College basketball season is upon us and we will be taking a look at the Big 12 in a two-part series Thursday and Monday. In Part 1, we are breaking down team's No. 6-10 in our preseason projections:
1. Oklahoma State
4. Iowa State
5. Kansas State
7. West Virginia
9. Texas Tech
6. Oklahoma Sooners (Last season: 20-12, 11-7 Big 12; Lost to San Diego St. in Round of 64)
Top Returners: G Buddy Hield, G Cameron Clark, G Je'lon Hornbeak, G Isaiah Cousins
Key Newcomers: C/F Ryan Spangler, F D.J. Bennett, G Jordan Woodard, G Frank Booker
Key Losses: C/F Romero Osby, G Steven Pledger, F Amath M'Baye, G Sam Grooms
Oklahoma is a hard team to put a finger on for the upcoming season. On one hand, you could expect a fairly substantial decline after losing the team's top three scorers in Romero Osby (16 ppg), Steven Pledger (11.6) and Amath M'Baye (10.1), but on the other hand there is plenty of young talent on board and this is a well-coached team under Lon Kruger.
Sophomore guard Buddy Hield and Gonzaga transfer center Ryan Spangler will be looked to for a lot of the offensive load, but the Sooners will be hard pressed to find reliable scoring outside of that duo.
How far the Sooners go will largely depend on the ability to establish a front court. The loss of Romero Osby was a big one but one the Sooners were braced for, but the shocking departure of Amath M'Baye really set OU back. This puts a lot more pressure on Spangler (6'8, 230) to deliver but the development of former junior college players D.J. Bennett and Keshaun Hamilton will be key. Hamilton is raw but huge at 6-foot-10 and 270 pounds and Bennett, who redshirted last season, is in athletic 6-foot-8 power forward with a ridiculous 7-foot-4 wingspan. Senior Tyler Neal also offers some quality depth in the post, but OU will need a lot out of this inexperienced group to contend in the Big 12.
The Sooners will hang their hat on their guard play, headlined by Hield, who is OU's returning scoring leader at just 7.8 points per game. He showed flashes of dynamic offensive potential as a freshman but scoring is a lot more difficult when opponents know you're the No. 1 option. Joining Hield will be fellow sophomores Je'lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins, who both found themselves firmly entrenched in the rotation last year as freshmen. Hornbeak even started 29 games, averaging 5.6 points and 2.7 rebounds. Highly-regarded freshman Jordan Woodard will be counted on immediately and has the makings of an excellent Big 12 point guard. Woodard is a pass-first player who raises the level of play of those around him and he comes in as a proven winner with two Oklahoma 6A high school state titles under his belt at Edmond Memorial.
Overall, the Sooners are unproven and very young, but it they can put it together they will have a chance to place in the top half of the league and make a play at a tourney bid, but if this team is slow to develop and struggles to score, it could be a long year in Norman.
7. West Virginia (Last season: 13-19, 6-12 Big 12; No postseason)
Top Returners: G Eron Harris, G Terry Henderson, G Juwan Staten
Key Newcomers: F Devin Williams, F Jonathan Holton, Remi Dibo
Key Losses: F Deniz Kilicli, F Aaric Murray
The Mountaineers are still awaiting word on high-profile JUCO transfer Elijah Macon, who has yet to be cleared academically and was also arrested on a disorderly conduct charge in late October.
WVU is high on freshman Devin Williams, viewing him as a legitimate post-scoring threat from day one. The bigger problem is, Bob Huggins just hasn't been able to recruit the type of talent he'd like at West Virginia, and even with Williams, it's hard to see this team competing against the top of the conference.
The Mountaineers lost their final seven games of the 2012-13 season, and don't expect much of a change this year.
8. Texas (Last season: 16-18, 7-11 Big 12; First round loss in CBI)
Top Returners: G Jevan Felix, F Jonathan Holmes, C Cameron Ridley, C Prince Ibeh, F Connor Lambert
Key Newcomers: G Isaiah Taylor, G Kendal Yancy, G Demarcus Croaker
Key Losses: G Myck Kabongo, G Sheldon McClellan, F Julien Lewis, F Ioannis Papapetrou
Man oh man. What to make of this Longhorn squad? First things first, coach Rick Barnes is certainly on the hot seat this year and, after the offseason defections this roster sustained, it doesn't look like a team that will be able to pull him out of the fire.
Last year's shockingly inept 16-18 campaign was the worst in the Barnes' era in Austin but things only got worse in the offseason when the ‘Horns saw their best player, Myck Kabongo, declare early for the NBA Draft only to go unselected.
Then it snowballed.
One of the team's bright spots last season in forward Ioannis Papaetrou decided to leave UT in favor of a lucrative contract overseas in Greece. And then starter Sheldon McClellan, who averaged 13.5 points and four rebounds a game as a sophomore, up and left for Miami. Then starting shooting guard Julien Lewis (11.2 points, 3.3 rebounds) packed him bags and transferred to … Fresno State?
Then, just when you thought the news couldn't get any worse, their most proven returning player in point guard Javan Felix underwent hip surgery in October and is out indefinitely, with UT setting no timetable for his return. Felix is a massive loss and if he doesn't come back until late in the year, it could spell a second-straight losing season.
UT is certainly not devoid of talent but the talent it has returning is either brand new or still unproven. Isaiah Taylor, Demarcus Croaker and Kendal Yancy-Harris (younger brother of former OSU guard Terrel Harris) are all highly-regarded guards who have yet to play a single minute of college basketball but are certainly talented enough to changes Texas' early outlook.
Then come the big men. Former McDonald's All-American center Cameron Ridley had a dud of a freshman campaign in 2012-13, averaging just 4.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in 16 minutes a game despite his dominating 6-foot-9, 270-pound physique. If he works on his consistency, he could develop into a force, as could fellow sophomore Prince Ibeh (6'10, 250) who finished the season strong after a rough start. Joining them is the UT's most consistent player, Jonathan Holmes, who averaged 6.4 points and 5.6 rebounds a game last year.
Texas has the talent to finish as high as fourth in this league, but the inconsistencies and youth could also spell disaster and a spot in the Big 12 cellar.
Texas Tech (Last year: 11-20, 3-15 Big 12; No postseason)
Top returners: F Jordan Tolbert, F Aaron Ross
Key additions: F Alex Foster
Key losses: G Josh Gray
The Red Raiders looked inept last season. They started the season 8-4 against inferior opponents, but won just three of its last 16 games.
There is some reason for optimism this season with the addition of former Kentucky and Minnesota coach Tubby Smith. Smith will bring a winning attitude to the Red Raiders, similarly to what Bob Knight brought in 2001.
Smith will have some experience to work with as Tech returns three of its top four scorers from last season. Also, highly-recruited freshman Alex Foster will follow Smith from Minny to Lubbock and should help in the post.
Experience and coaching raise the ceiling for this team in 2013-14. Don't expect any type of postseason run, but another 3-15 Big-12 record is also unlikely.
10. TCU (Last season: 11-21, 2-16 Big 12; No postseason)
Top Returners: G Kyan Anderson, F Amric Fields
Key Newcomers: C/F Karviar Shepherd, F Aaron Durley, G Hudson Price, G Michael Williams, G Trey Ziegler
Key Losses: F Adrick McKinney, F Devonta Abron
Texas Christian won just two conference games a season ago but they just so happened to come against NCAA tourney participant Oklahoma and Big 12 champion Kansas.
Second-year coach Trent Johnson has done his best to use those wins as building blocks and the talent is getting better in Fort Worth, but the road is a long one to relevancy. That said, you have to start somewhere, and the foundation will be built on incoming freshman Karviar Shepherd.
The 6-foot-9 Desoto, Texas native turned down scholarship offers from Kansas and defending national champion Louisville to help with the building process and he instantly becomes the team's best player, as well as, an elite rebounder and shot-blocking presence.
TCU is also counting on the healthy return of Oklahoma City native Amric Fields in the frontcourt who, teamed with Shepherd, could potentially form a very solid tandem.
In the backcourt, the Frogs return guard Kyan Anderson, who is the lone returning player to start all 32 games a season ago. Anderson averaged 12 points and 3.4 assists per game and has packed on the muscle in the offseason to handle the rigors of conference play. He gives the TCU its only proven commodity in the backcourt, but he has taken on a leadership role with the team and has a strong locker room presence, which should help foster the growth of a freshman-heavy guard rotation.
Freshman guards Michael Williams and Hudson Price, son of former Enid and NBA star Mark Price, will upgrade the depth in the backcourt, as will the addition of Pitt transfer Trey Ziegler. Ziegler is a former top 100 recruit who has struggled to find his footing in the college game.
It will be a tough task for the Horned Frogs to hop out of the bottom spot in the standings, but they are certainly headed in the right direction.
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