The Big 12 is undergoing some rebuilding this year, with both Kansas and Texas having significant contributors to replace and the opportunity is there for a dark horse to climb the conference ladder. A dark horse like the Baylor Bears.
Baylor is coming off a disappointing season in 2011, where it was expected that potent scoring guard LaceDarius Dunn would help them build off a successful ’10 where they made a regional final. The chemistry never jelled and Dunn is gone, but there’s plenty of talent on hand if head coach Scott Drew can bring it all together. The frontline is the best in the Big 12, with forwards Quincy Acy, Anthony Jones and Perry Jones going 6’7”, 6’10”, and 6’11” and all having the ability to score. The Bears need to replace Dunn’s perimeter presence, but playmaking is in good hands with A.J. Walton at the point. Additional contributions could come from freshman Quincy Miller, a Top 10 recruit nationally who can play both inside and out at 6’7”. The Notebook loves Baylor to win this conference and become a threat to reach the Final Four that just eluded them two years ago.
Last season, Texas held a two-game lead in February before fading fast down the stretch and saying an early goodbye in March. Now big man Jordan Hamilton is gone, as is almost everyone else in Austin. Rick Barnes is going to have his hands full just trying to make another NCAA Tournament. Kansas won’t fall that hard, but Bill Self does have to replace the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, who controlled the paint last year. The building blocks of a backcourt with Tyshawn Taylor and Trevis Releford, along with forward Thomas Robinson will keep UK competitive and first in line to take the league title should Baylor falter.
Missouri could easily be in the top tier and even the favorite, with a dynamite backcourt trio of Marcus Denmond, Kim English and Michael Dixon, to go with forward Ricardo Ratliffe. But after losing head coach Mike Anderson to Arkansas, the Tigers made a dubious decision to bring in Frank Haith, who didn’t have much success in Miami. The talent on hand will minimize any coaching deficiencies this year, but will also prevent a push for a conference championship and national prominence. Texas A&M also goes through a coaching change, as Mark Turgeon left for Maryland. The Aggies have a pair of good forwards in Khris Middleton and David Loubeau, both of whom score and rebound, and the burden of the backcourt falls on incoming freshman Jamal Branch and Elston Turner.
Other rebuilding projects include…
*Kansas State loses electric guard Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly. The cupboard isn’t bare in Manhattan, but with only Rodney McGruder back from the good teams of the past two years, it’s looking like NIT time in 2012.
*Iowa State lost its high-scoring guard Diante Garrett and running mate Jake Anderson, along with interior presence Jamie Vander Beeken. The Cyclones have decent wings in Scott Christopherson and Melvin Ejim, but without playmakers and post people it’s going to be another long year in Ames.
*Oklahoma hired veteran Lon Kruger, after previous head coach Jeff Capel couldn’t stay competitive once Blake Griffin went to the NBA. The Sooners have a talented forward in Andrew Fitzgerald, but being a real contender in this league is still a ways off.
*Oklahoma State is working its way back to contention under Travis Ford, a former tough guard himself at Kentucky. The Cowboys have a good 5’9” point guard in Keiton Page, along with forward Jean-Paul Olukemi to build with, and if 6’7” freshman LeBryan Nash can contribute right away, the Cowboys could push to the NCAA bubble.
*Texas Tech has a new coach in Billy Gillespie, who had success at Texas A&M, and then flopped at Kentucky. Gillespie has absolutely nothing to work with and the road back is a long one in Lubbock.