The Big 12 trades one freshman who became the first in his class to be the consensus national player of the year, Texas' Kevin Durant, for another with the potential to make it a repeat.
Michael Beasley, Rivals.com's No. 1 overall prospect in the class of 2007, arrives at Kansas State with much fanfare. He's a 6-foot-10, 235-pound power forward with a wide array of skills. He and former five-star prospect Bill Walker have expectations for the Wildcats soaring to heights they haven't seen since Mitch Richmond and Steve Henson reached the Elite Eight in 1988. K-State also has a new coach, Frank Martin, who was an assistant to Bob Huggins a season ago.
Kansas remains in its familiar role as conference favorite. The Jayhawks have a ton of talent, though their season could ride on the health of small forward Brandon Rush. A first-team all-conference selection last season, Rush suffered a torn ACL in a pickup game in May. School officials are counting on a December return for the standout, who averaged 13.8 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.
The Durant-less Longhorns won't be anybody's patsies. They return their other four starters, including point guard D.J. Augustin, who will be one of the best in the nation at his position.
Texas A&M and Oklahoma welcome five-star prospects to mix with some talented returning players, and Missouri fans will get their first look at Vanderbilt transfer DeMarre Carroll. He could make it two league newcomer of the year awards in a row for the Tigers, as he joins last year's winner, guard Stefhon Hannah.
Here is the Rivals.com preview of the upcoming Big 12 season:
Bob McClellan's Big 12 breakdown
Team on the rise
Oklahoma. Coach Jeff Capel is in his second season in Norman, and he has the Sooners poised to make a run to the postseason. OU went 16-15, 6-10 in the Big 12 last season. Capel brings in the nation's No. 27 recruiting class according to Rivals.com. The group includes five-star power forward prospect Blake Griffin and four-star point guard prospect Tony Neysmith. They join four players who started at least a dozen games last season, including leading returning scorer (10.4 ppg) and rebounder (7.1) Longar Longar. Capel was in just his second year at VCU when the Rams broke through to win 28 games and make the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners got 10 extra days of practice and an exhibition trip to Canada to get a jump on things, and Capel should have a good feel for this group.
Team on the decline
Oklahoma State. Despite the presence of Mario Boggan and JamesOn Curry last season, the Cowboys stumbled to a 6-10 record in conference play (22-13 overall). The team battled offseason arrests, suspensions and injuries, and it has seven newcomers - including five freshmen. There's a modicum of talent, but it's hard to imagine it will come together for another 20-win season..
Coach on the rise
Mark Turgeon, Texas A&M. The former Kansas player was one of the names on everybody's list a couple of years ago at Wichita State, when he won 26 games and the Shockers advanced to the Sweet 16. They went 17-14 last season, but the coach still was able to land the Aggies job. It looks like a plum, too, with a nice core of returning talent. Add to Joseph Jones and Josh Carter the likes of Rivals.com five-star center prospect DeAndre Jordan, and you have the makings of a potentially dominant frontcourt.
Coach on the hot seat
Sean Sutton, Oklahoma State. There are questions about whether taking the helm of the Cowboys program was too much too soon for the son of coaching legend Eddie Sutton. After an 18-3 start Oklahoma State won just four of its final 14 games and wound up in the NIT. With its top three scorers gone and a slew of offseason travails, the ground is a little shaky for Sutton in Stillwater.
Best offensive player
Aleks Maric, Nebraska. The Cornhuskers center is the leading returning scorer in the conference at 18.5 ppg, and he averaged 19.3 ppg in conference play. He also led the Big 12 in shooting percentage (56.5). He's 6-11, 270 pounds, and he uses his size well to get excellent position on the block. He can finish with either hand, and he has developed some solid moves in the post, including a nice hook shot. Maric dropped 41 points on Kansas State, and he had consecutives games of 31 against Missouri and 36 against Iowa State. He averaged 21 ppg over NU's last 11 games.
Best 3-point shooter
Josh Carter, Texas A&M. When the Aggies' sharpshooter has his feet set, you can pretty much expect to retrieve the ball from the bottom of the net. The 6-7 junior shot 50 percent (86 of 172) from 3-point range last season, not only leading the conference but tying for first nationally. Carter had three games in which he dropped eight 3-pointers, and he had at least three in 15 games.
Best defensive player
Mario Chalmers, Kansas. The Jayhawks guard shared the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award with Oklahoma State's Marcus Dove last season. Both are excellent at shutting down the opposition, though they have different methods. Dove uses his size (6-9), long arms and good positioning. Chalmers (6-1) is more about speed, quickness and ball pressure. He led the Big 12 in steals with 2.6 per game, ranking 15th nationally. It's fair to say he can have trouble with bigger guards, but by the same token they can't put the ball on the floor against him.
Best player you don't know yet
Stefhon Hannah, Missouri. The 6-1 point guard signed with the Tigers after his junior college coach believed Hannah had sent a letter of intent to K-State. Hannah then burst on the scene in the league, leading Missouri in scoring (15.4), assists (4.6), steals (2.4) and minutes played (30.4) on his way to being named Newcomer of the Year. Hannah is quick, has excellent handle and can penetrate on the dribble at will. The Tigers could be a major surprise nationally this season with the addition of transfer DeMarre Carroll and a ton of talent returning.
Kansas. Bill Self has an embarrassment of riches in Lawrence. Four starters return, as do nine other letterwinners. Forward Darrell Arthur started only seven games as a freshman last season, but he averaged 9.8 points and 4.7 rebounds. Point guard Sherron Collins started only three games as a freshman last season, but he averaged 9.3 points and 2.9 assists. Forward Darnell Jackson averaged 5.5 ppg and 5.1 rpg despite playing only 15.4 mpg. Add four-star center prospect Cole Aldrich to the mix, and you get the picture.
Michael Beasley, Kansas State (freshman division), DeMarre Carroll, Missouri. Beasley is beastly. He will have games in which he absolutely will dominate. He averaged 28 points, 16 rebounds, 4.5 blocks, 4.0 assists and 2.0 steals as a senior, and he was the MVP of the McDonald's All-American game. Carroll is a transfer from Vanderbilt. He's a powerful forward with good size and a terrific work ethic. He averaged 10.8 ppg and 6.4 rpg as a sophomore for the Commodores, and he was even better in the SEC (12.1 ppg, 7.4 rpg). He also will be playing for his uncle at Missouri, and Carroll should fit the system well.
James Anderson, Oklahoma State. With Michael Beasley at Kansas State and Blake Griffin at Oklahoma, most other freshmen in the league will be fighting hard for headlines. Anderson is a four-star prospect and McDonald's All-American who could step right into the starting lineup and carry much of the scoring load with Mario Boggan and JamesOn Curry departed. He's a great leaper who's at his best in transition filling the lane or working on the offensive glass.
News and notes
The league has three new coaches. Two replace coaches who moved on to bigger and better things, while one replaces a coach who resigned under heavy pressure. Mark Turgeon takes over for Billy Gillispie at Texas A&M after Gillispie landed at Kentucky. Frank Martin inherited the Kansas State helm from Bob Huggins, who left after one season for his alma mater, West Virginia. Former Air Force coach Jeff Bzdelik took the reins at Colorado after Ricardo Patton resigned. … Three Big 12 underclassmen were taken in the NBA Draft, including Kevin Durant with the No. 2 overall pick. The others selected were Kansas' Julian Wright (first round) and Oklahoma State's JamesOn Curry (second round). … Texas Tech coach Bob Knight is just 10 victories shy of becoming the first Division I men's basketball coach to reach 900. … The Big 12's RPI has slipped from No. 1 five years ago to a five-year low of seventh last season. … Kansas and Texas have each played in the past nine consecutive NCAA Tournaments. … Of the six players chosen to the All-Big 12 first team, only Kansas' Brandon Rush returns. He also is recovering from offseason ACL surgery.