Basketball tips off
Big 12 men's basketball gets underway this weekend with 15 non-conference games scheduled from Friday through Sunday. ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla, who will work the Big 12's Big Monday telecasts on ESPN, provided his take on the upcoming season in this question and answer session.
Kansas won the Big 12's first men's basketball national championship. What sort of impact does that have on the national scene?
"The conference did not need validation because of the great tradition of the individual programs. But certainly having the best team in the country in a given year puts a stamp of excellence on your league. The prestige of winning a national championship trickles down to every school in the conference."
Any teams you think might be surprises?
"The best teams are Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor. I think everybody agrees on that. I think a team that might be sneaky good is Missouri. They've got four starters back. I don't think they won't necessarily sneak up on people in the Big 12, but on the national scene. If their chemistry is good, this might be the first time you'll see the 40 minutes of hell style that Mike Anderson wants to play.
"Another surprise team could be Oklahoma State. New coach Travis Ford wants a style of play, up and down the floor, that fits the strength of his team. He relies on guard play and lets his players play with freedom. That fits the players he has this year."
How do think the Oklahoma State transition from Sean Sutton to Travis Ford will work?
"As much as there is a Sutton Legacy in Stillwater, Travis Ford is a great fit there. He has rural, small town roots and values that fit perfectly in the Oklahoma State family. His style of play will be very exciting. I don't know if they'll have the depth to play that frenzied style for 40 minutes this year but I think you'll see glimpses of it."
What players do you think will be surprises this year?
"I think Donald Sloan at Texas A&M has the chance to be one of the best guards in the Big 12. He has had to take a secondary role but he should be ready to bust out as a go-to player. Craig Brackins at Iowa State is one of the best young big men in the conference. Cole Aldrich at Kansas could emerge at one of the country's best big men. He had to take a back seat last year but for about five minutes against North Carolina in the Final Four semifinal he flummoxed Tyler Hansbrough."
How good can Oklahoma be?
"They are poised to be a Final Four contender because they have, in my mind, a player who is the potential No. 1 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Blake Griffin is a rare combination of athleticism and agility for someone his size. In addition to having a dominant big man, Jeff Capel has the deepest team he's had at Oklahoma. It's a deep, physical team."
How good can Kansas be after losing so many players from the national championship team?
"This will be similar to the team in 2005-06, it started 3-4. This team will have some rough patches but Kansas always has great players because of the tradition and the coaching staff. Some years that talent will be inexperienced. It will be exciting to watch them grow up. One built-in edge Kansas has is they don't very often in Allen Fieldhouse."
What about Texas? Who is going to play point guard in place of D.J. Augustin?
"They don't need D.J. Augustin or T.J. Ford, they just need solid point guard play. If they take care of the ball ... this is Rick Barnes' deepest frontcourt. He's got five or six bodies, a lot like the Final Four team. I think we'll see the emergence of Damion James. This is Rick's most underrated team."
What's your view on Baylor?
"One of the most explosive offensive teams in the country. Curtis Jerrells is impossible to guard one-on-one and LaceDarius Dunn is on the verge of Big 12 stardom. The key for Baylor is getting solid play inside. Kevin Rogers needs to be a physical, double-double guy consistently they can do some damage in the NCAA Tournament. They're so good on the perimeter they just need more balance inside. Making the NCAA Tournament is no longer the be-all, end-all at Baylor."