Category archive: Baylor Bears

Brady Heslip's importance rose quickly as the spot shooter on a deep Baylor team that reached the Elite Eight two years ago. And if Baylor is going to get back to the NCAA tournament after a year in the NIT, one of the reasons will likely be that Heslip has snapped out of his shooting slump.

The Bears had length and size inside but used the 3-point shooting of Heslip to catch teams off guard. His nine 3s in an NCAA tournament third-round win over Colorado were the difference in advancing the Bears.

But the numbers were down last season for him and Baylor. Sure, he started and finished the season strong with eight 3-pointers each in games against St. John's in November and against Long Beach State in the NIT in March. But inconsistency in between led to fewer 3s made (83 compared to 100 the season before), a lower 3-point percentage (.386 compared to .455) and fewer points per game (8.6 compared to 10.2).

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Brady Heslip
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesBrady Heslip's 3-point percentage fell to .386 in his junior campaign.

Heslip said the departure of Quincy Acy off the Elite Eight team changed the dynamic of last season's team. He didn't get as many shots off last season, nor was he featured as much. He said the leadership wasn't there as much as the season before.

"I wasn't as consistent," Heslip said by phone from Toronto, where he was one of 17 players trying to make the Canadian national team cut prior to the FIBA World Cup qualifying tournament in Venezuela. "I didn't have the green light like the year before. It was tough."

That will likely change for two reasons: Heslip's summer performance and the makeup of Baylor.

As soon as his erratic season was over, Heslip immediately discarded the memory. He led the Canadian team in scoring (15 points per game) and made 25 3s (44.6 percent) at the World University Games and scored 20 points in a victory over the Americans en route to a fourth-place finish in the tournament in Kazan, Russia.

This was a Canadian team that had college standouts Dwight Powell of Stanford and Kevin Pangos of Gonzaga, among others, but it was Heslip who led the team coached by his uncle Jay Triano.

"It has been an amazing summer," Heslip said. "I have had an amazing opportunity to play in the World University Games, playing for my uncle Jay. I feel a lot better. There's nothing better than playing for Canada."

As for Baylor, Pierre Jackson, who needed the ball quite a bit, is gone as lead guard. The likely point guard this season is newcomer Kenny Chery, and if there is another newcomer who could challenge Heslip for time on the wing it's Ishmail Wainright.

Heslip said having Chery on one side, with the assumption of Wainright on the other -- a great passing big man, Heslip said -- and the return of Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin inside gives the Bears a chance to finish in the top three in the Big 12 with Kansas and Oklahoma State.

"I'll be able to play with the ball more [this season], coming off more ball screens and be more involved," Heslip said. "I feel like my job now is to be a leader. I'm growing as a player with this Canadian team and looking forward to leading these guys [at Baylor] and leaving my mark, have a winning season and making a run in the NCAA tournament."

Heslip has to contend with Andy Rautins, Cory Joseph, Kris Joseph and Myck Kabongo along the perimeter in his quest to make the Canadian team. If he does, the tournament will stretch into September. But the Bears will certainly benefit from his experience.

"He's had a great summer," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Hopefully it will carry over to a great season. He's playing with a lot of confidence and playing more off the bounce, which he's capable of."

His development as a college player and now a national one has been steady. He's ready to blossom into a potential all-league guard in the Big 12 and find his niche on a rising team in FIBA basketball.

"The experience of playing against the pros at the highest level, having the freedom to play with the ball and do more things that I can show offensively has helped," Heslip said. "I'm more than a catch-and-shoot player. I've been working on my defense, my quickness and toughness by playing against guys at the highest level. I have had to bring it every night."

And that will benefit Baylor more than any summer workouts in Waco could have.

A Sweet 16 appearance elevates a program to the next level.

A Final Four moves it up another notch.

The matchups usually make the difference in getting this far. Talent -- and star power -- also play big roles.

There is a certain level of pressure for all coaches and programs. For some, it's self-induced. For others, it comes from a passionate fan base. Some programs need to reach the Final Four for the season to be considered a success. Some do not.

With that being said, here is our Final Four pressure-meter (1 feels the least amount of pressure and 10 feels the most):

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Perry Jones
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswirePerry Jones' Bears have the talent to reach New Orleans, but they have a big hurdle to clear in the South Region.

Baylor (5): The men's team doesn't need to make a Final Four appearance. The women will take care of that, as they are the favorites to win the national title. But the men's team has the makeup to make this run a rare one. Few teams have length like the Bears do, and it's unlikely that Perry Jones III will stick around for a third season. The reason Baylor doesn't have as much pressure to reach the Final Four, even though it has the personnel to make it to New Orleans, is the bracket it's in. Kentucky could stand in the way of Baylor's potential first men's Final Four appearance. The Wildcats are the clear favorites, so expecting the Bears to advance to the Final Four from the South wouldn't be fair.

Cincinnati (3): Cincinnati has survived suspensions and a bumpy ride in the Big East. The Bearcats thrived at the end of the season and reached the conference title game. Mick Cronin and this crew have exceeded expectations by reaching the Sweet 16. Playing one of the favorites in Ohio State takes more pressure off the Bearcats. This ride now is all about extra credit for Cronin and Co.

Florida (4): The Gators won two national titles in consecutive seasons. It will be hard for any program to duplicate that -- ever again. Keeping a team together like the '04 class for the '06 and '07 titles will be extremely difficult to match unless the NBA draft rules change again. The Gators had an easier road to the Sweet 16 thanks to a depleted Virginia team and playing Norfolk State, which exhausted itself with the stunning upset over Missouri. But the Gators don't need to get to the Final Four. If Florida does reach New Orleans with this flawed group and its suspect inside game, it would be quite a feat. The Gators are the lowest remaining seed in the West, too. Expecting them to get past Marquette and possibly top seed Michigan State would be a bit much.

Indiana (3): Tom Crean has turned the corner in Bloomington. There was legitimate reason to be concerned last season. But Crean recruited exceptionally well, getting a star in Cody Zeller, and he got his players to believe they could win big-time games. The victory over Kentucky will resonate for some time. Reaching the Sweet 16 gives Crean even more credibility and respect in the state. However, for this team to get past Kentucky would be asking too much. No one should expect a win over the Wildcats again. To advance to the Elite Eight and the Final Four would be sensational accomplishments. Even though the fan base expects greatness, Indiana has already exceeded any expectations by getting this far.

Louisville (5): The Cardinals are the "pro" team in town. And like Kentucky, the expectations include Final Four appearances. But Louisville has gone through a slew of injuries, and there was no reason to believe it could maintain a high level of play throughout the season. Still, the Cards survived to reach the Sweet 16 and face top-seeded Michigan State. The most pressure may be felt in trying to keep up with rival Kentucky. The expectation is that the Wildcats will be in the Final Four, so why not join them and create even more frenzy in a hoops-crazed state?

Kansas (9): The Jayhawks have two of the top players at their positions in Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Kansas expects to compete for conference and national titles, regardless of personnel, every season. And while Bill Self had to deal with rotation players not being eligible, including top newcomer Ben McLemore, the Jayhawks still won the Big 12 regular-season title for the eighth straight time. Kansas survived against Purdue, but had it not been for a guard meltdown the Jayhawks may be idle right now. Instead, they have new life in the Midwest, thanks to NC State's Sweet 16 run and North Carolina potentially being without Kendall Marshall in the Elite Eight (if the Tar Heels get past Ohio). The pressure has ratcheted up for the Jayhawks. If Marshall is out for this weekend in St. Louis, the Jayhawks are the new favorites in the Midwest.

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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Jamie Rhodes/US PresswireAs the favorite to win the title, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Kentucky have to feel the pressure.

Kentucky (10): The Wildcats are the front-runners to win the national title, not just get to the Final Four. Let's be honest, anything less than a title would be a disappointment. No team in the Sweet 16 has as much pressure to get to the Final Four as Kentucky. The Wildcats have the most talent, the national player of the year in Anthony Davis, and plenty of other pro talent on the roster (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb). Darius Miller also played in the Final Four last season. John Calipari has coached in three Final Fours. The Wildcats are playing a team that handed them their only regular-season loss. A possible matchup with Baylor is more than formidable. The Bears can match Kentucky's length and shooting, but Baylor's defense has never been its strong suit. The region still lays out well for Kentucky in SEC-rich Catlanta.

Marquette (6): The Golden Eagles play as hard, if not harder, than any other team in the field. Marquette's beat down of BYU in the second half and its ability to run past Murray State late were quite impressive. Now, the Eagles get a Florida team that it matches up well with since they can defend the 3-point shot. Marquette should be the favorite in this game and has the personnel and the toughness to beat Michigan State or Louisville. A Final Four isn't expected with this group, but now the bracket has opened up a bit with Missouri gone. A loss in the Elite Eight makes more sense, but there is some pressure for Marquette to advance with Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom leading the way. The Eagles have been to a Final Four with Dwyane Wade under Crean. A berth for Buzz Williams would raise his coaching profile.

Michigan State (8): The Spartans lost one of their key rotation players in Branden Dawson in the final regular-season game against Ohio State. But they won the Big Ten tournament title without him and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs. Draymond Green has been the most valuable player so far in the NCAA tournament and has a legit shot to lead the Spartans to another Final Four. Michigan State expects Final Fours under Tom Izzo, but this team certainly didn't look the part early in the season. It has matured into a title contender. And while the bracket is filled with potential hurdles, the Spartans have the pressure of being a top seed and the expectation of a Final Four appearance.

North Carolina (8): The Tar Heels would have had a 10 in this spot if Marshall didn't fracture his wrist against Creighton and have surgery on Monday. Now, the pressure of reaching the Final Four has dropped a few spots. North Carolina was as healthy as it had been in weeks at the start of the game with the Bluejays. But the Marshall injury makes the Tar Heels extremely vulnerable. Ohio is capable of pulling off another upset. And if the Tar Heels get past Ohio, a revenge-minded NC State team or title-contending Kansas awaits. The Tar Heels were built to win a title. That's why Harrison Barnes didn't opt for the NBA. Tyler Zeller had opportunities, as well. The roster is deep enough to absorb injuries to Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland. Let's see if it can take its worst hit and survive without Marshall or having him only on a limited basis. The expectations for a Final Four may have dropped outside of Chapel Hill, but it hasn't inside the Dean Smith Center. Carolina should expect to be in the Final Four yet again. It's just tougher with Marshall's injury and Kansas potentially looming.

NC State (2): The Wolfpack have far exceeded expectations under Mark Gottfried. NC State was the last team revealed on Selection Sunday. It had to be one of the last teams in the field prior to the four at-large teams that played in the First Four. NC State lost a 19-point lead at Duke, and the Wolfpack couldn't close out UNC in the ACC tournament. But they grinded out wins over San Diego State and Georgetown in their first two games of the tournament. This program has had low expectations for years. The Final Four would be gravy on what has already been deemed a highly successful season. The Wolfpack draw Kansas and if they somehow get past KU (not improbable), they could face a rematch with UNC. One can only imagine the scene in Raleigh if NC State, and not UNC, made the Final Four.

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John Groce
Don McPeak/US PresswireOhio coach John Groce could be walking into a difficult situation if he leaves for Illinois.

Ohio (1): The Bobcats are one of the tournament's great stories. Ohio played one of the more dramatic conference tournament title games when it knocked off Akron in thrilling fashion. The Bobcats got a decent seed at 13 and were matched up against a flawed Michigan squad. Ohio was aggressive and had the more experienced lead guard in D.J. Cooper (vs. the heralded Trey Burke) against the Wolverines. The Bobcats then faced a 12-seed in South Florida that couldn't score and was playing its third game of the tournament. Now, Ohio is playing with house money. The Bobcats have zero pressure in reaching the Final Four. Sure, they are facing a North Carolina team that will likely be sans Marshall. But to expect Ohio to win two more and get to the Final Four would be unfair. Ohio has already made its mark with this Sweet 16 appearance and coach John Groce can likely write his own ticket to a higher-paying job in the Big Ten if he chooses to do so.

Ohio State (9): The Buckeyes would have been a 1-seed if they had beaten Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. Jared Sullinger is healthy again, and the personnel hasn't changed. The Buckeyes possess some of the top players at their respective positions in Aaron Craft (top on-ball defender), William Buford (elite shooter) and Deshaun Thomas (a tough matchup as a face-up forward). Ohio State drew an instate rival in Cincinnati. The Bearcats will muck up the game and challenge everything. The top part of the bracket would be just as difficult with either a lock-down defensive team in Wisconsin or an up-and-down transition squad with a pesky zone in top seed Syracuse. But the Orange don't have Fab Melo, so if you were to re-rank the East bracket, the Buckeyes would have to be the favorites. That puts more pressure on Ohio State, and with Sullinger possibly leaving for the NBA, the window to reach the Final Four is now.

Syracuse (9): The Orange were built for a Final Four run. No team had players coming off the bench like Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair and Michael Carter-Williams. Fair is starting now, but the overall depth is still impressive. Melo's ineligibility knocks the Orange down from a 10. The expectation was Final Four or bust since they started showing their dominance during the Big East season. Syracuse has tremendous versatility with Scoop Jardine, Brandon Triche and Kris Joseph all able to make key shots. The Orange weren't tested by Kansas State after surviving a scare from UNC Asheville. The expectation is that it should beat Wisconsin and play against Ohio State. Syracuse may not be projected to beat the Buckeyes in a possible Elite Eight matchup now, sans Melo, but the pressure is there to get to a Final Four with a group that won't be together next season.

Wisconsin (4): Bo Ryan has never reached the Final Four. But he has had better teams projected to go farther. This squad has improved more than any of the previous teams he's coached at Wisconsin. The Badgers lost three early-season home games, and that rattled their confidence. But it didn't take away their resolve. Wisconsin found its shooting stroke, maintained its defensive intensity and got star-level play out of a role player in Ryan Evans. Jordan Taylor is still the leader and will take -- and make -- the big shots. The Badgers were the more polished team in wins over Montana and Vanderbilt. The expectation to knock off Syracuse isn't high. But if that occurs, then a team they already beat -- Ohio State -- could be standing in their way. The Badgers' last Final Four appearance was in 2000. The fan base is hungry for another run, but it doesn't need one. Ryan would like one, but he knows this may not be his best shot. Still, it's plausible in the current bracket.

Xavier (3): The Musketeers may not have been here had it not been for an A-10 title game appearance. Xavier had to mount a season-long repair project to get to this point. And it worked. Coach Chris Mack deserves as much credit for this run as the criticism he took for the way he initially handled the post-brawl situation. He matured as a coach during the season, dealt with his own knee injury and clearly got his lead guards, notably Tu Holloway, to refocus on the task at hand. Xavier survived Notre Dame by playing smarter than the Irish. It showed more moxie than Lehigh in finishing with a strong kick. No one is expecting Xavier to make the Final Four, even those that projected the Musketeers to do so in November. But Baylor is beatable. Taking down Kentucky would be quite a feat. The pressure is low. Xavier has already exceeded the expectations of a team that once had Final Four aspirations but didn't play that way for most of the Atlantic 10 season. Now that it's two wins away, the pressure is even lower. Xavier has already done well to finish the season on a high.

College basketball could use a Heisman-like award, one main honor instead of the five mainstream national awards.

The problem is that finding a consensus for the Wooden, Naismith, AP, Rupp and Oscar Robertson honors is no easy task.

The awards voters do tend to coalesce behind one candidate. And maybe that will be the case again.

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Harrison Barnes
Peyton Williams/Getty ImagesA favorite in the preseason, Harrison Barnes hasn't been the dominating player for UNC.

But it seems that this season's race will be as wide open as ever. If you need more evidence, take a look at the 25 finalists for the Wooden Award, released on ESPNU and ESPN.com on Tuesday.

It appears that the only two players who are consensus candidates are Kansas' Thomas Robinson and Creighton's Doug McDermott. It's not a reach to say these two players are the favorites in mid-January, a stunning development considering how much preseason hype Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and North Carolina's Harrison Barnes received. The amazing part thus far is that I don't believe Sullinger nor Barnes would be a first-team All-American if the voting were conducted today.

Before we get to the list of players compiled by the Wooden folks, it's important to note that these are simply the 25 players who they felt should be honored on their midseason list. Players who do not show up are still very much eligible to win the Wooden Award at the end of the season and will be given equal consideration.

So players who have legitimate claims to being on this list -- Maryland's Terrell Stoglin and Seton Hall teammates Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore come to mind -- still have a shot.

So without further ado, here are the 25 Wooden finalists (in alphabetical order):

Harrison Barnes, 6-foot-8, So., F, North Carolina
Stat line: 16.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg

Chances: Fading. Still has a shot to be a second-team All-American. Barnes hasn't been the dominating player on the Tar Heels. To be fair, he has some of the best talent in the country (John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall) surrounding him. UNC's 33-point loss to Florida State didn't help his case, either.

Will Barton, 6-6, So., F, Memphis
Stat line: 18.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg

Chances: No shot. He could be the Conference USA Player of the Year, though. Barton has greatly improved and has been the most consistent player during the Tigers' inconsistent season.

William Buford, 6-6, Sr., G, Ohio State
Stat line: 15.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Chances: No shot. Buford won't win Big Ten POY, either. He has been OSU's best perimeter threat, but he won't be a first-team All-American. Buford might not even be first-team All-Big Ten. He is an integral part of the Buckeyes' title hopes, but is not a POY contender.

Anthony Davis, 6-10, Fr., C, Kentucky
Stat line: 13.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.6 bpg

Chances: High. Davis has been the most dominant post player in the country. He blocked a last-second shot by North Carolina's John Henson in December, preventing the Tar Heels from winning a game at Rupp. He alters and changes more shots than any other player. If the Wildcats win the national title, Davis will be one of the reasons why. He would be ahead of Ohio State's Jared Sullinger on the All-America ballot if you had to choose one of them.

Marcus Denmon, 6-3, Sr., G, Missouri
Stat line: 17.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg

Chances: Not great. Denmon is the leading scorer for Mizzou. But it's hard to separate him from Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe, Michael Dixon and Flip Pressey in his importance to the Tigers. They all have played an equal role in Missouri's impressive start. It will be interesting to see which of these players earns first-team All-Big 12.

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Green
Mike Carter/US PresswireIf Michigan State stays in the Big Ten race, Draymond Green has a shot at first-team All-American.

Draymond Green, 6-7, Sr., F, Michigan State
Stat line: 15.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg

Chances: In the mix. If he continues his current pace of scoring and rebounding, Green could end up nudging out Sullinger for Big Ten Player of the Year. The Spartans did lose at Northwestern on Saturday, but Green has been a tremendous leader. He will stay in the chase for a first-team All-American spot if his team stays in the race for the Big Ten title.

John Henson, 6-11, Jr., C, North Carolina
Stat line: 14.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg

Chances: No shot. Henson didn't convert the biggest shot of his season against Kentucky. Davis blocked it. And if Barnes isn't the national player of the year, Henson isn't either. The 33-point loss to Florida State will haunt all Tar Heels candidates.

John Jenkins, 6-4, Jr., G, Vanderbilt
Stat line: 19.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg

Chances: No shot. Jenkins is a superb shooter and scorer and is leading the revitalized Commodores. But his role isn't more important than Jeffery Taylor, Brad Tinsley or Festus Ezeli -- it is equally important. The 'Dores mid-nonconference slide hurts Jenkins' campaign. The success of the Kentucky freshmen also makes it almost impossible for Jenkins to get SEC Player of the Year.

Orlando Johnson, 6-5, Sr., G, UCSB
Stat line: 20.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg

Chances: No shot. Johnson is having a stellar season for the Gauchos, and he may be one of the higher draft picks on this list. But the Gauchos are 8-6 and are trailing Long Beach State in the Big West. Johnson should be an All-American, but he won't make the first team.

Darius Johnson-Odom, 6-2, Sr., G, Marquette
Stat line: 18.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg

Chances: No shot. DJO has had a superb season for the Golden Eagles. He has a legit shot at Big East Player of the Year. But that won't be enough to get a first-team All-American spot or the national POY. Marquette has been decent, but not great enough for DJO to stand out on that pedestal.

Kevin Jones, 6-8, Sr., F, West Virginia
Stat line: 20.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg

Chances: Decent. Jones has put it all together as a senior and has put up just a monster season for the Mountaineers. Just seems like it's double-double after double-double for Jones, who will need to keep the Mountaineers in the top 3 of the Big East in order to stay in Wooden contention.

Perry Jones III, 6-11, So., C, Baylor
Stat line: 14.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg

Chances: No shot at player of the year, but he is in the hunt for a first-team All-American slot. The problem for Jones' candidacy is that Quincy Acy has been a comparable inside scorer and guard Pierre Jackson has been an integral member of this team. Jones didn't help his case when he and the Bears were dominated by Kansas' Thomas Robinson in a loss on Monday night. But he can't win national POY if he isn't the Big 12 Player of the Year. And Robinson is the favorite for that honor.

Kris Joseph, 6-7, Sr., F, Syracuse
Stat line: 13.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Chances: No shot. Joseph is leading the Orange, but this team is so deep, so talented and so balanced that you would have a hard time picking just him. Dion Waiters may be Syracuse's MVP. A number of other players have taken turns being the star for the Orange, too.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, 6-7, Fr., F, Kentucky
Stat line: 13.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 49.4 FG percentage

Chances: Solid. Kidd-Gilchrist could be the SEC Player of the Year. And if he gets that honor, he'll be in contention for the national POY. Kidd-Gilchrist took a few games to get going, but once he did he was an offensive force. He has delivered on his talent and effort.

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Doug McDermott
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireCreighton's Doug McDermott has been one of the most complete players in the nation.

Jeremy Lamb, 6-5, So., G, Connecticut
Stat line: 17.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Chances: No shot. Lamb is leading the Huskies in scoring. But UConn is still finding its way in the Big East. The Huskies haven't featured Lamb as much, either. Andre Drummond may end up being the team's featured scorer by season's end. Lamb isn't the Big East Player of the Year right now, so he isn't winning the national honor.

Damian Lillard, 6-3, Jr., G, Weber State
Stat line: 25.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.5 apg

Chances: He won't win national POY, but he should be in contention for second-team All-American honors. Lillard is having a stellar season for the Wildcats, who are in first place in the Big Sky. He leads the nation in scoring and his stat line is as good as any in the country. The problem is that Weber has been in obscurity so far this season. Lillard will likely not be seen by the masses until March.

Doug McDermott, 6-7, So., F, Creighton
Stat line: 24.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 62.1 FG

Chances: High. McDermott has been one of the most complete players in the country and is a first-team All-American, at the very least. He could be this season's Jimmer Fredette, coming from outside a power six conference to win the national player of the year honor. McDermott has led the Bluejays to the top of the Missouri Valley and into the Top 25. He is the focus of every opposing defense, too.

Scott Machado, 6-1, Sr., G, Iona
Stat line: 13.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 10.3 apg

Chances: Not happening for POY, but he's in the hunt as a first-team All-American. Machado has been the most dominant point guard this season and easily leads the country in assists. Iona has played a decent schedule and is the team to beat in the MAAC. Few teams will want to face the Gaels in March, and Machado is one of the key reasons why.

Kendall Marshall, 6-4, So., G, North Carolina
Stat line: 5.8 ppg, 9.6 apg

Chances: No shot. Marshall is a key for the Tar Heels. He hasn't been the best point guard in the country, but has been a solid contributor this season and does rank second behind Machado in assists. But that isn't enough to win the award or be a first-team candidate.

Mike Moser, 6-8, So., F, UNLV
Stat line: 13.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg

Chances: No shot. But Moser has to be in contention for a first- or second-team All-American spot. His rebounding has been epic (especially against North Carolina). Moser and fellow UCLA transfer Chace Stanback have been the major reasons the Runnin' Rebels are ranked and in contention for the MWC title.

Arnett Moultrie, 6-11, Jr., C, Mississippi State
Stat line: 16.5 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 0.9 bpg

Chances: Not good for POY, but he's a serious candidate for first-team All-American. Outside of Moser, Moultrie has had the most impact of any transfer. He has increased MSU's chances of being a serious threat to Kentucky in the SEC. Moultrie is a double-double machine for coach Rick Stansbury and has allowed the Bulldogs to avoid relying only on Renardo Sidney.

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Thomas Robinson
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireBaylor's focus in its rematch with Kansas -- stopping Thomas Robinson, who had 27 points and 14 rebounds in their game in January.

Thomas Robinson, 6-9, Jr., F, Kansas
Stat line: 17.8 ppg, 12.3 rpg

Chances: High. Robinson is the POY favorite at this juncture. He should be a consensus first-team All-American. He has had to take on immense responsibility with the departure of the Morris twins and has responded without a hitch. He carries the weight of the incredible burden of losing his mother during last season. And yet he is as focused as ever in 2011-12. Robinson dominated in the rout over Baylor on Monday night with 27 points and 14 rebounds.

Mike Scott, 6-8, Sr., F, Virginia
Stat line: 16.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg

Chances: He has no shot for national POY, but Scott is one of the favorites for ACC Player of the Year. He has been the most consistent big man in the league. Take Scott off the Cavs, and they don't come close to the top of the league standings. But Virginia did lose at Duke and also fell to TCU. Scott will have to keep the Cavs in the ACC's top three to have a chance at the league's POY.

Jared Sullinger, 6-9, So., F, Ohio State
Stat line: 17.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg

Chances: Still strong. Sullinger has been battling injuries (back, foot) and missed the road game at Kansas in December. That's part of the reason he is not the favorite right now. Sullinger still has plenty of time to be a first-team All-American and the Big Ten Player of the Year. But it would help if he had some dominating performances down the stretch.

Cody Zeller, 6-11, Fr., C, Indiana
Stat line: 14.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg

Chances: No shot. But Zeller is in the chase for Big Ten Player of the Year. At the very least, he'll be the Big Ten Rookie of the Year. It's amazing that he's on this list and his older brother Tyler (a senior at North Carolina) is not. Cody has helped transform Indiana into a national player, but the Hoosiers' recent two-game skid does take his chances for Big Ten POY down a peg.

My midseason All-America team choices:
First team: Robinson, McDermott, Davis, Moultrie, Machado
Second team: Kidd-Gilchrist, Sullinger, Green, K. Jones, C. Zeller

The atmosphere of the Carrier Classic, with its overwhelming sense of patriotism and the sheer uniqueness of playing a game on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, along with the historical significance of that vessel, will be hard to top.

The view was magnificent. The Naval presence in all its glory and uniformity was as impressive as one would imagine. And the appreciation from the sailors for the break from the daily routine was genuine.

If you missed that game or any of the matchups on opening weekend, you're in for a treat because you won't be able to turn on the ESPN family of networks from 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday until about 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday without seeing college basketball on the screen.

Here are some questions to ponder as the fourth annual Tip-Off Marathon begins with Washington State at Gonzaga and ends with an NIT Season Tip-Off game the following night from Stanford.

Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight AP Photo/Charles KrupaMike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight are tied atop the all-time wins list, but Krzyzewski could set the new mark against Michigan State at the Champions Classic.

1. Will Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski become the NCAA's all-time winningest coach? The Blue Devils play Michigan State in the first game at the Champions Classic (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) from Madison Square Garden. Duke struggled against Belmont in its opener and then blasted Presbyterian on Saturday. Neither result should come as a surprise. The Blue Devils are usually the home team in New York, but it will be interesting to see how many Spartans fans are able to make the trip, especially if some of them just went to San Diego. Still, Michigan State has a real shot to upstage Coach K. Despite their loss to North Carolina, the Spartans were the aggressor, outrebounding the Tar Heels convincingly 42-31. The Blue Devils have as much size as North Carolina, so the challenge will be similar. But MSU must shoot better from 3-point range than it did against UNC (2-of-20). Another key to the game is seeing which team converts timely perimeter shots. If Duke wins, we'll have the unique setting of Krzyzewski winning No. 903 and passing his former coach Bob Knight, who will sit courtside calling the game for ESPN.

2. How will the Thomas Robinson-Anthony Davis matchup unfold? This could turn out to be one of the more anticipated frontcourt showdowns during the nonconference schedule, as this individual battle highlights the second game of the Champions Classic between Kentucky and Kansas (ESPN, 9:30 ET). Robinson began the season as the go-to guy for Kansas, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds against Towson. Meanwhile, Davis, UK's highly touted freshman, blitzed Marist with 23 points and 10 boards in the Wildcats' 50-point rout. Kentucky has more options than KU and can lean on Doron Lamb or Terrence Jones to get it plenty of points. But the tussle between Robinson and Davis will be good theater throughout the night.

3. How will Ohio State's Aaron Craft and William Buford handle Florida's perimeter? We're not conceding the Jared Sullinger-Patric Young matchup (well, we will for these purposes), but this game may come down to the guards. Florida's set of Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Brad Beal and Erving Walker is off to a sensational start. Rosario scored 19 points off the bench, while Boynton scored 19 and Beal 14 (Walker added 10) in a rout of Jackson State. Craft and Buford will be tested defensively more so than they were a year ago, when Ohio State won easily at UF during this same event. The Buckeyes, who host the Gators at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2), are the No. 3 team in the nation because of Sullinger. But this will be the first time OSU may feel the loss of defensive specialist David Lighty.

4. Can Belmont emerge from the brutal opening weekend with a split? The Bruins nearly nipped Duke in a comeback that fell one possession short. The next challenge is a visit to in-state Memphis at noon ET on ESPN. Belmont won't have any awe factor in playing the Tigers. The Bruins should come into this game oozing with confidence after their showing versus the Blue Devils. Memphis is still a young team and a work in progress. The Tigers have more talent, but the question is whether they will show patience against a Belmont team that will want to run and run and run. This could be one of the most entertaining games of the day.

5. How will Baylor handle its one and likely only test during Perry Jones III's suspension? Jones must sit for three more games after accepting an extra benefit. The Bears beat Texas Southern on Friday and Jackson State on Sunday. The two games that follow Baylor's home matchup with San Diego State (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET) are South Carolina State and Texas-Arlington. This is not the same Aztecs team from last season after the roster was gutted by graduating seniors and an early-entry NBA departure. Still, they are athletic enough to cause problems. The Bears have options with Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and Anthony Jones, but this game should at least push Baylor a tad more than the first two did during Jones' suspension.

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Marquise Carter
James Snook/US PresswireGonzaga's Marquise Carter hopes to find his shooting stroke against Washington State.

6. How will Gonzaga's guards respond after a poor first outing? The Bulldogs showed in a tight win over Eastern Washington that they can rely heavily on Robert Sacre (22 points and 10 boards). But the perimeter shooters went 3-of-13 on 3s, and Marquise Carter was 2-of-11 and Mike Hart, Gary Bell, Kevin Pangos and David Stockton were a combined 6-of-15 from the field. Washington State is a team in transition, and the Zags should win this game. But Gonzaga has plenty of tougher challenges ahead, and so its guard play will need to improve. Still, this will be a good chance to see Sacre and Elias Harris on display against the Cougars, tipping off the Marathon at 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday night (ESPN).

7. As for the two women's games on the Marathon schedule …
How will Tennessee perform after coach Pat Summitt's health diagnosis? If you saw Robin Roberts' piece on "Good Morning America," you know it is clear that the Lady Vols are determined to win a national title for Summitt. The Tennessee coach also seems as driven as ever in her quest to keep coaching while she battles early-onset dementia. This should be an emotional game, as they all may turn out to be, for the No. 3 Lady Vols as they host No. 7 Miami (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET). And how will Texas A&M handle its status as the reigning champs? The Aggies aren't expected to repeat as national champs, but they have established themselves as an elite program. The primer to the Tennessee game won't involve as much theater, but may be as competitive a game when No. 9 Louisville goes to College Station to play the No. 6 Aggies (ESPNU, 4 p.m. ET).

8. What should we expect from Texas' Myck Kabongo? Kabongo is an impressive young man who handles himself with poise and class. Now he has to translate that onto the court against a talented Rhode Island squad that lost at George Mason by two points in its season opener Friday. The Longhorns will lean heavily on Kabongo to start the season. How he handles this first assignment will be a strong indicator on what to expect, as URI will push Texas from the outset (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET).

9. How will Drexel handle the hype as the CAA's favorite? The Dragons play at Rider (ESPN, 6 a.m. ET) when most people might be waking up to watch the Marathon. Drexel is the early pick to win the Colonial Athletic Association, a conference that's receiving some buzz after placing its second team (VCU) in the Final Four since 2006. Drexel will be minus the injured Chris Fouch, but Samme Givens and Frantz Massenat should be enough to beat Rider. But the Dragons could do themselves a service by looking impressive, too.

10. How productive can the Saint Mary's frontcourt be this season? Randy Bennett anticipates that this frontcourt will be more productive than the one led by Omar Samhan, who led the Gaels to the Sweet 16 two seasons ago. That means Rob Jones will be getting help from Kyle Rowley, Brad Waldow, Mitchell Young and Beau Levesque. Jones dominated Fresno Pacific with 25 points and 12 boards, but Northern Iowa -- coming off an impressive road route of ODU -- will be a much more formidable foe for the Gaels (ESPN, 2 a.m. ET).

11. What should we expect from LeBryan Nash? Well, if you believe the hype, Oklahoma State has an all-Big 12 player who can elevate it to the NCAA tournament. The Cowboys will likely have plenty of chances to feature Nash against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the NIT Season Tip-Off (ESPN3, 8 p.m. ET).

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Kris Joseph
Richard Mackson/US PresswireIf Syracuse beats Manhattan on Monday, Kris Joseph and the Orange will face either Albany or Brown in the NIT Season Tip-Off.

12. How polished will Syracuse look? If they defeat Manhattan on Monday, the Orange will face either Albany or Brown on Tuesday (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The early indication is that this veteran team will be ready to compete for the Final Four. Of course, Syracuse isn't being challenged as much as some other teams, but the Orange smacked Fordham in the opener as Dion Waiters complemented Kris Joseph quite well.

13. A surprisingly close game? I'm going with Austin Peay at Cal (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET). The Governors should be one of the favorites in the Ohio Valley Conference. Will Triggs and TyShwan Edmondson could play at any level. California is one of the Pac-12 favorites, but the Golden Bears will be tested in this CBE Classic matchup. Guards Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez will be tested versus Austin Peay.

14. What are the chances of a surprise to end the Marathon? I think Stanford will have a tough time with either SMU or Colorado State at home in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Mustangs or the Rams are fully capable of being a pest and upsetting the Cardinal (ESPNU, 11 p.m. ET). Stanford first has to get past Fresno State, of course, to be in this matchup. To do that, Aaron Bright, Chasson Randle and Josh Owens will have to really take control.

15. How will Miami score inside? The Hurricanes are sans Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble due to injuries. The given has been that the Canes have the guard play with Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott. But Rutgers will try and make Miami (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) beat the Scarlet Knights on the inside. This could turn out to be one of the closer games in the Marathon.

16. What should we expect from Villanova? This is somewhat of a blank slate. The Coreys -- Mr. Fisher and Mr. Stokes -- are gone. Maalik Wayns will be the dominant presence, but there are plenty of other options as Mouphtaou Yarou, JayVaughn Pinkston, Dominic Cheek and James Bell could all star against La Salle (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET). The Wildcats are an unknown in the Big East, and this game will at least give us a taste of what we may see.

17. Is Kevin Jones ready to be a star? For two seasons, West Virginia's Bob Huggins has been waiting for Jones to emerge. He scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a season-opening seven-point win over Oral Roberts. Kent State will hardly be a walk for the Mountaineers (ESPN, 10 a.m. ET). Darryl Bryant can offset Jones' production, but the offense will likely flow through Jones as he adapts to being the front man for the Mountaineers.

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Gib Arnold
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireGib Arnold's Warriors look to make a good first impression against Cal State-Northridge.

18. How ready is Hawaii to make a run at Utah State? Gib Arnold has gone through a complete roster makeover and coached the Warriors to an impressive 19-13 record in his first season in Honolulu. Utah State beat BYU to open the season while one of the WAC favorites, Nevada, was flat at home in losing to Missouri State. Hawaii has a real shot to make a move in its final season in the WAC before heading to the Big West. Establishing an identity in a new conference is always key and ensuring that Cal State-Northridge (ESPN, 4 a.m. ET) is well aware of what it is in for when it visits the Stan Sheriff Center would do wonders for a first impression.

19. What will Morehead State and College of Charleston look like after losing their stars? This game could be one of the more competitive because of who both teams lost, rather than who they gained. Morehead State no longer has Kenneth Faried, while Charleston is without Andrew Goudelock. The Eagles made the NCAA tournament last season, defeating Louisville and then falling to Richmond. The Cougars reached the NIT quarterfinals before losing to eventual champ Wichita State. Regardless of how these teams look (ESPN, 8 a.m. ET) on Tuesday, you can expect them both to be factors in their respective conferences by February.

20. What are the chances Virginia Tech doesn't end up in New York for the NIT semifinals? We'll find out Tuesday night. The Hokies will likely play George Mason, assuming the Patriots beat Florida International and Virginia Tech knocks off Monmouth on Monday. Mason beat Rhode Island by two in overtime in its opener, and while it is a more depleted roster than expected when Paul Hewitt took the job, this is still a formidable squad. Virginia Tech used balanced scoring to beat East Tennessee State by 11 in its opener, but hitting 5-of-18 on 3s was an indicator that the perimeter shooting may not be the Hokies' strong suit.

Other notable names to watch: Does Tu Holloway have a monster game for Xavier against IPFW (7 p.m. ET)? Will Cincinnati's Yancy Gates dominate against Jacksonville State (7 p.m. ET)? How will Harvard fare as the hunted team on the road, even against a rebuilding Holy Cross squad (7 p.m. ET)? How will Dayton's Archie Miller fare in his road debut as head coach at Miami-Ohio (7 p.m. ET)? Will Mike Scott be a double-double performer for Virginia against Winthrop (7 p.m. ET)? Will LSU avoid plunging into irrelevance by winning at Coastal Carolina (7 p.m. ET)? Will Butler avoid a shaky 0-2 start by winning at home against Chattanooga (7 p.m. ET)? Will Saint Louis prove to be the team projected as an A-10 contender and win games it should -- even on the road at Southern Illinois (8 p.m. ET)? Will Missouri State continue to win on the road and take down Arkansas State (8 p.m. ET)? How impressive will Royce White be for Iowa State against Drake (9 p.m. ET)? How will Wyoming play for new coach Larry Shyatt against Northern Colorado (9 p.m.)? Will Arizona State start its climb toward respectability by winning a game at home versus Pepperdine (8:30 p.m. ET)? Will Utah State follow up its BYU win by beating rival Weber State (9 p.m.) on the road?

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In 2011-12, the Big 12 will be the only power-six conference playing a true round-robin schedule to determine a regular-season champ.

And if the decision were up to the men's basketball coaches (although it never is), they would rather see the balanced schedule continue, regardless of what Missouri decides to do with its conference affiliation.

The Big 12 has 10 remaining schools this season after losing Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12). So the conference finally was able to scrap the unbalanced schedule that was based on a north-south football split that saw Texas and Kansas playing only once every season. The need to have those two teams play twice was so real that Texas coach Rick Barnes said he looked into playing a nonconference game against the Jayhawks at one point.

Texas A&M is off to the SEC in 2012, but the Big 12 has already replaced the Aggies with TCU for next season. If Missouri were to leave at some point for the SEC, it would leave the Big 12 with nine schools. That's where Kansas coach Bill Self would stop, if it were up to him.

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Bill Self
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireBill Self has certainly had plenty of opinions on the realignment occurring in college sports.

"I want nine, that's what I want, to choose to stay at nine," Self said. "That way we would have 16 league games and a round-robin instead of 18. If we don't do nine, then I'd rather do 12 for 16 games."

Multiple Big 12 sources said Mizzou is leaning toward a departure to the SEC, but there is still a chance that the Missouri board of curators could decide to stay in the Big 12 with the new revenue sharing and grant of rights for Tier I and Tier II television games.

If the Tigers leave, then the Big 12 has to decide if it wants to go to 10 (Self's wish of nine is highly unlikely) or bump up to 12. The choices for either are centered on West Virginia, Louisville and Cincinnati from the Big East and BYU, which is an independent in football and in the WCC for everything else.

"I'd like to stay at 10 for a bit and see what happens with it," Barnes said. "I'd love to see us at 10. I love the round robin. When I was in the ACC and Big East, we were at nine teams. As long as we keep Kansas, we're going to have a good league."

Barnes said that as Self walked by to give him a ribbing. But Barnes did say playing 16 games allows the Big 12 schools to play a "great non-league schedule."

Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford wants to see the Big 12 pull an ACC and be proactive, going after elite basketball schools the way the ACC did with Pitt and Syracuse.

"I have so many mixed emotions here, but I'd love for Louisville, West Virginia and Cincinnati to come in for basketball and make us a 12-team league," Ford said. "But if we went 12 and went divisions, I wouldn't be a fan of that. I do like 10. I like that the schedule is fair. And I think it will be exciting for fans to see all the teams come through the gym. We'll have a true champion. A guy like me from Kentucky, I'd love to see Louisville. Boy, what a great basketball league you'd have. But we're in a good position now."

Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is coming off a true round-robin schedule in the Mountain West while at UNLV. He doesn't want to see a change.

"It's a true champion," Kruger said. "It's good for the fans too. It's the best way to determine a championship."

Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg agreed with that assessment. So, too, did Baylor's Scott Drew, Kansas State's Frank Martin and Texas Tech's Billy Gillispie.

The Pac-10 used to have a true champion, the ultimate grind of home-and-home with every school. But then the additions of Utah and Colorado meant there would be unbalanced scheduling. A true champ isn't a foreign concept and happens in various conferences in Division I. The Missouri Valley comes to mind.

Less is more for the men's basketball coaches. They'd like to see the league preserve something that they've coveted for some time -- a true home-and-home with every school.

This season -- Texas A&M's last -- will give the Big 12 the feeling of truly being a conference. If Missouri is in the league next season, then the Big 12 can experience two seasons of this so-called scheduling bliss.

Beyond that is still a great unknown. The basketball coaches don't have a vote. They have a voice and they have expressed it. But clearly, like almost everything else, this will be a football-driven decision.

That seems to be a common theme of late.

The current 10-team Big 12 has only one season as it's currently configured.

What a shame.

When Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) bolted, the league was left with 10 schools that are all on the upward trend. There are no bad teams. None. All of the schools are now fully committed to making men's basketball a premier sport. Finally, the Big 12 was going to have a true round-robin schedule in the sport. The Big 12 was going to be the newest and only major conference to play a balanced schedule.

And this season promises to deliver on one of the country's most competitive conference races.

But the Aggies will soon be gone for the SEC, if they can get over their legal woes, and the rest of the league is in serious doubt. If Oklahoma hadn't started the latest round of Big 12 exploration, nine remaining Big 12 schools would be together and all would be relatively well. But the Sooners are indeed exploring and that means four could bolt to the Pac-12, with Oklahoma leading Texas and those two schools dragging Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, too.

It's a tough pill to swallow for the men's basketball coaches at the remaining schools.

"Look at those nine teams in all major sports -- football, men's and women's basketball, baseball, I don't understand," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "What other league has what we do top to bottom?"

Added Kansas coach Bill Self: "I think every school but Iowa State [and Texas Tech] has been to the Elite Eight since 2004. No other league could probably say that."

Here are the facts the Big 12 likes to tout:

• The nine schools have combined for a total of 201 NCAA tournament appearances.
• Of the 115 NCAA victories in the history of the Big 12 (since 1996-97), a total of 109 wins (94.8 percent) have come from the nine teams that would make up the league if the Big 12 remained together.
• The Big 12 has earned 80 NCAA bids in its history (since 1996-97), all but nine (88.8 percent) have come from those nine schools.
• The Big 12 has 24 NCAA bids in the past four years and 42 since 2004. Only six of those bids came from one of the three other teams (Texas A&M).
• A total of 24 of the 26 consensus All-Americans in Big 12 history have come from the remaining nine schools.

So let's pause for a moment and actually consider what could be lost from a basketball standpoint if the remaining nine don't stay together …

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TBD
Denny Medley/US PresswireTexas and Kansas have developed a nice rivalry over the past decade. Could that soon be gone?

Kansas: This one is easy. KU is one of the five best programs in the country. Phog Allen is easily one of the top three venues in the sport. The Jayhawks consistently rank in the top 10. Bill Self won a national championship in 2008.

Texas: Rick Barnes has one of the best jobs in the country. Texas can pluck the best talent in the state or go elsewhere as it did with Kevin Durant and its host of Canadian imports (Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Myck Kabongo et al). The Longhorns are consistent winners, usually play a national schedule and are regulars in the NCAA tournament.

Kansas State: The Wildcats were dormant not long ago, but Frank Martin (with an opening assist from Bob Huggins) has helped resurrect the program and ensured that Kansas State is a regular in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats were in the Elite Eight two seasons ago. The passion for the Wildcats isn't equal to Kansas, but it's not too far behind anymore.

Baylor: The Bears were a disappointment a season ago but were in the Elite Eight in 2010. Baylor has hauled in some elite talent over the last few years, and it's clear that Scott Drew can get it done on the recruiting trail. The Bears already have the fifth-ranked class in the country lined up for 2012 and have a potential lottery pick (Perry Jones) suiting up for another year in Waco.

Iowa State: The Cyclones have hit a rough patch of late, but go back a few years and ask what opponents thought of going into Hilton Coliseum. They will tell you that it was one of the toughest environments in the league. Fred Hoiberg is going with a combination of transfers and new recruits. Let's see if that works. But you can't deny the talent he is bringing into Ames. If it works, Iowa State suddenly is relevant again.

Missouri: The Tigers have consistently had a winner in the region and been an Elite Eight team, despite coaching changes. If Frank Haith stays on despite the Miami allegations, he has an opportunity to continue the winning ways in Columbia. Athletic director Mike Alden is backing Haith, and that's a good sign for now. The Tigers have tremendous fan base, too.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys haven't been a Big 12 title team, but Travis Ford has had them as a regular pest in the league. Oklahoma State has as passionate a following as any of these schools, and Gallagher-Iba is a gem of an arena. Ford's recruiting has picked up, and the Cowboys are clearly on the rise.

Oklahoma: The Sooners are in a rebuilding mode after the gut of early entries, attrition and an NCAA investigation sent OU down to the bottom of the league. But this is a proud program that has had a history of national talent and success. Lon Kruger is an undervalued coach who has won wherever he has coached in college. There is apathy in the hoops fan base, but this program will trend upward under Kruger.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders haven't done much on the court lately, but they hired the right coach in Billy Gillispie. He has won in the state of Texas at UTEP and Texas A&M. He will win in Lubbock. The fan base needs to be prodded, but Gillispie will produce a product that will be a consistently decent team.

So that's what could've been.

"It would no question be an extremely strong basketball league," Ford said. "One of the positives of staying together, it keeps us all together in the region. Our rivalries would be strong. That will help with the excitement with the fans. I think it's a premier basketball league and this is the first year we're playing everybody twice. Even if it went to nine teams, it will be a battle every single night."

These schools have and will continue to produce strong, NBA-level talent. It would be too bad if they can't keep it all together.

"The Big 12 has had the most NBA lottery picks, first-round picks, total picks in the last four years and almost all of them have come from the nine schools left," Baylor coach Scott Drew said, clearly conscience of the league's talking points. "Since 2002, nine schools have had 17 Elite Eight teams and that's the most of any conference in the country. The second highest is the Big East with 14."

As you can tell, the Big 12 coaches are ready with ammunition. They don't have to be. Just look at the preseason top 25 when it comes out next month. More than likely, four of those remaining nine will be ranked -- Baylor, Missouri, Kansas and Texas (along with Texas A&M).

That speaks for itself.

Perry Jones III would've been a top-five pick in next month's NBA draft.

Instead, the Baylor freshman out of Duncanville, Texas, did something refreshing: He was honest with himself.

"I'm not ready to be on my own,'' said the 6-foot-11 Jones, who averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds for the Bears this past season. "I'm not ready to move onto that next level yet and to have that lifestyle. I'm 19. I know I could be a top-five pick. I know I could make a lot of money. If I'm not ready next year either, then I'm not ready next year.''

Jones was one of six underclassmen who would have changed the NBA draft and as a result of the decision will alter the top 25 in college basketball. Each one of the underclassmen -- North Carolina's trio of Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Kentucky's Terrence Jones are the others -- have various reasons as to why they returned. All of them would have been in the first round of the draft, most in the lottery, some in the top five.

"Perry is unbelievably genuine and very honest and he isn't scared to tell you what he really thinks,'' Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "I think he likes being close to home. He's not ready to jump into the adult world. There is a lot of similarity in the upbringing and character to Perry, as Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger.''

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Perry Jones
AP Photo/Jerry LarsonJones returns to Baylor after spurning the NBA.

Jones is one of the only players to come out publicly and say that he's not mature enough nor ready for the fast-track lifestyle in the NBA. Going into the real world at 19 isn't the norm, outside of the military. Underclassmen who go directly to the NBA after one season go into a business world, whether or not they're ready to handle the pressures.

Jones wasn't.

And Baylor is the beneficiary.

"There were a lot of people that were pressuring me, saying that I was making a mistake because I was going to go in the top five,'' Jones said. "A lot of it was on Twitter, a lot of people I didn't know. If people didn't go to Baylor, they weren't happy for me.''

Jones said he heard from middle men tied to agents and that the consensus among that group was that he had made a bad decision.

"A dumb decision,'' Jones said. "Everyone said I can make so much money.''

Attempts to reach Jones' mother, Terri, were unsuccessful, but Drew said Perry's mom never pressured her son to make money for her sake.

"You know there are a lot of parents who want their kid to turn pro so they can make money,'' Drew said. "They wanted his decision to be based on his own interest.''

Jones said the potential for an NBA lockout this summer when the collective bargaining agreement expires on June 30 had nothing to do with his decision.

"A lockout wouldn't mean anything because I know I can still be a top-five pick,'' he said.

Adding even more to Jones' unique decision was his upcoming suspension to start next season. Jones has to sit the first five games of the 2011-12 season for impermissible benefits prior to arriving at Baylor. He was ordered by the NCAA to repay $700 for a trip to California from his Texas home for a preseason NFL game.

Jones sat the first of what was an original six-game suspension when he was ruled ineligible by Baylor for the Big 12 tournament game against Oklahoma in March. The news came down the day before the game and Baylor lost to the bottom-dwelling Sooners.

Baylor wasn't invited to the NIT or the CBI, despite finishing with an 18-13 record, 7-9 in the Big 12.

"It will be tough sitting those games knowing I should be playing, but that didn't factor into my decision either,'' Jones said. "When I did find out I wasn't playing in the [Big 12 tourney] and then we didn't make the postseason, I felt like it did make me want to come back even more. But it wasn't the reason I came back.''

Jones instantly makes Baylor a Big 12 title contender alongside Texas A&M and Missouri, with headline teams Kansas and Texas certainly in the mix but taking severe hits and having to rely heavily on youthful talent.

Jones will team up with Quincy Acy and Anthony Jones up front (with J'mison Morgan and Cory Jefferson back, too). And while the backcourt is inexperienced, it has plenty of talent. Cal transfer Gary Franklin and Boston College transfer Brady Heslip will be eligible -- the latter in December and the former ready to go at the beginning of the season. The newcomers, led by forwards Quincy Miller (No. 3 power forward on ESPNU's top 100) and Deuce Bello (No. 17 small forward), make the frontcourt even deeper and more formidable.

"I think our front line will be one of the best in the nation,'' Drew said. "The backcourt has a lot of unanswered questions.''

Drew is anticipating Jones could make a freshman-to-sophomore leap like Blake Griffin did at Oklahoma. If that occurs, who knows, maybe Jones will go even higher in the 2012 draft than he would've in 2011.

For what it's worth, Jones said he wants to go No. 1.

"All the potential is there,'' Drew said. "He has to work on being aggressive and consistent. Some people think he takes a back seat or coasts. He has to keep his motor at a high level. I know his perimeter game will keep improving like Derrick Williams' did [at Arizona].''

As for Jones, he will be in the gym most of the summer.

"Somebody tweeted me that I could be top eight in the draft,'' he said. "I tweeted back, 'I want to be No. 1.' That's where the hard work and dedication come in.''

Lost amid the NCAA tournament selection snubs and seeding controversy was the release of the NIT bracket -- and the omission of a team that just a few short weeks ago believed it was being considered for inclusion in the field of 68.

Baylor didn't get an NIT invitation and chose not to play in the CBI, which has only one team from a power six conference in the field (Oregon).

The Bears went from an Elite Eight appearance last season to nothing this postseason.

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Drew
Brendan Maloney/US PresswireDespite high preseason expectations, Scott Drew and Baylor are shut out of the postseason.

Thud.

The season, which started with LaceDarius Dunn being suspended for an alleged altercation with his girlfriend, ended with star freshman forward Perry Jones III being ruled ineligible for accepting extra benefits from his AAU coach while he was a high school player.

"This is definitely not how we wanted the season to end,'' Baylor coach Scott Drew said.

The Bears were so confident that they could be a Final Four team that they used last season's Reliant Stadium court, the one that they played on during the Elite Eight, as a replacement floor in their practice facility earlier in the offseason.

But Baylor failed in high-profile opportunities in the nonconference, losing to Gonzaga in Dallas and Washington State and Florida State in the Diamond Head Classic in December. That put even more pressure on it to perform well in the Big 12. Yet, in each big game -- home versus Kansas, at Kansas State, at Missouri -- the Bears lost. The Bears' only hope was for the committee to look at their sweep of Texas A&M as a positive.

And then Jones was ruled technically ineligible by Baylor (the school has to do that and then the NCAA can reinstate), and the Bears collapsed in the Big 12 tournament with an 84-67 loss to Oklahoma -- which turned out to be Jeff Capel's last win as OU coach before the Sooners fired him Monday.

Baylor finished 7-9 in the Big 12, 18-13 overall and has zilch to show for its efforts.

Drew said the team practiced Sunday and after practice he told his players that there was a chance they may not get selected to the NIT.

Jones' appeal is being heard this week. It probably won't matter because he should be a top-five pick in the NBA draft, but Drew said no decision has been made by the family.

C.M. Newton, the chair of the NIT committee, said that Jones' situation was discussed, but it wasn't the deciding factor in omitting the Bears from the field. The problem for the NIT, and the reason teams like Arkansas, Mississippi State or Maryland weren't invited either, was due to the 13 automatic qualifiers that were thrust into the 32-team field. That happened because those 13 teams won the regular-season championships in their conferences but didn't win their conference tournaments.

Colorado's exclusion from the NCAA tournament put the Buffaloes in front of Baylor in the NIT. The profiles of Nebraska and Oklahoma State were also chosen ahead of the Bears based on numbers and quality wins.

The Big 12 assumed that Colorado would get into the NCAA field, but once the Buffaloes were out, the conference knew that Baylor could be in trouble for an NIT berth, according to Big 12 associate commissioner John Underwood.

The NIT committee is made up of former basketball coaches who became administrators in some form -- Newton, Rudy Davalos, Carroll Williams, Les Robinson, Bob Weltlich, Reggie Minton, Don DeVoe and Jack Powers. Newton sees no issue in the makeup of his committee or that of the NCAA tournament selection committee, of which he was once the chair and a member for seven years.

"My experience is that the bias is checked at the door when you select teams,'' Newton said. "And there are basketball people on there.''

All NCAA championship committees are made up of administrators from conferences whether they're athletic directors or conference commissioners.

The NIT is owned by the NCAA but operates separately. Former chairs have been one-time coaches like Princeton's Gary Walters and Virginia's Craig Littlepage.

The villains are missing.

The hatred, the jealousy and the nastiness are no more.

Rivalries have tamed in college basketball.

My two favorites from covering the sport for the past 20 years -- outside of the obvious North Carolina-Duke -- were obscure nationally but not in the region in which I worked.

The New Mexico State-New Mexico and BYU-Utah rivalries in the 1990s had real venom between the coaches, programs and schools.

Then-New Mexico State coach Neil McCarthy was a classic villain. He loved and relished that role. He recruited off the radar, trolling around for junior college- and four-year transfers. He was his own breed. He didn't conform. He would smoke a clove cigarette on the ramp leading down to the Pit floor at New Mexico, despite the clear violation of doing so in the building. He didn't care. I witnessed him scoff at those who passed by as he puffed. He loved to challenge the media, once pounding the press table after a key play during the game and saying to a colleague of mine, "How'd you like that?" This was during the game.

He loved being the one person who everyone in the building wanted to boo. And, of course, he loved to send Dave Bliss and the Lobos cowering back three hours from Las Cruces to Albuquerque if they won at the Pan Am Center.

New Mexico was the favored state school. New Mexico State? It was the less-publicized of the two since it was closer to Texas than the state capital in Santa Fe.

McCarthy and Bliss didn't like each other. The players weren't chums. And the fan bases couldn't stand one another, either.

Roger ReidJamie Squire/Allsport Former BYU coach Roger Reid's hatred for Utah's Rick Majerus made the Cougars-Utes rivalry one to watch in the 1990s.

The hatred between BYU and Utah was even more intense. BYU coach Roger Reid, now the coach at Southern Utah, couldn't stand Utah's Rick Majerus, now the coach at Saint Louis, because of Majerus' popularity with the national media and the power brokers in the state. They weren't friends. They didn't pretend to be buddies. There was an obvious jealousy that Reid had of Majerus that was apparent every time their teams played.

The games were nasty, chippy and intense. It helped that, as was the case in the Lobos-Aggies rivalry, both teams performed at a high level in the '90s. But what made Utah-BYU even more intense was that they were in the WAC together. Utah was the state school and BYU was owned and operated by the Mormon Church. The players were familiar with each other and there was an intensity that existed in every game.

When Reid left, the Cougars sunk (before their revival began under Steve Cleveland and now has flourished under Dave Rose), and the rivalry was tempered. Ray Giacoletti of Utah was not an antagonist, either, and the intensity of the rivalry waned. The common respect between current coaches Rose and Utah's Jim Boylen has lessened the rivalry as well. Now that the schools are heading off to different conferences -- Utah to the Pac-12 and BYU the WCC -- it will be hard to replicate the rivalry. If the schools choose to do what New Mexico and New Mexico State still do -- play home-and-home despite being in different leagues -- then it has a chance to survive. But much like the Lobos-Aggies rivalry has been diminished because of the calm nature of Steve Alford (UNM) and Marvin Menzies (NMSU), the BYU-Utah rivalry may be hard to go back to its angry stage of the '90s.

I asked my colleagues on ESPNU's "The Experts" on Tuesday what were their favorite rivalries in the sport as a player, coach or fan. Here's what they had to say:

Mark Gottfried, former Alabama player: "To me it was Auburn-Alabama back when it was Wimp Sanderson and Sonny Smith. The recruiting battles were nasty."

Stephen Bardo, former Illinois player: "Our rival was Iowa. We hated Iowa. They had pros like B.J. Armstrong, Roy Marble, Brad Lohaus; they had eight pros. We never won in Iowa City. And you had the whole Bruce Pearl thing [turning in Illinois as an Iowa assistant for a recruiting violation]. Now that's come full circle."

Adrian Branch, former Maryland player and area product: "Growing up for me it was NC State versus Maryland. Whoever beat each other was going to win the national championship in 1974. When I played, it was us and Virginia, the two most Northern schools before Virginia Tech got in the ACC. In my four years, it was us then. But growing up it was Len Elmore of Maryland against David Thompson of NC State. "

Len Elmore, former Maryland player, native of New York: "Back then, it was St. John's before the Big East. The rivalries were with all the other New York schools. There was a lot of good college basketball. But I'd also say Davidson versus North Carolina when it was Lefty Driesell versus Dean Smith."

Fran Fraschilla, who was once a former assistant at Providence: "The Providence-Rhode Island rivalry was the most hated I've been a part of.''

Going forward, these are the rivalries I'm interested in seeing develop:

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Bill Self and Rick Barnes
Denny Medley/US PresswireKansas coach Bill Self (right) and Texas' Rick Barnes have a friendly rivalry that should only get better in future seasons.

Kansas-Texas: Bill Self and Rick Barnes don't have a testy relationship. They like each other quite well. But these are clearly the two best teams in the Big 12 and now the 10-team Big 12. Finally, the two will play home-and-home every season, allowing the fans for both squads to get a look at the other each season. The rivalry has a real chance of developing, even if it's not nasty, because it will be the two elite programs going forward in the league.

Baylor-Texas A&M: There is no love between these two staffs. They play twice each season and the games have been very competitive. This trend should continue. The rivalry doesn't get much attention out of Texas, but it should.

St. John's-Rutgers: There is no way Steve Lavin could have a tense rivalry with anyone. It's not in his nature. But there will be a rivalry between the two staffs in recruiting now that Mike Rice is at Rutgers. And if Rutgers can continue to improve, this should be a competitive rivalry, which would be good for the New York-area market.

Memphis-UTEP: Josh Pastner is hardly someone to dislike, either. But Tim Floyd's presence in El Paso means Memphis will have a competitor in recruiting for the long haul. Expect these two programs to set the standard in Conference USA.

Harvard-Princeton: Penn coach Jerome Allen will have something to say about the top two spots in the Ivy. And nothing in the Ivy can or will replace Penn-Princeton. But the top spot for the foreseeable future is Harvard-Princeton. It might be the most competitive competition for the next few years as Sydney Johnson and Tommy Amaker build conference powers.

Arizona-UCLA: Welcome back this rivalry. Sean Miller has the Wildcats atop the Pac-10. UCLA isn't going to fade. And while Washington has been a consistent top-four Pac-10 program, the two elites in this conference in the '90s were UCLA and Arizona. They have the most national reach. And it should be the best annual rivalry in the future. Hopefully, under the new Pac-12 basketball schedule, this is a protected rivalry that ensures they play twice every season.

Michigan State's 20-point loss to Iowa on Wednesday night brought even more attention to the six teams that were ranked in the preseason top 20 and have failed to live up to expectations.

So let's play selection committee for a day and find out what has to happen for these disappointing teams to at least salvage an NCAA tournament berth.

Michigan State
Preseason rank: No. 2
Overall record: 12-9
Big Ten record: 5-5

What's wrong: No leadership, poor defense and an overall lack of confidence exhibited in Wednesday's listless, blowout loss at Iowa.

Red flag: When Tom Izzo had to dump Korie Lucious for the remainder of the season, showing that the Spartans are still not where they need to be from a leadership standpoint.

Best moments: Beating Washington by five in Maui and leaving the Island with a 2-1 record. That was on Nov. 24. There hasn't been much since, although the Spartans have shown some mettle by going 3-0 in overtime games, along with a three-point win at Northwestern and one-point win over Oakland.

Worst moments: Losing at Iowa by 20 and to rival Michigan by four at home.

What is convincing: Three wins over top-30 RPI teams, a nonconference strength of schedule that rates No. 13.

Why there is hope: Games remaining at Wisconsin, Ohio State and Minnesota and home games against Penn State, Illinois and Purdue at least give the Spartans more opportunities to earn power-rating points and change the perception of the team.

If the selection were today: Michigan State would be in the NIT after losing four of its past five.

What's likely: The Spartans haven't proved that they can win on a consistent basis, meaning they're heading for a .500 finish at best in the league. Winning the Big Ten tournament looks like it might become a necessity.

Kansas State
Preseason rank: No. 3
Overall record: 14-8
Big 12 record: 3-5

What's wrong: Leadership is an issue here as well. Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly were suspended during the season. Wally Judge just left the team because of playing time.

Red flag: No wins in the top 50 as the Wildcats have failed to win a key game to start the Big 12.

Best moments: Wins against Virginia Tech at home, Gonzaga in Kansas City and at Washington State.

Worst moments: Losing by 90-66 at rival Kansas, moving the Wildcats to 0-4 in Big 12 road games. Losing at home to Colorado isn't exactly what the preseason No. 3 should do either.

What is convincing: Kansas State has six wins, including a road win at Wazzu (something Washington couldn't do), against teams ranked 51-100 in the RPI.

Why there is hope: K-State still has games against Kansas and Missouri at home and Texas on the road. Win two of those three and the perception changes.

If the selection were today: The Wildcats wouldn't make the field and would be selected for the NIT. But Pullen wouldn't play since he said he doesn't do the NIT.

What's likely: Kansas State is just OK in its next eight games and ends up on the outside of the bubble, headed toward the NIT.

Gonzaga
Preseason rank: No. 12
Overall record: 13-8
WCC record: 4-3

What's wrong: Injuries have played a role in the lack of consistency on this team. And overall inexperience has contributed to poor play on the road.

Red flag: When the Zags were no longer unbeatable at home, losing to Saint Mary's at the Kennel.

Best moments: Beating Marquette in the consolation round of the CBE Classic in Kansas City and then a stretch of beating Baylor in Dallas and Xavier and Oklahoma State at home.

Worst moments: Losing at Santa Clara and at San Francisco to drop three games behind the Gaels in the WCC.

What is convincing: Five wins in the top 100 and a nonconference strength of schedule of 33.

Why there is hope: The Zags have the capability of going on a run, winning the final nine games, which would include victories over Memphis and at Saint Mary's. But …

If the selection were today: Gonzaga would be on the bubble and in competition for a first-four game because of some good wins. Tough call.

What's likely: The Zags still have the experience of being the top team in the WCC. Winning the conference tournament in Las Vegas is still very much in play and would be a surprise to exactly no one.

Baylor
Preseason rank: No. 14
Overall record: 14-7 Big 12 record: 4-4

What's wrong: Scoring has been an issue, especially getting over 70 points a game, and overall experience is still a problem.

Red flag: When Baylor had a rocked Waco ready for Kansas on a Monday night and the Bears were drilled, losing by 20 points in a game where KU could've named its margin.

Best moment: Beating Oklahoma State five days after the humbling loss to Kansas.

Worst moments: Going just 1-2 in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu after the Bears desperately needed to make their mark, following the loss to Gonzaga in Dallas.

What is convincing: Not much. The only top-100 wins are over Oklahoma State and Colorado at home.

Why there is hope: The Bears do have two shots to beat Texas and road games at Texas A&M, Missouri and Oklahoma State to at least give them opportunities.

If the selection were today: Baylor wouldn't make the field and would be an NIT team.

What's likely: The Bears are unlikely to win those road games, meaning they're going to need to go 4-0 at home (Nebraska, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Texas) just to give themselves a shot on Selection Sunday.

Butler
Preseason rank: 18
Overall record: 13-8
Horizon record: 6-4

What's wrong: Lack of quality depth, the loss of another key scorer (Gordon Hayward) and some un-Butler-like defensive lapses.

Red flag: When Butler got swept by Milwaukee, especially losing to the Panthers at home by six.

Best moments: Winning the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu with a 16-point win over Washington State. The tournament also gave Butler a win over Florida State. Crushing Stanford by 33 also looked pretty good at the time.

Worst moments: Getting crushed to open the season at Louisville, the sweep by Milwaukee (lost on the road by 24) and losing at home by three to Evansville.

What is convincing: The nonconference strength of schedule is ninth nationally and the overall RPI is 46. The Diamond Head Classic title was impressive.

Why there is hope: Butler still has the most talent of any Horizon team and regular-season and conference tournament titles are not out of the question.

If the selection were today: Butler would be on the bubble and a candidate for a first-four slot.

What's likely: An experienced Butler team wins the Horizon League tournament.

(Editor's note: A couple of hours after this article posted, Butler lost at Youngstown State, which was 1-10 in the Horizon League and had beaten exactly one D-I team since Nov. 28. If it wasn't the case already, it certainly now appears the Bulldogs will have to win their conference tournament in order to return to the Big Dance.)

Memphis
Preseason rank: 19
Overall record: 16-6
C-USA record: 5-3

What's wrong: Lack of experience continues to show at critical times late in games.

Red flag: When Josh Pastner had to discipline Jelan Kendrick (eventually transferred) and Wesley Witherspoon. Angel Garcia splitting for Spain didn't help, either.

Best moments: A four-game win streak that included runaway home wins over Marshall and UCF and thrilling comeback wins at Southern Miss and at UAB.

Worst moments: Losing at SMU for the second straight season, getting drilled by 20 at Tennessee or by 15 at Marshall. Losing to Tulsa at home was also inexcusable.

What is convincing: Road wins at Southern Miss and UAB if you're looking for something.

Why there is hope: What if the Tigers were to run the table and get a road win at Gonzaga? That would mean wins at UTEP and over Southern Miss.

If the selection were today: The talent is there, but there's not just enough at this juncture to consider this an at-large selection.

What's likely: Memphis still has the most talent in C-USA and a conference tournament title -- even in El Paso -- is a strong possibility. But anything other than that and it might be a second straight NIT appearance.