Angel Rodriguez's departure is the latest blow to the competitiveness of the Big 12. (Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
On Monday, Kansas State sophomore point guard Angel Rodriguez announced his intention to transfer from the school in order to be closer to his Puerto Rico-based mother and two brothers.
“After multiple conversations, Angel feels an obligation to be closer to his family,” Kansas State head coach Bruce Weber said in a statement released by the school. “His mother is raising his two younger brothers all by herself in San Juan and he just wants to be able to see them more often.”
On first glimpse, at least on a competitive level, the decision is a bit curious. Rodriguez and the Wildcats just claimed a share of the Big 12 regular season title in Weber's first season and Rodriguez was firmly established as a starter, earning second-team all-league honors this season and was expected to be an important returning piece next season. He's already put in the effort to establish himself, which is a large part of any player's battle. But maybe Rodriguez looked at a K-State roster that will be losing leading score Rodney McGruder (along with Jordan Henriquez and Martavious Irving) next year, and decided (along with the pull of family) that a semi-rebuilding project wasn't of interest.
Whatever the reason, this is a significant loss for the Wildcats, and the latest blow to the overall competitiveness of the Big 12 next season, at least as we stand today. Oklahoma State, fueled by the unexpected return of Marcus Smart, should be a fun watch, but Kansas (assuming it doesn't win the Andrew Wiggins lottery) is a bit of a question mark in a transitional year. Kansas State will be down. Baylor is losing do-everything lead guard Pierre Jackson (and maybe Isaiah Austin). Iowa State and Oklahoma are seeing significant turnover from NCAA tournament teams. The down cycle that has bitten the Pac-12, SEC and, even to an extent, the ACC in recent years seems to have reached the Midwest.
For the Big 12, this could mean a pretty significant squeeze on NCAA bids in 2014. The ACC is now mega-loaded with the arrival of Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame. The unlocking of the old Big East means more teams in the two newly created leagues should be in play for at-larges (plus there's one fewer at-large available starting next season, thanks to the extra auto-bid being created). The SEC should be better overall. The Big 12 will have to do solidly in nonconference play and hope to feed off the extra bids that should be available from the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 next season.
In a bigger picture, Rodriguez becomes one of the choice transfers available, whether he's interested in a reunion with former coach Frank Martin at South Carolina, or he lands at another Southeast school. At this point, Rodriguez is like picking up a souped-up version of a juco transfer, where not only can a coach budget a two-year fill-in at the 1, but (assuming there's no mystery waiver involved), he'll have a year to practice in the new system before taking over. That's a nice option for programs looking at losing a point guard either this year or next (cough, Shane Larkin, cough).
It also adds more pressure onto Weber, who was widely regarded as a questionable medium- and long-term fit in Manhattan, Kan., principally because he never established himself as a consistent recruiter at Illinois and the program slipped once his inherited classes departed after his second season (when he went to the national title game in 2005). Recruiting to the Little Apple is a different (and more difficult) proposition than that, and Weber and his staff are going to have to do some work to keep this from being more than a possible one-year dip.
Rodriguez's is but one decision, but it could have a wide-reaching effect for next season and beyond.