Men’s Big 12 basketball conference preview

Matt Gubbels

Kansas is the favorite again after winning both the Big 12 regular season and tournament championships last year and returning with all but one player from that team. Texas lost a National Player of the Year in Kevin Durant. Texas A&M and Kansas State both reached the postseason last year and have a tremendous incoming recruiting classes. Missouri and Oklahoma both return nearly their entire rosters from teams that were coming on fast at the end of last season. The other half of the Big 12 includes teams that have major questions as to whether they can crack the top half of the league. Similar to last year, three teams are indoctrinating new coaches. It’s only November, but March Madness will be here before you know it.

Here are capsules on all 12 teams in the order they were picked by the Big 12 preseason coaches’ poll:

(1) Kansas (33-5, 14-2 Big 12)

Starters returning: 4

The Jayhawks swept the conference titles last season and only lost Julian Wright, who went to the NBA early. The two conference games Kansas lost were by a total of 8 points. The Jayhawks reached the Elite Eight last season and preseason All-Big 12 players Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur hope to lead them to the Final Four in San Antonio.

(2) Texas (25-10, 12-4)

Starters returning: 4

The Longhorns return four starters and eight players, including preseason Big 12 Player of the Year D.J. Augustin, from a team that reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. They have one glaring weakness, though. Texas lost 25.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game from National Player of the Year Kevin Durant, who went to the NBA school after his freshman year.

(3) Texas A&M (27-7, 13-3)

Starters returning: 3

The key to the Aggies’ season and whether they can return to the Sweet 16 will be how they replace All-Big 12 point guard Acie Law IV. New coach Mark Turgeon, formerly of Wichita State, will look to preseason All-Big 12 forward Joseph Jones and a big recruiting class to make up for Law’s 18 points and nearly five assists a game.

(4) Kansas State (23-12, 10-6)

Starters returning: 4

The Wildcats were ravaged by injuries and had their bubble burst when the NCAA Tournament pairings were handed out last season. After reaching the second round of the National Invitation Tournament, Kansas State went out and got the top-rated recruiting class in the nation, including the top player in the nation, Michael Beasley. Those additions will go nicely with the return of Bill Walker from an injury.

(T5) Missouri (18-12, 7-9)

Starters returning: 4

Missouri will attempt to use their “40 Minutes of Hell” style along with four returning starters to return to the postseason this year. Stefhon Hannah and Matt Lawrence put severe stress on opposing defenses down the stretch last season with their ability to shoot the three and were the main reasons that the Tigers nearly extended their season.

(T5) Oklahoma (16-15, 6-10)

Starters returning: 4

The Sooners seemed destined for postseason play until they lost seven of their last eight games of the season. Oklahoma does return a solid nucleus, including forward Longar Longar and guard David Godbold, their second- and third-leading scorers from a year ago.

(7) Oklahoma State (22-13, 6-10)

Starters returning: 2

The Cowboys have to figure out a way to replace over half of their scoring from last season. Mario Boggan and Jameson Curry accounted for more than 36 points a game but are not on the team anymore. The biggest key for Oklahoma State’s season may be cutting down their turnovers, which they once again struggled with in 2006-07.

(8) Texas Tech (21-12, 9-7)

Starters returning: 3

Coach Bobby Knight’s Red Raiders were the last team in the Big 12 to make the NCAA Tournament and were the first team to lose, when Boston College beat them in the first round. Texas Tech will have to replace the Big 12’s second-leading scorer in Jarrius Jackson but still returns Martin Zeno, who was ninth in the Big 12 in scoring.

(9) Baylor (15-16, 4-12)

Starters returning: 5

Baylor returns all five starters from a team that was finally not ravaged by sanctions and proved that they could play with anyone on any night. Preseason All-Big 12 guard Curtis Jerrells along with honorable mention guard Aaron Bruce comprise a very formidable backcourt to lead coach Scott Drew’s fast-paced style.

(10) Nebraska (17-14, 6-10)

Starters returning: 3

The Huskers do not have to replace as much of their scoring output as teams such as Oklahoma State, but they have to replace more leadership than possibly anyone in the Big 12. Nebraska does return Aleks Maric, who was selected preseason All-Big 12, but need to find a point guard to account for Charles Richardson, who was second in the Big 12 in assists in 2006-07.

(11) Iowa State (15-16, 6-10)

Starters returning: 3

The Cyclones return their entire starting frontcourt, but, for the second season in a row, have to completely replace their backcourt. Coach Greg McDermott attempted to do that with his eight-player recruiting class, which included top-20 point guard Diante Garrett. The No. 18 player in the 2007 freshman class, forward Craig Brackins, will also add to the Cyclone frontcourt.

(12) Colorado (7-20, 3-13)

Starters returning: 4

Colorado will once again try to ride the broad shoulders of guard Richard Roby, a returning three-year starter. Roby was seventh in the Big 12 with 17.3 points per game last season, but the Buffaloes’ key to success may have nothing to do with their scoring. Colorado allowed over 80 points a game last season, which ranks near the bottom of Division I.