The SCS.com College Hoops Preview series rolls along with our first individual looks at the nation's top conferences, beginning with the PAC-10 and Big XII. UCLA, last year's national title runner-up, is again a favorite in their league race out west, though Arizona and Washington should also be top contenders. All three of those teams are ranked in our Preseason Fab 15. In the Big XII, meanwhile, it appears that Kansas, Texas, and Texas A&M should be near the top of the standings once March rolls around. Here's an in-depth preseason look at both conferences.
How many teams can lose three starters from the national title runner-up and still be the favorite to win their conference? UCLA is the only I can think of (it's actually the only possible choice, but that's not the point). Even without first-round pick Jordan Farmar at the point, the Bruins will still be one of the best teams in the country thanks to Ben Howland and one of the best inside-outside combos in the country. All-American Arron Afflalo leads the way. He is a very good scorer who is one of the best shooters and on-ball defenders in the country. He has the ability to impact the game at both ends of the floor. Afflalo is also a decent rebounder. Inside, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute returns. The Pac-10 Freshman of the Year a season ago, Mbah a Moute is a versatile player that can do nearly everything on the court. He is an outstanding rebounder, both offensively and defensively. Moreover, he is extremely efficient shooting the ball and is a decent passer. He is also one of the best defenders in the conference. The key could be the play of point guard Darren Collison. He is an excellent defender and is extremely quick with the ball. He needs to improve his shooting and his ability to take care of the ball, but he should be a suitable replacement for Farmar. Josh Shipp will join Afflalo in one of the nation's top wing duos. He played in only four games last season due to a right hip injury, but should be healthy this year. He is an excellent scorer and shooter who will provide a very good second option on the perimeter for the Bruins. Shipp is also an underrated rebounder. The starting spot up for grabs is the center position. There are several candidates for the job, mainly Lorenzo Mata and Alfred Aboya. Mata is a good shot-blocker and rebounder who does not have much of an offensive game, while Aboya is a decent inside scorer and rebounder. Providing depth in the frontcourt will be McDonald's All-American James Keefe, who can make an impact with his size and shooting ability, and Ryan Wright. Wing Michael Roll and forward Nikola Dragovic are big-time three-point shooters, while freshman Russell Westbrook will get minutes backing up Collison.
The Wildcats had somewhat of a disappointing season a year ago, finishing 20-13. However, they played well in the NCAA Tournament, blowing out Wisconsin in the first round before falling late to Villanova. This year, Arizona should be back in the national eye. On paper, the Wildcats look very similar to last year's Memphis team, meaning that their plethora of wings will create mismatches all over the floor against most teams. Marcus Williams will be the go-to-guy. He played very well down the stretch who could have a huge season this year. He is an outstanding inside-outside scorer who is one of the best shooters in the conference. Williams is also a solid defender. Also returning on the perimeter is point guard Mustafa Shakur. Heading into his fourth season as the starter, Shakur has not yet lived up to the hype he had coming out of high school. However, he played well late in the season last year and looks to carry that over to this season. He is a very good passer who is a capable three-point shooter and a good defender. Moreover, Shakur takes care of the ball and does turn it over often. Two more wings will likely start. Junior Jawann McClellan only played in two games last season due to injury and suspension. However, he has enormous potential who could become one of the team's top scorers. He is very athletic and is a good three-point shooter who is also an excellent rebounder from his guard position. Freshman Chase Budinger will be an immediate difference-maker. The most talented recruit ever at Arizona, according to Lute Olson, Budinger is extremely athletic and versatile. He is a very good rebounder and passer who can also score from a variety of spots. Also seeing playing time on the perimeter will be guards Daniel Dillon, J.P. Prince, and Nic Wise. Dillon is a lock-down defender, Prince is a versatile combo guard, and Wise could be one of the top impact freshmen at the point guard position. Up front, senior Ivan Radenovic will likely be the lone starter. He is a very good inside-outside scorer who can shoot the ball with efficiency and is also the best rebounder on the Wildcats. Kirk Walters will see plenty of minutes down low, but he needs to improve his scoring and rebounding numbers. Forward Fendi Onobun is a decent scorer and shooter.
The Huskies fell just short of reaching the Elite Eight last season, losing in a heartbreaker to Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen. Lorenzo Romar and Washington will look to reach the Sweet Sixteen again this season. That will depend a lot on the freshmen class. Spencer Hawes could be one of the biggest impact freshmen in the country. He is an extremely difficult match-up due to his all-around talents and size. The 6-11 center is tough to stop on the offensive end and is an outstanding shot-blocker. Hawes is also a good passer and rebounder. Another freshman could also start in the frontcourt. 6-7 Quincy Pondexter is an unbelievable athlete who could thrive in Washington's up-tempo style. He is very good at getting to the basket and has a developing perimeter game. He is also a decent passer. Another forward, Phil Nelson, will fight for a starting spot. He is one of the best three-point shooters on the team who is also a solid athlete. A fourth freshman, Adrian Oliver, is going to be a threat to start in the backcourt. The 6-3 point guard is a very good three-point shooter and passer who will make an impact. The returnees aren't too bad, either. Sophomores Justin Dentmon and Jon Brockman come back as starters. Dentmon, a 5-11 point gaurd, improved steadily as the season went on and will be even better this season. He is a good ball handler and does not turn the ball over often. Dentmon is also a good passer and a very solid rebounder who plays tough on-ball defense. Brockman, a 6-7 forward, will be an excellent complement to Hawes on the interior. He was very highly-touted coming out of high school and demonstrated why last season. He is an excellent rebounder and a potentially dominant interior scorer. Look for him to breakout this year. Guard Ryan Appleby was the team's sixth man last year, but could start this season. He is a phenomenal outside shooter who is also a decent passer. Guard Joel Smith and frontcourt players Hans Gasser and Joe Wolfinger will provide depth for the Huskies.
After the top three in the conference, there is no clear-cut #4. However, with USC coming off of a 17-13 season and losing only one starter, the Trojans could be the best bet. They did take some offseason hits, though. First, starting point guard Ryan Francis was shot and killed in a tragic incident in May. Next, star guard Gabe Pruitt was ruled academically ineligible for the first semester. Once he comes back, the Trojans could be a tough team to beat come March. Wing Nick Young leads the way. He is one of the most underrated players in the country, and is overshadowed on a national scale. The 6-6 junior is extremely athletic and is one of the best open-court players around. He is also a good shooter with an excellent mid-range game. Young is also a very good rebounder and a solid defender. Pruitt and senior guard Lodrick Stewart join him on the perimeter. Pruitt is one of the best shooters in the country who had to play the point at times last season. He is a very good scorer who is also a solid defender and passer who can rebound well. Stewart is an excellent three-point shoter who is arguably the team's best defender. Fighting for the point guard spot will be freshmen Kevin Galloway and Daniel Hackett. Galloway is a 6-7 wing who can play a variety of positions due to his size and passing ability. Hackett graduated high school early to play, and will likely be the starter until Pruitt gets back. Up front, returnees Abdoulaye N'diaye and RouSean Cromwell will mix with freshman Taj Gibson to form a solid post trio. N'diaye is very athletic and is an efficient scorer who is a good shot-blocker and rebounder. Cromwell has shown flashes of his potential, but needs to stay healthy. Gibson could develop into big-time player due to his scoring ability and rebounding prowess.
While the Ducks return one of the most talented teams in the conference, they have not lived up their potential since that talent has been in Eugene. If the Ducks don't make the Big Dance this season, though, coach Ernie Kent could be out of a job. It all starts with Malik Hairston. The 6-6 wing is one of the best all-around players in the conference. He is an excellent scorer who can shoot the ball from deep and slash to the basket. He is also a good rebounder and passer who can play solid defense. Joining him on the perimeter is point guard Aaron Brooks. He takes very good care of the ball and is a solid passer. He needs to become a better decision-maker as well as a more efficient scorer. Guards Chamberlain Oguchi and Bryce Taylor also get significant minutes on the perimeter. Oguchi is a very good athlete who is one of the best three-point shooters in the Pac-10, while Taylor is a very good defender who can also score. Xavier transfer Churchill Odia, and three-sport star Jordan Kent will fight for playing time. Up front, the Ducks need better production. Marty Leunen is the best returnee. He is a good inside-outside scorer who can pass the ball and is one of the best rebounders in the Pac-10. 7-footer Ray Schafer is a decent rebounder and defender who is a solid passer. Upperclassmen Mitch Platt and Adam Zahn will see time in the post.
While the Bears are coming off of an impressive 20-11 season, they lose All-America Leon Powe and need to replace him if they are going to reach the NCAA Tournament again. Three starters do return, though, led by all-conference guard Ayinde Ubaka. The 6-4 senior can play both backcourt spots and will be the team's go-to-guy. He is a very good three-point shooter who is also an excellent passer and ball-handler. Providing inside balance for Cal will be Devon Hardin. He is a candidate to have a huge season in the post. He is an extremely good shot-blocker and rebounder who uses his athleticism to get points in the paint. If he stays out of foul trouble, look out. The leading candidates to replace Powe down low will be 6-9 freshman Ryan Anderson and 6-11 sophomore Jordan Wilkes. Anderson is an inside-outside scorer, while Wilkes provides good size and rebounding. On the perimeter, Omar Wilkes and Theo Robertson will likely start. Wilkes is an outstanding three-point shooter who could become a nice second option in the backcourt. Robertson is a match-up problem who can stroke the ball from deep and get points on the low block as well. Freshman Patrick Christopher will see extensive minutes at the guard position.
After failing to live up to their high expectations heading into last sason, the Cardinal enter this year without much hype due to the loss of three starters. A lot of their success this season will be based on the performance of freshmen Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez. The 7-foot McDonald's All-American twins will form the post duo of Stanford for the next couple of years. Robin will likely play the center position, as he is the better rebounder and shot-blocker, while Brook adds some more athleticism and scoring at the forward position. Also seeing playing time up front will be returning starter Taj Finger. He is a good rebounder who is a solid shot-blocker and a decent scorer. Forwards Lawrence Hill and Fred Washington will fight for minutes. Hill is a good defender who is also a decent scorer and rebounder, while Washington is a very good rebounder who creates match-up problems. The perimeter is very weak. Point guard Mitch Johnson returns at the point guard position. He takes care of the ball and is a good defender who is a decent passer and playmaker. However, he needs to improve his shooting ability. Joining him in the backcourt will be sophomore Anthony Goods. He is a role player at best, and will need to improve his production.
Although the Sun Devils are projected to finish near the bottom of the league, new coach Herb Sendek has ASU headed in the right direction. Aside from the addition of Sendek, much of the optimism centers around the inside duo of Jeff Pendergraph and Duke transfer Eric Boateng. Pendergraph is an all-Pac-10 candidate who is one of the best post players in the conference. He is a good rebounder and shot-blocker who could be poised for a breakout season offensively. Boateng is an outstanding shot-blocker who was highly-touted coming out of high school and could contribute immediately on the interior. Another post player that returns is starter Serge Angounou. He is a decent scorer and rebounder who will fight for his starting job with Boateng. Wing Sylvester Seay is a very good offensive player who is one of the best shooters on the team. His versatility and size make him a match-up problem. Allen Morill provides depth. The point guard will be run by Antwi Atuahene. He was a part-time starter a season ago and is a good all-around player. He is a decent scorer who can also rebound and pass the ball well. The playmaker also contributes on the defensive end. Several freshmen will fight for minutes on wing.
Like last season, the Beavers are a potential sleeper if they can get any sort of consistent production from their backcourt. OSU's strength is clearly in the frontcourt. Sasa Cuic is a match-up problem due to his size and outstanding shooting ability. The 6-10 forward is one of the best three-point shooters in the country and is one of the top scorers in the conference. Marcel Jones is a very good rebounder. He is also a good defender who could develop into a solid scorer. Kyle Jeffers is arguably the team's best defender but needs to improve his scoring and rebounding. Aside from those three, however, the Beavers lack consistent producers, both off the bench in the frontcourt and overall in the backcourt. Leading the way on the perimeter will be 6-3 Wesley Washington. He is explosive when driving to the basket and could be the go-to-guy in the backcourt. The point guard spot will be fought over by sophomore Brett Casey, who takes could care of the ball, and freshman Josh Tarver, who is the favorite to be the starter heading into the season. Shooter Angelo Tsagarakis provides depth on the wing.
Washington State The Cougars will enter this season with a new coach. However, they won't be too far from their old coach. Dick Bennett's son, Tony Bennett, will likely keep the same slow-down offense, defensive-minded strategy that his father used. The backcourt leads the way. Juniors Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver are the go-to-guys on the perimeter for WSU. Low is a good three-point shooter who is an excellent defender. If he improves his ability to take care of the ball, he will develop into a solid point guard. Weaver is also an outstanding defender who is a better all-around player than Low. He is a very good passer and a solid rebounder who could have a breakout season. Tulane transfer Taylor Rochestie could make an immediate impact on the perimeter after averaging double-figures two seasons ago. Up front, Robbie Cowgill is the main man. The 6-10 center is a good shot-blocker who could develop into one of the best big men in the Pac-10. He is also a solid passer and scorer. Forward Ivory Clark is a good defender and rebounder who will see plenty of minutes, while sophomores Aron Baynes and Caleb Forrest are good producers on the inside who will fight for minutes.
G - Arron Afflalo, UCLA
Others Considered: Ayinde Ubaka, Cal; Gabe Pruitt, USC; Mustafa Shakur, Arizona; Jon Brockman, Washington; Jeff Pendergraph, Arizona State; Aaron Brooks, Oregon; Justin Dentmon, Washington; Josh Shipp, UCLA; Ivan Radenovic, Arizona; Devon Hardin, California
Like last year, the Big 12 is not going to have much of a title chase this season. However, this year will be dominated by the Jayhawks. Kansas is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the conference heading into the season. Moreover, it is a young team with room to improve over the course of the year. They are led by an excellent perimeter group. Brandon Rush, the preseason Player of the Year in the Big 12 and a bonafide All-America candidate, is the go-to-guy. He has the ability to be a star. He can create his own shot and is a very good scorer. However, he was too unselfish last season and deferred to his teammates too often. Fellow sophomore Mario Chalmers could be on the verge of a breakout season. He developed steadily as the year went on and was voted the Big 12 Tournament's most outstanding player. He is a good scorer who led the Big 12 in steals. Russell Robinson might be the best defender in the conference and is the leader for the young Jayhawks. He is an underrated point guard on a national level and can do a little bit of everything. Coming off the bench is Sherron Collins, a McDonald's All-American. He is a tough combo guard who will make an immediate impact. His athleticism and quickness will help right away. Up front, another sophomore, Julian Wright, leads the way. He is one of the more versatile players in the Big 12. The athletic Wright can play nearly every position on the floor. Furthermore, he is an outstanding passer and can finish in the lane. Sasha Kaun is the main man down low. He has an underrated all-around game, but will be out for much of the non-conference season with an injury. C.J. Giles would have stepped in for him, but he was dismissed for academic reasons. Freshman Darrell Arthur and junior Darnell Jackson will be the other two players in the paint. Arthur can play anywhere on the frontline and will make an immediate impact. He is very athletic and loves to run the floor. Jackson is a banger who is a solid contributor in terms of points and rebounds. Kansas has one of the most talented teams in the country, but also one of the youngest. If the newcomers live up the hype and the sophomores mature, the Jayhawks could be still dancing in April.
The team most likely to give Kansas a run during the regular season is Texas A&M. The Aggies improved as the season went on last year and look to carry some of that momentum over to this season. They are led by arguably the best inside-outside combos in the country. Point guard Acie Law is one of the top players at his position in the nation. He is extremely quick with the ball and loves to lead the fast break. He is a very good passer and scorer who is poised for a huge season. Post player Joseph Jones is a dominant inside performer. He is a load for opponents to defend in the paint with his size and variety of post moves. He is an excellent rebounder and is capable of taking over any game with his scoring ability down low. On the perimeter with Law is Dominique Kirk and Josh Carter. Kirk is an outstanding defender who can stroke the three with efficiency. He does a little bit of everything. Carter is the best shooter on the team, capable of getting hot at any time. Look for him to be a potential third option on the wing. Up front, Marlon Pompey and Antanas Kavaliauskas will fight for a starting job. The athletic Pompey started last season and deservedly so. He is a solid defender and rebounder who will also provide a handful of points every night. Kavaliauskas came on strong down the stretch and will get more minutes this year. He is a good scorer who can put up points both inside and outside. The 6-10 Kavaliauskas also provides size and rebounding. Freshmen Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis will produce off the bench. Sloan is an excellent athlete in the backcourt, while Davis will make an impact down low. The Aggies will live and die with Law and Jones. Without a proven third option, A&M needs both of them to have big games in order to win. If A&M develops complementary scorers, look out for them in March.
The team with the best chance to be like last year's North Carolina or Kansas is Texas. They lost all five starters, and six of their top seven players. However, the Longhorns bring in one of the best recruiting classes in the country. The freshman will need to make an immediate impact if Texas wants to be a threat in March. It all starts with Kevin Durant. The 6-9 newcomer is my pick of National Freshman of the Year. He can play any position on the floor and has a chance to be a very special player this season. He's extremely talented and will make an impact at both ends of the floor with his athleticism, length, and scoring ability. His forward tandem will likely be another highly-touted freshman, Damion James. James is a similar player to Durant in that they are both very versatile and capable of playing multiple positions. James is a relentless player who can score both inside and outside and is also a good rebounder and passer. Rounding out the frontcourt newcomers will be centers Matt Hill, Dexter Pittman, and Harrison Smith. Hill is the most likely to start. He is a workhorse who is a solid rebounder and scorer. Pittman and Smith will provide post depth. The main newcomer in the backcourt is McDonald's All-America D.J. Augustin. He is an outstanding passer and loves to run the floor. He is also a good defender and a decent scorer. Justin Mason is another impact freshman. He is adept at driving to the basket and is also a very good defender. The only returnee expected to start is sophomore A.J. Abrams. He improved as the season went on, and could have a big year this season. He is a very good passer who takes care of the ball. Abrams can also score if necessary. Fellow returnees J.D. Lewis and Craig Winder provide depth in the backcourt, while Connor Atchley could see starting time early at center while the freshmen develop. Texas could take awhile to come together as a team with all of the fresh faces and inexperience. However, by the time March rolls around, the Longhorns will be a team no one wants to play.
The Cowboys had a disappointing season a year ago, going from 26 wins two seasons ago to a 17-16 overall record and a 6-10 Big 12 record last year. However, with all five starters returning and a nice batch of role players also coming back, OK State could be back in the Big Dance again. The key to this team will be point guard play. Byron Eaton and Jamaal Brown split time at the lead guard spot last season, and will likely do so again this year. However, both were turnover-prone and need to improve on taking care of the ball if the Cowboys are going to reach their potential. Eaton is a powerfully-built player who can get into the lane, while Brown is more of a shooter. JamesOn Curry also returns in the backcourt. The All-Big 12 guard took a step back last year after a very impressive freshman season. However, he has excellent scoring ability and is one of the best three-point shooters in the conference. Sophomore Terrel Harris has excellent potential and could become a starter at some point. Freshman Obi Muonelo was a McDonald's All-American and will make an immediate impact. He is a big-time scorer who can also create opportunities for his teammates. Wing Marcus Dove is one of the best defenders in the conference. He is 6-9 and very long and athletic. He needs to improve his offensive production. Up front, All-Conference big man Mario Boggan returns. Boggan is a versatile scorer who can dominate in the low post and also step out and hit the jumper. He played extremely well down the stretch and could breakout this season. Forward David Monds is better equipped to play on the perimeter, but can also contribute on the block. He is a good scorer and rebounder. Kenny Cooper provides size and defense in the paint. Oklahoma State has a lot of talent and depth. If everything comes together, they could compete for 2nd in the league behind Kansas.
If you are looking for a national sleeper in the Big 12, the Wildcats are your best bet. They had a decent campaign last season, going 15-13 overall. However, for the second season in a row, KSU started very strong in the non-conference before falling to the bottom half of the Big 12 during the conference portion. That should change this season with the welcoming of new coach Bob Huggins. He has a nice group to work with. A terrific forward trio leads the way for the Wildcats. Cartier Martin is an all-Big 12 player who is one of the best all-around players in the country. He is an outstanding scorer who can put up points from inside and outside. He is an excellent shooter and is also a good rebounder and defender. David Hoskins also returns. He is a difficult player to match-up with due to his size. Hoskins is also a solid rebounder and defender. He improved throughout the season and could be poised for a breakout season. The only thing that could potentially hold him back is the arrival of freshman Bill Walker. One of the top rated players in the 2007 class, Walker (O.J. Mayo's high school teammate) graduated high school early and will be eligible to play this season for Kansas State. He is extremely athletic and loves to run the floor. He is expected to play sometime in December. Rounding out the frontcourt are freshmen centers Jason Bennett and Luis Colon. The 7-3 Bennett is highly-touted newcomer who will make an impact on the defensive end, while Colon is a good rebounder and deceptively athletic. In the backcourt, JC transfer Blake Young should start right away. He is a terrific shooter who can play both guard spots. Akeem Wright and Clent Stewart return as starters on the perimeter. Wright is the team's best defensive player, while Stewart is a steady point guard. Double-figure scorer Lance Harris will likely be the sixth man again this season. If Walker makes his expected impact, the Wildcats will be extremely difficult to deal with up front. As long as Huggins finds a point guard to run the show (Young? St. John's transfer Jermaine Maybank?), the Wildcats will be dancing.
After a disappointing campaign a season ago, the Red Raiders will be looking to rebound in what will be a record-breaking season for Bobby Knight. He needs 11 victories to become the winningest coach in Division-1 history. When it comes depends a lot on Jarrius Jackson. The All-Big 12 guard is one of the best scorers in the country and is also a terrific three-point shooter. He is one of the five best point guards in the country. However, it was announced last week that he will be academically ineligible for at least the first semester. Tech needs Jackson if they are going to make a run at an NCAA bid. His backcourt partner, Martin Zeno, will have to pick up the slack in Jackson's absence. He is not a great shooter, but he is very good at getting points in the lane and when driving to the basket. He is also a solid rebounder and defender who can pass the ball. Charles Burgess will start at the point while Jackson is out. He is very quick with the ball and is an excellent passer. Wing Decensae White will also see immediate playing time on the perimeter. Guard Alan Voskuil will see time. Up front, Darry Dora and Jon Plefka return. Dora is a good inside-outside offensive player who can also distribute the ball and rebound. Plefka has good potential scoring and rebounding the ball. JC transfers Rodrick Craig and Jay Mitchell will fight for starting jobs at forward, while another JC transfer, 7-footer Esmir Rivic will likely step in down low as the starting center. Returnee Tanner Ogden will contribute. The loss of Jackson hurts the Red Raiders big-time, especially this late in the preseason. If they are able to survive without him, it could be one of Bobby Knight's best coaching jobs.
After last season's rollercoaster season that saw them play only conference games, Baylor will be glad the new season is upon us. As a result of NCAA sanctions, the Bears were not allowed to play non-conference games last season. Baylor did show some signs of potential, though, with close losses late in the season. They should be much improved this year. One of the conference's best backcourts returns in Aaron Bruce and Curtis Jerrells. Bruce is an all-conference-caliber player who needs to return to his freshman form when he averaged over 18 points per game. He is a good scorer and an excellent three-point shooter who can distribute the ball effectively. Jerrells is a very good all-around player who is underrated on a national level. He is a good scorer and passer who is also one of the team's best defenders. The Bears also have several other solid perimeter options. Wing Patrick Fields is a very good three-point shooter who is a solid scorer, while guard Henry Dugat is a very productive player off the bench. Freshman Demond Carter is an outstanding scorer who will make an immediate impact. Up front, Tim Bush and Mamadou Diene return as starters. Bush is a solid performer who is one of the team's leaders, while Diene is one of the best shot-blockers in the country. Kevin Rogers might be the best player in the frontcourt. He came off the bench last season but will likely move into the starting lineup this year. Baylor has an excellent perimeter group but lack a go-to-guy player up front. If they find a consistently productive frontcourt player, they could surprise some people.
With the loss of coach Kelvin Sampson and three starters, in addition to three stud recruits, the Sooners could be primed for their worst season in years. Several things need to go right if this team is going to make the postseason. Michael Neal leads the way. The Big 12 Newcomer of the Year will need to become a go-to-guy for Oklahoma. He is an outstanding three-point shooter but needs to develop a more well-rounded offensive game if he is going to increase his numbers from last season. Joining him in the backcourt will be David Godbold and Austin Johnson. Godbold is the ideal role player and can do a little bit of everything on the court. He is one of the best defenders in the conference. Johnson is a lanky point guard who was a part-time starter last season. Freshman guards Tony Crocker and Bobby Maze will see immediate playing time in the backcourt. Up front, Nate Carter and Taylor Griffin form a potentially solid forward combo. Carter is an inside-outside player who can create match-up problems due to his versatility. Griffin has a lot of potential and could be poised for a breakout season. Longar Longar will continue is role as a contributor off the bench, while freshman Keith Clark will make an impact right away. Oklahoma simply doesn't have the talent to compete in the Big 12 this season. New coach Jeff Capel will have to wait a few years ago before he goes to the Big Dance with the Sooners.
The Tigers looked like a potential Big 12 threat early in the conference season last year, but went 2-11 in their final 13 games and fell short of the postseason. With the loss of three starters, including all-Big 12 wing Thomas Gardner, Missouri does not look like a team that will compete in the Big 12 this season either. Marshall Brown is the go-to-guy. He is extremely athletic and is one of the best dunkers in the country. He is excellent on the fast break and is very good when he is slashing to the basket. He could be poised for a breakout season. Another 6-6 forward, Glen Dandridge, will see an increase in playing time this season and could start. He is a versatile scorer who could become a nice second option if he plays to his potential. Down low, Kalen Grimes will start. Grimes is a banger who is a solid rebounder and defender. He needs to improve his offensive game but he is a space-eater and gives the Tigers some size. Leo Lyons provides depth. He showed flashes of potential last season and is athletic. In the backcourt, Jason Horton returns. He is a very good passer and a solid defender who is somewhat turnover-prone and is not much of an offensive threat. That's where JC transfer Stefhon Hannah comes in. He is very quick and athletic and could start immediately at the point. Senior Marcus Watkins is a solid role player, while freshman Keon Lawrence has the potential to be a big-time scorer. While the present is not overly optimistic, the future in Columbia looks bright thanks to new coach Mike Anderson and plenty of youth on the roster.
The Cyclones came into last season with high expectations after a solid finish to the 2005 season. However, they never seemed to get it together and ended up 16-14 with a 7th place finish in the conference. They did not even go to the NIT. While they will likely not make the postseason this year either, ISU could pull an upset or two sometime during the season. They are led by Rahshon Clark, who could be on the verge of a huge season. The 6-6 forward is one of the best athletes in the Big 12 and is an excellent all-around player. He can score and rebound very well and is a good defender due to his athleticism and length. He will be joined in the frontcourt by freshman Wesley Johnson and returnees Jiri Hubalek, Jessan Gray, and Ross Marsden. Johnson is an athletic forward who could start immediately. Hubalek is a solid big man who produces decent scoring and rebounding numbers, while Gray and Marsden provide depth inside. The backcourt is made up entirely of newcomers. JC transfers Corey McIntosh and Michael Taylor will likely start immediately. McIntosh is a very good point guard who can score and pass the ball well, while Taylor is an excellent long-range shooter. Freshman Dodie Dunson will see minutes.
The Cornhuskers had a very solid season last year, going 19-14 overall and finishing 6th in the conference at 7-9. Had they picked up a few more quality wins along the line, they could have been on the bubble heading into Selection Sunday. This season, they won't be anywhere near the bubble or even the NIT, for that matter. However, they do have one of the best players in the conference in center Aleks Maric. He is a double-double threat every night out and could have a big season this year now that he is the focal point of the offense. He was going to leave the team with the hiring of new coach Doc Sadler, but he returned and it could mean a few extra wins for Nebraska. Sophomore Kyle Marks will contribute up front. On the perimeter, Jamel White is the main returnee. He is a decent scorer who can also distribute the ball. Seniors Charles Richardson and Marcus Perry also return. Richardson takes care of the ball and is a good passer, while Perry can score. Freshmen Mike Smith and Sek Henry will fight for starting spots in the backcourt. Smith is extremely quick while Henry is a very good shooter.
Like Nebraska, Colorado was very close to losing their best player for the upcoming season. While they won't make noise either way, the return of Richard Roby will mean the Buffaloes will be somewhat competitive. CU was on the bubble for much of the season last year, finishing 20-10 and 9-7 in the conference. Their lack of a big-name win or two ultimately did them in, though. Roby is the key returnee, obviously. He is an excellent long-range shooter who entered his name in the NBA Draft pool last Spring, but took it out eventually. He has good athleticism, but needs to develop his offensive game. Joining him on the perimeter will be returnee Dominique Coleman and freshmen Kalvin Bay and Xavier Silas. Coleman is a solid all-around player who will likely improve his numbers this season. Bay is a very good distributor and a decent scorer who will start right away. Silas is a good contributor. Up front, former Ohio State transfer Jermyl Jackson-Wilson is the go-to-guy. He is a versatile forward who can do a variety of things in the frontcourt. He needs to become more of a leader this season with such a young team. Freshman Jeremy Wiliams will likely start next to Wilson at forward, although freshmen centers Sean Kowal and Marc Van Burck will fight for time.
G - Jarrius Jackson, Texas Tech
Others Considered: Mario Chalmers, Kansas; Richard Roby, Colorado; Rahshon Clark, Iowa State; Julian Wright, Kansas; Mario Boggan, Oklahoma State; Russell Robinson, Kansas; Martin Zeno, Texas Tech; JamesOn Curry, Oklahoma State; Aaron Bruce, Baylor; Aleks Maric, Nebraska