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October 25, 2008
At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in the sport.
This week's question: Oklahoma has been tabbed as the Big 12 favorite for the first time, but three other teams (Texas, Baylor and Kansas) also received first-place votes from the league's coaches. In fact, each team received at least two first-place votes and no coach was allowed to vote for his own team. Do you agree with the overall choice of the Sooners, or do you have another preference?
I think the Sooners are extremely talented. They are led by Blake Griffin, a potential No. 1 overall pick if he continues to improve on the breakout season he enjoyed last year. OU also has a coach in Jeff Capel who can gauge the pulse of his team as well as any young coach in America.
I do think Oklahoma has a great shot to win the Big 12, but I like Texas.
There are some national polls out there that rank OU as high as No. 4 in the country. I fear the players may buy into that lofty ranking. If they do, the Sooners won't be playing with a chip on their shoulder - and Capel will have to fight complacency. Another factor will be dealing with expectations ? very high expectations.
I love this team, but so many things still have to happen in order to win the Big 12.
One thing working in the Sooners' favor is that defending national champion Kansas should fall back to the pack a bit (at least that's what everyone tells me).
I like the Sooners to take the Big 12 crown. I see their chief competition as the Longhorns, who also return four starters.
The reasons I like Jeff Capel's team are the same reasons every coach in the league likes the Sooners ? Blake Griffin, the unanimous preseason pick for Player of the Year in the Big 12, and Willie Warren, the unanimous preseason pick for Freshman of the Year in the conference.
Make no mistake: Griffin would have been a lottery pick last year. He averaged 14.7 points and 9.1 rebounds per game and shot 56.8 percent from the floor. For a guy who is 6 feet 10 and 250 pounds, he has freakish athleticism.
Warren is a Rivals.com five-star prospect ranked No. 10 overall and No. 4 among point guards. He possesses great size for a point man (6-4, 207), can jump out of the gym and is a great ballhandler. He's at his best at a faster pace, so I look for the Sooners to ramp up the defensive pressure ? the kid can play defense, too ? and look to get out more in transition.
It should all translate to a Big 12 crown.
I'll go with Texas, even without star guard D.J. Augustin, who turned pro early and was a first-round pick. The Longhorns are used to winning, and I think that carries a lot of weight.
Even without Augustin, the Longhorns should be OK at the point. Some combination of A.J. Abrams, Dogus Balbay and Justin Mason will split the 40 minutes. Texas obviously is going to be weaker without Augustin, but the fall-off may not be as dramatic as some would think.
As for the frontcourt, the Longhorns look good there. Damion James should be one of the best forwards in the nation, and the Longhorns also will get good production from a deep group that includes Connor Atchley, Gary Johnson and Dexter Pittman. The Longhorns should have the best frontcourt in the Big 12.
And coach Rick Barnes knows what he is doing, as well. Add it all up, and the Longhorns will finish atop the Big 12 standings.
The more I look at the Big 12 the more I'm convinced that Texas will not only win the league, but win it by a sizeable margin.
D.J. Augustin was undoubtedly the difference-maker for the Longhorns last season, but his supporting cast is being undervalued. Four starters return from a 31-win team, and each is capable of being an All-Big 12 player.
A.J. Abrams is one of the nation's top shooters, and Damion James is one of just six returning players in the country who averaged a double-double (13.2 ppg and 10.2 rpg). Justin Mason is one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. I think he will do a solid job at point guard ? he played significant minutes at point last season and was more than adequate. Center Connor Atchley is a good 3-point shooter and led the Big 12 with 2.1 blocks a game.
The Longhorns will also be extraordinarily deep. As many as seven big men could be part of the rotation, including sophomore Gary Johnson - who will provide a bigger boost after battling through multiple injuries last season.
If Texas is able to get some solid point guard play, the Longhorns have the talent and the bodies to wear down every other team in the league.