By Rustin Dodd
The summer theme of Big 12 basketball — if there is such a thing — appears to have become centered on two interlocking storylines: The arrival of Kansas super-freshman Andrew Wiggins. The return of Oklahoma State point guard Marcus Smart. And how the presence of both All-American candidates could decide the Big 12 title race in 2014.
Yes, it’s a little early for polls, predictions or projections. But with Kansas looking to extend its Big 12 title streak to 10 years. And Oklahoma State returning a nucleus of Smart, Markel Brown and LeBryan Nash, the Big 12 could have its juiciest title race in years.
“I think you would put Oklahoma State and Kansas up there,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said on Tuesday, speaking during the Big 12 coaches’ summer teleconference. “I don’t know what order necessarily, but I think those two teams belong at the top.”
Early indications from the league’s coaches suggested a slight lean toward Kansas. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said he expects the Jayhawks to begin next season in the top five nationally. And let’s be honest, based on past history, it’s been a mistake to bet against Kansas in the Big 12 race.
The Jayhawks, though, will be dependent on Wiggins and a six-man freshman class, quite a turn from the last two years, when they were defined by tough and experienced upperclassmen.
Kansas coach Bill Self has acknowledged that Wiggins’ presence could bring an unprecedented level of attention — and scrutiny — to his young squad. But he also has his own expectations for Wiggins’ potential impact.
“I think his ceiling is high,” Self said on Tuesday. “I would hope he’s as talented as any player in the country. Because from a raw athletic-ability standpoint, he can do some things that I’ve never had a player be able to do physically.
“But the bottom line is, he’s still just 18 years old. He’s still just gonna be a freshman. He’s gonna go through ups and downs just like everybody else. But hopefully, by midseason, he’s totally comfortable and he’s able to really just play.”
In Self’s mind, just playing means becoming a reactor and not a thinker. Sometimes, though, it takes time to become the former.
“I hope that happens for all our guys,” Self said, “but especially (Wiggins), because his ceiling is so high and he can impact our team so much.”