Quincy Miller

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.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 10 Baylor Bears

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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 Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 30-8, 12-6 Big 12 (t-3rd); Lost to Kentucky in the Elite 8

Head Coach: Scott Drew

Key Losses: Perry Jones III, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller

Newcomers: Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, LJ Rose, Chad Rykhoek, Taurean Prince

Projected Lineup:

G: Pierre Jackson, Sr.
G: Brady Heslip, Jr.
F: Deuce Bello, So.
F: Ricardo Gathers, Fr.
C: Isaiah Austin, Fr.
Bench: LJ Rose, Fr.; AJ Walton, Sr.; Cory Jefferson, Jr.; J’Mison Morgan, Sr.; Gary Franklin, Jr.

Outlook: Baylor is coming off of a weird season. They won 30 games and made it all the way to the Elite 8 before losing to the eventual national champions. But anyone you ask will tell you that the Bears were an utter disappointment last year. That’s what happens when you have a front line that includes Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy and spend the season on the outside looking in when it comes to the conversation for the elite teams nationally.

Think about it like this: Baylor went 1-6 against Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky last season and finished 29-2 against the rest of the country. That trip to the Elite 8? It consisted of wins over No. 14 South Dakota State, No. 11 Colorado (who finished sixth in the Pac-12), and No. 10 Xavier, who disappointed all season long and beat Lehigh to make the Sweet 16.

So why should we trust a team that disappointed for all of 2012 and saw four of its top six scorers leave?

It’s simple: Pierre Jackson.

Believe it or not, Jackson actually led the Bears in scoring last season while finishing third in the Big 12 is assists and second in steals. He may stand just 5-foot-10 on a good day, but he’s as athletic as any back court player in the country. He can get into the paint and finish amongst the trees, he can drive to create and he can hit threes. Defensively, his diminutive size and his quickness make him a pest on the ball.

That’s all well and good, but the reason that I think Jackson can carry this team is that he wants to be ‘the man’. Last season, it was Jackson with the ball in his hands at crunch time and Jackson who was taking last-second shots. The problem, however, was that everyone — including the Baylor coaching staff — wanted, expected and hoped that PJ3 would eventually figure it out and live up to his immense potential. I think that hindered Jackson, but with a young team sitting squarely on his shoulders this year, I’m expecting big things. I think he’ll have a senior season similar to that of Jacob Pullen and Sherron Collins.

Jackson will have plenty of backcourt support. Junior Brady Heslip is one of the most dangerous shooters in the country, knocking down threes at a 45.5% clip last season. AJ Walton and Gary Franklin are veterans that can score but are turnover prone, and their minutes may get taken by freshman LJ Rose is Rose can perform well. Baylor played some of their best basketball last season when they went with a three-guard set, and that may be the case again this season. One guy to keep an eye on this year will be Deuce Bello, a 6-foot-3, former top 50 shooting guard. Bello is renowned for his dunking ability, but the rest of his game is still catching up to his athleticism.

The good news for Jackson is that, once again, Scott Drew has brought in a talented recruiting class. It’s headlined by a pair of big men that could very well slide into Drew’s starting lineup. The biggest name is the biggest player on the roster, 7-foot-1 Isaiah Austin, a top ten recruit nationally. Austin is similar to PJ3 is that he’s a perimeter-oriented player, with the handle and range of a two-guard. The knock on his throughout his high school career was that he wasn’t tough enough to play in the paint at a high level, but there are signs that he addressed that before he graduated.

And even if he didn’t, the Bears will have some muscle around the basket. Ricardo Gathers is a bullying, 6-foot-7 forward from Louisiana that was a four-star recruit. Joining them up front will be junior Cory Jefferson and senior J’Mison Morgan.

Predictions?: This season hinges on two things for the Bears: how much of an impact those freshmen big men will have and just how good Pierre Jackson truly is. If Jackson has a Big 12 Player of the Year caliber season and Austin and Gathers both end up being good enough to deserve consideration for all-Big 12 honors, Baylor will be one of the best teams in the Big 12.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Big 12 coaches name Baylor’s Pierre Jackson preseason player of the year

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With practices just over a week away conferences are beginning to release their coaches and media polls for the upcoming season.

The Big 12 picked its preseason Player of the Year on Thursday, and for the second consecutive season the choice is a Baylor Bear.

Senior point guard Pierre Jackson, who was a second team All-Big 12 and Honorable Mention All-America selection last season, is the coaches’ choice to win Big 12 Player of the Year in 2012-13.

Jackson averaged 13.8 points and 5.9 assists per game for the Bears, who reached the Elite 8 for the second time in three years (and in both instances they lost to the eventual national champion).

But of the five players named to the coaches’ preseason All-Big 12 team Jackson wasn’t one of the three unanimous selections.

Those were Kansas center Jeff Withey, Kansas State guard Rodney McGruder and Oklahoma State guard/forward Le’Bryan Nash. Texas sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo rounded out the team.

The honorable mention selections for the preseason All-Big 12 team are: forward Isaiah Austin (Baylor), guard Elijah Johnson (Kansas), forward Romero Osby (Oklahoma), guard Steven Pledger (Oklahoma), guard Marcus Smart (Oklahoma State) and guard Sheldon McClellan (Texas).

Smart was also the pick for Preseason Freshman of the Year honors, and Oklahoma forward Amath M’Baye (transfer from Wyoming) was the coaches’ Preseason Newcomer of the Year selection.

But back to Jackson for a moment, as being named preseason Player of the Year wasn’t the lone honor he received on Thursday.

[tweet https://twitter.com/raybrewer21/status/253926405228871680 align=’center’]

With Perry Jones III, who was the preseason choice to win Player of the Year heading into last season, Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and Anthony Jones all leaving Baylor will rely on some young talent inside.

But Scott Drew can take solace in the fact that he’s got one of the nation’s best running the show.

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

Josh Newkirk commits to Pitt, foreshadows success recruiting in ACC?

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Jamie Dixon has landed the second member of his 2013 recruiting class, a Josh Newkirk officially committed to Pitt on Wednesday evening. Evan Daniels of Scout.com was the first I saw to report the news.

Newkirk is a nice addition for Dixon. A 6-foot-2, 175 pound point guard, Newkirk is a quick and explosive point guard, able to beat his man off of the dribble and finish above the rim. Some of his perimeter skills need work — he’d be well-served to tighten up his handle and improve the consistency on his jump shot — but that athleticism provides upside. A borderline top 100 recruit according to most services, Newkirk visited Pitt last weekend. He cancelled visits with Memphis and Georgia Tech, opting instead to commit to the Panthers on an in-home visit with Dixon on Tuesday night.

What’s more intriguing, however, is where Newkirk is from. A Raleigh, NC, native, Newkirk went to the same high school (Word of God) that produced John Wall, CJ Leslie and Quincy Miller. In general, the Raleigh area has produced quite a bit of talent in recent years, and it’s an area that Pitt hasn’t exactly tapped into before.

Jamie Dixon has cut his teeth bringing in gritty players from cities up and down the I-95 corridor in the Northeast — DC, Baltimore, Philly, New York — promising a chance to play in front of family and friends in the Big East. But with the Panther’s move to the ACC coming up next season, the question that many had raised about the future of the Pitt program involved where Dixon will find his players. Will he still be able to lure kids from Philly and New York to play games against Georgia Tech and Clemson instead of Villanova, St. John’s and Georgetown? Will he be able to tap into some of the fertile recruiting grounds of the ACC?

This commitment from Newkirk might provide you with an answer.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dtwRlZ9Op9o]

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Memphis native Leron Black commits to Scott Drew and Baylor

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Scott Drew grabbed his first commitment from the Class of 2014 Monday, as Memphis native Leron Black pledged his named to Baylor, according to John Martin of the Commercial Appeal.

Black, a Top-25 prospect, continues Drew’s recent recruiting successes, which include a 2012 class that features Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, and LJ Rose.

“At first it was the religion,” Black told ESPN.com. “Then, second of all it was the basketball. They’ve been to the Elite Eight the past two years and this year they sent three players to the NBA. When I was on campus the academics were real good.”

“When I went on the unofficial, it was great,” Black continued. “It looked good and it’s the biggest Baptist school in the country and I’m a big Christian.”

At 6-7, 215 pounds, Black is another athletic forward that Drew can insert into his system, running the floor and attacking in transition.

Baylor finished 30-8 last season, including 12-6 in the Big 12, before losing to eventual national champion Kentucky in the Elite 8.

Though Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller, and Quincy Acy have left the team, point guard Pierre Jackson returns after averaging 13.3 points and 5.8 assists per game last season.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Baylor lands a verbal commitment from 6-8 forward Johnathan Motley

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Baylor received its verbal commitment in the 2013 class on Wednesday night, as 6-8 forward Johnathan Motley committed to the school as reported by Jim Hicks of RCS Sports.

During the Scott Drew era at Baylor the Bears have churned out an impressive line of front court talent and while not as ballyhooed as players such as Isaiah Austin and Quincy Miller, Motley has the potential to have an impact at the next level.

[tweet https://twitter.com/RcsSports/status/246121134880342016 align=’center’]

There will be some work to be done in the weight room but that’s the case for many young front court players.

Motley, who plays at North Shore High in Houston, displayed the ability to do a variety of things on the floor at both ends and the combination of  athleticism and length have served him well to this point.

Motley’s being AAU teammates of Aaron and Andrew Harrison (Houston Defenders) apparently didn’t have an impact on the twins’ thought process, as this happened on Thursday afternoon:

[tweet https://twitter.com/ReggieRankin/status/246375751841099776 align=’center’]

As for what Baylor could have in the front court in 2013, a lot of that will likely depend on what happens this season.

Austin is a talented player that Draft Express has going 6th in the 2013 NBA Draft, and the expectation is that he’ll be able to go pro after one season.

Rico Gathers, Taurean Prince and Chad Rykhoek are also members of the freshman class in the front court, and forward Cory Jefferson will be a senior when 2013 rolls around with J’Mison Morgan being their lone departure.

Motley’s commitment means another long-armed player that Drew can use in a defense that’s helped the Bears reach the Elite 8 twice in the last three years.

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