Big 12 ShootAround: What can KU do for an encore?

Updated: August 15, 2008

Bob Donnan/US Presswire

Bill Self knows the upcoming season will be a "huge rebuilding job" with seven newcomers.

Self ready for a 'huge rebuilding job'

Kansas coach Bill Self allowed himself to savor his national championship for only a few hours before he thought about his upcoming task at hand.

The transition didn't take long. Self was celebrating with staff members in a hospitality room in San Antonio, the site of the Final Four, before realizing the enormity of the challenge he would be facing.

"We were sitting up after the game thinking what we had done, feeling good about ourselves," Self said. "Then I turned to [Kansas assistant coach] Joe Dooley, who was next to me. I told him that the real challenge is now we've got to do it again. And if we want to do it again, we've got to get back to work."

Cole Aldrich

Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Cole Aldrich was impressive in the national semifinal against Tyler Hansbrough and UNC.

Self's rebuilding task became even bigger when five members of his championship team were picked in the NBA draft. It left him with a talented but inexperienced group that will be challenged by the Big 12's more experienced teams -- particularly early in the season.

"Obviously, it's a huge rebuilding job," Self said. "We know how good everybody is, but we are so green. And this group also has the feeling that they haven't done anything yet."

The only returning players from the rotation that beat Memphis in the championship game are center Cole Aldrich and guard Sherron Collins. Aldrich showed flashes of promise late in the season, particularly in a dominant performance against North Carolina in the national semifinals. And Collins was an igniter off the bench, averaging 9.3 points and 3.1 assists in 23.8 minutes per game last season.

Kansas' incoming class is ranked among the best in the nation. Twin 6-9 power forwards Marcus and Markieff Morris are expected to be eligible to play after summer school, Self said. Forward Mario Little and guard Tyshawn Taylor are both highly regarded prospects. And other players who will get a chance include redshirt sophomore guard Brady Morningstar, sophomore guard Tyrel Reed, guards Travis Releford and Tyrone Appleton, and freshman forward Quintrell Thomas.

The retooled Jayhawks will travel to Canada before the season for a preseason tournament that Self hopes will enable him to develop a better feel for his incoming rotation.

"I want these guys to see the work ethic we have in how we do things. And with seven new guys, I don't know how hardworking this group will be," Self said. "But it will give us a chance to develop the foundation in how we do things and then, get into the nuts and bolts of how we play. I'm not saying we have to win or do this or that. But I want to see us develop our identity."

Collins had knee surgery shortly after the tournament and should be ready to play in Canada. But Self plans to limit his minutes and work with younger players while there.

With its blend of youth and talent, this incoming team is compared by Self to the 2005-06 team that included Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and Julian Wright as freshmen. That squad struggled early after replacing a departing nucleus that included Wayne Simien, Keith Langford, Aaron Miles and J.R. Giddens.

"If people remember that team that Brandon and Russell [Robinson] and all of them were on, they started 3-4 and stunk until we got to Christmas," Self said. "I think this team could be similar to that. I think they'll labor early and be inconsistent but do a lot of things that will be very positive as the season progresses."

And with the Big 12's talent level down a little after a record 10 players were taken in the NBA draft, the young Jayhawks might be more competitive quicker than most observers would think.

"It's a long season and I really do like our guys," Self said. "And I think by the end of the season, we'll be able to play with anybody."

Tim Griffin covers college sports for Send your questions and comments to Tim at

Five Things To Watch in '08-09

Bearing down on offense
Baylor should have one of the most potent offenses in the conference with eight players returning from a team that led the league with a scoring average of 81.3 points per game. But the key for the Bears to make their next step and win their first NCAA tournament game since 1950 will be improving a defense that ranked last, allowing 74.9 points per game, in the Big 12 last season.

Time to shine
Look for Texas guard A.J. Abrams to blossom as one of the league's best offensive players next season after playing in the shadow of All-Americans Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin the past two seasons.

A.J. Abrams

Nelson Chenault/US Presswire

Texas will hope for a seamless transition as the Longhorns hand the reigns over to A.J. Abrams.

Big cheese
The five players who left Kansas after leading the Jayhawks to the national championship will be missed mightily. But coach Bill Self will still have an intriguing challenge trying to mold a young, talented team. And he's getting a pretty good paycheck to do it, too.

Earlier this month, Kansas announced that it had signed Self to a new 10-year, $30 million contract.

Help wanted inside
New Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford could lead his team back into NCAA tournament contention if he can coax better rebounding and interior defense from inside players Ibrahima Thomas and Martavius Adams. The Cowboys' perimeter game won't be a problem, but scoring and stopping others from scoring inside will be.

Who ordered a combo?
Oklahoma's Blake Griffin and Willie Warren should be the best inside-outside combination in the league this season. The combination of the league's best returning player and its best incoming player should make the Sooners the favorite to win their first Big 12 title since 2005.

If I were Big 12 commish …

The schedule has to change. Football separated the conference into divisions for scheduling. Basketball went with one division, but not in terms of scheduling. And the problem is that recently, Kansas and Texas have often been battling for the top spot in the league, but played each other just once in the regular season. That is a mistake. The Big 12 is missing out on a chance to create even more intense rivalries.

But let's not just limit it to Kansas and Texas. Currently, the imbalance of the North and South divisions -- with rebuilding programs at Colorado, Iowa State and Nebraska in the North -- gives a decided advantage to the schools like Kansas and Kansas State, which play them twice. The South home-and-home games are tougher right now with Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas A&M matching up against each other. Switching up the opponents that each team plays twice would be more equitable.

2007-08 Big 12 Standings

Overall record Big 12 record
Kansas* 37-3 13-3
Texas* 31-7 13-3
Kansas State* 21-12 10-6
Oklahoma* 23-12 9-7
Baylor* 21-11 9-7
Texas A&M* 25-11 8-8
Nebraska^ 20-13 7-9
Oklahoma State 17-16 7-9
Texas Tech 16-15 7-9
Missouri 16-16 6-10
Iowa State 14-18 4-12
Colorado 12-20 3-13
*NCAA tournament
^NIT berth

For all the Big 12 news and notes, check out the conference page.

Top Returning Scorers

Player PPG
A.J. Abrams, Texas, Sr. 16.5
Curtis Jerrells, Baylor, Sr. 15.3
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma, Soph. 14.7
LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor, Soph. 13.6
James Anderson, Oklahoma State, Soph. 13.3

Top Returning Rebounders

Player RPG
Damion James, Texas, Jr. 10.3
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma, Soph. 9.1
Kevin Rogers, Baylor, Sr. 8.5
DeMarre Carroll, Missouri, Sr. 6.7
Leo Lyons, Missouri, Sr. 5.7

Top Returning Assist Leaders

Player APG
Curtis Jerrells, Baylor, Sr. 3.8
Cookie Miller, Nebraska, Soph. 3.6
Byron Eaton, Oklahoma State, Sr. 3.5
Donald Sloan, Texas A&M, Jr. 3.4
John Roberson, Texas Tech, Soph. 3.3


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2008-09 Team Capsules

Big 12
The Bears could be poised for back-to-back trips to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history with the return of eight of their top nine scorers from last season's team. The Bears return four starters from the team that fell to Purdue in the first round of the tournament -- Baylor's first NCAA trip in 20 years -- losing only guard Aaron Bruce. Guard Curtis Jerrells could blossom as a senior after averaging a team-leading 15.3 points per game last season. And the future looks bright as coach Scott Drew attracted junior college forward Artem Valov, lanky 6-9 freshman Anthony Jones and former Michigan forward Ekpe Udoh into the program. Udoh, who averaged 5.5 ppg and 4.5 rpg in 67 career games (31 starts) for the Wolverines, will sit out the 2008-09 season with two seasons of remaining eligibility.

Coach Jeff Bzdelik will face a big challenge after losing three starters from last season's 12-20 team, including leading scorers Richard Roby, Marcus Hall and Xavier Silas, who combined for 40.7 ppg. Improvement will hinge on the continued development of Cory Higgins, who averaged 8.3 ppg last season as a freshman -- Colorado's only returning player who scored at least 5 ppg. The Buffaloes bring in five newcomers, headed by 6-7 forward Toby Veal and 6-8 Austin Dufault. They will be joined inside by senior Jermyl Jackson-Wilson, who has struggled in matchups with larger opponents during most of his college career. Bzdelik was interviewed by Chicago general manager John Paxson before the Bulls hired Vinny Del Negro for their vacant coaching position. Bzdelik said he felt more of a responsibility to his Colorado players than the NBA job.

Iowa StateIowa State
The Cyclones started last season 12-6, but limped home to a disappointing 14-18 record by finishing with six straight losses and 12 losses in their final 14 games. Coach Greg McDermott faces a huge rebuilding job this season after losing scoring and rebounding leader Jiri Hubalek, Rahshon Clark and second-leading scorer Wesley Johnson, who transferred to Syracuse after last season. McDermott's biggest immediate need is to find some punch for an offense that ranked 11th in scoring and last in field goal percentage and 3-point field goal percentage. McDermott will be looking for a boost from forward Craig Brackins (11.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and guard Lucca Staiger, a legitimate 3-point threat. A deep, incoming six-man freshman class will improve the Cyclones' size with the arrival of 6-foot-11 center Justin Hamilton and three power forwards.

The Jayhawks will be facing the biggest rebuilding job of coach Bill Self's career with five new starters. Look for Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich to become the featured players, although juco swingman Mario Little could emerge as the Jayhawks' key offensive threat. The Jayhawks had one of the most memorable NBA drafts with five players taken in the two rounds. Kansas tied Connecticut in 2006 and Florida in 2007 for the most players selected in the two-round era. Self will attempt to rebuild with a deep incoming recruiting class including twin power forwards Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris, shooting guard Travis Releford, point guard Tyrone Appleton (Midland J.C.) and swift point guard Tyshawn Taylor. A trip to Canada in early September will be critical as the Jayhawks attempt to build the team chemistry necessary to defend their national championship.

Kansas StateKansas State
Coach Frank Martin will be challenged to rebuild after losing four starters from last season's team that made the program's first NCAA tournament trip since 1996 and claimed its first NCAA tournament win since 1988. The Wildcats lost Big 12 Player of the Year Michael Beasley (conference-leading totals of 26.2 ppg and 12.4 rpg), who was the second pick in the NBA draft. Also gone are Bill Walker (16.1 ppg), guards Clent Stewart and Blake Young, and David Hoskins, who missed last season with a knee injury and won't petition the NCAA for a sixth season of eligibility. Their departures will open up featured scoring roles for guard Jacob Pullen and forward Dominique Sutton, who struggled with injuries after he was declared eligible at midterm. And look for jet-quick Miami transfer point guard Denis Clemente to take over a starting position.

After suspending five players for parts of last season, coach Mike Anderson is looking for a more coachable team with better defensive production in his third season. The Tigers return four starters from last season's 16-16 team that opened the conference race by upsetting Texas but played inconsistently throughout the season. Missouri's major loss will be point guard Keon Lawrence, who led the team in minutes played but transferred to Seton Hall to be closer to home. The group will be bolstered by a five-man freshman class and transfer Zaire Taylor (Delaware) and junior college forward Keith Ramsey (Okaloosa-Walton J.C.). And the core of the team will be relatively unaffected with the return of Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll as a tough frontcourt tandem who combined to average 26.1 ppg and 12.4 rpg.

A 20-win season capped by an NIT victory gave coach Doc Sadler his first postseason appearance with the Cornhuskers. But his work is cut out for him this season after the graduation of leading scorer and rebounder Aleks Maric. Four other starters are back -- guards Ryan Anderson, Ade Dagunduro, Cookie Miller and Steve Harley -- but the Cornhuskers have to find some inside punch. Sadler lost top recruit Roburt Sallie, who was ruled ineligible after having previously enrolled at Nebraska in 2006 without meeting initial eligibility requirements. Now he's headed for Memphis. Former Oregon State signee Eshaunte Jones arrives from Hargrave Military Academy (Va.). And raw 6-11 center Christopher Niemann, a recruit from Germany, will get a shot at immediate playing time because of Maric's departure.

The return of leading scorer Blake Griffin, who considered declaring for the NBA draft, and the arrival of heralded point guard Willie Warren should result in Jeff Capel's best team in Norman. The Sooners will return four starters -- forwards Blake and Taylor Griffin and guards Austin Johnson and Tony Crocker -- from last season's 23-12 team that advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Center Longar Longar left school, providing an immediate chance for 6-11, 270-pound center Orlando Allen from Paris (Texas) Junior College to fill in. Warren and Johnson will be joined by a pair of juco transfers, Juan Pattillo and Kyle Cannon, and Ryan Wright, who competed at two Final Fours at UCLA before transferring last season.

Oklahoma StateOklahoma State
New coach Travis Ford arrives from Massachusetts, hoping to pick up the pieces from last season's 17-16 team that cost Sean Sutton his coaching job. The cupboard isn't bare as four of five starters return, losing only defensive whiz Marcus Dove. OSU's four top scorers are back, but Ford's success will depend on the development of inside player Ibrahima Thomas and better rebounding. The perimeter looks solid with the return of scoring leader James Anderson (13.3 ppg), Obi Muonelo and point guard Byron Eaton, who ranked second in scoring and led the team in assists. Terrel Harris' status remains iffy after he was indefinitely suspended by Ford in late April.

Despite losing point guard D.J. Augustin to the NBA draft, the remaining Longhorns make Texas a solid threat to advance to the NCAA tournament for the 11th straight season. A.J. Abrams returns after backing out of the draft and could play either guard position, depending on the development of Turkish point guard Dogus Balbay, who missed last season with a knee injury. Underrated guard Justin Mason is back, along with starting interior players Damion James and Connor Atchley from last season's 31-7 team that advanced to the Elite Eight. With such a deep returning backcourt, incoming freshman guards Varez Ward and J'Covan Brown won't get much initial playing time.

Texas A&MTexas A&M
The Aggies struggled during much of Big 12 play before playing strongly in the NCAA tournament, losing a tight second-round game to UCLA to finish at 25-11. They lose three of their top six scorers in four-year starter Joseph Jones, starting guard Dominique Kirk and center DeAndre Jordan, a second-round NBA pick. But coach Mark Turgeon will welcome back leading scorer Josh Carter (12.2 ppg), point guard Donald Sloan (9.5 ppg, 3.4 apg) and bullish power forward Bryan Davis (8.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg). And Turgeon landed heralded Florida high school prospects David Loubeau, a power forward, and point guard Dashan Harris, who both should contend for immediate playing time.

Texas TechTexas Tech
Pat Knight's first full season will be keyed by the return of four of his five leading scorers from last season's 16-15 team, losing only scoring leader Martin Zeno. Knight will be hoping for continued improvement from point guard John Roberson and power forward Mike Singletary, who both showed impressive flashes as freshmen. And perimeter threat Alan Voskuil (13.1 ppg) is the team's leading returning scorer. But the biggest key for Knight's program will be hitting the recruiting trail hard in order to upgrade Tech's talent, which has been lagging over the past several seasons.

Big 12's best

By Fran Fraschilla

Fran Fraschilla counts down the best teams in the Big 12 for the upcoming season:

1. Texas: Damion James is the Longhorns' next lottery pick. And if Turkish freshman Dogus Balbay is the real deal, this team should play into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

2. Kansas: The defending national champions may be reloading but there is fresh talent here. Lots of it. Even with the baby brigade, they are not losing much at Allen Fieldhouse.

3. Oklahoma: Blake Griffin is a solid favorite to be the first pick in next June's NBA draft. If freshman Willie Warren is the real deal, OU can contend for the Big 12 title.

4. Baylor: The Bears will improve on a school-record nine conference wins this season on the strength of explosive guard play. If the defense tightens up, you are talking about a Sweet 16 team.

5. Texas A&M: If freshman point guard Dashan Harrris is ready to step in and run the show, look for Josh Carter and the Aggies to have a big year.

6. Missouri: It's been a rough first two years for coach Mike Anderson, but there is talent here and, if the team's chemistry is good, the Tigers are an NCAA sleeper.

7. Oklahoma State: If new coach Travis Ford can get the players to buy into his up-tempo system, the Cowboys, led by sophomore James Anderson, will be a wild card in the Big 12 race.

8. Nebraska: Coach Doc Sadler has a bunch of relatively unknown players, but nobody plays harder and defends like the Huskers. Ade Dagunduro is a senior shooting guard who could make a name for himself.

9. Kansas State: Recruiting has gone well for the Wildcats, but you don't replace Michael Beasley and Bill Walker, although Miami transfer Denis Clemente will try.

10. Texas Tech: Sophomore John Roberson is a scoring point guard around whom coach Pat Knight will build, so don't be surprised if the Red Raiders' tempo is sped up a bit.

11. Colorado: Coach Jeff Bzdelik is pleased with his first recruiting haul, but learning the Princeton/Air Force system will take awhile.

12. Iowa State: Greg McDermott is a fine coach, but defections and injuries have brought the Cyclones' rebuilding process to a halt.

Final Shots

• The Kansas Jayhawks, thanks to two national championships in the past 24 years, are the highest-rated Big 12 program in's Prestige Rankings. Prestige Rankings

• Texas may have lost back-to-back lottery picks in Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin, but Rick Barnes keeps on reloading. Andy Katz's Top 25

• The Big 12 may not have a national-title contender this season, but how many teams can the conference get in the Dance? Bracketology

• Missed the other conference breakdowns? Click here to check out the ShootAround archive.