The dust is beginning to settle on offseason moves with NBA early entries, coaching changes and the final recruit additions all taking shape. For the Kansas Jayhawks it's still a bit of a waiting game as Bill Self awaits word from three recruits including two top 30 talents in DeAndre Daniels and Trevor Lacey.
Even without those additions however, the Jayhawks should still be in the hunt for the Big 12 title when basketball season tips off for the 2011-2012 season. At face value the current landscape would seem to paint the picture of a down year across the Big 12 with a good amount of parity across the board.
Who are the challengers when looking at the conference and what are the challenges faced by those teams as they look to topple a Jayhawk team that appears to be rebuilding while seeking an eighth consecutive crown?
Baylor fell well short of expectations in 2010-2011. During LaceDarius Dunn's senior year the Bears finished seventh in the conference while struggling with consistency and chemistry all season long. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the level of NBA athleticism on a team that could never seem to put it together.
With that as the backdrop, 2011-2012 is far from a "gimme", but when Perry Jones announced he would return for his sophomore season the Bears suddenly jumped to the forefront of the conversation. The addition of another top tier power forward with incoming freshman Quincy Miller only boosts the case for the Bears. Perhaps the biggest question will be whether or not Scott Drew can manage a solid coaching job, something he failed to do last season.
The Tigers are going to be a mirror image of themselves from a personnel standpoint minus Justin Stafford and one other major difference, the coach. The Tigers finished fifth in the conference and slid to a 8-8 conference record late before falling in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Mike Anderson had perhaps his deepest team and was returning more experience than anyone, but the draw of Arkansas was too much to keep Anderson from flirting with a job for the third consecutive year and this time it would be one he would take.
Enter into the picture former Miami coach Frank Haith. During his time in Miami Haith was known as a recruiter but not necessarily a great gameday coach. He'll have experience and depth at his disposal, now he has to mold it into a product on the court that can compete for a conference title. Missouri has the horses to be in the mix, can they find the chemistry and adjust to a new system?
There was a time when Texas looked like a front runner. Following a tourney loss to Arizona, Triston Thompson and Jordan Hamilton both made statements indicating they would be returning to Austin. A month and a half later Thompson, Hamilton and Cory Joseph are all gone. Factor in the additional losses of seniors Dogus Balbay, Jai Lucas, Gary Hamilton and Matt Hill and the Longhorns are facing a tremendous amount of turnover headed into next season.
As always, Rick Barnes can recruit and the Texas coach has seven new players on the way and a solid class that includes one of the nations top point guard in Myck Kabongo. Can new talent overcome experience?
It's hard to say if the Wildcats belong in this conversation or not after losing Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly. Kansas State and Frank Martin nearly watched the season slip away early before making a late charge and that's what provides some hope. Jamar Samuels and Rodney McGruder will be upperclassman that will be called upon to lead the new look Wildcats and with a few decent recruits also being added to the mix, Frank Martin at least has some pieces to work with.
It's a blue collar approach in Manhattan, but no one really knows what the drop off will be following the departure of two senior leaders.
The Aggies finished quietly in third place after a roaring start in 2010. They return Khris Middleton and David Loubeau, but like Missouri they are staring a new coach and a new system in the face. At this point who that person is has yet to be determined. The South, like the rest of the league should be wide open, but how quickly can a team adjust to another new coach.
Oklahoma State and Iowa State both stand to make strides next season with Iowa State gradually becoming Big 10 transfer central with several high profile players now calling Ames home. Fred Hoiberg is a solid coach but turning a team from a three game winner to a league champion might be optimistic. In Stillwater the recruiting under Travis Ford seems to be getting on track but losing Marshall Moses and Matt Pilgrim won't be easy.
Lubbock has a new coach and loses a lot, the same can be said for the situation in Norman which has gone from the Blake Griffin era to rubble in a matter of moments.
New faces and new names throughout the conference. Glancing through early season projections it's clear that the league is viewed as a fairly soft league headed into next season and the full round robin will make for an entertaining shuffle. Bill Self and Kansas will take aim at an eighth straight with whatever roster they end up with following next weeks late signing period conclusion. Based on the track record it stands to reason that the title runs through Lawrence, but if there was ever a year that presented a handful of challengers it's going to be next season.