2013-14 Big 12 Preview: Wiggin’ out? Smart money’s on KU and OSU for a battle royale

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

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

Every season, the Big 12 story line starts out as “who can dethrone Kansas?” Usually, hope comes from one of two sources: either KU graduates a stalwart class, leaving a seemingly unbridgeable experience gap, or another program in the league assembles a quality group that seems primed for the league title. This season, both happened, as the Jayhawks lost their entire starting lineup, headlined by Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey. Then Marcus Smart elected to stay in Stillwater, making Oklahoma State into the best team in the league. So what does Bill Self do? He goes out and signs Andrew Wiggins, a polite, mind-bendingly athletic Canadian who’s a lock to go No. 1 in the next NBA draft; a guy who’s being casually mentioned in the same breath with Kevin Durant and LeBron James.

That sets us up for a fantastic season. Even the Big 12 media don’t see a clear favorite. Kansas and Oklahoma State each garnered 77 overall votes in the annual preseason poll, and each landed five first-place votes. It’s a tie that can only be broken on the court.

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW:

1. Kentucky has the most NBA prospects, Kansas has The One: Bill Self has never embraced the one-and-done phenomenon to the degree that John Calipari has, but he seems to be learning how to pick his spots. This is a young, talented Kansas team that may take a little time to develop, but the presence of Andrew Wiggins in Lawrence will be, quite literally, a game changer.

2. Oklahoma State can put an end to KU’s dominance: Marcus Smart said it best, regarding Andrew Wiggins: “I’m not saying he can’t do it, but he hasn’t done it yet.” Smart has done it, averaging 15.4 points, 5.8 boards, 4.2 assists and 3.0 steals for a 24-win team last year. With an experienced high-quality lineup around him – LeBryan Nash, Phil Forte, Markel Brown et al – Smart has the tools to lead the Cowboys to the pinnacle of the league and beyond.

source: AP
Isaiah Austin leads the Big 12’s most dangerous inside attack. (AP)

3. Baylor’s got the inside track: Much of the excitement surrounding KU and OSU is centered on wing players. In Waco, it’s the muscle inside that will bring the pain. The Bears earned praise as our No. 4 frontcourt earlier this preseason, which makes them a force to be reckoned with, not only in the Big 12, but nationally.

4. Tubby’s in Lubb(ock): Texas Tech has had a rough… existence. Basketball-wise, the past decade has brought the program into the national eye, often for the wrong reasons. Bobby Knight resurrected his career in Lubbock, then handed things over to his son for a short-lived head coaching debut. Billy Gillispie took his second chance and drove his career and the program all the way off the rails. Now the reins have been handed to the even-keeled, title-toting Tubby Smith. He’s the right guy to keep things chill in Lubbock, but can he bring the noise when it’s needed?

5. Rick Barnes in danger of becoming a Texas Ex: Let me state this in no uncertain terms: Longhorn basketball was an afterthought before Barnes took over. A 2003 Final Four appearance turned that around, and Kevin Durant’s one year in Austin made Texas a high-profile destination program for some of the nation’s top one-and-done talent in recent seasons. Somehow, all that talent is resulting in diminishing returns; the Longhorns missed the tournament entirely last season, and haven’t made the second weekend of the Big Dance since 2008. Nowhere else to lay that but on Barnes’ doorstep.

PRESEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State)

Andrew Wiggins may have the last laugh, but Smart is just so well positioned to make the most of his talent. He exhibited genius last season, he’s surrounded by experienced talent in Stillwater and he’ll be the guy with the ball in his hands. I’ll hand him this honor by the slimmest of margins, with full confidence that he’ll run with it.

THE REST OF THE BIG 12 FIRST TEAM:

  • G/F Andrew Wiggins (Kansas): Will Wiggins make me look foolish for making him POY 1b? I like his chances. Bill Self does a great job of integrating talent into a team concept, but Wiggins will stand out in a big way.
  • C Isaiah Austin (Baylor): Austin tallied eleven double-doubles last season, and he’s in line to improve on those numbers. With a forest of big men to share the load, and Brady Heslip creating space with his long-range jumper, I like Ike to destroy some rims this season.
  • G Markel Brown (Oklahoma State): Allow me to quote former CBT dunk aficionado Troy Machir: “Markel Brown is a freak athlete, a composer of beautiful yet precise violence, and has very little regard for human life.” When someone dunks so hard that officials have to eject him from the game to protect the innocent, he’s kind of a big deal.
  • F Melvin Ejim (Iowa State): Ejim is almost a prototype of what Fred Hoiberg is doing in Ames. Standing just 6-foot-6, Ejim tallied fifteen double-doubles last season while also stretching the floor with his shooting touch. Ejim gives the Cyclones a puncher’s chance every night out in the Big 12.

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • G Shane Southwell (Kansas State)
  • F Corey Jefferson (Baylor)
  • F Perry Ellis (Kansas)
  • G/F LeBryan Nash (Oklahoma State)
  • C Joel Embiid (Kansas)

BREAKOUT STAR: Wayne Selden (Kansas)

In any other season, Selden would be the toast of Lawrence, Kansas. The presence of Wiggins means this likely lottery pick is actually being overlooked to some degree. Physical and quick, Selden can be the complete package for Bill Self, and his playmaking ability, level head and monster work ethic should make the freshman a factor for the Jayhawks sooner rather than later.

source: AP
What has Rick Barnes done for Texas lately? (AP)

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Rick Barnes (Texas)

As laid out earlier in this article, Barnes – the longest-tenured coach in the Big 12 by a wide margin – helped make Texas hoops into a household name. He’s rested on his laurels long enough, however. It’s Big Dance or Bust for Barnes this season.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …: Can Kansas and Oklahoma State both get No. 1 seeds?

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT: OSU and Kansas will definitely meet twice, and probably three times this season. This is proof that the Universe is not cold and aloof.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR:

  • November 12: Kansas vs. Duke (in Chicago)
  • December 6: Baylor vs. Kentucky (in Arlington, TX)
  • December 10: Kansas at Florida
  • December 14: Kansas at New Mexico
  • December 21: Oklahoma St. vs. Colorado (in Las Vegas)

PREDICTED FINISH

1. Kansas: Until the streak is finally broken, this spot is reserved for the Jayhawks.
2. Oklahoma State: Really more of a co-number-one, but Travis Ford has to pull all the right strings to unseat Kansas.
3. Baylor: Overshadowed, but definitely primed to pull some upsets.
4. Iowa State: The Mayor has done an amazing job with transfers and undersized forwards. We don’t see that changing much this season.
5. Oklahoma: Lon Kruger is patiently rebuilding the Sooners, and he’ll likely notch a couple of upsets this season.
6. Kansas State: Graduation hurt this squad, but the backcourt of Spradling and Southwell gives the Wildcats a fighting chance.
7. West Virginia: Huggy Bear’s troops need to make a concerted effort to stay out of the doghouse and on the court this season.
8. Texas: What more can we say? It’s a make-or-break season in Austin.
9. TCU: The Horned Frogs could again play spoiler this year, but they’re hoping for more.
10. Texas Tech: Even Tubby Smith will need some time to rebuild this program in total disarray.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

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Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

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Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.