Making sense of the Big XII (Preseason Wrap)

by Jonathan Wall | January 5th, 2008

You can all but put the Big 12 non-conference season in the books. With the exception of a couple of key non-conference games this weekend, almost every team will be planning ahead to their first conference opponent.

As opposed to past years, the Big 12 finally looks to be wide open. With the exception of Kansas, Texas A&M and Texas, the rest of the league should be a crap-shoot. And by crap-shoot, I mean that seven or eight teams have a legitimate shot at making the NCAA Tournament this year. However, before we delve into the opening week of conference games, I believe it is only fitting to take a look at the best and worst from the non-conference season, as well as taking a look at the best the Big 12 has to offer as Player and Rookie of the Year candidates so far.

Best non-conference wins:

Texas A&M 70, Ohio State 47: As an A&M alum, I was giddy to watch the Aggies play in the final of the Preseason NIT. Little did I know that I’d be flipping between games by the early part of the second half. For the Aggies, the win was an early season exclamation point to the rest of nation that they can get along just fine without former head coach Billy Gillispie.

Texas 97, Tennessee 78: With all the early season talk about Texas not standing a chance after POY phenom Kevin Durant bolted for the NBA, the Longhorns proved that they would be just fine, thank you. In a game that more resembled a 3-point shootout (39 three’s were hoisted between the two teams) than a standard college basketball game, the Longhorns and point guard D.J. Augustin outlasted Tennessee sharpshooter Chris Lofton for the “coveted” Legends Classic title.

Kansas 76, Arizona 72 (OT): Brandon Rush made his long-awaited debut after recovering from a surgically-repaired knee, while Darrell Arthur added 20 to push Kansas past a pesky Wildcat team in overtime. The win might not have been that special, but I believe it marked the start of the great run the Jayhawks’ have currently been on.

Texas 63, UCLA 61 : Texas sophomore Damion James slashed to the hole for a highlight-reel dunk with eight seconds left on the clock to give the Longhorns their most important non-conference win of the season over then-No.1 UCLA. The win was a benchmark victory not only for Texas, but for the entire Big 12 conference.

Worst non-conference losses:

North Texas 82, Oklahoma State 73: Regardless of the fact that North Texas is currently 9-4, you still don’t go on the road and lose to this team. I will give OSU a pass based on the fact that this was only its second game of the season, but come on, a Big 12 team isn’t supposed to lose to a school from the Sun Belt Conference. End of story.

Sam Houston State 56, Texas Tech 54: How much would you have paid to see the Bobby Knight tirade after this game? 200 dollars? Maybe $300? Texas Tech shouldn’t be losing to teams like SHSU early in the season, not even on the road. No excuses for this one, Bobby.

Centenary 70, Texas Tech 66: Congrats, Texas Tech. You just lost to a school nicknamed “The Gentleman.” These are the kind of losses that the tournament committee frowns upon.

New Orleans 67, Colorado 65: And here I thought that the altitude of Boulder, Colorado gave the Colorado Buffaloes a distinct advantage.

Big 12 Player of the Year candidates (based on preseason form):

1. D.J. Augustin, PG (Texas): No player in the Big 12 has made as much of an impact on his team in the early part of the season than Augustin. Without Kevin Durant to carry the scoring load, there were many who thought Texas would have trouble out of the gates. Boy, were they wrong. Augustin has led the Longhorns to big wins against UCLA and Tennessee, while at the same time upping his scoring average from last season (14.4 in 2006 to 19.8 in 2007). At the same time he is still dishing out the same number of assists (6 apg). The best part, though, is the fact that Augustin is still playing his usual 35 minutes per game. He is the runaway pick in the Big 12 right now.

2. Michael Beasley, F (Kansas State): Don’t be fooled by the fact that Beasley is only a freshman (we know what happens when we scoff at freshman winning POY), chances are he will only be around for one season anyway. With a big frame and a quick first step, Beasley is the prototypical NBA swingman. He currently leads the conference in points per game (24.2) and rebounds (13.5). The question still remaining about Beasley: how will he fare against the best in the Big 12 on a weekly basis?

3. Joseph Jones, F (Texas A&M): Joseph Jones is a glue guy. Plain and simple. He rarely does anything over the top, and on most nights he will probably get you 10 points and five rebounds. However, watch Jones play a game in person and you’ll see some serious guts and grit from the undersized power forward. He is known for grilling his own teammates in practice, and is the type of floor general that would make a coach proud. His numbers might not be flashy, but he has all the intangibles to be a POY candidate.

4. Darrell Arthur, F (Kansas): It’s nearly impossible to pick anyone off the KU roster to make my current POY list since the team is loaded from top to bottom. That said, I feel like Arthur needs to be on this list. So far he has been the Jayhawks’ go-to guy in the paint, while helping lead the team to a perfect record (13-0) in non-conference play and averaging 13 points. He is quick and flashy, and he makes guards Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers look great. He should get some real tests against the bigger forwards in the league, and I think that will be where we see if he really shines.

5. Curtis Jerrells, G (Baylor): Laugh at Baylor while you still can. After being the whipping boy of the Big 12 for so many seasons, the Bears finally look to be on the right track, and Curtis Jerrells is one of the biggest reasons why. The guard is currently averaging 14 points a game for a Baylor squad that is 11-1. Not only is he the team’s leading scorer, but he also leads in assists at 3.8 per game.

Notables:Longar Longar (Oklahoma), Dominique Kirk (Texas A&M), A.J. Abrams (Texas)

Big 12 Rookie of the Year candidates (based on preseason form):

1. Beasley: He is currently running away with the ROY in the Big 12. Beasley is leading the league in points and rebounds, while also leading the Wildcats on the floor. It remains to be seen if he can stay hot against some of the best in the Big 12.

2. DeAndre Jordan, C (Texas A&M): Jordan is a future NBA star at 7-feet tall. If it wasn’t for his horrible free throw shooting (33 percent), then he might be a legitimate candidate for Player of the Year honors so far. He is averaging 10 points and almost eight rebounds per game, while also shooting a ridiculous 78 percent from the field. If he can get the free throws in order, Jordan could be unstoppable.

3. Blake Griffin, F (Oklahoma): The Sooners have quietly ascended the Big 12 mountain early on, and there’s no doubt about it that Griffin has played a big role. He currently leads the team in scoring at 13 points per game, while also averaging a very respectable nine rebounds.

4. LaceDarius Dunn, G (Baylor): Dunn is the first McDonald’s All-American to ever play at Baylor, and so far this season he hasn’t disappointed. He currently averages 12 points for the Bears in just over 20 minutes per game.

5. Bill Walker, F (Kansas State): Walker is another star freshman that was part of Bob Huggins recruiting class before he bolted for West Virginia. He is currently the ying to Beasley’s yang, while averaging 15 points and almost seven rebounds per game.

Top 5 teams in the Big 12 (rankings will be updated every Monday):

1. Kansas (13-0): No reason to question this choice

2. Texas (12-2): The ‘Horns lost a close game to Wisconsin at home, but big wins at UCLA and against Tennessee give them the edge over A&M.

3. Texas A&M (13-1): The Aggies play some of the most suffocating defense in the Big 12, but it remains to be seen how they handle their first road game against Texas Tech after losing a tough one a couple weeks back to Arizona.

4. Oklahoma (10-3): Longar Longar and Blake Griffin form a terrific tandem for the Sooners. They need to put a couple of big wins together, but they look like a tournament team.

5. Baylor (11-1): Baylor has some quality road wins against Withrop, Notre Dame and South Carolina on the road that could make the Bears a viable tournament pick; however, I want to see them exorcise some demons on the road in the Big 12 before they move up the list.

On the bubble: Kansas State (9-4), Nebraska (10-2), Missouri (9-5)

Game of the weekend:

LSU (7-6) at Texas A&M (13-1)
Give the Aggies credit for setting up this series last year. With Texas Tech looming on the horizon for the Aggies, LSU will provide a much-needed break from the 30-point blowouts A&M been handing puff teams. Head coach Mark Turgeon said recently that his team was getting bored of beating teams by 30 points. If that’s the case, then the Aggies get just what they’re asking for with a quality SEC opponent. LSU will have its hands full, however, with an A&M defense that is currently holding opponents to less than 60 points per game.

Final Score Prediction: Texas A&M 72 LSU 58

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