Holler all you want, Rick Barnes, but everyone in the Big 12 - even your talented Texas Longhorns - will be chasing the Kansas Jayhawks this season.
The hive mind is clearly at work in college basketball. Bettors, writers and coaches are all in agreement that the Big 12 is going to be this year’s big man on campus.
The Kansas Jayhawks were named the preseason No. 1 team in the polls, as well as the 4-1 favorites to win the national championship. The Texas Longhorns are ranked No. 3 at 7-1, sandwiching the Big Ten’s Michigan State Spartans at 6-1.
Hype is obviously at work here. But underneath the preseason buzz, Kansas and Texas are two impressive programs with legitimate title aspirations. They’re also the top two teams in this year’s Big 12 preview, listed in order of expected finish with last year’s records and this year’s March Madness betting odds attached.
1. Kansas Jayhawks (27-8 SU, 20-8-1 ATS, 4-1)
All five starters are returning from the team that went to the Sweet 16 in a “rebuilding” year for Bill Self. Kansas also has blue-chip superfrosh Xavier Henry ready to contribute right away on the wing. An easy Big 12 pick, but where’s the value?
2. Texas Longhorns (23-12 SU, 13-18-1 ATS, 7-1)
Texas got bounced by Duke in the second round last March. Bigger things are expected this year with four starters returning, plus top-ranked freshman Avery Bradley and Florida Gators transfer Jai Lucas (as of December) in the backcourt.
3. Kansas State Wildcats (22-12 SU, 8-15-3 ATS, 125-1)
K-State has the best chance of the second-tier teams to make some noise. The ‘Cats return four starters while adding forwards Wally Judge (18.5 points, 17.1 rebounds per game in AAU ball) and UConn transfer Curtis Kelly.
4. Oklahoma Sooners (30-6 SU, 16-14-1 ATS, 28-1)
Oklahoma will take a step back after Wooden Award winner Blake Griffin went No. 1 overall in the NBA Draft. The Sooners only have two starters returning, but coach Jeff Capel has a strong recruiting class that should keep Oklahoma in the Tournament mix.
5. Texas A&M Aggies (24-10 SU, 16-10 ATS, 60-1)
Losing Josh Carter to graduation was one thing, but the Aggies took a blow when 6-foot-10 center Chinemelu Elonu went into the NBA Draft. A thin frontcourt should put Texas A&M on the wrong side of the Tournament bubble.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys (23-12 SU, 16-12-1 ATS, 125-1)
Coach Travis Ford has this program pointed in the right direction after reaching the second round last March. But his small-ball team needs a year to rebuild after losing point guard Byron Eaton to graduation. Freshman Ray Penn will be thrown right into the mix in Eaton’s place.
7. Iowa State Cyclones (15-17 SU, 9-15-3 ATS, 500-1)
The Cyclones can breathe more easily with 20-10 forward Craig Brackins deciding to stay in school. That gives ISU four returning starters and a chance to make the surprise jump in the Big 12’s second tier.
8. Missouri Tigers (31-7 SU, 20-11 ATS, 75-1)
They made the Elite Eight last year. This year, the Tigers might not even make the Big 12 tourney after losing their top three players, all from the frontcourt. But coach Mike Anderson’s attention to defense and hustle could keep Missouri in the black.
9. Baylor Bears (24-15 SU, 13-18 ATS, 250-1)
Baylor regrouped after a poor start and made it to both the Big 12 and the NIT finals, but it was still a disappointing season, and things don’t look any better this year with top scorer Curtis Jerrells (16.3 points per game) leading an exodus of seniors.
10. Nebraska Cornhuskers (18-13 SU, 10-13 ATS, Field 25-1)
Coach Doc Sadler worked his four-guard magic to get the Cornhuskers into the NIT last year. Only two starters remain; nine of Sadler’s scholarship players are new to Division I. The backcourt of seniors Sek Henry and Ryan Anderson should keep Nebraska out of last place.
11. Texas Tech Red Raiders (14-19 SU, 10-15-1 ATS, Field 25-1)
Pat Knight intends to start as many as three JUCO-transfers this year, and the Raiders will at least be a deep club after losing just one starter from 2008-09. Bobby Knight was also a fan of transfer players. But he could coach; Knight fils has yet to prove the same.
12. Colorado Buffaloes (9-22 SU, 14-13 ATS, Field 25-1)
Jeff Bzdelik enters his third year of rebuilding the Buffs with four starters returning, and his Princeton-style offense is a departure from the usual track meet we see in the Big 12. But Bzdelik seems to be a place-holder coach more interested in an eventual return to the NBA.