Big 12 basketball: No big drop-off for league

BIG 12 MEN'S BASKETBALL PREVIEW — This was the year Big 12 men's basketball supposedly would suffer a noticeable drop-off. False alarm. Mike Baldwin and John Helsley look at the league's major story lines, top 10 players and more.
BY MIKE BALDWIN AND JOHN HELSLEY, Staff Writers Published: January 1, 2012
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There doesn't seem to be a team capable of running off and hiding from its Big 12 brethren, yet the league is still defined by a few select schools. More than ever, however, the conference seems ripe to produce an unlikely riser. Oklahoma and Iowa State both seem to be much improved. Each have each won 10 games already, after combining for a total of 30 a year ago.

3. How many tournament teams?

The Big 12 has landed at least five NCAA berths the past four seasons, with six getting in three of those years with the league enjoying an enhanced national image. That same buzz doesn't exist this time, suggesting five may be the limit.

4. Whose Tigers are they?

Mike Anderson assembled most of the talent, but it never really got Missouri over the hump. Now Frank Haith has the Tigers at 13-0 and No. 8 in the rankings. A maligned hire back in April, Haith now looks like a genius hire in Columbia.

5. What does Bill Self have up his sleeve?

So the Jayhawks are down, huh? We've heard this all before. And the master motivator Self always finds a way to have his team cutting down the nets.

Big 12 season predictions

1. Baylor: Currently ranked No. 6 nationally, the Bears have the most talent but must avoid customary road struggles.

2. Kansas: The depth-challenged Jayhawks are vulnerable. Will a string of seven straight league titles come to an end?

3. Missouri: First-year coach Frank Haith inherited a veteran nucleus. The Tigers were impressive in nonleague play.

4. Kansas State: The conference's wild card team. The Wildcats could finish higher than fourth or might finish lower.

5. Texas A&M: The gritty Aggies currently have a horrible RPI. They won't overwhelm anyone but can grind out wins.

6. Oklahoma: The Sooners have played well under first-year coach Lon Kruger but still have much to prove.

7. Texas: Kabono latest of Rick Barnes' elite recruits but inexperienced Longhorns might miss the NCAA Tournament.

8. Oklahoma State: High expectations have been replaced by major questions following poor nonconference showing.

9. Iowa State: Bolstered by transfers, the Cyclones are much improved. Wins in Ames won't be easy this year.

10. Texas Tech: Billy Gillespie must restock the roster; will be a challenge to win more than three or four league games.

Big 12 X-factors

We know about the stars, but who are the Big 12 players capable of pushing their teams to another level? Every team has one.

Baylor: Gary Franklin, G. So. A Cal transfer, Franklin sat out the first semester and is just now getting comfortable.

Iowa State: Chris Allen, G, Sr. The Michigan State transfer has moved to point guard, giving the Cyclones needed stability.

Kansas: Naadir Tharpe, G, Fr. KU's point guard of the future could be called on now to be a key reserve.

Kansas State: Jordan Henriquez, F, Jr. A 7-footer, Henriquez and his 8.1 points are a bulk of good news off the bench.

Oklahoma: Cameron Clark, G, So. When Clark is going good, which is intermittently, the Sooners are much better.

Oklahoma State: Le'Bryan Nash, F, Fr. The transition to college hasn't been easy, but if Nash figures things out, look out.

Missouri: Phil Pressey, G, Soph. A fabulous distributor, Pressey has emerged to make everyone around him better.

Texas: Jaylen Bond, F, Fr. The 'Horns are looking for post production and have turned to the 6-7 Bond, a former Pennsylvania prep star.

Texas A&M: Elston Turner, F, Jr. A Washington transfer, Turner will be called on to boost a backcourt decimated by injury and defection.

Texas Tech: Jordan Tolbert, F, Fr. The Raiders are rebuilding, and Tolbert is a nice piece to start with, averaging 15.4 points and 6.1 rebounds.