kansas lost its two best players – Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich – and now are left looking for a leader. They have some nice pieces on this roster. The Morris twins are a bit awkward for my taste, but they are effective. Brady Morningstar, C.J. Henry and Tyrel Reed can all stroke it from the outside. And there are some strong athletes sprinkled in on the wing.
But I don’t see any difference makers on this team and there is no one to fill in Collins’ role and take control of this team. They were counting on having top recruit Josh Selby, considered one of the three or four best freshmen in the nation, but he is presently ineligible while the NCAA investigates his amateur status. If I know the NCAA and this could drag out awhile. And the whole will-he-or-won’t-he play drama really could linger over this team’s head all season.
Kansas is still quality. But like their foundation forwards they are a bit awkward for my liking.
The Dark Horse: Texas (+300)
Sometimes less is more. Last year the Longhorns were allegedly loaded with talent, overburdened with expectations, and flat-out overhyped by media members penciling them in with Kansas into the Final Four. Instead, Texas imploded in Big 12 play after a 17-0 start and became an afterthought by February.
This year some of the same problems remain: the roster is built of too many young, individualistic players that lack chemistry and cohesion, magnified by the fact that when it comes to in-game coaching Rick Barnes is, well, one hell of a recruiter.
Texas is large, long, athletic and has depth. They welcome in another highly regarded freshmen class. But unless they can find a way to play hard, do the little things (like make free throws, take good shots, and get gritty when push comes to shove) and drop some of the apparent ego that hangs over this team, they are going to be in for another disappointing season.
They have plenty of guys that can handle the point, but they need a leader to emerge. And gunner Jordan Hamilton has talent enough to become the next LaceDarius Dunn.
There is size for days and this team certainly isn’t afraid of anyone. There are things to like. But until the intangibles start to get filled in Texas is a team that will continue to lose square bettors money.
The X-Factor: Missouri (+600)
This is a very interesting year for the Tigers. They are coming off one of the more successful two-year runs in recent program history. But the personnel on this year’s squad are considerably different and graduation has sucked out most of the go-to guys during that time.
But the Tigers are still a system team and now that Oliver Purnell has left Clemson the Tigers are the only BCS team that makes its money with 40 minutes of all-out, full-court, no-holds-barred, free-for-all pressing.
Missouri has a decent core back with Kim English, Justin Safford, Lawrence Bowers and Marcus Denmon. That quartet gives them three double-digit scorers and Safford was at 9.9 before he injured his knee. All four are athletic and experienced and really give Mike Anderson a solid foundation.
But I have a hard time finding this team’s ceiling. Are they real contenders? Or are they a good-but-not-great team that will finish in the top three in the league, take their No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and then hang around for a while before getting bounced?
They have some kinks to work out early in the season – they are working in six new faces – and this team really doesn’t have the post presence it did in the past. But they are quality and will be in the mix in February.
The Surprise Team: Colorado (+2000)
By now the Buffaloes shouldn’t be a surprise; if you don’t know that this is going to be a very good team you haven’t been paying attention.
Coach Jeff Bzdelick moved on to take the Wake Forest job, but he left new coach Tad Boyle a lot to work with. The Buffs may have the league’s best backcourt with Cory Higgins (18.9 points per game) and Alec Burks (17.1 ppg) and these guys are able to compete with anyone. Higgins is one of three three-year starters on this team and he is desperate to make the NCAA Tournament in his senior season.
This is a Princeton offense team and Boyle will continue to craft their patient, execution-based style. The Buffs have a very competitive – without being overwhelming – nonconference schedule and they have a chance to get some quality wins that would help come Selection Sunday. But they need to rebound and they need to defend the basket.
This team lacks any interior presence and that is a killer. They were blown out too often last year because they simply couldn’t hold up underneath. If they can get anything at all out of the frontcourt then this team could be threatening a bid in March.
The ATS Machine: Texas Tech (+1200)
The Red Raiders are definitely one of – not my No. 1 – sleeper team in college basketball this year. I think that they have a lot of things coming together that could really lead to a special season in Lubbock.
For me it all starts with one of my favorite (and one of the most underrated) players in college hoops: John Roberson. He is a four-year starter at the point and is one of the best floor generals in the nation. He averaged 15 points and five assists last year and could be even better this time around.
He has three other experienced players running and gunning with him, including scoring machine Mike Singletary and glue guy D’walyn Roberts on the wings and post Robert Lewandowski underneath. This team can run and can score with anyone in the country.
What will make or break their season is if they can start to play any defense and if they can man-up on the interior. They won just four conference games last year, but the league is down a touch this season at the top and I think that this Red Raiders team could really be a fly in the ointment.
Lewandowski is a key and they need Roberts to stay healthy. But this team has a chance to make a major move.
The Disappointment: Baylor (+260)
The Bears are a staple of the preseason Top 16 rankings all over the country, but am I the only one who thinks they are going to crash and burn?
Two years ago this team was loaded with talent and they were one of the biggest disappointments in the nation when they went 5-11 in conference and missed the NCAA Tournament.
Last year the addition of Ekpe Udoh (and Scott Drew finally realizing that he needed to play Josh Lomers more) completely changed the trajectory of this program and the Bears had a brilliant season. But Udoh is now in the NBA and I think that the Bears are going to regress back into what they were prior to his arrival: a shaky, somewhat selfish, out of control bunch of street ballers that can’t close games.
I feel that way, and I haven’t even gotten to the best part: the current suspension of leading scorer LaceDarius Dunn for allegedly beating the piss out of his girlfriend. That is tremendously bad karma. This group also lost steady, talented point guard Tweety Carter and I don’t see where the defense, leadership, go-to ability is going to come from.
A lot is being expected from top recruit Perry Jones. But if the frosh doesn’t live up to the absurd hype, and if Dunn doesn’t get his issues sorted out quickly, then this team might crash and burn to an overall losing season. And bottom line: anyone who bet this team to win the league at +260 just wasted their money.
Texas A&M (+650) – All the Aggies do is win. That’s all they do so it’s hard not to expect them to do the same this year.
Texas A&M is one of the toughest, most hard-nosed teams in the nation and coach Mark Turgeon has posted an average mark of 24-10 in his three years at the helm. Nothing about his system will change this year.
But the heart of this team – a trio of seniors named Sloan, Davis and Roland – is gone and I’m not sure who will be able to replace the leadership and intangibles that group provided.
Guard B.J. Holmes should be set for a breakout year and there are some other nice pieces (David Loubeau, Nathan Walkup, Khris Middleton, Dash Harris) that should create a nice starting five. But six of the 11 guys on this roster are freshmen or sophomores. This roster lacks depth, experience and a proven go-to guy. That is a problem, regardless of system.
But the Aggies have been an amazing underdog play in recent years and bet against them at your own peril.
Oklahoma State (+1500) – James Anderson is probably one of the three or four most difficult players in college basketball to replace, but the Cowboys are going to try. Anderson is now in the NBA and Oklahoma is set to endure what seems like the third rebuilding job in the three years that Travis Ford has been the coach.
Ford has been brilliant at getting the most out of his teams the last two years, but this season will require all of his skill if he wants to make it three straight NCAA Tournament bids. The Cowboys have three post players (Matt Pilgrim, Roger Franklin, and Marshall Moses) that are more athletic than skilled and they will make up the foundation of this team. I am a big fan of point guard Keiton Page. But he and fellow guard Ray Penn both stand just 5-9 and that is going to be a problem for a team that has just one guy on the roster taller than 6-8.
This team will still run and gun and keep an eye on transfer Darrell Williams this season. But with so many new parts and so many former role players now being asked to lead, I am expecting plenty of uneven performances out of this group this year.
Nebraska (+2000) – I almost used the Huskers as my surprise team for this season. Or at least my surprise ATS team. I don’t know why, but I have a good feeling about the Huskers during their last run through the Big 12 (they and Colorado will be in the Big Ten next year).
I thought these guys massively overachieved last year: and they went just 15-18 overall and 2-14 in league play. They can’t shoot, they can’t score and they have no history of success. However, I think that they have some size underneath to give people problems and I think that if Toney McCray or Kamyron Brown steps up this year their backcourt could be serviceable.
Listen, the ceiling for this team is an NIT run, so don’t misread me here. But I think that the Huskers are going to put up a fight and be a tough win. I think they will pull an upset or two and they won’t be a “go against only” team this year. If any of those things happen it’s a good year for Nebraska basketball.
Oklahoma (+2500) – Last year I predicted that the Sooners were going to crash and burn and then was the least surprised college basketball handicapper in the country when that was exactly what happened.
This year it’s pretty easy to see the writing on the wall: this team sucks again. Oklahoma returns just one starter from a 4-12 Big 12 team that was simply not competitive in most of its outings. That starter, sweet shooting Cade Davis, is the only senior on the roster this year and is one of only three guys on the roster that scored a point last season. (Yes, you read that right.)
Oklahoma is bringing back just 21 points per game of offense, total, and to say they are rebuilding after a tumultuous season is an understatement.
Iowa State (+3000) – This team is a disaster. Last year was a huge disappointment for a school that finally seemed poised for a breakout year. Not only did they go 15-17 and miss any postseason tournament, but this team also lost its two best players, its coach, and five of its top seven scorers. When you lose five of your best seven players from a team that couldn’t even crack .500 you are in trouble.
New coach Fred “The Mayor” Hoiberg will generate some excitement for the program. But once the ball starts bouncing and people see how bad this group is any warm and fuzzy feelings will soon evaporate. If they win more than two conference games or more than 14 games overall I will be absolutely stunned.
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