Big Twelve Conference Preview (Part Two)

Big Twelve Conference Preview (Part Two)
Nov 12, 2005, 09:24 pm
Projected order of finish

1. Texas
2. Oklahoma
3. Texas Tech
4. Iowa State
5. Kansas
6. Oklahoma State

7. Nebraska
8. Texas A&M
9. Colorado
10. Missouri
11. Kansas State
12. Baylor

The Big Twelve has picked up a lot of recent flack because a member of the conference hasn’t won a national championship in nearly two decades. This seems a bit unfair, as there is a lot more to a good basketball conference than one team bringing home the trophy at the end of the year. The Big Twelve has more depth than usual, and just to satisfy those that want to see the conference win a championship before handing out credit, might be the only league in America with two legitimate national championship contenders. Texas and Oklahoma are both primed for deep NCAA tournament runs. Texas Tech and Iowa State feature nice mixes of returnees and newcomers, and both should be able to continue their recent success. The final teams in this segment are Kansas and Oklahoma State. While both drop down several spots from last season, these two powerhouse programs are in great shape. Neither team returns much of anything, but the Jayhawks and Cowboys each pulled in impressive recruiting classes. There is a clear-cut top tier in the conference, but the competition for third place should be fierce. The fact that the conference hasn’t won a title recently doesn’t change the fact that the Big Twelve is likely the top conference in the nation this season.

All-Conference Teams

MVP: Curtis Stinson, Iowa State
Defensive player of the Year: Taj Gray, Oklahoma
Most Improved Player: LaMarcus Aldridge, Texas
Newcomer of the Year: Brandon Rush, Kansas

All Big Twelve Team

First Team

PG Daniel Gibson, Texas
G Curtis Stinson, Iowa State
G Terrell Everett, Okahoma
G Jarrius Jackson, Texas Tech
C Taj Gray, Oklahoma

Second Team

G Aaron Bruce, Baylor
SG JamesOn Curry, Oklahoma State
SG Martin Zeno, Texas Tech
SF PJ Tucker, Texas
C LaMarcus Aldridge, Texas

Third Team

PG Will Blalock, Iowa State
G Acie Law, Texas A&M
SG Richard Roby, Colorado
SG Joe McCray, Nebraska
PF Joseph Jones, Texas A&M

All-Newcomer Team

PG Mario Chalmers, Kansas
SG Brandon Rush, Kansas
SG Terry Martin, Texas Tech
F Julian Wright, Kansas
PF Mario Boggan, Oklahoma State


2005 Record: (20-11, 9-7)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Nevada in 1st round
Head Coach: Rick Barnes

Key Losses:

G Sydmill Harris (6.5 ppg)
SG Kenny Taylor (10.6 ppg)
C Jason Klotz (11.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg)

5’10 PG AJ Abrams, Round Rock, TX
6’1 SG JD Lewis, jr, Midland (TX) JC
6’2 SG Craig Winder, Cecil (MD) JC

PG – 6’2 Daniel Gibson, so
SG – 6’0 Kenton Paulino, sr
SF – 6’5 PJ Tucker, jr
PF – 6’8 Brad Buckman, sr
C – 6’10 LaMarcus Aldridge, so

PG – 5’10 AJ Abrams, fr
SG – 6’1 JD Lewis, jr
SG – 6’2 Craig Winder, jr
SF – 6’6 Dion Dowell, so
PF – 6’7 Mike Williams, so
C – 6’9 Connor Atchley, (rs) fr

It seems that the Texas program has been on the verge of great things for quite some time now. TJ Ford led the Longhorns to the Final Four in 2003, and the team has been knocking on the door of greatness ever since. Last season, Rick Barnes’ squad was ready to contend in the Big Twelve until LaMarcus Aldridge went down with an injury and PJ Tucker was sidelined due to academics. Daniel Gibson was conference freshman of the year and the team was still able to grab an NCAA tourney berth, but the Longhorn team that finished the season wasn’t the one that it could have been. It is a new year, and both Aldridge and Tucker are back. Gibson is getting all sorts of All-America and NBA Draft hype, and there are plenty of intriguing options off the bench. The frontcourt of Tucker, Aldridge, and Brad Buckman looks particularly dominant. The team is experienced, deep and balanced, and this could be the season that Rick Barnes takes the Texas program to the next level. The Big Twelve is loaded this year, but Texas is the clear-cut favorite and a top five team nationally.

When Tucker and Aldridge went down, Daniel Gibson (14.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.9 apg) was given the unenviable task of carrying a team to the NCAA Tournament as a freshman. While Gibson would have been more efficient with a bit more help around him and definitely wore down late in the season, he clearly established himself as one of the nation’s best point guards. Gibson is nearly impossible to guard, both deadly off the dribble and a 40% 3-point shooter that isn’t afraid to hoist up a lot of shots. He has an NBA body, and only needs to become a bit better as a floor general before ascending to true superstardom. Gibson was playing nearly 40 minutes a night from mid-January on, but that won’t be a necessity this season. Freshman point guard AJ Abrams is known mostly as a shooter, but after some impressive exhibition play it looks like he is capable of giving Gibson a quick breather every now and then.

The Longhorns would have been downright scary with the presence of McDonald’s All-American CJ Miles, but the lure of the NBA was too strong. Barnes has other options, but there might be a lack of a traditional wing presence here. At the moment, it looks like senior combo guard Kenton Paulino will get the starting nod next to Gibson. However, junior college transfers JD Lewis and Craig Winder will push for playing time. Both should contribute, with Lewis a shooting specialist and Winder offering both defensive prowess and athletic ability. The wildcard here could be small forward Dion Dowell (2.1 ppg), who might be the best natural athlete on the team. However, Dowell’s freshman campaign was disappointing due to injuries and inconsistency, and he must continue to develop the necessary polish to play on the perimeter.

Rick Barnes will roll out one of the biggest, toughest lineups in the nation, and that is largely due to his frontcourt. Small forward PJ Tucker (13.7 ppg, 8.0 rpg) started his career as an undersized power forward, but has quickly developed enough skill to take his game outside. Tucker is either stronger or quicker than nearly everybody that will attempt to guard him, and was on his way to a true breakout year when he was declared academically ineligible for the second semester. Tucker is back on track with the books, and is ready to dominate the Big Twelve with his special blend of toughness, athleticism, and scoring craft.

Other frontcourt options abound. Super sophomore LaMarcus Aldridge (9.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg) saw his freshman season cut short due to a back injury, but is currently healthy and actually bulked up significantly in the offseason. Aldridge was likely talented enough to head to the NBA right out of high school, but decided to try out college for a couple of years anyway. He has been drawing comparisons to Chris Bosh since his days as a prep, and should dramatically improve his freshman year numbers. The other starter in the paint will be scrappy senior Brad Buckman (12.5 ppg, 8.3 rpg), who is as tough as any post player in the country. Over the years, Buckman has added a deadly jumper to his repertoire. Sophomore Mike Williams (3.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg) didn’t impress as a freshman, but should develop into a standout once the players ahead of him in the rotation move on.

While one tries to give a balanced view of a team’s strengths and potential downfalls in an article like this, it is hard to find anything to gripe about with the Longhorns this year. A sizeable scoring wing like CJ Miles would have been nice, but Barnes is going to be just fine on the perimeter. He has been splitting the minutes evenly in the preseason, but at least one of Abrams, Paulino, Lewis, Winder, and Dowell will step up. The frontcourt is downright scary, as this group can beat you in almost every imaginable way. The Texas Longhorns are truly stacked, and this is Rick Barnes’ best chance for a championship yet. As good as Oklahoma should be, it would be a big surprise if any other team wins the Big Twelve this season.

Recruiting Update: Barnes pulled in a star-studded class in 2004, and may have matched that feat with his 2006 haul. Kevin Durant is as advanced offensively as any big man to enter the college ranks in recent memory, and is considered the clear-cut number two senior in the country behind Greg Oden. Barnes recently wrapped up the class with another gem in point guard DJ Augustin, a New Orleans native that moved in-state after Hurricane Katrina. While just those two would have been a headline-making haul, there is more. Dexter Pittman is a 300-pound behemoth, and Matt Hill is a finesee big man with size. Both are considered top 100 recruits. Wing Harrison Smith is also on board, along with in-state wing Justin Mason.


2005 Record: (25-8, 12-4)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Utah in 2nd round
Head Coach: Kelvin Sampson

Key Losses:

PG Drew Lavender (9.7 ppg, 3.2 apg)
SG Lawrence McKenzie (9.5 ppg)
SG Jaison Williams (6.8 ppg)
SF Brandon Foust
PF Johnnie Gilbert (3.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg)

6’3 PG Chris Walker, jr, San Joaquin Delta (CA) JC
6’4 SG Michael Neal, jr, Lon Morris (TX) JC
6’3 SG Austin Johnson, Amarillo, TX
6’6 SF Nate Carter, jr, transfer from UC Riverside
6’7 PF Taylor Griffin, Oklahoma City, OK

PG – 6’3 Chris Walker, jr
SG – 6’4 Terrell Everett, sr
SF – 6’6 Nate Carter, jr
PF – 6’8 Kevin Bookout, jr
C – 6’9 Taj Gray, sr

SG – 6’5 David Godbold, so
SG – 6’5 Michael Neal, jr
SG – 6’3 Austin Johnson, fr
PF – 6’11 Longar Longar, jr
PF – 6’7 Taylor Griffin, fr

The last several seasons have been telling for Oklahoma basketball. Sampson had recruited a group of touted youngsters that were struggling to play the hard-nosed brand of Sooner basketball that he requires out of all his players. These players have now fanned out across the country – DeAngelo Alexander to Charlotte, Brandon Foust to Southeast Missouri State, Lawrence McKenzie back home to Minnesota, and former McDonald’s All-American Drew Lavender to Xavier. Sampson is still left with one of his most talented teams to date, and all of his players are going to play the way he wants them to play. That means taking care of the basketball, slowing the game down, waiting for high percentage chances on the offensive end, and not giving up an inch on defense. The frontcourt duo of Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout will protect the paint as fiercely as anybody, while Terrell Everett is one of the better all-around players in the conference. This team needs to find a consistent outside shooting presence, and with all the attention being paid to physical defense and slowing the pace, offensive power outages are likely to continue. If the Sooners can avoid such disastrous offensive showings like last season’s NCAA tourney loss to Utah, in which the team shot just 31% from the floor, this team is primed for a very successful season near the top of the Big Twelve.

Senior Terrell Everett (12.5 pg, 4.8 rpg, 5.0 apg) took some lumps early in his first season out of junior college, but had won the trust of Sampson by midseason, and was the team’s primary ballhandler throughout most of conference play. Everett is the kind of versatile, tough player that will always be featured in Norman. While Everett is perfectly capable of running the point, Sampson would like to utilize his scoring abilities as well. To that end, he has brought in junior college transfer Chris Walker to run the point. The early reports on Walker are very encouraging. He is tough, athletic, and looks to pass fist. Does that sound familiar to anybody else?

Sampson will probably miss Lawrence McKenzie’s deadly outside shooting touch, but he certainly isn’t without options at the wing. Sophomore David Godbold (4.6 ppg) wasn’t highly recruited, but his willingness to focus on defense and defer to his teammates on the offensive end won him a spot in the starting lineup by the end of the season. He will be pushed by junior college transfer Michael Neal, who will be relied upon to provide a consistent outside shooting presence. Another major development is the addition of Nate Carter, the projected starter at small forward who may remind many of Joey Graham. Just like Graham twins, Carter is transferring in from a mid-major program (UC Riverside), is built like a tank, and will swing between both forward positions. Freshman Austin Johnson has some potential as a shooter, but may be buried at the end of the depth chart for now.

In the frontcourt, it would be tough to find a senior duo as formidable as Kevin Bookout (11.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg) and Taj Gray (14.6 ppg, 8.2 rpg). Bookout has struggled with injuries over the course of his career, but plays with a mentality more likely to be seen on the football field, and absolutely manhandles people on the blocks. Gray was a true difference maker on both ends of the court in his first year out of junior college. He is thick, athletic, and long-armed. Many have picked Gray as preseason conference player of the year, and with a little more consistency on the offensive end, that honor is within reach. Depth will be provided by the athletic Longar Longar, who will block a few shots but still lacks the toughness and polish required to play much under Sampson. New to the team is hard-nosed local product Taylor Griffin.

The Sooners could be in for a big season. Last year was a successful one, but the elements for a deep postseason run might not have been there. Sampson struggled to find a rotation that suited him in the backcourt, and there was little continuity on the offensive end. This group, bolstered by experienced newcomers like Walker, Neal, and especially Carter, might be the right mix. Gray and Everett were remarkably ready to play in their in their first seasons with the team, and both should be significantly improved this winter. Sampson has upped his level of recruiting, and appears ready to solidify the Sooners as perennial contenders atop the Big Twelve. Watch this team on the offensive end. If they can find a few viable scoring options to complement Everett and Gray, this could be a truly spectacular season for the Oklahoma Sooners.

Recruiting Update: This year’s team is senior-heavy, so Sampson needed bodies for 2006. The end result is a class that might be his best ever. The highlight is combo forward Damion James, who would have been a serious threat to jump straight to the pros without the age limit, and will play in the McDonald’s game this spring. Keith Clark is a similarly regarded player, as another tall forward that can step out on the perimeter. As far as traditional big men, Oklahoma recently landed power forward Jeremy Mayfield. Mayfield was once a top 100 member of the 2005 class, but needed a prep year to qualify. In the backcourt, Sampson brings in top 50 combo guard Scottie Reynolds, as well as standout wing Tony Crocker, a Texas native taking a prep year at the Patterson school. While the Sooners project to be very young next year, the addition of these types of players ensures that the talent level will actually rise.

Texas Tech

2005 Record: (22-11, 10-6)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to West Virginia in Sweet 16
Head Coach: Bob Knight

Key Losses:

PG Ronald Ross (17.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.0 apg)
PF Devonne Giles (11.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg)

6’5 SG Terry Martin, Monroe, LA
6’3 SG Alan Voskuil, Bedford, TX
6’7 SF Michael Prince, Plano, TX
6’7 PF Dior Lowhorn, Oakland, CA
6’8 PF Jonathan Plefka, jr, Santa Fe (FL) CC
6’8 PF Justin Wilkerson, Greenville, TX
6’7 PF Jeremy Buttell, Colleyville, TX
6’6 PF Dazzmon Thornton, Denver, CO

PG – 6’1 Jarrius Jackson, jr
SG – 6’5 Terry Martin, fr
SF – 6’5 Martin Zeno, so
PF – 6’9 Darryl Dora, jr
C – 6’8 Jonathan Plefka, jr

PG – 6’1 Drew Coffman, jr
PG – 6’0 LucQuente White, jr
SG – 6’3 Allan Voskuil, fr
SF – 6’7 Michael Prince, fr
PF – 6’7 Dior Lowhorn, fr
PF – 6’7 Tanner Odgen, jr

It would be easy to doubt Bobby Knight, and the truth is that many of us did heading into last season. His star, Andre Emmett, had graduated, and there wasn’t a clear replacement waiting in the wings. But it seems like Knight always finds a way to keep his program respectable and last year was no different. Senior Ronald Ross replaced Emmett’s scoring punch, the Red Raiders ended up knocking off Gonzaga in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Ross is gone and so is main post option DeVonne Giles, but it appears as though most pundits aren’t going to make the same mistake two years in a row. There is enough talent within the program to withstand the losses, and Knight is still a legendary strategist that will find a way to win. Jarrius Jackson will lead the way, though it could be a banner year for wing Martin Zeno as well. It was a big recruiting year for the General, with two top 100 recruits and a host of new frontcourt options suiting up. Texas Tech will probably have to rely on that recruiting class a bit more than Knight would like, but there is enough here for the Red Raiders stick it out near the top of the conference.

Junior combo guard Jarrius Jackson (15.3 ppg, 3.5 apg) made an immediate impact as a freshman, and now appears ready to ascend into stardom. Jackson is your typical Knight guard – intelligent, quick, and mistake-free. Expect him to improve significantly on last season’s numbers. Jackson is likely to shift down to shooting guard quite often, as Knight will want to utilize his first rate spot up shooting ability. Juniors LucQuente White and Drew Coffman (3.0 ppg) will fight for court time in that circumstance, though neither has seen consistent minutes in the past.

Knight is in great shape at the wing positions, where sophomore Martin Zeno (12.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.5 apg) is also primed for a breakout year. Zeno wasn’t a consistent long range shooter last year, but contributed in nearly every other imaginable way. He can handle the ball a little, get into the lane, score in the midrange, and plays tough defense. Everybody is expecting Jackson to pick up the slack with the departure of Ross, but it could just as easily be Zeno that leads this team in scoring. Freshman Terry Martin was highly touted coming out of Louisiana, and appears ready to make an immediate scoring impact from the opposite wing. Freshman shooter Alan Voskuil is also slated to receive a few utility minutes.

Knight doesn’t have a proven double-figure scorer in the paint, but has more than enough bodies to choose from. Junior Darryl Dora (6.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg) appeared to grow more comfortable as last season went on, and even hit the decisive three pointer in a crucial win over Kansas. Dora is a steady all-around performer with a nice body and good skill, and will likely be the one of the few offensive options in the paint this year. The other starter is well-traveled junior college transfer Jonathan Plefka, who will play the role of blue collar banger.

Top 100 forward Dior Lowhorn is more of an undersized four at the moment, but will succeed with his athleticism and scoring craft. Lowhorn is eventually projected to take his game out to the perimeter a bit more. There are other frontcourt players, but it isn’t clear which ones Knight will turn to this season. Sophomore Damir Suljagic would have provided some depth, but will likely redshirt after tearing his ACL. The rest are largely unknown, though freshman Michael Prince and sophomore Tanner Ogden (2.2 ppg) are the players that have seen limited time thus far. Two out of freshmen Jeremy Buttell, Dazzmon Thornton, and Justin Wilkinson are likely to redshirt.

If teams were solely ranked based on their rosters on paper, the Red Raiders would likely be bumped down at least a couple of notches from where they are ranked here. Fortunately, that is why the games are played. Texas Tech was less talented last season, and made the Sweet 16. Jarrius Jackson, Martin Zeno, and Terry Martin should make up a very nice trio of starting guards, and Knight will find a way to get adequate production out of his nondescript frontcourt. Last year was the season that Bob Knight clearly established himself in Lubbock, and the success has already paid dividends on the recruiting path. As usual, the Red Raiders will win games they shouldn’t be doing the little things, and getting the most out of the motion offense. Another high middle of the pack finish is in order here for Texas Tech, with better things yet to come from the General.

Recruiting Update: You never know what Knight will come up with when it comes to recruiting, though he always achieves the most out of his pledges once they make it to campus. For 2006, he already has highly touted junior college point guard Charlie Burgess on board. Burgess was ranked as one of the top ten junior college players in the country by one service. Wing Darryl Ashford and big man Michael Goodwin are also on board, though both were largely sought after by mid-major schools.

Iowa State

2005 Record: (19-12, 9-7)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to North Carolina in 2nd round
Head Coach: Wayne Morgan

Key Losses:

PF Jared Homan (13.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 2.1 bpg)
PF Damion Staple (5.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg)

6’3 SG Farnold Degand, Boston, MA
6’8 SF Mike Evanovich, South Kent (CT) Prep
6’10 PF Shawn Taggart, Mt. Zion (NC) Academy
6’10 PF Jessan Gray, Tyler (TX) JC
6’10 PF Ross Marsden, Ames, IA
6’11 C Jiri Hubalek, Czech Republic via Marshalltown (IA) JC

PG – 6’0 Will Blalock, jr
SG – 6’3 Curtis Stinson, jr
SF – 6’4 Tasheed Carr, so
PF – 6’6 Rashon Clark, so
C – 6’11 Jiri Hubalek, jr

SG – 6’4 John Neal, sr
SF – 6’5 Anthony Davis, sr
PF – 6’9 Shawn Taggart, fr
PF – 6’10 Jessan Gray, jr
PF – 6’10 Ross Marsden, fr

Things were looking fairly ugly for Iowa State around the midway point last season, after five straight losses to start Big Twelve play. Then, after consecutive defeats at the hands of conference doormats Colorado and Kansas State, the light came on. It began with a win against Oklahoma, while upset victories at Texas and Kansas would follow. The Cyclones won seven in a row in all, and ended up topping Minnesota in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Wayne Morgan received spectacular play from his guard tandem of Curtis Stinson and Will Blalock, and Jared Homan emerged as a true post warrior. The Cyclones begin the new season with high expectations again, as Stinson and Blalock provide one of the most deadly one-two backcourt punches in the nation. Furthermore, sophomore wings Tasheed Carr and Rashon Clark would be starting for most teams. There is quite an issue in the frontcourt, however, as Homan has graduated. Morgan lost four other post players over the past year, as Reggie George and Aaron Agnew decided to transfer, Robert Faulkner couldn’t keep up academically, and Theo Davis never made it through the NCAA clearinghouse. Morgan has brought in five other frontcourt players, but Iowa State is still likely to be overmatched in the size department. There is little doubt that Blalock and Stinson can lead this team to success, but the two remain frustratingly inconsistent as outside shooters. While the lack of a post presence and the inconsistency of the team’s outside shooters will remain serious issues, Iowa State once again has the look of a tourney team.

Curtis Stinson (17.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.5 apg) and Will Blalock(12.3 ppg, 4.9 apg) are two of the more dynamic guards in the country, your prototypical New York sparkplugs that Wayne Morgan has made a living out of recruiting and developing. Both are nearly impossible to contain off of the dribble, play lock down defense, and relish getting physical. Stinson is the scorer, impossible to stop once he gets into the lane and deadly in the clutch. Blalock is more of a true point guard, but is nearly as hard to contain going to the basket. Neither player is bashful about firing early in the shot clock, and Morgan has the constant task of keeping this duo playing efficient, controlled basketball. Stinson and Blalock will carry this team most of the time, but will also shoot the Cyclones out of a couple games.

Morgan has several traditional wing options to choose from. Tasheed Carr (5.8 ppg) had a largely successful freshman season, and provides a much-needed outside shooting presence. Small forward Rashon Clark (7.3 ppg, 4.1 apg) has plenty of upside. He is long, explosive, and will get hot from the outside from time to time. However, the problems in the frontcourt probably mean Clark will be saddled playing closer to the basket than he would like. Senior Anthony Davis (4.6 ppg) will also be a factor as an athletic presence closer to the basket, but must get healthy. Freshman Farnold Degand may be a redshirt candidate.

The frontcourt is completely unsettled, and the health of heralded freshman Shawn Taggart is making it worse. Taggart was expected to be an opening night starter, but looked lost in early practice and has recently missed time with an injury. Junior college transfer Jiri Hubalek is likely the next in line, but hasn’t looked ready either. That forced Morgan to go with raw freshman Ross Marsden in the starting lineup for the team’s first exhibition game. Another junior college transfer, Jessan Gray, can score and will be in the frontcourt mix. Freshman Mike Evanovich can also shoot, but is a long ways off. While the preseason results haven’t been encouraging, there is likely a player in this group that will provide at least a bit of a presence.

Wayne Morgan has a talented, if quite unbalanced roster this season. With veteran leadership coming from Stinson and Blalock, the Cyclones should be able to put in another successful run. A lot of ball pressure is likely, and nearly every player in Morgan’s backcourt has shown a willingness to play tough on the defensive end. However, this team has several potential weak spots, and a couple of them were quite obvious in Iowa State’s recent exhibition loss. The team shot just 27% from the floor, and the frontcourt looked completely overmatched. Several players were out with injuries, and the Cyclones will be a much better offensive team on most nights. There has been talk that Stinson has been hampered by lingering back problems, and that would be a disaster. That piece of worrisome information aside, the guards are good enough on both sides of the ball to carry Iowa State to continued success in 2006.

Recruiting Update: Morgan knows exactly the type of player he wants, and has developed the east coast recruiting ties to land his breed of athletic, gritty lead guard. Those connections allowed him to land accomplished scorer Lawrence Westbrook of Winchendon School in Massachusetts, where Morgan originally found Stinson. He dipped into Minnesota to grab underrated forward Cory Johnson, and grabbed P’Allen Stinnett, another high scoring combo guard, out of Las Vegas.


2005 Record: (23-7, 12-4)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Bucknell in 1st round
Head Coach: Bill Self

Key Losses:

PG Aaron Miles (9.3 ppg, 7.2 apg)
SG Keith Langford (14.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
SF JR Giddens (10.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg)
PF Wayne Simien (20.3 ppg, 11.0 rpg)

6’1 PG Mario Chalmers, Anchorage, AL
6’6 SG Brandon Rush, Kansas City, MO
6’8 SF Micah Downs, Kirkland, WA
6’4 SF Rodrick Stewart, so, transfer from USC
6’9 F Julian Wright, Chicago Heights, IL

PG – 6’1 Mario Chalmers, fr
SG – 6’1 Russell Robinson, so
SF – 6’6 Brandon Rush, fr
PF – 6’8 Christian Moody, sr
C – 6’10 CJ Giles, so

PG – 5’11 Jeff Hawkins, sr
SG – 6’1 Jeremy Case, so
SF – 6’8 Micah Downs, fr
F – 6’9 Julian Wright, fr
PF – 6’9 Darnell Jackson, so
C – 6’11 Sasha Kaun, so

Kansas appeared to be on the verge of big things last season. Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles, and Keith Langford made up perhaps the top senior trio in the nation, and there was certainly enough young talent around to fill in the pieces. Nonetheless, Bill Self never found a way to get this group to click. The first round tourney loss to Bucknell is still being talked about, but it was only the final disappointment for a team that never played up to its full potential. Self gets a pass on last season, as he was attempting to coach Roy Williams’ players. After JR Giddens’ dismissal this summer, Self will have completely revamped the roster and is ready to turn the Jayhawk program into his own. With all of the senior losses, Self could have been in trouble this year. However, he has proven to be one of the top recruiters in the country, and has brough in no less than eight top 100 players and three McDonald’s All-Americans over the past two seasons. This year’s team will be as inexperienced as they come, but absolutely flowing over with NBA-level talent. Even the loss of the troubled Giddens, which was thought to be a major blow at the time, ended up allowing Self to bring in future star Brandon Rush right before school started. The lack of experience will likely be an issue early, but the Jayhawks are way too talented to fall much further than this in the Big Twelve. Expect fast-paced basketball with plenty of Sportscenter-worthy highlights, and a fair amount of wins as well.

Self signed McDonald’s All-American point guard Mario Chalmers, considered by many to be the top freshman point guard in America, to replace the graduated Aaron Miles. Chalmers isn’t a pass-first floor general like Miles, but has explosive offensive potential. If Chalmers struggles in running the team early on, Self has senior Jeff Hawkins (3.0 ppg) around to pick up some of the slack. He can also turn to sophomore combo guard Russell Robinson (3.5 ppg), who was up and down as a freshman but can handle the ball, score off the dribble, and play tough defense.

The recruiting saga of Brandon Rush was a long one. Almost universally looked upon as a lock to declare for the draft whether he was a first rounder or not, Rush actually ended up playing things the smart way. He declared for the draft and looked great in Chicago, but withdrew after failing to secure a first round promise. He was courted by numerous high major programs all summer long, before settling on Kansas. Jayhawk fans bit their nails for two weeks while awaiting word on whether Rush could get through the NCAA clearing house, and eventually received good news. Rush is a spectacular athlete with range on his shot and a dynamite scoring move or two. He is likely an opening night starter as well. Self will have plenty of talent coming off the bench, with McDonald’s All-American Micah Downs waiting his turn and explosive USC transfer Rodrick Stewart eligible for the second semester.

The frontcourt is also young and talented. Senior Christan Moody (5.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg) is one of Self’s most trusted players, and will be counted on as a steadying presence while the freshmen get acclimated to a new level of basketball. However, Moody will likely lose minutes to more talented underclassmen as the season goes on. Neither CJ Giles (2.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg) or Sasha Kaun (2.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg) was a reliable contributor as a freshman, but both flashed immense potential. Giles is off the charts as an athlete, and will be a major factor running the floor, blocking shots, and rebounding this year. Kaun is a bulky 7-footer that could be a legitimate offensive presence as early as this season.

Freshman Julian Wright may be the most exciting prospect of all the freshmen. He has the body type and freak athleticism of a Darius Miles, and comes to campus with an already advanced feel for the game. He is comfortable playing anywhere from point guard to power forward, and projects to be an absolute terror on the defensive end. He doesn’t score much other than picking up easy buckets in transition, but once he develops a viable jumper, Wright is an All-American. Another option in the paint is burly sophomore Darnell Jackson.

The uninspiring end to last season notwithstanding, Bill Self has Jayhawk nation excited. This year’s team will be young, but filled with more intriguing talent than perhaps any other team in the nation. Players like Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, and Julian Wright are truly immediate impact freshman, and their star could easily outshine a group of sophomores that is talented in its own right. Self will be able to go in numerous directions with his lineup, with Wright able to play both inside and outside, and a few veteran holdovers around to keep the youngsters reigned in. It isn’t clear just how quickly Kansas’ young talent will gel, but it will certainly be fun to watch the process.

Recruiting Update: If Self’s 2005 haul wasn’t good enough, he has McDonald’s All-Americans lined up and knocking on the door all the way out into 2007. Self has quickly become reviled in Illinois as he has stolen Bruce Weber’s top recruit in each of the two years since he left the Illini. This year, it was explosive point guard Sherron Collins, who was supposed to be Dee Brown’s successor. Collins is as explosive as they come, and is talented enough to send even Mario Chalmers off the ball in his freshman season. Likely McDonald’s All-American forward Darrell Arthur is a legitimate possibility this spring, while guard Brady Morningstar is a committed guard with family ties to the program. Self has already locked up one of the top 10 prospects in the class of 2007 in Minnesota big man Cole Aldrich.

Oklahoma State

2005 Record: (26-7, 11-5)
Postseason: NCAA, lost to Arizona in Sweet 16
Head Coach: Eddie Sutton

Key Losses:

PG John Lucas (17.7 ppg, 4.1 apg)
SG Daniel Bobik (6.7 ppg)
SF Joey Graham (17.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
SF Stevie Graham (6.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
F Terrence Crawford (4.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
PF Ivan McFarlin (12.5 ppg, 7.4 rpg)

5’11 PG Byron Eaton, Dallas, TX
6’0 PG Jamal Brown, jr, Southern Idaho JC
6’4 SG Terrel Haris, Garland, TX
6’7 SF Roderick Flemings, DeSoto, TX
6’8 F Keith Brumbaugh,
6’7 F Torre Johnson, jr, Garden City (KS) JC
6’7 PF Mario Boggan, jr, Chipola (FL) JC
6’10 Kenneth Cooper, Monroe, LA

PG – 5’11 Byron Eaton, fr
SG – 6’3 JamesOn Curry, so
SF – 6’7 Marcus Dove, so
PF – 6’7 Mario Boggan, jr
C – 6’11 Aaron Pettway, sr

PG – 6’0 Jamal Brown, jr
SG – 6’4 Terrel Harris, fr
SF – 6’6 Roderick Flemings, fr
F – 6’7 Torre Johnson, jr
F – 6’8 Keith Brumbaugh, fr
PF – 6’8 David Monds, jr
C – 6’10 Kareem Cooper, fr

Several years ago, it wasn’t clear how much longer Eddie Sutton would be coaching at Oklahoma State. A couple of postseason runs later, it appears that his program is as strong as it has ever been. Sutton recently secured the future of Cowboy basketball by announcing that his son Sean will be his successor, and the two are recruiting better than ever. There will be numerous new faces on the court this fall, because nearly everybody from the Cowboys’ successful two year run is gone. However, the new blood is talented. Sutton has brought in the deepest recruiting class the nation, and that is taking into account prep phenom Gerald Green’s decision to jump straight to the NBA. Never afraid to take on the challenge of coaching a basketball vagabond or two, Sutton will rely on players like JamesOn Curry, Keith Brumbaugh, and Mario Boggan to assume major roles. Only four players return from last year’s squad, but this team is deep and talented nonetheless. It could take a while for Oklahoma State to come together, but expect to see the Cowboys in the field of 64 come March.

John Lucas became an Oklahoma State hero after jumping ship at Baylor, and will be impossible to replace. However, Sutton has done just about as well as he could have in that task. Freshman Byron Eaton was a McDonald’s All-American. He is built like a tank, deadly off the dribble, and knows how to run a team. Eaton will be pushed by touted junior college transfer Jamal Brown, who was the star among stars at powerhouse Southern Idaho. Brown is more of a natural scorer, and that means that the two point guards should see a lot of time together in the backcourt.

OSU’s one accomplished returnee is sophomore JamesOn Curry (9.4 ppg, 2.8apg), who rewarded Eddie Sutton’s decision to take a risk on him with an outstanding freshman season. Curry can play either guard spot, but is best at the wing where he can take advantage of his sweet outside stroke and ability to get shots off in the lane. Sophomore Marcus Dove didn’t play a regular role as a freshman, but his athleticism and ability on the defensive end have given him the inside track on an opening night starting job. Nonetheless, he will have to fight to keep freshman duo Terrel Harris and Roderick Flemings from stealing his minutes. Both were considered national top 50 recruits, and have looked outstanding in preseason play.

Sutton doesn’t have a proven returnee in the frontcourt, but it looks like the Cowboys are in pretty good shape here as well. Junior college transfer Mario Boggan could be the focal point on the offensive end. Boggan is short for a post player and is certainly well-traveled. However, after abbreviated stints at Florida, St. Bonaventure, and two junior colleges, Boggan has finally gotten himself into shape and has an outstanding back to the basket scoring game. He will be pushed by athletic junior college transfer Torre Johnson, who can fill in the combo forward spot vacated by the Grahams recently.

Senior center Aaron Pettway wasn’t ready to contribute right out of junior college, but has an NBA body and should be able to contribute as a rebounder, defender, and shot blocker. If Pettway is still too unpolished, junior Dave Monds will get the job. Also on board is freshman Keith Brumbaugh, who has the tools of an NBA player but turned off many schools with his poor attitude. Oklahoma State will give Brumbaugh a chance, but he was arrested for shoplifting within a week of arriving on campus, and is now on the sideline with a shoulder injury. Waiting in the wings is physically imposing freshman Kenneth Cooper, who needs some time to adjust to the division one level, but should develop into a first rate Big Twelve center down the road.

While you never want to bet the house on a team that lost as much as the Cowboys did in the offseason, it doesn’t appear likely that there will be a precipitous fall off here. Sutton has signed one of his best freshman classes ever, comprised of two top 25 recruits in Eaton and Brumbaugh, two top 50 recruits in Harris and Flemings, and a top 100 prospect in Kenneth Cooper. While Sutton has proven himself time and time again as a system coach, he usually has more experience than this. It may be more of a challenge to get all these talented youngsters to buy into his way of doing things this year. Nonetheless, his usual pick of the junior college litter will help ease the youngsters’ transition into division one basketball, and are quite talented in their own right. Things are headed in the right direction over in Stillwater. While this team is unlikely to win 26 games like last year, an NCAA tourney berth seems very likely in what is definitely a transition year.

Recruiting Update: The Suttons are suddenly a nearly unstoppable force on the recruiting path. The program isn’t exactly in need of bodies for 2006, but the two players that have signed on are once again very talented. While top 25 wing Obi Muonelo took a while to announce his decision, he appeared to be a near-lock for the Cowboys the entire way. A top 100 member in the class of 2005, athletic specimen Gary Flowers went will add depth to the frontcourt, after recently deciding to take a prep year and switching his allegiance from Texas A&M. The Cowboys may or may not add anybody else for 2006, but there are a couple of other names out there. Spectacular wing Davon Jefferson has the Cowboys at the top of his list were he to play college ball. Talented guard Danny Williams was tragically injured in a car accident this past summer, but is hoping to play for Oklahoma State in 2007.

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