Big XII Bonanza (Week One)
Well it’s official: After watching the Kansas Jayhawks play over the weekend against Boston College, it’s safe to say that they are one of the best teams in the nation. I guess it didn’t take a genius to figure out that Kansas was a great team, but wow, talk about having every position covered. After seeing them thrash a 10-2 Boston College team by 25 points on the Eagles’ home court, I came to realization that Kansas has finally grown up.
Last year the Jayhawks were a team loaded with talent. However, the team was lacking one key piece to the puzzle: Consistency. After going through a couple of their games this season on my trusty TiVo unit, I figured out that such lack of consistency had all but disappeared. It’s funny how that seems to happen when a core group of players stick around for another season (see the Florida Gators of 2006).
And now here they are, undefeated, stocked with confidence, and ready to go on another wild ride through the Big XII conference. I think it goes without saying that Kansas will have a couple of bad games along the way (most likely on the road). But given how determined the Jayhawks have looked this season, you shouldn’t doubt them getting to the 30-win mark again.
Big 12 Player of the Year candidates (Rankings prior to Week 1)
1. D.J. Augustin, PG (Texas): Scored 30 points in a rout of then-No.24 Saint Mary’s. The Augustin Big 12 POY train continues to chug right along into the conference schedule.
2. Michael Beasley, F (Kansas State): Had 25 points and 10 boards to lead the Wildcats to a 85-25 win over Savannah State. Normally Beasley would have been the story after the game, however, Savannah State decided to steal the show by scoring a measly four points in the second half. I think you or I could score four alone against five Wildcat defenders.
3. Joseph Jones, F (Texas A&M): Tallied 12 points and four rebounds in a 79-53 win over LSU on Saturday night. The numbers weren’t flashy, but when you consider he played a huge role in holding the Tigers to only 53 points, his stats don’t seem so bland. Intangibles still make him a solid POY candidate.
4. Darrell Arthur, F (Kansas): Arthur dominated Boston College on Saturday with 22 points before following that up with 14 against Loyola-Maryland. You could still debate that any number of players on the Kansas roster should hold this spot, but I’m still confident that Arthur is the man the runs the show in the paint. His stock will either rise or fall based on his performance against Nebraska big man Aleks Maric.
5. A.J. Abrams, G (Texas): Scored 18 points and five rebounds against Saint Mary’s in a big win for the ‘Horns. He has assumed–and flourished in–the role as Augustin’s sidekick. If Abrams is on from the perimeter, he can take over a game by himself.
Dropped out: Curtis Jerrells, G (Baylor)
Notables: Blake Griffin (Oklahoma), Dominique Kirk (Texas A&M), Aleks Maric (Nebraska)
Big 12 Rookie of the Year candidates (based on preseason form):
1. Beasley: No debating this choice.
2. Blake Griffin, F (Oklahoma): Griffin was third on this list behind Jordan before he exploded for 26 point against Mt. Saint Mary’s and 18 against Rice. He might not be the team leader as a freshman, but he sure as heck is playing like one.
3. DeAndre Jordan, C (Texas A&M): The numbers were consistent (7 points and 5 rebounds) against LSU, however, Griffin’s numbers have been off the charts of late. I want to see how he plays against the best of the Big 12.
4. LaceDarius Dunn, G (Baylor): Dunn had only seven points in a loss against Arkansas, but he followed the poor performance up with a 27 point showing that included going 7 of 8 from three-point range.
5. Bill Walker, F (Kansas State): Walker continues to impress the Wildcat faithful. His numbers are consistent, but there seems to be one issue hurting his chances of moving up the list: Michael Beasley is on his team.
Top 5 teams in the Big 12 (rankings will be updated every Monday):
1. Kansas (13-0): No reason to question this choice
Tournament bound? Are you kidding me? The Jayhawks are a lock for the Big Dance right now.
2. Texas A&M (13-1): The 79-53 thrashing of LSU was a statement game that the Aggies are going to make things difficult for teams during conference play.
Tournament bound? The Aggies are looking at a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament. They have a whole Big 12 schedule to get through, but they would project as a tough out right now in the tournament.
3. Texas (12-2): A big win against Saint Mary’s keeps the ‘Horns on track going into their first game against Missouri.
Tournament bound? Augustin and Abrams make the ‘Horns a sleeper team that could do some damage in the tournament.
4. Oklahoma (12-3): Oklahoma picked up a couple of solid non-conference victories heading into Big 12 play. They have a lot to prove against the best in conference since most of their wins came against a relatively soft schedule.
Tournament bound? Right now the Sooners are in based on the fact that they beat West Virginia and Gonzaga. But don’t get comfy here, Oklahoma. There is still a lot of basketball to be played.
5. Baylor (12-2): Dropped a tough home game to Arkansas, however, the Bears followed it up with a big win against Brown. Again, like Oklahoma, Baylor will have to make some noise in the Big 12 to move up the list.
Tournament bound? Nope, not until they beat some of the best in conference. Don’t forget that we’re still talking about Baylor here. You have win important games to gain respect.
Best of the Rest: Nebraska (11-2), Kansas State (10-4), Missouri (10-5)
Game(s) of the weekend:
Kansas State (10-4) at Oklahoma (12-3)
What a game this could turn out to be. Big 12 freshman of the year candidates Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) and Michael Beasley (Kansas State) will face-off for the first time since the McDonald’s All-American game. It’s no surprise that either player is playing at such a high level; however, what is surprising is the leadership load that each has taken on. If hoping to start the season 1-0 in conference, both teams will need to make sure they get the ball to their talented froshes. Beasley has been great this year in the paint, but he should get his first test against Oklahoma’s Longar Longar. The home-court advantage should be enough to put the Sooners over the top.
Final Score Prediction: Oklahoma 68, Kansas State 61
Kansas (15-0) at Nebraska (11-2)
Nebraska’s big man Aleks Maric (16 ppg/8 reb) will get all he bargained for on Saturday when he faces two of the top forwards in the country in the Kansas duo of Darrell Arthur (13 ppg/5 reb) and Darnell Jackson (12 ppg/7 reb). If Maric and the Cornhuskers are successful at slowing the tempo down and the home crowd makes its presence felt, I think Nebraska has a chance. However, that is in a perfect world, and right now there is only a couple of teams playing perfect basketball in the country. Kansas is one of them.
Final Score Prediction: Kansas 79, Nebraska 68