Big 12 Primer: In a tough league can anyone dethrone Kansas?
In preparation for the 2012-13 college hoops season, SI.com breaks down the best of the best in each of the six major conferences. Andy Glockner serves up his picks for Player of the Year, breakout candidate and more for the Big-12.
Baylor made the Elite 8 of the 2012 NCAA tournament with a team that had three players selected in the top 40 of the NBA draft. Would you be surprised, then, if I told you that it was Jackson, and not any of Baylor's three future pros, that finished the season as the team's leading scorer? What if I told you that not only did Jackson score last season, but he also finished third in the Big 12 in assists and second in steals? His importance to the Bears will only increase this year. They are going to be a younger, more inexperienced group relying on the talented veteran to be a leader and a playmaker.
The top 10 recruit from Findlay Prep entered Texas with all kinds of hype and has drawn comparisons to Chris Paul. In this day and age of one-and-done talents, that kind of resume excites fan bases and media members alike, which is why Kabongo's inconsistent freshman year were viewed by some as a disappointment. But with J'Covan Brown graduating and a young, albeit talented, perimeter attack looking for someone to take the reins, don't be surprised if Kabongo becomes one of the country's best point guards as a sophomore before heading off to the NBA. Just like Paul.
The Big 12 has a number of high-profile recruits entering the league this season, but I went with Oklahoma State's Smart here because I think he'll have the biggest impact on his team. Even with Brian Williams out for the season and J.P. Olukemi's eligibility status for the second semester still in question, the Pokes have an abundance of talented wing players, but they enter this season lacking some leadership and point guard play. Smart earned a reputation for being a winner and a leader at the high school level. He'll be asked to play that role while manning the point guard spot -- he's more of a natural off-guard -- this season. If he can find some level of success, Oklahoma State has the pieces to make a run at the NCAA tournament.
These are the two best teams in the conference. March 9 is the last day of the regular season. Given how long it has been since Kansas wasn't the Big 12 champ, the Jayhawks heading into the final game of the year with the Big 12 title on the line, taking on the team that's hoping to usurp the throne, sounds like a pretty entertaining way to end Big 12 play.
That's the number of consecutive regular season Big 12 titles Kansas has won at least a share of. The Jayhawks have captured five Big 12 tournament titles during that span as well. You want another number? How about 1998. That's the last time that Bill Self finished worse than second in any regular season since 1998, his first year at Tulsa. He finished third in the WAC that season. No one dominates regular seasons like Bill Self, and no one dominates a conference like Kansas dominates the Big 12. With so much of last season's scoring off to the NBA with Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson, is this the year the Jayhawks get picked off?
Before I get an angry email from Oklahoma State, let me clarify this statement: I don't think that Travis Ford's job is truly in danger. I don't think anyone in the conference is in jeopardy of being fired. Think about it: Texas Tech already got rid of Billy Gillispie. TCU's Trent Johnson is in his first season as is Bruce Weber at Kansas State. Lon Kruger (Oklahoma) and Fred Hoiberg (Iowa State) are off to great starts and should continue to improve this season. Self, Bobby Huggins, Scott Drew and Rick Barnes? Yeah, they're not going anywhere.
That leaves us with Ford, who, again, isn't sitting on a seat that's anything more than lukewarm. But with a roster that features more consensus top 10 recruits -- including Marcus Smart and Le'Bryan Nash -- than the entire ACC, there is the expectation that the Pokes will be NCAA tournament bound this year. If Oklahoma State has another disappointing season, Smart and Nash both bolt to the NBA, and Ford is left with yet another rebuilding job? Anything's possible, I guess. But I wouldn't bet on it.
Can the Big 12 get 70 percent of the conference into the NCAA tournament? Kansas, Baylor, Texas, West Virginia and Kansas State look like tournament teams. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Iowa State look like they have the potential to earn bids. Given the lack of depth in some of the power conferences around the country, the Big 12 getting seven (or eight) teams isn't as crazy as it sounds.