YCS College Basketball Preview-Huggy Bear Returns

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The arrival of Bob Huggins highlights the major shift in the Big 12, with half the teams in the conference changing coaches. However, with Kansas the prohibitive favorite, the old saying "the more things change, the more they stay the same" will ring true once again.

1. Kansas: Other than a lack of frontcourt depth, the Jayhawks have no reason not to make the Final Four. However, last time I checked, "Mr. November" Bill Self was still coaching them. Self has the knack for winning big recruiting battles but losing big games. The backcourt should be one the best in the country, with starters Russell Robinson, Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush returning. The 6'1 Robinson runs the Jayhawks attack on both offense and defense. He averaged 9.3 points and 4.6 assists last season, and led the Big 12 in steals. Chalmers, a scoring point guard, has been allowed to play off the ball thanks to Robinson. Kansas really took off last season after his insertion into the starting line-up. Chalmers averaged 12 points and 4 assists a game last season, and also ranked among the Big 12 leaders in steals. Talented 6'6 swingman Brandon Rush returns for what will likely be his last season in college. Rush led the Jayhawks in scoring as a freshman, averaging 13.5 points per game, including hitting 47% of his three point attempts. A complete scorer, Rush does a nice job of letting the game come to him and not forcing bad shots. Sherron Collins, one of the nation's best prep point guards, will give the Jayhawks excellent backcourt depth. The 5'11 guard fearlessly drives to the basket, and his strong 200 pound frame allows him to absorb contact. Sharpshooting 6'3 guard Brady Morningstar also may earn minutes. Athletic 6'8 forward Julian Wright leads the way in the frontcourt. More of a natural wing forward, Wright plays the four spot in Kansas's uptempo system. A gifted passer and solid ballhandler, Wright will be a top 15 NBA draft pick. Look for a steady jump in his 9 point, 5 rebound, 2 assist a game averages from a season ago. The other starter in the frontcourt will be 6'9 freshman forward Darrell "Slim Shady" Arthur. Arthur, an important spring signee for Self, has an inside-outside game perfect for today's big men. Junior forward Darnell Jackson, a 6'8 250 pound bruiser, will provide rebounding and interior toughness off the bench. Skilled 6'11 center Sasha Kaun will miss the start of this season due to a knee injury, but will be a nice contributor off the bench when he returns. Kansas has all the makings of a national championship team, but Bill Self has to prove his guys can win the big time before I predict such a happening.

2. Texas A&M: Billy Gillespie, a former Self assistant, has done a phenomenal job of putting the Aggies program on the map. After a last second loss to Final Four participant LSU in the NCAA Tournament's second round, the Aggies have serious motivation to make a long tournament run. The Big 12's best one-two punch, Acie Law and Joseph Jones, return to lead the way. Law, a scoring point guard, averaged 16 points and 4 assists a game last season. He can create his own shot and shoot from the perimeter, and his nice size for a point guard at 6'3, 200 pounds. Sophomore Josh Carter and junior Dominique Kirk, two very solid perimeter shooters, join Law in the backcourt. Carter, the 6'5 younger brother of Illinois forward Warren Carter, averaged 8 points a game and shot 40% from three his freshman season. Kirk, a very strong perimeter defender, averaged 7 points and 3 assists per game, and shot 40% from behind the arc. Donald Sloan, a 6'3 combo guard, should also fight for significant minutes in the backcourt. Upfront, Jones will anchor the Aggies frontcourt attack. The 6'9 post player averaged 15 points and 6.5 rebounds per game last season. A classic back to the basket big man, Jones should be a strong competitor for Big 12 player of the year. 6'8 freshman Bryan Davis should nicely complement Jones. An athletic power forward, Davis ranked among the top 50 players in the class of 2006. 6'8 senior Marlen Pompey, last year's starter at the power forward position, and 6'10 senior Antanas Kavaliauskas round out the Aggies frontcourt rotation. The wild card may be Martellus Bennett, an athletic 6'8 forward who plays on the Aggies football team. With a strong frontcourt and Law in the backcourt, the balanced Aggies will be a tough out in March. They should also be nipping at Kansas's heels in Big 12 all season long.

3. Texas: With a line-up that will likely feature four freshman starters, the Longhorns may slip a little bit this season. However, the level of incoming talent will keep Texas solidly inside the top tier of the Big 12. 6'9 freshman forward Kevin Durant will be fun to watch in his only year in college. A gifted shooter who handles the ball well, Durant would be on an NBA roster if there was no age limit. Another freshman, 6'8 forward Damion James, should join Durant in the Longhorns frontcourt. A solidly built 6'8 forward, James can play both inside and outside, and will have to compete with the experienced big men of the Big 12 down low. Redshirt sophomore Connor Atchley and freshman Matt Hill will compete for the other starting spot up front. The 6'9 Atchley averaged 2.3 points and 1.4 rebounds in limited duty last season, and he likely does not have the talent of Hill. The 6'10 Hill matured late in his prep career, and has a solid post game and a good shooting touch. Talented 6'10 freshman Dexter Pittman will play spot minutes, but his 300 pound frame inhibits his conditioning. Pittman has a high skill level, and will be a big part of the Longhorns future if he can get in better shape. The Longhorns backcourt will likely be very small with 5'11 freshman D.J. Augustin and 5'10 sophomore A.J. Abrams the starters. The 5'11 Augustin is a very talented point guard who does an excellent job setting up his teammates. Abrams will be one of the nation's smallest shooting guards. He's a fearless scorer who will drive into the lane, and can hit the perimeter shot. Two other freshman, 6'3 guards Justin Mason and Harrison Smith, will have the chance to earn significant minutes. The Longhorns talent and Rick Barnes's coaching will make them a very dangerous team, but their incredible youth and lack of backcourt size curbs their overall potential.

4. Baylor: Showcased among my preseason surprise teams, I expect Baylor to make the leap like Texas A&M last season to the upper tier of the Big 12.

5. Kansas State: They may struggle initially adapting to Huggy Bear's style, but I expect the Wildcats to be an NCAA Tournament team by season's end. They do have a really strong crew of wing players in Cartier Martin, David Hoskins and the second semester arrival of Bill Walker. Martin should flourish in Huggy's uptempo system. The talented 6'7 forward averaged 18 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last season, and should have a nice pro future. A complete offensive player, Martin can penetrate and has a very good outside shot, hitting 43% of his threes last season. Hoskins, a strong wing player at 6'5, 225, nicely complements Martin. Hoskins averaged 13 points and 4.6 rebounds per game, and his toughness makes him a great fit for Huggins. Walker, a super athletic, high-flying forward, could be a difference maker once he arrives on campus. Lance Harris, a 6'5 wing player, will have a reduced role this season. He averaged nearly 11 points per game a year ago, but has a talented trio of wing players ahead of him. If he buys into things, he will still have some value as 8th or 9th man in the rotation. For the Wildcats to make a big jump, they'll need their backcourt and post players to emerge. Point guard Clent Stewart shot 49% from three last season, but averaged just 4.6 points and 3 assists a game. He will have to increase that assists this number this season. One positive is that he brings nice size to the position at 6'4, 195 pounds. Heralded JuCo combo Blake Young should compete for a starting spot in the backcourt. A strong scorer, Young can also play minutes at the point. 6'6 senior wing Akeem Wright may also be a part of the rotation. He averaged 6 points and 5 rebounds last season, but like Harris may have to take a backseat to the talented newcomers. Speaking of, 6'10 freshman Luis Colon and 7'3 freshman will compete for the starting center spot. Colon's a strong post presence at 260 pounds, and Bennett uses his height to alter shots on defense. They should each play significant minutes as the Wildcats do not have much depth upfront. They may not be a top 25 team yet, but Huggins has this program going in the right direction. I'm banking they sneak into the Big Dance in large part to the discipline Huggins will instill in them.

I'm not seeing the hype with Oklahoma State. They lack backcourt depth, and are thin upfront after Mario Boggan. Texas Tech has a strong backcourt with super scorer Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno. However, the Red Raiders lack the complementary parts to compete with the top teams. Richard Roby returned to Colorado, but the talented swingman can't play one on five. Kelvin Sampson left Oklahoma in shambles, as their top three recruits bailed on Sooners after Sampson left for Indiana. Greg McDermott and Mike Anderson have a long rebuilding process to making Iowa State and Missouri competitive in conference again.

All-Conference Team:
G Acie Law
G Brandon Rush
F Kevin Durant
F Cartier Martin
F Joseph Jones

Player of the Year: Rush
Newcomer of the Year: Durant


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