You Serious, Clark? Division
6. Baylor Bears
I'm not sure how surprised you were as they have become the cliché pick to make a move this year, but trust me – this is new territory for them. And while I'm not as sold on them as some, I have a feeling this is about right. And given that they haven't had more than 5 wins or finished higher than 10th since the turn of the century, this is a big step for the Baptists. It's also worth noting that they have only finished in the top half of the conference once, when they won 8 and tied for 5th in the '97-98 season, and thus they have never finished above .500 in league play. Needless to say, if they do much better than this, I wouldn't be more surprised if I woke up tomorrow with my head stapled to the carpet.
Thus far, they really haven't done anything, yet the national experts seem impressed. They won some silly tournament down in the Caribbean and beat Wichita St., Notre Dame and Winthrop to do so. To be candid, I would like to think any team in the Big 12 could traverse that slate, but I am disappointed to say that many could not. Aside from that they have destroyed some no-names and lost a close one at home to Wazzu. I'm not quite as ready as many ESPN analysts to hold it for Tony Bennett, but Wazzu is a good, veteran team and for Baylor to be there at the end tells me something.
They really only have 2 OOC games left worth a damn and that's @ South Carolina and home against Arkansas. The Cocks are average at best, but winning on the road – especially for a team that hasn't done much winning at all – is always difficult. Arkansas is marginally better than SC, but they have to come to Waco. The Bears need at least a split of the two. If they get that, they'll enter conference play 12-2.
Given their OOC schedule and how tough conference play will be, this is a must if they want an at-large bid. Playing in the south, you can chalk up quite a few tough games right there. In all honesty, I don't think there is 1 you can point to that they WILL win from those 10. From the north, KSU, ISU and Methzou come to Waco while the Bears travel to Ames, Lincoln and Lawrence. They need to find a way to win 4 of these. If they can do that, I think they can get to 8 or 9 wins, which logically should be enough to get them in the door.
Notable Players: Everyone is on board with Curtis Jerrels and Aussie Aaron Bruce – and rightfully so. Jerrells is averaging 12, 5 and 3 while Bruce is at 11, 3, and 3. Tweety Carter, their soph former McD's All American is also dangerous and is at 9, 2 and 2 right now. I think the difference maker though is Kevin Rogers. A high school teammate of Darrell Arthur, Rogers averages a healthy 11 and 7. In order to truly compete in the conference, that scoring average may need to spike a bit. It's also worth noting that they have a 6-4 freshman guard named LaceDarius Dunn averaging 12 and 5 and attempting about five 3's a game. That's all I really know about him though.
I didn't feel like I could in good conscience have a post surrounding only Baylor so you get a 2 for 1 today.
The Jake Taylor - "I Don't Know What the Hell He's Thinking" Division
5. Oklahoma State Cowboys
They are here because of Gallagher-Iba Arena. And I absolutely, positively could see them ending up in somewhere closer to the 10 spot. But I really like their freshman James Anderson and overall talent. However, they have resembled dog shit more often than not so far and I'm not sure if there is a less qualified coach in the country than Sean Sutton. So we'll see if any of that talent actually holds up.
As I said, so far they have done absolutely nothing outside of their blowout of Washington – which really wasn't even that impressive. I can't remember the last time the Huskies weren't overrated and nobody even thinks they are that good this year – plus they were without their best scorer/Dennis the Menace look-a-like Ryan Appleby. Aside from that they were run out of the building by Marquette, handled soundly by Illinois and beaten by North Texas. Not exactly what I call impressive. They have a big chance to redeem themselves this weekend at Pittsburgh before a bunch of nothing games to close out the non-conference. The difference between 11-3 with a win @ Pitt. and 10-4 with almost nothing accomplished is "Mangino big."
Since any game at GIA is winnable, they need to find a way to get to 9+ wins. If they do that and win at Pitt this weekend, things will be looking good. But seeing as how doable all of that seems, why is that I have no confidence any of it will actually happen? Could it be because Sean Sutton passes out during close games? All signs point to YEEESSS!
Notable Players: As mentioned, 6-6 frosh James Anderson has been very impressive. Right now he is at 21, 4 and 2. Since that 4 is really 3.6 and that 2 is really 1.5, at least one of those needs to improve. Terrell Harris is also solid and is at 12, 4 and 2. Marcus Dove is actually contributing some offense averaging 8+ and also rebounding at nearly 6 a game, but is most known for his incredible defense. Byron Eaton has eatEn his way out of being a premier point guard. Well, I'm not sure how premier he ever was, but once upon a time he was a McD's All American. Needless to say, that's about the last accolade he received. Obi Muonelo also looked good when he played last year, but hasn't done much thus far this year.
4. Kansas State Wildcats
Let me start by saying that I do not think this is a good team. However, I think they are the second "best" team in the north and thus they have at least 8 games they will be favored in. But as we all know, favored doesn't really mean anything, especially with Frank Martin at the helm. As he has already proven, he is going to directly cost them a few games along the way. The only thing left to find out is; how many is a few?
Even Frank Martin could not derail the mighty Cats this past weekend though as they got their first accolade on the year in defeating Cal at rockin' Bramlage Coliseum. Prior to that they had beaten a bunch of nobodies and lost close games to Oregon, George Mason and Notre Dame. Nothing terrible, but all games they likely would have won with Huggy Bear at the helm. Their only game with any sort of a pulse left before the Big 12 is @ Xavier. Cross your purple fingers. I won't be holding my breath.
As mentioned, they are here because of their favorable geographic location in the great state of Kansas. But being in the armpit of Manhattan, this is all the higher they ever get to go. I mentioned that they should be the better team in 8 out of their 10 north games.
Because of that, they need to find a way to win 7 of them. Against the south, they go to Oklahoma, Tech and Baylor. Which means they get O-State, A&M and Texas in the Little Apple. A good team wins at least 4 of those. A tourney team wins 3. What will the Purple do?
Notable Players: I heard something about a guy named Michael Beasley. After looking it up, he is averaging 25 and 14. The thing I like about him is that he has grabbed double digit rebounds in every game. There is nothing more frustrating that watching bigs not rebound well. The Bease does not have this problem. His scoring has dipped as of late, "only" going over 19 once in the past 4 after averaging exactly 30 in the first 5. This could be a good thing though as Bill "Watersports" Walker has been relieving some of the pressure. Truth be told, he hasn't done much except for the Cal game in which he dripped in 30 points and 10 rebounds becoming the first Wildcat other than Beasley to leading the Purple in scoring. They also have players with last names like Pullen, Young, Gilbert, and Stewart. I should also mention that David Hoskins has yet to play this year and will easily be their third best player when that occurs – I have no idea when that will be though.
Either one of these teams could finish exactly as they have been cast or they could drift into or below mediocrity and I would not be surprised. In my humble, albeit diffident opinion, this is where I see them finishing when the fat lady sings. With their collection of talent, the only reason both should not be dancing is supposed to sit on the bench or stay within the coaching box during all forty minutes of game time. If I wore orange or purple, I would not be supremely confident right now.
Keep your eyes peeled for the top 3 teams, sure to be unveiled shortly.