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.
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:
Teams to forget about:
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Favorite: Kansas Jayhawks