Thursday, December 30, 2010

Conference Play Primer: The Big XII

Favorite: Kansas Jayhawks

Much like the ACC and the Big Ten, the favorite in the Big XII is pretty easy to identify. That isn't because Kansas has been blowing their opponents away. In fact, it has been quite the opposite. The Jayhawks struggled to beat both UCLA and USC at home, needed a spark from a near brawl at Cal to finally put the Bears away, and were unable to put away teams like Memphis, Arizona, Colorado State, and Texas-Arlington when they jumped out to early leads. But the talent on this roster is undeniable, and that was before Josh Selby joined the team in mid-December. This team still has a way to go in terms of maturity and meshing and learning to play together, and I think they may actually be better with Thomas Robinson (who didn't start until Marcus Morris was benched after his ejection against Cal) providing a physical low post presence alongside one of the Morrii, but they will get there. And once they do, we are going to hear a lot of talk about Duke, Ohio State, and Kansas being the nation's three best teams.

Player of the Year: Jordan Hamilton, Texas

Hamilton has improved so much since his freshman season, averaging a league-high (until LaceDarius Dunn logs enough games to be eligible) 19.5 ppg and 7.3 rpg while shooting 42.3% from deep. He's still a gunner. That is not ever going to change. Hamilton was made to score points. But he's become much better at knowing what is a good shot and what is a bad shot. He's still a bit of a streaky shooter, but now his off games are 6-15 nights, not 2-15 nights. The Longhorns are a legitimate contender in the Big XII, and quite possibly the second best team in the league. With a freshman starting at the point and at center, Hamilton has been forced into the leadership role for this team, and he has embraced it. Texas fans should enjoy it while it lasts, because this kid is well on his way to the NBA Lottery.

All-Conference Team:

  • G: Marcus Denmon, Missouri: 17.2 ppg, 2.1 spg, 49.3% 3PT
  • G: LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor: 21.8 ppg, 4.4 rpg
  • F: Marshal Moses, Oklahoma State: 17.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg
  • F: Marcus Morris, Kansas: 15.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg
  • F: Markieff Morris, Kansas: 13.0 ppg, 9.1 rpg
Biggest Surprise: Texas A&M Aggies

I don't want to say that I wrote off the Aggies in the preseason, because it isn't true at all. I thought this team at a shot of playing their way onto the bubble. But with the number of quality seniors that were graduating, I never expected Mark Turgeon to have this team on the verge of the top 25 this early in the season, especially not after they lost to Boston College early in the season. But with that BC loss looking better (Less bad? More acceptable?) and subsequent wins over Temple, Washington, and Arkansas, the Aggies look like they round out the top six in a talented Big XII conference. The biggest reason why has been the emergence of 6'6" forward Khris Middleton has a potential first team all-conference performer. He's averaging 15.4 ppg on the season, which combined with David Loubeau and Nathan Walkup has given the Aggies a very good front court. Turgeon's next task? Getting senoir point guard Dash Harris's shooting percentage up over 22.8%.

Biggest Disappointment: Kansas State Wildcats

The Wildcats were supposed to be one of the best teams in the country this season. They were supposed to be competing for the Final Four come March. Right now, they don't even look like a team that can finish in the top four of the Big XII. This team is talented, but size and athleticism will only get you so far. Jacob Pullen is the only player on this team that can really create his own shot, and he has not been able to find a rhythm yet this season. The same might be able to be said about Curtis Kelly, but Kelly is dealing with his second suspension of the season right now while Pullen will be returning from this three game suspension the next time K-State takes the court. Frank Martin's club plays hard and physical, but without senior leadership, this team far too often looks like they don't have any direction. What's worse is that this team's flaws look very difficult to solve. K-State may just be a middle of the pack Big XII team this season.

Teams to keep in mind:
  • Missouri: Missouri is the most exciting team in the country to watch. Not just because they play an uptempo brand of basketball, but because every game they play seems to be a nailbiter. They have an excellent back court this season and Ricardo Ratliffe has provided them a solid low-post presence, but I'd argue the most important player on this team is versatile big man Laurence Bowers.
  • Baylor: Its a good thing for the Bears that Kansas State has been as bad as they have been this year because it saved them from being the biggest disappointment. A lot of was expected of this team, but heading into Big XII play, their only win outside of Waco, TX, came in Hawaii against San Diego. They will be fine -- there is too much talent on this team for them not to be -- but its crazy that we thought this team could be better than last year despite losing Ekpe Udoh and Tweety Carter.
  • Oklahoma State: Keiton Page is one of the most unlikely really, really good scorers in the country, while Marshall Moses has turned into a star. This team could wind up in the Big Dance.
  • Iowa State: Seriously. I don't expect this team to make the NCAA tournament, but with guys like Diante Garrett and Scott Christopherson playing well for new head coach Fred Hoiberg, don't be surprised is the Cyclones catch one of the Big XII's big boys sleeping this season.
Teams to forget about:
  • Colorado: Alec Burks and Cory Higgins are awesome on the perimeter. The rest of the Colorado roster looks like they would be better off playing for Northern Arizona.
  • Nebraska: The Cornhuskers are 10-2, but they also just lost their best player, who left the school to either transfer or head overseas for a contract.
  • Texas Tech: I'm not sure what is going on with this team. With two senior stars leading an experienced group, I expected more than 6-7.
  • Oklahoma: Duh.

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