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SCS.com
HIGH-MAJORS, PART III
November 9, 2005

SCS.com Hoops Preview '05 Home

Within this preview:
Big Ten | Big XII

BIG TEN CONFERENCE PREVIEW

LEAGUE OVERVIEW

SCS.com Michigan State is clearly the class of the league. After a surprising Final Four run a season ago, the Spartans return more than enough to compete for another Final Four spot. MSU loses veterans Chris Hill, Kelvin Torbert, and Alan Anderson, but return one of the top trios in the country. Wings Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager and Center Paul Davis comprise an inside-outside trio rarely rivaled in college basketball. Brown is a super athlete who could develop into a very good scorer this season. He is also a good defender. Ager will be an All-Big Ten player this season, and is one of the top wings in the country. He does not get as much publicity as some of the other wings across the country (Rudy Gay, Ronnie Brewer, etc.), but he has the same sort of impact on a game as them. Joining them on the perimeter is point guard Drew Neitzel. He started out slow last season, but could develop into a very capable point man this season. He tends to be out of control at times and somewhat inconsistent, but he is a good defender and shooter who finds the open man. Inside, Davis is poised to live up to the potential that has been talked about throughout his career. He has been under the microscope since he came to Michigan State, and has disappointed some. He played with a vengeance and with motivation in the NCAA Tournament, and looks to continue that play. If on, he is one of the best big men around. The power forward spot is up for grabs between a group of players. Drew Naymik and Delco Rowley are returnees who have not demonstrated that they can handle a full-time starting job due to injuries. Newcomer Marquise Gray is an athletic rebounder who would be a nice complement to Davis. Football player Matt Trannon joined the basketball team last season, and is expected to again. He gives the Spartans a physical presence. Michigan State has a great trio to build around, and a solid point guard to run the show. If a power forward steps up and produces, the Spartans could repeat their Final Four run.

Iowa had a surprisingly strong finish to the season after they lost leading scorer Pierre Pierce for the season due to off-the-court problems. They received a bid to the NCAA Tournament and lost to Cincinnati in a poorly-played first round game. They should make it past the first weekend this season. A trio that rivals Michigan State's returns to lead the way. Point guard Jeff Horner is one of the most underappreciated point guards out there. He is able to contribute in all aspects of the game. Horner is a very good rebounder and distributor, while still scoring well and shooting 41 percent from behind the arc. He is also a solid defender. Wing Adam Haluska is a pure scorer. He is a good long-range shooter and can take most defenders off the dribble due to his quickness. He is also a tough on the ball defender. Inside, Greg Brunner is the main main. He is underrated nationally, but the Big Ten knows what he can do. Brunner is an extremely tough rebounder and a hard worker on the low block. He is difficult to stop once he gets the ball in the post. Guard Mike Henderson and center Erek Hanson round out the starting lineup. Henderson can handle the point if necessary, and is a very good defender. Hanson is a dominant shot-blocker but does not provide much scoring or rebounding. Coming off the bench are two athletic forwards that will see plenty of minutes this season in the frontcourt. Doug Thomas could be a star. He is an excellent rebounder who can score in the paint. Alex Thompson should improve his numbers this season thanks to a solid inside-outside game. Guard Carlton Reed is a solid scoring guard that will provide depth. The Hawkeyes will be better than last season, even without Pierce. The Big Three and Thomas coming off the bench are more than enough to make the NCAA Tournament.

Illinois, the national runner-up, will take a slight slide this season after the loss of All-American guard Deron Williams, all-conference wing Luther Head, and veteran starter Roger Powell. However, one of the best players in the country returns in Dee Brown. He is extremely quick and can also shoot over 43 percent from long-range. He will have more of an offensive role this season as the go-to-guy, but he can handle it. He was the Big Ten Player of the Year and the Defensive Player of the Year last season. The other returning starter is post player James Augustine. He was overshadowed by the perimeter guys last season, but is very capable on the block. He is a good offensive option, and a solid rebounder. If he develops some consistency, he will be one of the best big men in the nation. Guard Richard McBride saw plenty of minutes off the bench last season, and will move into the starting lineup. He is known as a three-point shooter, and that is where he takes most of his shots, but he is not very efficient from beyond the arc. He only hit 31 percent of his three-pointers. He needs to up that percentage. Small forwards Brian Randle and Warren Carter will split time on the wing. Randle is very athletic and can develop into a solid player if he stays focused. Carter showed flashes of his potential last season. He is an inside-outside threat that could have a breakout year. Inside with Augustine is Illinois State transfer Marcus Arnold. He is tough to stop on the interior and is a good rebounder. Providing depth inside will be Shaun Pruitt, who will need to improve his production. Guards Calvin Brock and Jamar Smith are two freshmen that are looking to see some minutes. Brock is a solid all-around guard, while Smith is a very good shooter. Illinois will take a few steps back this season, but will be in the thick of the Big Ten hunt.

Indiana was on the bubble for a short amount of time last season, but their poor non-conference showing eventually kept them out. They should be well off the bubble when March comes around this season. They lose leading scorer Bracey Wright, but they will be better off without him. The inside tandem of sophomore DJ White and Auburn transfer Marco Killingsworth will be one of the best in the country. White was the Big Ten freshman of the year last season, and should improve in leaps and bounds this year. Killingsworth could be the best newcomer in the Big Ten. The post player is a beast in the paint and will form a dominant inside tandem with White. Robert Vaden is versatile but can now play on the wing, where is he most comfortable. He is an underrated all-around player. Ben Allen comes from Australia and is expected to make an impact off the bench. Freshman Cem Dinc is a mystery. Not many people in the states have seen him play. The 6-10, 245 lb. German supposedly is going to be a match-up nightmare on the wing. The jury is still out on him. With all the talent in the frontcourt, they can withstand an injury or two, which they will have to do. White is out for six weeks with an injury. The perimeter group did not avoid the injury bug either. Backup A.J. Ratliff is also out until December. He is an excellent shooter who will be a key role player once he comes back. Starting in the backcourt will be Auburn transfer Lewis Monroe and Marshall Strickland. Monroe is a very good defender who will give them good size (6-5) at the top. Strickland can move over to the wing instead of the point, where he played last season. He is a good scorer and a decent shooter. JC transfer Earl Callaway will provide depth, along with Ratliff and returnee Roderick Wilmont. Callaway is a candidate to start at the point, but the quick guard will likely backup Monroe. Wilmont was a part-time starter who is a solid all-around player. The Hoosiers have one of the deepest and most talented teams around. If Mike Davis does not get this team to the NCAA Tournament, that will be a severe disappointment.

Wisconsin, as usual, finished better than their collective personnel would suggest they should. They made a run to the Elite Eight as a #6 seed before bowing out to eventual champion North Carolina. They lose four starters, including All-Big Ten forward Mike Wilkinson. On paper, the Badgers don't look like an NCAA Tournament team, but Bo Ryan will have this team in the hunt for a bid come March. One player that could become an All-American this season is forward Alando Tucker. He is extremely versatile and has shown that he can carry the Badgers. He is an inside-outside scorer that can also rebound. Point guard Kammron Taylor saw increased minutes as the season went on. He is quick with the ball and is a good defender. Fighting for minutes on the wing will be Michael Flowers and DeAaron Williams. Flowers is an athletic hard-working guard that can do a little of everything. Williams is extremely athletic and a good defender. The two starting jobs up front beside Tucker will likely go to Ray Nixon and Brian Butch. Nixon is a 41 percent shooter from long-range who can also rebound and pass decently. Butch has not lived up to his expectations thus far. He has a good inside-outside offensive game, and could have a big year if he plays to his potential. Big men Greg Stiemsa and Jason Chappell will provide depth. Two freshman will have immediate impacts. Joe Krabbenhoft could start eventually, and has the potential to be the conference freshman of the year. He is a good shooter on the wing. Marcus Landry is an athletic forward that can play excellent defense and rebound well. Wisconsin has a go-to-player in Tucker, a solid point guard in Taylor, and an abundance of role players to go with a deep bench. That sounds like the recipe for an NCAA berth.

After a surprise 10-6 record in the Big Ten a year ago, the Minnesota should be better this season. The reason for the optimism is the return of two players that sat out last season, Adam Boone and Maurice Hargrow. Boone received another year of eligibility after sitting out last season after surgery. He is a good passer and makes smart decisions with the ball. Hargrow sat out after transferring to Arkansas, then back to Minnesota. He is an explosive athlete and shut-down defender on the wing. Vincent Grier is an All-America candidate. He carried the Gophers last season and averaged 18 points per game. Grier is a great defender and an excellent finisher who can get by his defender anytime. The only downside to his game is that he has no long range jumpshot. Rico Tucker will provide solid depth on the perimeter. He is a very good athlete bt is inconsistent with his shot and his ball-handling. Inside, Dan Coleman returns as a starter. He has a nice inside-outside game who can rebound and play defense as well. Spencer Tollackson will likely start at center, replacing veteran Jeff Hagen. He needs to improve his production. Returnees J'son Stamper and Jonathan Williams will also fight for starting jobs up front. Stamper is a hard-worker that is a good athlete, while Williams missed all but two games last season with an injury. The Golden Gophers had trouble scoring at times last year. With Boone and Hargrow back to go with Grier, that shouldn't be a problem this season. If they display the same sort of defensive prowess this year, a return trip to the NCAA Tournament is in the future.

Ohio State could have been an NCAA Tournament team a season ago, but they were ineligible for postseason play. This year, the Buckeyes are eligible and will make the most of it. They are led by one of the best centers in the country. The underrated Terence Dials is an excellent low post scorer, possibly the best in the Big Ten. He is also a very good rebounder but needs to work on his defense. Joining him in the frontcourt will be Ivan Harris, a returning starter at forward. He is a versatile inside-outside player that can score and rebound. Matt Sylvester was the hero of the victory over then-undefeated Illinois with 25 points and the winning shot. If he builds off that game, he could have a big year. On the perimeter, the athletic Jamar Butler will run the point. He started down the stretch, and is a solid defender and passer. The wings are loaded with scorers. Transfer Ron Lewis could start on one side. He averaged 17 points per game two years at Bowling Green, and should provide solid point production for the Buckeyes. Returning starter J.J. Sullinger will start on the other side. He is an outstanding three-point shooter who is also a good rebounder and scorer. Coming off the bench will be part-time starter Je'Kel Foster. He is good all-around player that can score well. JC transfer Sylvester Mayes could make an immediate impact as a scorer on the wing for OSU. With a multitude of options inside and out, the Buckeyes should figure out the right combination to get a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Michigan fell off the map down the stretch. They lost 13 of their last 14 to kill any hopes of a postseason berth. With the returns of Lester Abram (injury) and Daniel Horton (suspension), that won't occur again. Some of that collapse can be attributed to the suspension of Horton. He is a solid point guard that was the team's second leading scorer and leading assist man even though he only played in 13 games. Abram only played in six games a year ago. He averaged 13 points per game two seasons ago and is a very versatile scorer. He should be fully recovered from his injury. Dion Harris is the leading scorer, and won't have to carry the entire load this season. He put up over 19 points per game in the last eight contests last season. Ron Coleman played well in the absence of Abram, scoring in double-digits in four of the last five games. Even more depth comes from guard Sherrod Harrell. He started down the stretch last season. The post quartet of Chris Hunter, Brett Petway, Graham Brown, and Courtney Sims is extremely talented, but hasn't really done much thus far at Michigan. They are all very solid down low, but one or two need to step up and start dominating. Hunter missed part of last season due to injury, but is a solid inside scorer when healthy. Petway is very athletic and provides his share of highlight-reel dunks. Brown is a hard-worker who is a good rebounder. Sims is probably the best post player on the team. He is a very good shot blocker and rebounder who has the potential to be an excellent low-post scorer. If everything plays out correctly and no players are unexpectedly lost for the season, the Wolverines will give Tommy Amaker his first NCAA berth in Ann Arbor.

Purdue has the personnel to be a potential surprise team in the Big Ten. That statement would have held more weight had starting point guard Tarrance Crump not been ruled ineligible for the entire season. Without him, the rest of the Boilermakers will have to step up. Leading the way is All-Big Ten forward Carl Landry. He is outstanding on the low block, and is nearly impossible to stop with his inside prowess and athleticism. Next to him in the paint is returning starter Matt Kiefer. He is a solid rebounder and scorer who can hit the mid-range jumpshot when needed. Connecticut transfer Marcus White will also see plenty of minutes in the frontcourt. He is an excellent rebounder, and could have a huge season for Purdue. Returnee Gary Ware will provide depth. The backcourt has a stud shooting guard in David Teague, who could have a big year with Landry fully healthy down low. He is an excellent scorer, and forms a nice inside-outside combo with Landry. The rest of the perimeter is up for grabs without Crump at the point. Returnees Bryant Dillon and Chris Hartley will see minutes on the wing, while freshmen Korey Spates will have to play the point unless someone else steps up. Chris Lutz could start on the wing, while Nate Minnoy will also get playing time. The Boilermakers are loaded inside, and have Teague on the perimeter, but no proven point guard and no second wing scorer. If the freshmen step up and perform, Purdue could get a postseason berth.

Northwestern has plenty of players that will contribute, but lost point guard T.J. Parker, who entered the NBA Draft early, and, as expected, went undrafted. The main returnee is All-Big Ten candidate Vedran Vukusic. The 6-8 forward is very versatile, with the ability to score inside and hit the outside shot at a consistent clip. He is also a solid rebounder and passer. Vince Scott, who started down the stretch, is another inside-outside threat. The 6-10 center hit 36 percent of his threes, and can also put in points on the low block. Former Duke transfer Michael Thompson should regain his starting spot at center after he missed the final 18 games of the season due to injury. He is a good rebounder and shot blocker who is a solid offensive option inside. Kentucky transfer Brandon Cote will compete for a starting job in the frontcourt. He is a versatile scorer who, like Vukusic and Scott, can score inside and also hit the perimeter shot. The backcourt returns some quality performers as well. Mohamed Hachad returns as a starter at guard. He is able to get to the basket off the dribble to get his points, but isn't very efficient with his jumpshot. Michael Jenkins was a part-time starter at the point who is a good defender. Tim Doyle is a decent all-around producer who contributes in several aspects of the game. The Wildcats have a lot of versatile players who can do many things on the offensive end. However, they don't have enough talent to garner a postseason berth.

The Penn State basketball program is in shambles. The Nittany Lions have not reached double-figure wins since 2001, and won one game in the Big Ten last season. However, they do have some players that will attempt to get PSU to 10 wins or more. They are very talented on the perimeter. Travis Parker and Geary Claxton lead the way on the wings. Parker is a very good three-point shooter who is also a solid scorer and rebounder. Claxton is the team's top player. He is very good rebounder for his size (6-5), who can also score. He mainly gets his baskets in the paint, but can put up points in a variety of ways. Point guard Ben Luber also returns. He is a very good distributor who is not much of a scorer. Two more wings who saw extended minutes last season are also back. Mike Walker is a good shooter and passer, while Danny Morrissey is a very solid scorer. Up front, not much is going on for the Nittany Lions. Brandon Hassell saw limited minutes last season, but will be the main man in the post this season. Milos Bogetic and Joonas Suotamo are both European imports that will have to make immediate impacts if Penn State is going to leave the basement of the Big Ten. Unless the interior options come up with huge seasons, Penn State is going to be a perimeter-oriented bunch that just is not good enough to reach the postseason. However, they should win enough games to get to double-figure victories.

PROJECTED STANDINGS

(1) Michigan State
(2) Iowa
(3) Illinois
(4) Indiana
(5) Wisconsin
(6) Ohio State
(7) Minnesota
(8) Michigan
(9) Purdue
(10) Northwestern
(11) Penn State

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAMS

FIRST TEAM
G - Dee Brown - Senior, Illinois
G - Vincent Grier - Senior, Minnesota
F - Maurice Ager - Senior, Michigan State
F - Alando Tucker - Junior, Wisconsin
C - Paul Davis - Senior, Michigan State
SECOND TEAM
G - Jeff Horner - Senior, Iowa
G - Shannon Brown - Junior, Michigan State
F - Greg Brunner - Senior, Iowa
F - Carl Landry - Senior, Purdue
C - Terance Dials - Senior, Ohio State

HERE AND THERE

Player of the Year: Dee Brown, Illinois
Freshman of the Year: Joe Krabbenhoft, Wisconsin
Most Underrated Player: Robert Vaden, G/F, Indiana
Most Overrated Player: Brian Butch, C, Wisconsin
Best Frontcourt: Indiana
Best Backcourt: Michigan State
Best Bench: Indiana
Most Likely to Overachieve: Wisconsin
Most Likely to Underachieve: Michigan
Best Coaches:
  (1) Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  (2) Bo Ryan, Wisconsin
  (3) Bruce Weber, Illinois
Best Programs (Currently):
  (1) Michigan State
  (2) Wisconsin
  (3) Illinois
Best Conference Rivalries:
  (1) Michigan State-Wisconsin
  (2) Indiana-Purdue
  (3) Iowa-Illinois
Toughest Places to Play:
  (1) Breslin Center, Michigan State
  (2) Kohl Center, Wisconsin
  (3) Assembly Hall, Illinois

POSTSEASON PROJECTIONS

NCAA: Michigan State, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Ohio State, Michigan
NIT: Purdue

BIG XII CONFERENCE PREVIEW

LEAGUE OVERVIEW

SCS.com The Big 12 is going to be a two-team race this season. Texas and Oklahoma are head and shoulders above everyone else. However, Texas gets the preseason nod due to the fact that they are, in short, a better team. They have two potential All-Americans, including the second best point guard in the country. Overall, the Longhorns have up to four All-Big 12 performers in the starting lineup. Daniel Gibson leads the way. As a freshman a season ago, Gibson was one of the better newcomers in the country. He really came into his own after PJ Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge were lost for the season. If he takes the anticipated step that most freshman take into their sophomore years, he is a sure-fire All-American. His backcourt partner will likely be shooter Kenton Paulino. He hits three-pointers at a 48-percent clip. He is a good defender and a solid distributor. Also in the mix at the off-guard spot will be newcomers J.D. Lewis, A.J. Abrams, and Craig Winder. Lewis is an excellent shooter that finds ways to score. Abrams is a solid combo guard that can penetrate most defenders to get into the lane. Winder is athletic and a good defender. Up front, P.J. Tucker, Brad Buckman, and LaMarcus Aldridge form one of the best frontcourts in the country. Tucker sat out the last 14 games of last season due to academics. He uses his strength to post up weaker small forwards and could be an all-American this season. Aldridge was lost after 16 games due to a hip injury. He may be the best center in the Big 12. Buckman is strong and tough to stop in the post. He averaged 13 points and 8 boards per game a year ago. All three should be All-Conference performers. Mike Williams and Dion Dowell should provide solid depth. Williams is a good rebounder that can also score, while Dowell is an athletic forward whose numbers will improve with more minutes. Texas is stacked at every position, and have quality depth all over. If a two-guard steps up to provide some shooting and perimeter scoring, the Longhorns can make a run at the National Title.

Oklahoma surprised some last season with the sort of year that they had in the Big 12, sharing the regular season title. They received a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but was upset by Andrew Bogut and Utah in the second round. This year, they should go much further than the first weekend. Like Texas, they are led by their frontcourt. Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout comprise the best post tandem in the country. Gray is a favorite for the Big 12 Player of the Year after using his athleticism to dominate on both ends of the court. He runs the floor better than most of his opponents, as well. Bookout is the leader of the team and more of a back to the basket player than Gray. He shot nearly 60 percent from the floor last season. His hands and size make him tough to stop. Nate Carter is a transfer from UC Riverside and is expected to have an immediate impact. He should give the Sooners the wing scorer that they were lacking a season ago. He can shoot the ball well. Taylor Griffin and Longar Longar are quality options off the bench. In the backcourt, Oklahoma has one of the most underrated and versatile players in the country in Terrell Everett. He can play any of the perimeter positions and will do that this season. He was second in the conference in assists, and only played the point for the stretch run of the season. He is tough to stop off the dribble and is also a very good rebounder. Essentially, he can do it all. Two-guard David Godbold started the final ten games of last season, and demonstrated his worth to the Sooners. He is an excellent defender, and is a solid rebounder. Newcomers Michael Neal and Chris Walker are expected to fight for starting spots. Walker could step in at the point and move Everett to the wing. He is an excellent distributor. Neal is a very good shooter who will see time on the perimeter. Oklahoma is loaded. In most conferences, and most years, the Sooners would be the favorite to win the league. This year, however, Texas is too good all-around for OU to win the conference. The Sooners will be a Final Four threat, though.

Iowa State came out of nowhere last season to make the NCAA Tournament after a late-season surge put them in the nation's eye. That final surge was thanks mainly to the installation of a pressure defense that caused turnover after turnover. T he backcourt is the reason why the Cyclones are so highly regarded, though. Curtis Stinson is one of the best all-around players in the country, and can put ISU on his back at the end of games. He can play both guard positions and makes plays in all aspects of the game. He and Will Blalock form the best 2-man backcourt in the country. Blalock is a good passer and takes some of the pressure off Stinson on offense. Stinson overshadows him somewhat, but Blalock could be an all-conference player by the end of the season. Tasheed Carr is a strong wing that works mainly in the mid-range. He might start, but it is more likely that he will play in the sixth man role again this season. Depth in the backcourt comes from Anthony Davis and John Neal. Davis provides good scoring, while Neal also sees quality minutes. Forward Rashon Clark returns in the frontcourt. He is versatile and might have to play inside again if Carr gets a starting role. Clark is very athletic and quick, allowing him to get into passing lanes and be a tough defender. His offensive game is also fairly solid. Freshman Shawn Taggart needs to step in in the low post. He is a good scorer and rebounder, but will need to become a go-to-option in the paint. With no proven post players, Taggart and other newcomers will have to step up. Center Jiri Hubalek is a good shot blocker who can score in a few different ways. Iowa State is loaded on the perimeter with Stinson and co. If Taggart becomes the sort of low-post option that the Cyclones need, they can make a Sweet 16 run. For now, though, an NCAA Tournament bid is in the foreseeable future.

Ever since Bobby Knight took over the coaching reins at Texas Tech, the Red Raiders basketball program has turned around. Four straight seasons with at least 22 wins should continue this year, as well, provided some unproven players step in. Texas Tech revolves around its backcourt. However, w ith the loss of Ronald Ross, the Red Raiders need to fill his shoes on the perimeter somehow. Jarrius Jackson is a Wooden Award candidate. Not a pure point guard, he is a great scorer that can shoot the three at an outstanding clip of 46 percent. He will be an all-conference player this season. Zeno is a versatile wing that has a solid mid-range game. He reminds me a little of former Syracuse player Josh Pace. Kevin Martin was the best recruit Tech picked up. He will be asked to fill some of the void left by Ross, and he is a very good scorer. Returnees Drew Coffman and LucQuente White will provide some depth in the backcourt, but could see increased minutes from last season. Up front, Darryl Dora returns as the lone starter. He has the potential to be a good scorer and rebounder, and is also a solid passer. Returning forward Damir Suljagic could step in at the other forward spot, if he is healthy. He had ACL surgery in June, and might not be ready for the season. If he is not, newcomer Jeremy Buttell could see extensive minutes. He is a good rebounder that will need to make an impact. Bobby Knight always has his teams in the thick of things. With Jackson, Zeno, and Dora returning as starters, the Red Raiders should be fine. Even if this doesn't look like an NCAA Tournament team right now, check back in March. They will be in your bracket.

Kansas underachieved last season en route to a first-round flameout at the hands of Bucknell. From that team, they lost three seniors, including first-round pick Wayne Simien, and another starter in J.R. Giddens, who transferred to New Mexico. However, Bill Self brought in one of the best recruiting classes of all time, hoping to lead the Jayhawks past the first round. At the point, freshman Mario Chalmers should come in and start right away for Bill Self. He is a good scorer and can get into the lane with ease. Sophomore Russell Robinson got good minutes at the beginning of last season, but saw his playing time decrease as the year wore on. There were rumors of him transferring, but he decided to return to KU for another year. Senior Jeff Hawkins got Robinson's minutes at the end of the season. He shot nearly 50 percent from behind the arc. On the two wings, four newcomers will get the minutes. Brandon Rush and Julian Wright will most likely start. Rush is a good scorer that can get to the basket using his athleticism. He has developed a solid mid-range game to complement his driving ability. Wright is the most versatile player on the roster. He can play any position the floor, and might do that sometime during his tenure at Kansas. Wright has the potential to be a match-up nightmare for opponents. Another McDonald's All-American, Micah Downs, will come off the bench on the wing. He is a very good shooter, but is known to have some attitude problems. Rodrick Stewart, a USC transfer, is an athletic player who can dunk anything. He is a solid defender and will be excellent on the fast break. Inside, four returning players will hold down the fort. Christian Moody, who Billy Packer said was "the best walk-on player" ever, will start at power forward. He is a hard worker and is a good passer. He will be the leader of the young team as the lone returning starter. CJ Giles will most likely start at center. He started five games last season. Giles is an excellent shot blocker and will be a defensive presence in the paint. Darnell Jackson and Sasha Kaun will back up the post players. Jackson started one game last year, and averaged only seven minutes per game. He is a hard worker and a good rebounder. Kaun started getting more minutes as the season went on, and developed into a good inside player. He can block shots and get some easy buckets in the post. If all the freshman come through and have the immediate impact that is expected, the Jayhawks could be a team that you don't want to see in your bracket come March. But they will be in the Field of 65.

Oklahoma State, other than North Carolina and possibly Mississippi State, may have been hit the hardest by personnel losses and graduation. However, like North Carolina (and not like Miss. St.), the Cowboys have one of the best recruiting classes in the country ready to take over. But one returnee leads the way and will carry the team. JamesOn Curry is going to become one of the best two-guards in the country, and one of the best players in the conference. He is an excellent scorer who can shoot the jumper and take a defender off the dribble. Three players return in the frontcourt, although none are very productive. David Monds, Marcus Dove, and Aaron Pettway are not likely to see loads of time up front. The newcomers will make or break this team. At the point, freshman Byron Eaton and JC transfer Jamaal Brown will run the show. Eaton is a tough point guard that will become a very good one by the end of the season. Brown will see immediate playing time and could play alongside Eaton. He is an excellent passer. Up front, freshman Keith Brumbaugh will start right away at forward. He is a versatile inside-outside scorer that will have an immediate impact. JC transfers Mario Boggan and Torre Johnson will also see playing time right away down low. Johnson was one of the best junior college players last season, and is going to be an excellent Big 12 player. Boggan, originally from Florida, could start at center if the Cowboys decide to go with a traditional lineup. If the newcomers come in right away, and provide solid production, Oklahoma State will be a postseason team. However, like North Carolina, they will fall just short of the NCAA Tournament this season.

Texas A&M surprised nearly everyone last season when they went .500 in the Big 12 and 21-10 overall. The season before, the Aggies went 7-21 with 0 wins in the Big 12. They lose first-round pick Antoine Wright, who left early, but they return a quality team led by two all-conference candidates. Guard Acie Law IV and post man Joseph Jones form one of the best inside-outside combos in the conference. Law is a very good distributor that shoots the ball very well. His scoring load could increase this season without Wright. Jones is one of the most underrated big men in the country. He is very athletic and is a good shot-blocker. In addition, he is tough to stop on the low block and is an excellent rebounder. Two other starters also return in wings Dominique Kirk and forward Chris Walker. Kirk is an all-around solid player, who can play good defense and score on the offensive end. Walker is an excellent defender who is out until January with a torn ACL. Two more forwards return to give the Aggies experience up front. Marlon Pompey is an athletic role player that could have a big season this year if he starts. Edjuan Green is an excellent rebounder. JC transfer Antanas Kavalauskas could start down low with Jones. He is a very good option in the paint that would take some of the pressure off of Jones. Eddie Smith, the National Junior College Player of the Year, could start at the point, which would relieve Law of those duties and allow him to score more from the wing. Smith is an excellent defender and is quick with the ball. The Aggies have several guys that can play. If the role players and the newcomers step up to support Law and Jones, the Aggies could make a run at an NCAA berth. However, they will fall short.

Even though the Buffaloes went 14-16 last season, they should improve upon that with the return of eight seniors and one of the best players in the league in Richard Roby. He can do everything and produces in all aspects of the game. Roby is vastly underrated on a national level, but will have another big season on the wing in Boulder, showing the country what he can do. Chris Copeland and Andy Osborn comprise a formidable forward duo. Copeland is a versatile player. He can shoot the three with efficiency and is also a solid inside scorer. Copeland can also block shots and rebound well. Osborn started down the stretch, and demonstrated that he could hit the three and rebound. Marcus Hall and Jayson Obazuaye are two excellent options in the backcourt. Hall will move from the point spot to the off-guard. He is a good scorer that can also distribute the ball and play tough defense. Obazuaye is a returning starter that will move to the bench this season. He is a hard-worker that can do many things on the court. The reason for all the shifts in the backcourt? JC transfer Dominique Coleman. He should come in and start right away for the Buffaloes. He is extremely quick and is an excellent scorer. He can also play tough defense, creating turnovers and easy baskets for his teammates. Julius Ashby and Marcus King-Stockton are solid rebounders on the interior. Ashby is outstanding on the boards. He is also a very good shot blocker and a decent scorer. King-Stockton could start. He is an efficient low-post scorer who can hit the mid-range jumper if needed. Glean Eddy will provide depth on the wing. He was a part-time starter that is a solid all-around player due to his 6-6 size and athleticism. With all of the depth and options that Colorado has, if Coleman and the newcomers produce admirably, and the role players contribute, Roby can carry them to the brink of an NCAA berth. Without a consistent second and third scorer, though, the Buffaloes will fall short.

Nebraska is another potential sleeper team in the Big 12, albeit a very deep sleeper. They are likely an NIT team, due to the host of newcomers they brought in. However, they too are lead by a returnee, potential all-Big 12 performer Joe McCray. He is an outstanding scorer that could become one of the best point producers in the country. He is also a good rebounder. Joining him on the wing is Jason Dourisseau. The 6-6 senior was a part-time starter that can perform well on both sides of the ball, including rebounding. Two returnees anchor the inside. Sophomore Aleks Maric was a very good rebounder and scorer that could become one of the best low post options in the conference. Senior Wes Wilkinson is a solid role player that does a little of everything on the inside. Newcomer B.J. Walker is expected to have an immediate impact in the frontcourt for the Cornhuskers. He is athletic and can score in the paint and on the perimeter. He will give Nebraska even more height in the lineup. Freshman guard Jamel White could see time at the point. He is a very good passer and a quick penetrator. Nebraska has a lot of talent, and a lot of size. If the sophomores and the newcomers develop as expected, the Cornhuskers will be a team that the top contenders won't want to play down the stretch. They don't have enough to make the Field of 65, but an NIT bid could be in the offing.

Missouri has not lived up to expectations in the past few years. With not so lofty expectations, will the Tigers exceed them and become a sleeper team in the Big 12? Not likely. An NIT team last year, Missouri will look to get back there this season. The perimeter should be in good hands with two returning starters and the team's leading scorer. Point guard Jason Horton is a good distributor and defender, but his offense needs to improve for Missouri to make noise. On the wing, Jimmy McKinney is an excellent defender who is very athletic and can shoot the ball from long-range. Leading scorer Thomas Gardner is a good all-around player that tends to be a little shot-happy at times. If he plays more under control and within the system, the Tigers will be better off. Texas A&M transfer Marcus Watkins will provide depth at the guard positions, while wing man Glen Dandridge is athletic and can shoot. Up front, center Kevin Young returns as a starter. He is a good rebounder and a solid shot-blocker that can score as well. Forwards Marshall Brown and Kalen Grimes return after seeing extended minutes last season. Brown could have a big year in the frontcourt. He is a very good three-point shooter that plays good defense. Freshman forward Leo Criswell is expected to make an immediate impact on the interior. The Tigers have some talent in Columbia. It is mostly young talent, but it will develop even more over the course of the season. A repeat NIT berth should be in store come March.

Kansas State had a mildly successful season by their standards, going 17-12, and going 11-2 in their non-conference portion of the schedule. Three starters return from that group. Lance Harris is a very good scorer and will be the team's go-to-guy this season. He is a very good three-point shooter. Forward Cartier Martin is another very good long-range shooter that produces in various aspects of the game. He is a good scorer who is tough to match-up with because of his size (6-8). He does not venture into the paint too often, but is still difficult to stop on the perimeter. Clent Stewart is a solid point guard who can distribute the ball well. Central Michigan transfer David Hoskins is a solid scorer who will see minutes on the perimeter. He could start. JC transfers Mario Tayburn and Akeen Wright will also get playing time. Inside, not much proven talent returns. Tyler Hughes is a solid post man that tends to foul too often. He is athletic and can rebound the ball well. With more minutes given to him, his production should rise.

Baylor will be off until January, thanks to an NCAA-given punishment not allowing them to play the non-conference portion of their season. Therefore, the nation will have to wait to see one of the best players in the conference in guard Aaron Bruce. He is an outstanding scorer who is also a good passer and defender. Bruce is an efficient shooter, from inside the arc and beyond the three-point line. Joining him on the perimeter will be wing Patrick Fields and guard Kevis Shipman. Fields is a consistent scorer that can also rebound, pass, and defend well. Shipman is an excellent three-point shooter that mainly stays behind the arc and shoots. Wing forward Richard Hurd also returns. He was a part-time starter last season that shot 44 percent from deep. Up front, two double-figure scorers return in forwards Tim Bush and Tommy Swanson. Bush is a versatile frontcourt player. He was the second leading scorer on the team, and also was a solid rebounder. Swanson is a legit low-post option in the paint. He is good scorer on the block, and can rebound well. Surprisingly, he also averaged over a steal per game. Three freshman are expected to see plenty of playing time for the Bears. Forward Kevin Rogers could start in the frontcourt, while guard Henry Dugat is a solid all-around producer. Baylor has a lot of talent in Waco, but not enough games to play in. They are certainly not ready to go .500 in the Big 12 after winning only one game in the conference last season. They could win some games that they shouldn't, though, with Bruce and a host of solid sidekicks leading the way.

PROJECTED STANDINGS

(1) Texas
(2) Oklahoma
(3) Iowa State
(4) Texas Tech
(5) Kansas
(6) Oklahoma State
(7) Texas A&M
(8) Colorado
(9) Nebraska
(10) Missouri
(11) Kansas State
(12) Baylor

ALL-CONFERENCE TEAMS

FIRST TEAM
G - Curtis Stinson - Junior, Iowa State
G - Daniel Gibson - Sophomore, Texas
F - Jarrius Jackson - Junior, Texas Tech
F - P.J. Tucker - Junior, Texas
C - Taj Gray - Senior, Oklahoma
SECOND TEAM
G - Terrell Everett - Senior, Oklahoma
G - JamesOn Curry - Sophomore, Oklahoma State
F - Richard Roby - Sophomore, Colorado
F - Brad Buckman - Senior, Texas
C - Kevin Bookout- Senior, Oklahoma

HERE AND THERE

Player of the Year: Taj Gray, Oklahoma
Freshman of the Year: Julian Wright, Kansas
Most Underrated Player: Terrell Everett, G, Oklahoma
Most Overrated Player: Russell Robinson, G, Kansas
Best Frontcourt: Oklahoma
Best Backcourt: Iowa State
Best Bench: Kansas
Most Likely to Overachieve: Texas Tech
Most Likely to Underachieve: Kansas
Best Coaches:
  (1) Bobby Knight, Texas Tech
  (2) Eddie Sutton, Oklahoma State
  (3) Kelvin Sampson, Oklahoma
Best Programs (Currently):
  (1) Kansas
  (2) Oklahoma
  (3) Texas
Best Conference Rivalries:
  (1) Oklahoma-Oklahoma State
  (2) Kansas-Missouri
  (3) Texas-Texas Tech
Toughest Places to Play:
  (1) Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Kansas
  (2) Gallagher-Iba Arena, Oklahoma State
  (3) Lloyd Noble Center, Oklahoma

POSTSEASON PROJECTIONS

NCAA: Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Kansas, Iowa State
NIT: Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri

Photos Courtesy: detnews.com, usatoday.com

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