It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Big 12 coaches selected Baylor’s Curtis Jerrells and A.J. Abrams and Damion James of Texas to the league’s preseason first team, but that’s not where they finished in The Oklahoman’s all-conference selections. James wound up on the second team while Abrams and Jerrells slid to the third team. They were replaced by Cole Aldrich of Kansas, Missouri’s DeMarre Carroll and Oklahoma State’s James Anderson. Blake Griffin and Willie Warren of Oklahoma lived up to their advanced billings as the Big 12’s projected player and freshman of the year. Kansas State’s Denis Clemente supplanted Mario Little of Kansas as newcomer of the year. Oklahoma’s Jeff Capel, Missouri’s Mike Anderson and Bill Self of Kansas are finalists for the USBWA’s Henry P. Iba Award as national coach of the year. An influential parameter in this category is how a coach’s team matched, or exceeded, its expectations. Oklahoma was the preseason pick to win the Big 12 and a top-10 pick in numerous publications. Kansas was picked to finish tied for third with Baylor in the Big 12 and barely cracked the AP preseason poll at No. 24. Missouri was picked seventh in the Big 12 and was ignored in national polls. OU had four returning starters, including a presumed 2008 NBA lottery pick in Griffin, and welcomed one of the nation’s premier recruits in Warren. MU had 3½ starters returning, but also had seven new players. KU lost all fi ve starters, five NBA draft choices and eight players o • last year’s national championship team. The Jayhawks lost 83.1 percent of their scoring, 83.1 percent of their steals, 82.6 percent of their blocked shots and 76.7 percent of their rebounds. Reserve point guard Sherron Collins returned, as did backup center Aldrich, who averaged 8.3 minutes, 2.8 points and 3.0 rebounds last season. Yet KU went 14-2 in league play and won its fi fth straight Big 12 crown. Self has now won nine conference titles in the last 11 years at three different schools (Tulsa, Illinois and Kansas). Quite an impressive run, but this year might have been his best coaching job to date.