Big 12 basketball teams gather today in Kansas City, Mo., to preview a season that will include one NCAA national title defense (Texas A&M women) and the anticipated pursuit of another (Baylor women).
Most of the national buzz falls on the women's side, where A&M and Baylor combined to take every available first-place vote in the Big 12 preseason coaches poll. The two teams also produced three of 30 players named to the preseason list of women's candidates for the 2012 Wooden Award, given to the nation's top player.
As a group, the men's teams will not begin the season with similar lofty expectations. But there will be plenty of fresh faces. Four of 10 league teams will feature first-year coaches (Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Missouri).
In addition, the title chase should be close. Four teams earned at least one first-place vote in the preseason coaches poll, with A&M and Kansas finishing as co-favorites. The Jayhawks have won the last seven men's regular-season titles, a streak that could be in jeopardy this season. Full report, 5D
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Kansas appears vulnerable. The Jayhawks, a 35-3 team last season, lost six of their top eight scorers from last season to graduation or the NBA Draft. In addition, top signee Ben McLemore, a 6-foot-5 guard, is one of two freshmen who can practice but will not play in games this season because they are partial qualifiers. A third freshman signee, Braeden Anderson, was lost in September because of academic issues.
Familiar faces, new places. Billy Gillispie, a former Texas A&M coach, takes over the Texas Tech program. Frank Haith, a one-time Texas assistant, is the new coach at Missouri. Lon Kruger, a former player and coach at Kansas State, is the first-year coach at Oklahoma. Billy Kennedy, a Texas A&M assistant in 1990-91, takes over the Aggies' program and inherits a team picked to challenge for a league title.
Impact freshmen. In a sport dominated by one-and-done freshman phenoms, three newcomers should be instrumental in determining their teams' success this season: Texas point guard Myck Kabongo, Oklahoma State guard/forward Le'Bryan Nash and Baylor forward Quincy Miller.
Top 5 players
F/C Perry Jones III, Baylor (6-11, Soph.): Bypassed early entry in NBA Draft to return for sophomore season after leading Big 12 freshmen in scoring last year (13.9 avg.).
G Marcus Denmon, Missouri (6-3, Sr.): Averaged 16.9 points last season while earning first-team All-Big 12 honors and placing among league leaders in field goal pct. (5th), steals (3rd) and 3-point pct. (2nd).
F Khris Middleton, Texas A&M (6-7, Jr.): Top returning scorer (14.4 avg.) from a team with title hopes, as well as a clutch free-throw shooter (78.4 pct.).
G Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas (6-3, Sr.): Lone returning starter from a 35-3 team led Jayhawks in assists (164) while averaging 9.3 points per game.
G J'Covan Brown, Texas (6-1, Jr.): Primary scorer off last season's bench (10.4 avg.) is expected to be the go-to guy for a young team that needs his leadership and creativity.
Best bets for deep tournament run
Texas A&M: The Aggies return their top two scorers, Khris Middleton (14.4 avg.) and David Loubeau (11.8 avg.), as well as senior point guard/team leader Dash Harris, from a 24-9 team. Key backcourt additions include Elston Turner, a transfer from Washington, and freshman signees Jordan Greene and Jamal Branch, an Arlington Grace Prep graduate.
Baylor: The Bears feature the league's most dominant frontcourt, led by sophomore F/C Perry Jones III (13.9 avg. last season), the coaches' preseason Player of the Year selection. Jones, at 6-foot-11, will be joined by heralded freshman Quincy Miller (6-10) and seniors Quincy Acy (6-7) and Anthony Jones (6-10). With solid guard play, the Bears should be a tough out at tournament time.
Kansas: The roster is depleted, but expectations remain high for a perennial power led by Tyshawn Taylor (9.3 avg.), the Jayhawks' lone returning starter. Thomas Robinson, last year's sixth man, will become a featured act this season, with talented reserves Travis Releford and Elijah Johnson expected to join the starting lineup.
Baylor's NCAA title hopes. The Lady Bears anticipate being ranked No. 1 in the AP preseason poll and seek the school's first national championship since 2005. Baylor returns two double-digit scorers from a 34-3 squad, led by 6-foot-8 center Brittney Griner (23.0 points, 7.8 rebounds per game), a national player of the year candidate.
Texas A&M's NCAA title defense. Danielle Adams, the leading scorer (22.3) and rebounder (8.5) from last season's national championship team, has graduated. But the Lady Aggies project as a Top 10 team in preseason polls with a chance to repeat as NCAA champs.
Texas' tournament struggles. Texas coach Gail Goestenkors, who reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in each of her final 10 seasons at Duke (with two trips to the title game), has yet to get past the second round in four years at Texas. Her last three teams were eliminated in the first round.
Top 5 players
C Brittney Griner, Baylor (6-8, Jr.): Consensus All-American led the Big 12 in scoring (23.0 avg.) and led the nation in blocked shots (170) last season.
G Tyra White, Texas A&M (6-0, Sr.): Averaged 13.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game while earning first-team All-Big 12 honors last season. Selected to Women's Final Four All-Tournament Team.
G Odyssey Sims, Baylor (5-8, Soph.): Last year's Big 12 Freshman of the Year averaged 13.1 points and 3.1 assists while earning first-team all-conference acclaim.
F Carolyn Davis, Kansas (6-3, Jr.): One of four Big 12 players on the preseason Wooden Award list, Davis averaged 19.0 points and 7.4 rebounds last season. The Houston native shot 66 percent from the field.
C Kelsey Bone, Texas A&M (6-4, Soph.): Houston native and South Carolina transfer averaged 14.0 points and 9.2 rebounds per game as a freshman in 2009-10 season. Sat out last year under NCAA transfer rules.
Best bets for deep tournament run
Baylor: The Lady Bears are loaded, led by the inside-outside tandem of center Brittney Griner and point guard Odyssey Sims. Both are All-America candidates, and the Bears have plenty of capable role players.
Texas A&M: If Kelsey Bone, a 6-4 center who transferred from South Carolina, meshes quickly with G Tyra White and other returnees, the Lady Aggies will offer a spirited NCAA title defense. Bone, a Houston native, was the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2009-10 and the 2009 McDonald's National High School Player of the Year.
Texas: Three double-digit scorers from last season return: Chassidy Fussell (16.2 avg.), Ashleigh Fontenette (11.7) and Yvonne Anderson (11.8). So does 6-4 center Ashley Gayle (7.0 avg., school-record 117 blocks last season).
Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.