Big 12 Preview: Death, taxes and Kansas winning the league?

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

When it comes to the Big 12 there’s been one constant in the standings of late: Kansas at the head of the pack. Bill Self’s program has won eight straight Big 12 regular season titles, and even with the departure of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor it’s reached a point where you simply pick the Jayhawks to win the league until someone proves otherwise.

Seniors Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey will be asked to lead a large but talented group of newcomers, and if they can do that a ninth straight title is well within Kansas’ reach. But they won’t lack for challengers either, with Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears looking to be the team best equipped to take down Kansas. Point guard Pierre Jackson was one of the best lead guards in the country last season, and if the young bigs are ready to contribute Baylor will once again factor into the Big 12 race.

Kansas State has a new head coach in Bruce Weber but a number of their key contributors from last season are back, and there’s reason for optimism at Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and West Virginia as well. And if Iowa State can properly account for the many things that Royce White provided last season the Cyclones will be heard from as well. Here’s a look at the Big 12 in 2012-13.

Five Things to Know

1. Realignment. The Big 12 will once again be a ten-team league, but replacing Missouri and Texas A&M (both are now in the SEC) are TCU and West Virginia. West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins coached a season in the Big 12 at Kansas State before returning to his alma mater, and Trent Johnson takes over at TCU after coaching the last four years at LSU.

2. Only three players who made the league’s all-conference teams at the end of last season are back in 2012-13: Baylor point guard Pierre Jackson, Kansas center Jeff Withey and Kansas State shooting guard Rodney McGruder.

3. Texas Tech ended the Billy Gillispie saga this fall, with Chris Walker gets the promotion to interim head coach. Luckily for the Red Raiders forward Jordan Tolbert, who led the team in scoring and rebounding last season, returns for his sophomore campaign but it’s going to be a tough 2012-13 season for a team that doesn’t match up talent-wise in the deep Big 12.

4. Kansas returns three starters from last season’s national runner-up (Elijah Johnson, Travis Releford and Jeff Withey), but outside of those three the cupboard is bare from an experience standpoint. Freshmen Perry Ellis and Andrew White are two of the newcomers expected to contribute immediately and the same goes for Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, who had to sit out all of last season for academic issues.

5. Oklahoma State still has the ability to be a promising team this season, thanks in part to the arrival of freshman Marcus Smart. But with Brian Williams (wrist) done for the season and J.P. Olukemi both recovering from a torn ACL and hoping to be cleared by the NCAA to play this season there are questions in regards to backcourt depth.

Impact Newcomers

Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis (Kansas)
The Jayhawks are going to need contributions from their freshmen in order to win a ninth consecutive Big 12 title, and McLemore and Ellis are two of the key first-year players. McLemore has the advantage of being a part of the program last season even though he wasn’t cleared to play, and the versatile shooting guard was a Top 20 prospect coming out of high school. Ellis was one of the top prospects in the 2012 class and should earn major minutes with Thomas Robinson now in the NBA.

Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers (Baylor)
Baylor lost a lot in the paint from last season, but two of the reasons why the Bears are seen by many as Kansas’ biggest challenger are Austin Gathers. Austin is a 7-footer who is more comfortable facing up, and he’s got range out beyond the three-point arc. As for Gathers, his frame makes him an incredibly difficult match-up for opponents and should serve the Bears well this season.

Georges Niang (Iowa State)
Two of Niang’s high school teammates at both the Tilton School and BABC: Nerlens Noel and Wayne Selden. That led to far too many people overlooking the Cyclone freshman, who would simply go about his business in regards to both points and rebounds. Fred Hoiberg has himself a player who could eventually be an All-Big 12 player before his career ends.

Amath M’Baye (Oklahoma)
One thing that Oklahoma sorely needed last season was depth, especially in the front court. Enter M’Baye, who began his college career at Wyoming and is expected to have a significant impact in his first season of play at Oklahoma. As a sophomore the 6-9 M’Baye averaged 12.0 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, and he’ll form a nice partnership with senior Romero Osby inside.

Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten (West Virginia)
With Truck Bryant and Kevin Jones out of eligibility the Mountaineers needed players ready to step up. So how about two experienced transfers from the Atlantic 10? Murray, who began his career at La Salle, was a bit of an enigma at times in Philadelphia but there’s no denying his talent. And former Dayton point guard Staten is capable of hitting the ground running this season.

Other newcomers of note: F Will Clyburn and G Korie Lucious (Iowa State), C Aaron Durley (TCU), G Javan Felix and C Cameron Ridley (Texas), G L.J. Rose (Baylor), F Andrew White (Kansas).

Breakout Players

F Romero Osby (Oklahoma)
Osby averaged 12.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in his first season with the Sooners after starting his college career at Mississippi State. Even with the presence of M’Baye and senior guard Steven Pledger, Osby is talented enough to become an All-Big 12 player in his senior campaign.

C Jeff Withey (Kansas)
Withey is well-known, and his work on the defensive end was one reason why the Jayhawks were able to get to the Final Four. But with Robinson and Taylor gone there will be more on his plate offensively, something Withey prepared for this offseason. If Withey can adjust to the changes he’s a player who can earn All-America honors.

G Angel Rodriguez (Kansas State)
After Frank Martin left to take the head coaching job at South Carolina, there was some concern that Rodriguez would leave as well. But the point guard decided to remain in the Little Apple, and along with Rodney McGruder forms one of the best guard tandems in the Big 12. If Rodriguez can improve his turnover percentage (28% last season) there’s no doubt that the Wildcats can return to the NCAA tournament in Bruce Weber’s first season.

G Sheldon McClellan (Texas)
With J’Covan Brown gone who gets to assume the role of Texas’ primary scoring option on the wing? That will likely be McClellan, who averaged 11.3 points and shot 44.8% from the field in his freshman campaign. More will be asked of both he and Myck Kabongo as the Longhorns look to make a move in the Big 12 standings.

F Melvin Ejim (Iowa State)
No more Royce White, who was not only the Big 12’s top newcomer but also Iowa State’s leader in just about every statistical category. That’s an awful lot to replace and one player who will be asked to provide more is Ejim, who accounted for 9.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season. The Cyclones have other guys who can handle the distribution role (Korie Lucious being one) left vacant by White’s departure, but when it comes to rebounding Ejim should be first in line.

Coach under pressure: Travis Ford (Oklahoma State) 
To be fair Ford did lead the Cowboys to the NCAA tournament in each of his first two seasons in Stillwater. But if Oklahoma State were to miss the Big Dance for the third straight season with this group the natives may begin to ask questions. Unfortunately Oklahoma State lost their best perimeter defender in Brian Williams and there’s still no word on JP Olukemi’s appeal, but with the talent remaining Ford has a group that many will expect to earn an NCAA bid.

Player of the Year: PG Pierre Jackson (Baylor)  
Jackson hit the ground running in his first season in Waco, averaging 13.8 points and 5.9 assists per game in helping to lead the Bears to the Elite 8. With names such as Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy and Quincy Miller gone Baylor will be young inside, which likely means even more scoring responsibilities for Jackson on the perimeter. He’s more than capable of handling a heavier workload this season.

All-Conference Team 

G Pierre Jackson (Baylor)*
G Rodney McGruder (Kansas State)
G/F Le’Bryan Nash (Oklahoma State)
F Romero Osby (Oklahoma)
C Jeff Withey (Kansas)

Predicted Finish

1. Kansas– A lot of new pieces but three key veterans return, and at this point it’s difficult to pick anyone but the Jayhawks to win the conference
2. Baylor– The Bears lost an awful lot inside but the combination of a deep backcourt and some talented freshmen make Baylor the biggest threat to Kansas
3. Kansas State– Bruce Weber has a nice stable of talent at his disposal in his first season in Manhattan
4. Oklahoma State– the backcourt depth has taken a serious hit, but the presence of Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown make the Cowboys a tough out
5. West Virginia– Huggins has both Aaric Murray and Deniz Kilicli inside, and if Juwan Staten can mesh with the returning guards (including Jabarie Hinds) WVU will dance again
6. Texas– If the freshmen are able to contribute Rick Barnes has a team capable of finishing in the top half of the standings
7. Oklahoma– Lon Kruger wants his team play faster, and unlike last season the Sooners have the talent and depth needed to do so
8. Iowa State– Korie Lucious will run the point for the Cyclones, who will need to account for the departure of Royce White
9. TCU– Trent Johnson picked up a big win on the recruiting trail with Karviar Shepherd, but those wins will be few and far between on the court this season
10. 9. Texas Tech– Jordan Tolbert remaining in Lubbock may not be enough to get the Red Raiders out of the Big 12 cellar

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Point man: Can Nick Weiler-Babb’s move to PG put Iowa State back in the tourney?

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AMES, Ia. — It was clear Iowa State needed a change. The Cyclones stood 0-2 with an 18-point home loss to Milwaukee already on the resume. It was clear they were due for a reboot this season after losing four starters – including All-American point guard Monte Morris – but getting trounced at Hilton Coliseum by a team picked to finish eighth in the Horizon League constitutes an emergency.

The Cyclones didn’t panic, though. They adjusted. 

After that disastrous start to the season, coach Steve Prohm moved Nick Weiler-Babb from small forward to point guard while slotting the two players who had been manning the point –  sharpshooter Donovan Jackson and five-star freshman Lindell Wigginton – off the ball.

All Iowa State done since is win.

The Cyclones have rattled off seven-straight with Weiler-Babb flirting with triple-doubles, Jackson shooting 41.6 percent from deep and Wigginton looking like a future star.

“Good we moved him over there,” Prohm said.

It certainly has been good for the Cyclones. Iowa State was 9 of 34 (26.5 percent) from 3-point range, shot 38.8 percent overall and failed to reach 60 points in its opening two losses. In the seven games since, they’re converting at a 46.4 percent clip overall, 39.4 percent from distance and averaging 83.6 points per game. They’ve seemingly become a different team with Weiler-Babb at the helm.

“It’s taking a whole new role,” Weiler-Babb said. “Coach just told me whatever I have to do to win, I have to do it. That’s what I’ve tried to do. Take the ball out of the guys’ hands and give it to the scorers.”

The 6-foot-5 junior is averaging 7.9 assists along with 12.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. He’s become indispensable for the Cyclones a year after being a bit player on the Big 12 tournament championship team.

“He went through some tough times last year,” Prohm said. “But that’s what everybody’s got to understand. Freshmen, sophomore, you’ve got to put your time in a little bit to have success and earn success. He’s doing that.”

The immediate returns have been spectacular for Iowa State, but a question still lingers as they eye Big 12 play later this month.

Is it real?

Or, rather, will it be real against an unforgiving Big 12 schedule? Given Iowa State’s non-conference slate, whether it is or not will determine the postseason fate of a team sitting on a program-best six-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

As good as Weiler-Babb and the Cyclones have been during their seven-game winning streak, the competition can’t be ignored. Iowa State’s best win during this stretch is either Boise State, which only got 8 minutes from Chandler Hutchison after a head injury, or Iowa, which is 5-6 with losses to Louisiana Lafayette and South Dakota State. The wins haven’t all come easy for Iowa State, either. They narrowly defeated Appalachian State and Tulsa while initially struggling against Northern Illinois and Alcorn State before pulling away.

Things have been good for the Cyclones, but they haven’t been perfect.

Iowa State is a mediocre shooting team overall and could have serious spacing issues going forward given the roster forces Prohm to play two non-shooting bigs together for major minutes. Wigginton has been excellent, scoring 20-plus in three of the last four games, but his level of athleticism is something the likes of Western Illinois can’t counter. Texas, Kansas and West Virginia can. Big swaths of the roster, which features eight newcomers, haven’t faced Big 12 caliber competition ever in their careers. Weiler-Babb’s size and skill at the point guard position makes him a major problem for mid-majors, but can he keep up this pace when he faces length and physicality similar to his own?

Those questions, though, have to be welcomed by the Cyclones. If there were answers to them for a team with so much youth and so many unproven players in new positions in mid-December, it probably would register in the negative.

That they’re unknown means there is possibility, opportunity and promise. That exists in no small part because Prohm made Weiler-Babb a point guard.

“The challenge is, what do we really want to be?” Prohm said. “But he spearheads everything we do.”

Texas’ Jones out with a broken wrist

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Texas may be without its leading scorer heading into conference play.

Longhorns coach Shaka Smart announced Monday that sophomore Andrew Jones suffered a hairline fracture in his right wrist and will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.

“Fortunately it’s not one of those injuries where he should be out for an extended long period of time,” Smart said at his news conference Monday, “but he’s going to miss at least the next few games before Christmas. They decided not to put it in a cast, which is good news.”

Jones suffered the injury last week against VCU when he took a number of tumbles to the floor. He’s averaging 15.3 points while shooting 52.4 percent from the floor and 43.2 percent from 3-point range.

“It’s a tough injury for us because he’s our leading scorer and has done a phenomenal job for us this year,” Smart said. “We’re going to need everyone on our team, not just guards, but everyone on our team to step up and take a little more responsibility.

“Your margin for error is a little smaller.”

The Longhorns, who are 6-2 with losses to Duke and Gonzaga, face Michigan on Tuesday, Louisiana Tech on Saturday and Alabama next week. Jones is certainly out for those games, and his availability for Texas’ first Big 12 games – Dec. 29 vs. Kansas and Jan. 1 at Iowa State – would seem to be in question.

“We don’t have an exact timeframe,” Smart said. “It’s really good news they didn’t put it in a cast.

“We’re hopeful that we can get him back in three, four weeks, but that’s not a set timetable.”

 

Coaches Poll: Villanova climbs to the No. 1 spot

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The new top 25 coaches poll is out, and the No. 1 team in college basketball is now Villanova.

Michigan State, who received 10 of a possible 32 first-place votes, came in at No. 2 while Duke, last week’s No. 1 team, fell to No. 4 with a loss to Boston College.

After winning at Kansas this week, Arizona State vaulted up to the No. 6 spot, while the Jayhawks fell to No. 12.

Here is the full coaches poll.

1. Villanova (22 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (10)
3. Wichita State
4. Duke
5. Kentucky
6. Arizona State
7. North Carolina
8. Miami
9. Xavier
10. Texas A&M
11. West Virginia
12. Kansas
13. Gonzaga
14. TCU
15. Seton Hall
16. Virginia
17. Purdue
18. Notre Dame
19. Florida State
20. Tennessee
21. Baylor
22. Florida
23. Arizona
24. Oklahoma
25. Creighton

Villanova hops over Michigan State for No. 1 in AP Top 25

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Villanova’s unbeaten start now includes a No. 1 ranking in the AP Top 25 , while Arizona State is making a rapid rise into the top 10 under third-year coach Bobby Hurley.

After a tumultuous week in which unanimous No. 1 Duke and No. 2 Kansas lost, the Wildcats (10-0) earned 41 of 65 first-place votes to hop over Michigan State and reach the top for the third straight season.

Villanova and Michigan State were the favorites to take over at the top after the Blue Devils’ weekend loss at Boston College, though there was far less certainty for voters about who was now the nation’s top team. The Spartans (9-1) earned 19 first-place votes to climb from third to second, while the other five first-place votes went to the Sun Devils — who leapt 11 spots to No. 5 after Sunday’s win at Kansas.

Arizona State (9-0) is off to its best start since the 1974-75 season. Now the Sun Devils — who also have a win against Xavier this season — have their highest ranking since reaching third during the 1980-81 season.

Wichita State climbed three spots to No. 3, followed by Duke and Arizona State. Unbeaten Miami climbed four spots to No. 6, followed by North Carolina, Kentucky, Texas A&M and Xavier to round out the top 10.

Villanova helped itself with an impressive win against No. 12 Gonzaga last week in New York, though the Wildcats had to fight to the final minute Sunday to close out a La Salle team that entered at 5-5.

“It’s always an honor to be ranked No. 1,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement. “It’s great for the Nova Nation and we appreciate the respect of the writers. We know it’s early, though, and we need to get a lot better.”

KANSAS’ FALL

The Jayhawks (7-2) slid 11 spots to No. 13 after two losses last week, the first coming against Washington in Kansas City, Missouri, before losing to the Sun Devils in Allen Fieldhouse.

SHUFFLE UP

Only two teams — No. 8 Kentucky and No. 12 Gonzaga — stayed in the same spot. Thirteen teams rose in the poll, while four of the seven teams that fell slid at least eight spots.

TOP RISERS

Arizona State’s leap was the biggest, though No. 11 West Virginia (9-1) moved up seven spots after beating then-No. 15 Virginia. No. 14 TCU (10-0) climbed six spots after a win against a then-ranked Nevada team.

Miami, UNC, No. 15 Seton Hall, No. 17 Purdue and No. 20 Tennessee all climbed four spots.

LONGEST SLIDES

While Kansas’ losses stood out, No. 22 Florida had the biggest fall of the week.

The Gators (6-3) slid 17 spots after home losses to Florida State and to Loyola Chicago — a game in which they led for all of 93 seconds. Florida salvaged a win against Cincinnati in the Never Forget Tribute Classic in Newark, New Jersey, to avoid a four-game skid.

No. 18 Notre Dame (8-2) fell nine spots after an upset loss to Ball State, while the No. 25 Bearcats (7-2) slid eight spots.

NEWCOMERS

There were three newcomers to this week’s poll, though one is more of a welcome back.

The list included No. 19 Florida State (9-0) and No. 24 Texas Tech (7-1), while Arizona returned to the rankings at No. 23.

Arizona’s 0-3 showing at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas made the Wildcats the first team in three decades to go from No. 2 in the AP Top 25 to unranked in a week. But four straight wins have the preseason Final Four favorite back in the poll.

SLIDING OUT

Minnesota (No. 14 last week), Nevada (No. 22) and Southern California (No. 25) all fell out of the poll.

1. Villanova (41 first-place votes)
2. Michigan State (19)
3. Wichita State
4. Duke
5. Arizona State (5)
6. Miami
7. North Carolina
8. Kentucky
9. Texas A&M
10. Xavier
11. West Virginia
12. Gonzaga
13. Kansas
14. TCU
15. Seton Hall
16. Virginia
17. Purdue
18. Notre Dame
19. Florida State
20. Tennessee
21. Baylor
22. Florida
23. Arizona
24. Texas Tech
25. Cincinnati

Expelled Yale captain has enrolled at Belmont University

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Former Yale basketball captain Jack Montague, who was expelled from the Ivy League school in 2016 for sexual misconduct, has enrolled at Belmont University in Tennessee.

Montague, who is still suing to be readmitted to Yale, complained in a court deposition last spring that he was unable to apply to other schools. He said Yale would not release his transcript until he paid a disputed tuition bill.

Karen Schwartzman, a spokeswoman for Montague, says Yale later released the transcript, allowing Montague to enroll at Belmont this fall. She says not all of his credits transferred and he will need two semesters to graduate.

He exhausted his basketball eligibility at Yale.

Montague denies the sexual misconduct allegations. No criminal charges were ever sought.

Yale’s attorneys have said the school and its officials acted appropriately.

The lawsuit, which also seeks monetary damages, is expected to go to trial next year.