Editor’s note: This is the first in a 10-part series that will preview the 2013-14 Big 12 men’s basketball season and examine each of the 10 conference teams, including their strengths and weaknesses, key personnel losses and expectations for the coming season. The teams will be previewed in ascending order from bottom to top in their projected order of finish. We begin the series with a preview of the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
The 2013-14 college basketball season gets under way this Friday, with Kansas – what else is new? – and Oklahoma State tabbed by most of the experts and preview publications as the class of the league heading into the new season.
It may seem natural to expect Kansas to be among the top contenders in the Big 12 in men’s basketball. People who have bet against the Jayhawks in the past have only come to regret their temporary lapse of reality and sound judgment. You don’t win outright or share nine consecutive conference championships and 11 of the past 12, not to mention 24 straight NCAA Apearances and four Final Four appearances since 2000, if there isn’t something especially good in the water and extraordinarily special going on in the Land of the Phog (as in Phog Allen, the legenday Jayhawks basketball coach after whom the legendary KU basketball arena is named).
After all, we’re talking about the second winningest college basketball program of all time behind only another college blue blood, Kentucky.
While you can’t count Kansas out of the championship mic this season, or seemingly any season, you most definitely can count in Oklahoma State as well as Baylor, two teams that contrast the Jayhawks’ star-studded lineup of youngsters with a veteran starters who have been through the Big 12 wars.
All eyes will be on KU’s consensus No. 1 overall recruit, Andrew Wiggins, who joins a 2013 Jayhawk recruiting class ranked as the second-best in the country that also includes four other top-50 first-year prospects, according to the recruiting information service Scout.com. “”I hope he’s as talented as any player in the country,” Kansas head coach Bill Self told the Sporting News last spring. “From a raw talent standpoint, he can do things I haven’t had a player do physically.
“The attention he’s receiving is based on potential,” he said. “It’s not based on anything he’s done (at least not at the college level).”
Last season’s Player and Freshman of the Year in the Big 12, Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, elected not to declare for the NBA and return for his junior season, which is a big reason why the Cowboys were picked on a number of preseason ballots to be the team to beat in the Big 12 this season.
The Big 12 may not be as strong top to bottom this season as the league has been in year’s past, but its projected top three schools are good definitely enough to play with almost any team in the country.
It all tips off this Friday and Saturday, with all 10 Big 12 teams in action. So as things really begin to get interesting this month in the conference race in football, basketball makes a relativcly quiet entrance – certainly unlike the season-opening games in football.
Outside of Oklahoma taking on Alabama as part of a special opening-night doubleheader in Dallas that also includes TCU out of the Big 12 and SMU, the season-opening weekend features the usual complement of cream puffs that help get the season started off on the right foot for the bigger Big 12 schools. For the kiddie corps from Kansas, however, the talent level of the opponents picks up very quickly when the Jayhawks, the No, 5 team in the AP preseason poll, go to Chicago next Tuesday to take on perennial basketball power Duke, the AP’s No, 5 team.
Speaking of national rankings, three Big 12 schools are ranked in the AP Preseason Top 25 Poll. In addition to No. 5 Kansas, Oklahoma State is also ranked in the AP top, at No. 8, and Baylor is No. 25.
I begin my Big 12 men’s basketball countsdown to the 2013-14 season with a preview of the Texas Tech Red Raiders.
10. Texas Tech Red Raiders
A new coach is in town in Lubbock, and he know how to win, which is potentially very good news for a program that hasn’t been the same since Bobby Knight stepped down as head coach in 2008 after seven seasons. Tubby Smith, who has 511 career wins as a head coach, moves from the University of Minnesota to take over the coaching reins at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders were 11-20 a year ago and 3-15 (ninth place) in conference play.
“We know we have our work cut out for us,” Smith said in an interview with Lindy’s 2013-14 College Basketball Preview magazine. “There are a lot of great players and great teams in this league. Our first goal is to get competitive in this league and instill a winning attitude around here.”
Winning has been in short supply in Lubbock in recent years. The Red Raiders have won only nine of their last 48 games against Big 12 opponents, and have had a winning season only once in the last six seasons (2009-10).
Texas Tech will have some experience along the front line, with 6-7 senior Jaye Crockett, the first man off the bench last year for the Red Raiders, 6-11 big man Dejan Kravic and junior Jordan Tolbert, who led the team in scoring his freshman season, but tailed off a bit in the points department last year. Junior-college transfer Robert Turner has a chance to make an immediate impact. He averaged 10 points a game in 23 starts at New Mexico Junior College last season. Crockett led the Red Raiders in scoring last season, averaging 11.9 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, despite starting just four games.
Of note heading into the 2013-14 college hoops campaign, teams coached by Tubby Smith have advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament nine times and the Elite Eight four times. His 1998 Kentucky team won the national championship.
Next up: No. 9 TCU