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.

Trae Young’s turnover-plagued night costs No. 4 Oklahoma at Kansas State

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When Stephen Curry was a freshman at Davidson, in one of the first games of his college career, he turned the ball over eight times in the first half of a game at Eastern Michigan. Head coach Bob McKillop toyed with the idea of benching his star freshman, instead opting to turn him loose again in the second half.

Curry scored 13 second half points – to go along with five turnovers – and then went out and dropped 32 in his next game.

Those 15 points and 13 turnovers were his first career double-double, and I’m not sure that he’s slowed down since.

I say all that to say this: It is a minor miracle that the first time that Trae Young looked mortal came on January 16th.

No. 4 Oklahoma went into Manhattan on Tuesday night and got worked over by Kansas State. The Sooners ended up losing 87-69. They trailed by 14 points within the first 10 minutes of the game. Young finished with 20 points and six assists – numbers that would be phenomenal for literally any other point guard on the road in conference play – but he shot just 8-for-21 from the floor, finished 2-for-10 from three and turned the ball over 12 times.

12!

In a vacuum, this performance really wouldn’t be anything to worry about. Young is Oklahoma’s offense. When he has a bad game, the team is going to struggle. That’s the risk of relying this much on one player. It is that simple, and the idea that we should expect a freshman point guard to make it the entirety of conference play in a league as difficult as the Big 12 is ludicrous. He’s going to throw up a dud every now and again, and that’s what happened on Tuesday.

“I played terrible,” Young said. “I blame a lot of this loss on me.”

Where this becomes a concern for the Sooners is that the turnover problem that Young dealt with on Tuesday is not exactly an isolated incident. Young is leading the nation averaging 5.2 turnovers per game, and while that number is inflated by opportunity – Young plays in the nation’s third-fastest offense with the highest-usage rate we’ve ever seen in the KenPom era – his turnover rate of 19.2 is somewhat concerning. For comparison’s sake, Jalen Brunson’s turnover rate is 10.5. Joel Berry II’s is 11.7. Devonte’ Graham’s is 17.0.

The biggest worry is that the number keeps rising. Young has set a career-high in turnovers in each of the last two games, three of the last four games and four times total since the start of Big 12 play. There are a lot of good coaches, good teams and great point guards in the Big 12. Teams may have started to solve the riddle, which means that Lon Kruger and Young are going to have to start making some adjustments.

And that will come.

Kruger is one of the best pure basketball coaches in the business.

He’ll find an answer.

Which is why the most disappointing part about this loss is that it puts Oklahoma in a tough spot in regards to an outright Big 12 regular season title. With how strong the top of the conference is, losing games against anyone outside of the top four is a major disadvantage, and Oklahoma is now the only team amongst that group – West Virginia, Texas Tech and Kansas included – that has lost one.

But credit where credit is due: Bruce Weber put together a game-plan to stymie Young, got 24 points and five assists out of Barry Brown and 21 points, seven boards and seven assists out of Dean Wade.

The Wildcats kicked Sooner tail on Tuesday, and in the process, earned themselves a win that is going to carry quite a bit of weight on Selection Sunday.

Silva leads Gamecocks to 76-68 win over No. 18 Wildcats

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Kentucky coach John Calipari thought his freshmen looked like freshmen for the first time all season. South Carolina’s Chris Silva continued to look like a major force in the Southeastern Conference who led the Gamecocks’ dramatic second-half comeback against the Wildcats.

Silva tied his career high he set earlier this month with 27 points as South Carolina (12-6, 3-3 SEC) rallied from 14 points down in the second half to top No. 18 Kentucky 76-68 on Tuesday night.

Silva “was the difference,” Calipari said. “He manhandled everyone we put on him.”

It didn’t look like it would have an impact midway through the second half when Kevin Knox’s short jumper with 12:28 to go put the Wildcats ahead 54-40. But that’s when South Carolina, fueled by the powerful, 6-foot-9 Silva, got going and outscored Kentucky (14-4, 4-2) 36-14 the rest of the way to pull off the upset.

Silva had 12 points in that stretch to lift the Gamecocks.

As well as Silva played, Kentucky’s vaunted group of freshmen began trying to make the splashy, dramatic play instead of the smart one, Calipari said. As South Carolina gradually cut into the margin, the Wildcats shrunk from the challenge.

“All of a sudden, you’ve got a bunch of young guys that don’t know how to grind it,” Calipari said.

That was evident when Wesley Myers’ driving layup tied the game at 65-all and he followed that with a second straight layup for the Gamecocks’ first lead of the second half, this one ruled good when Kentucky’s Nick Richards was called for goaltending.

Maik Kotsar made four straight foul shots to give South Carolina a 71-67 lead and Kentucky could not respond.

“We weren’t listening to nothing the coaches were saying,” Knox acknowledged.

The Gamecocks broke a four-game losing streak to Kentucky, which managed just three points over the final 6 minutes.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin talked with Silva at halftime, urging him to go straight up and over Kentucky’s defenders instead of putting up shots away from the basket. “He told me to go strong and finish,” Silva said.

All the Gamecocks seemed to follow Silva’s lead.

“Our guys took ownership,” Martin said as the Gamecocks won for third time in four games after opening SEC play 0-2.

Frank Booker added 18 points for South Carolina.

Knox led Kentucky with 21 points. No other Wildcat had more than 10 points.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats had little consistency with their shooting touch. But their relentless style helped them claw back from an early 19-12 deficit to lead 37-34. The active Kentucky lineup pushed the pace and made the Gamecocks pay for putting them on the free throw line, going 17 of 22 in the first 20 minutes. Things changed down the stretch as Kentucky’s freshman-heavy team struggled to keep up with the Gamecocks. The Wildcats were just 6 of 14 from the free throw line after the break.

South Carolina: When the Gamecocks miss shots, they’re in trouble. After starting the game 7 of 9 from the field, South Carolina missed 18 of its final 21 shots of the opening half. That helped turn a seven-point lead into a 37-34 deficit at the break. Shooting woes have plagued the team much of the season. In fact, the Gamecocks shot just 27 percent from the field last time out and somehow pulled out a 64-57 victory at Georgia on Saturday. The Gamecocks shot just 37.1 percent in this win.

VANDERBILT’S DEBUT: Highly regarded 6-9 freshman forward Jarred Vanderbilt, who was out with a left foot injury, finally saw his first action as he came in off the bench against South Carolina. And Vanderbilt was rusty after not playing this season. He missed his only attempt in the opening half and tipped in a ball for a South Carolina basket while fighting for a rebound. Vanderbilt finished with six points and five rebounds. “I thought he was pretty good first time out,” Calipari said.

KNOX’S STREAK-SAVING SHOT

The Wildcats were 1 of 11 on 3-pointers and the one made 3 by Knox ran Kentucky’s string of consecutive games with a basket from behind the arc to 1,031. Knox’s shot came with 7 minutes to go.

UP NEXT

Kentucky starts a two-game home stand against Florida on Saturday.

South Carolina faces its second straight ranked opponent in No. 21 Tennessee at home Saturday.

___

More AP college basketball: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

Tuesday’s Three Things to Know: Kentucky loses, K-State whips Oklahoma and UNC wins

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1. KENTUCKY FALLS AS JARRED VANDERBILT MAKES HIS LONG-AWAITED DEBUT

Having missed No. 18 Kentucky’s first 17 games due to a foot injury, Kentucky freshman Jarred Vanderbilt made his debut Tuesday night against South Carolina. While Vanderbilt showed some flashes of the skill that made him one of the top recruits in the 2017 class, it was clear that there’s a lot of rust to be shaken off. But the return of Vanderbilt was not enough to help Kentucky avoid defeat, as South Carolina picked up the 76-68 victory thanks in large part to Chris Silva.

Silva, who’s been thrust into a position of leadership due to how much South Carolina lost from last year’s Final Four squad, was the best player on the floor Tuesday night. Silva scored a game-high 27 points while also grabbing eight rebounds, shooting 9-for-17 from the field and 9-for-13 at the foul line. Outside of Nick Richards, who tallied 12 points and four rebounds before fouling out, Kentucky did not offer up much resistance in the paint and Silva made the Wildcats pay for it.

Add in the fact that both Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (six points, six turnovers) and Hamidou Diallo (five points) struggled to get going, and the end result was the shorthanded Wildcats losing a game they led by 13 points with 13:25 remaining. In a game that lacked flow for significant stretches — the teams combined to attempt 74 free throws — Kentucky managed just four fast break points. And with the point guard play lacking sans the injured Quade Green, Kentucky couldn’t do enough offensively to close out the Gamecocks.

2. KANSAS STATE WHIPS NO. 4 OKLAHOMA

There’s no denying the fact that Oklahoma freshman point guard Trae Young is one of the nation’s best players, and an early frontrunner for national Player of the Year honors. That being said, the Sooners really need their best playmaker to get his turnover issues in check. After turning the ball over nine times in the Sooners’ overtime win over TCU on Saturday, Young racked up a stunning 12 turnovers in Oklahoma’s 87-69 loss at Kansas State Tuesday night.

Add in the fact that he shot 8-for-21 from the field in scoring his 19 points, and the end result was what is the worst night of Young’s freshman season. Give credit to Bruce Weber’s charges, especially Barry Brown Jr., for much of this as they were active defensively and got after Young all night long. Brown also scored 24 points and dished out five assists, with Dean Wade adding 21, seven boards and seven assists as Kansas State picked up its first win over a ranked team this season.

Our Rob Dauster has more on Young’s rough night here.

3. NO. 15 NORTH CAROLINA HOLDS OFF NO. 20 CLEMSON

Having never beaten North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Clemson dropped to 0-59 all-time as Cameron Johnson led five Tar Heels in double figures with 21 points. After shooting a combined 3-for-16 from three in the four games prior, Johnson was 6-for-9 from deep and 7-for-10 from the field overall. Johnson and Kenny Williams III combined to score 20 points in the first half, which helped North Carolina build a 15-point halftime lead despite Joel Berry II and Luke Maye both struggling offensively.

Berry and Maye would pick it up in the second half, which helped North Carolina hold off a Clemson team that made ten of its first 11 shots from the field. Marquise Reed tallied 21 points and Shelton Mitchell 18 for the Tigers, who shot better than 61 percent from the field in the second half. Clemson should be fine moving forward, but the big takeaway from this result is Johnson breaking out of his slump and showing just how valuable he is to North Carolina moving forward.

Cameron Johnson ending his slump is big for No. 15 North Carolina

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When it comes to the long-term hopes of No. 15 North Carolina, not only to win the ACC but to also be a national title contender, the play of veterans Joel Berry II and Luke Maye will be critical.

Rated among the best in the country at their respective positions, Berry and Maye entered Tuesday’s game against No. 20 Clemson averaging a combined 35.6 points per game.

Yet it would be two other Tar Heels, Kenny Williams III and Cameron Johnson, who combined to do the damage that dropped the visiting Tigers to 0-59 all-time in Chapel Hill. North Carolina won 87-79, holding off a Clemson squad that shot 61.3 percent from the field in the second half due in large part to the work done in the first half.

While both Maye and Berry II were kept quiet in the first half, Williams (12 points) and Johnson (eight) combined to score 20 points in the stanza. Johnson would finish the game with 21 points, the most that the Pitt transfer has scored in a North Carolina uniform, and Williams would add 15 as Roy Williams’ team moved to 4-2 in ACC play.

Berry (17 points, four assists), Theo Pinson (12 points, seven rebounds, six assists) and Maye (11 points, four rebounds, five assists) all performed better in the second half, making it possible for the Tar Heels to hang on despite being challenged by a team that made ten of its first 11 second-half shots.

Williams and Johnson have proven themselves to be capable supplementary scorers this season, with the former averaging just over 12 points per game on the season and the latter at 9.7. But in the case of Johnson, following up his 2-for-10 effort in Saturday’s win over Notre Dame by shooting 7-for-10 from the field (6-for-9 3PT) is a needed bounce-back effort.

Prior to Tuesday night, Johnson reached double figures just once in the four games prior (14 vs. Boston College) and shot a combined 3-for-16 from three. Getting Johnson back on track is a big deal for North Carolina, and if his performance against Clemson can serve as a spark that would certainly bode well for the Tar Heels moving forward.

A productive Johnson affords Roy Williams the luxury of playing a “small” lineup in which Johnson mans the four and Maye the five. This North Carolina team isn’t like past editions in the Williams era, as many of those squads possessed the ability to have two “true” big men on the court at all times. With the big men lost from last year’s national title team, it’s been Maye carrying much of the load with freshmen Garrison Brooks and Sterling Manley both looking to work their way into the fold.

A consistent Johnson not only makes North Carolina better, but it’s also a necessity given the team’s available options.

As for Clemson, this game felt like one of the program’s best chances to finally pick up that elusive win in Chapel Hill. Brad Brownell’s group entered the game with a 15-2 record, and with the improvements both in the post (Elijah Thomas) and on the perimeter (Marquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell) this is a group that has some staying power.

But Reed, Mitchell and forward Donte Grantham got off to frigid starts, combining to score two points on 0-for-13 shooting from the field in the first half. Despite the first-half efforts of Thomas the hole was too deep to climb out of, with Clemson pulling to within two on multiple occasions in the second half. Reed got hot in the second stanza, finishing the game with 21 points, and Mitchell would add 18 points to the effort.

Now 1-1 halfway through an important four-game stretch — Notre Dame next, followed by a trip to Charlottesville to take on No. 2 Virginia — when it comes to their NCAA tournament seeding prospects, Clemson paid the price for its inability to knock down shots in the early going. But in their comeback, the Tigers put forth a performance along the lines of what they’ve managed to do for much of this season to date.

Unfortunately for Clemson, its supplementary scorers were unable to match the production of Cameron Johnson and Kenny Williams III.

VIDEO: Kentucky coach John Calipari shows long-range skills during shootaround

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Kentucky coach John Calipari’s shooting touch is still there, even from long range.

The Hall of Famer proved that during Tuesday’s shootaround before the No. 18 Wildcats faced South Carolina in a late-evening Southeastern Conference contest. In a video posted on his official Twitter account, Calipari stepped up and drained a basket from center court to his players’ surprise.

The coach smiled as he walked off the court, showing the swagger and confidence he seeks from another young roster of freshmen and sophomores.

Then again, one key to a coach getting what he wants from players is showing them how it’s done.