Big 12 Basketball Preview: A wide open league for the taking

Recruiting rankings are like a double-edged sword in the world of college hoops. They serve a valuable purpose when it comes to evaluating prospects against peers from coast to coast, but there's a strong argument that once a player starts his college career, his high school recruiting pedigree should essentially be thrown out the window. On a grand scale that's probably true, but for five star prospects - the elite of the elite in the sport - it's not always so cut-and-dry.

As far as power conferences go, the Big 12 has been a significant threat on the recruiting scene for a while now. Kansas and Texas continually scoop up some of the country's most sought-after players, and it's with little surprise that these two are usually in the mix for a league title by season's end. Throw in Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and Baylor and you've got a group of seven schools that can all do some serious damage in any given year. There's a strong base here, and it's a big reason why we usually view the Big 12 as one of the three (at worst) best conferences in America.

 

Quick Big 12 Predictions

  • Tourney Teams - Kansas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Missouri, Oklahoma St.
  • POY - Perry Jones, Baylor
  • Newcomer - LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma St.
  • Coach - Scott Drew, Baylor
  • Champion - Kansas
  • Don’t Sleep On - Iowa St. (team); Kansas State's Rodney McGruder (player)
  • When it comes to keeping top end talent around, however, the Big 12 is getting demolished by its competitors. Take for example the 2010 class, one in which the Big 12 landed five of the 25 blue chippers available (according to Scout.com). It was a predictably impressive haul for the league, even after landing six of 25 the year before. And yet only one of those players, Baylor's Perry Jones, is going to be playing college basketball this season. Three went pro immediately (Tristan Thompson, Josh Selby, Cory Joseph), and one never got himself eligible and ended up transferring (Tony Mitchell). Miles away from being a short-term fluke, this type of defection has become a frustrating trend.

    It's hard to pinpoint why exactly (blame Texas?), but five star prospects that sign with a Big 12 school usually end up going pro sooner than later. This has been going on for a bit now, although it was hard to stand up and take notice as new recruits of comparable talent were brought in as replacements. The reason this is so telling right now, heading into 2011-12, is because the Big 12 isn't reloading the same rate it usually does.

    Here's proof: At this very second there are 62 former five star prospects that will see the floor this season. A total of 57, or 91.9%, come from the six power conferences. The one dominating the field, and likely to be the strongest league in America this year, the ACC has a whopping 17 guys who fit this distinction. Any guesses on how many the Big 12 will send out this season? Fifteen? Twelve? Ten?

    Try six.

    It's almost hard to believe, but even that number feels a bit skewed. Baylor, a team that finished third in the preseason voting, owns three of the league's blue chips, and former UCLA big man J'Mison Morgan wasn't even a Scott Drew recruit. Here's a full breakdown:

    Conference Total Five Stars
    ACC 17
    SEC 14
    Big East 10
    Big Ten 6
    Big 12 6
    Pac-12 4

     

    Even though having a bunch of five stars does not necessarily put a team, or a conference, above the rest, the numbers above are too telling to ignore. When the most talented kids in your league bolt after one year like clockwork, it puts pressure on the coaches to recruit like madmen in an effort to not miss a beat. Big 12 apologists will point to the fact that three 2012 recruits are already headed to the league next year, and more could follow. But the question remains: How many of their peers will even be left over, and who's to say that a similar breakdown next season won't paint the Big 12 in the same light?

    Of the four Big 12 teams that were voted into the ESPN/USA Today Top 25 Coaches Poll, none made top ten. There was a time when the concept of this was almost unthinkable based on how the preseason polls are doled out so everyone gets a piece. And yet, based on the breakdown above it's not a total shock that less top-end talent overall equates to slightly lower expectations for the league.

    Bill Self's Jayhawks are good, but it's difficult to call them great. The Baylor Bears have the names on paper, but a lengthy tournament run means entering uncharted territory. Rick Barnes and Texas can't seem to hold onto their players, while Texas A&M is a perennial sleeper that also happens to fall asleep every March. Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Missouri are all teams that should have an impact as well, even though it's awfully hard to tell how significant that impact that might be.

    This is a conference that has gone through some very turbulent times over the last few months. Nebraska and Colorado were plucked away by rival leagues, and Texas A&M and Missouri aren't going to be around much longer. Heck, there are only ten teams in play this year, meaning that everyone gets to face off twice during the conference season. Like it or not, parity and uncertainty have each crept through the door.

    And because of a continuous talent drain, it truly feels like this season will be more wide open than any in recent memory. It's conceivable that there isn't a single great team in the Big 12 by season's end, and instead a handful good ones capable of making some noise. If you want fiercely competitive nightly battles at the conference level, then the Big 12 could be the go-to league this season. But if you're seeking out a national title frontrunner, then you might need to look elsewhere.

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