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A primer on Big 12 basketball

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The topic in this space the other day was West Virginia University's football program. It was mentioned that, as the situation stands, selling tickets for next football season will be more difficult with a lack of stars. All from this past season - unless you want to count safety Karl Joseph - are gone. Athletic director Oliver Luck will have to sell tickets on the allure of Big 12 opponents and, of course, WVU's fan-base loyalty.It might be shaping up that way in men's basketball for this season as well. The struggling Mountaineers are 7-6 with no wins over quality opponents. (Virginia Tech, in case you're wondering, has fallen on hard times, losing to Georgia Southern and Colorado State as well as BYU and Maryland.)If that might be the case with you, I present a primer on WVU's upcoming Big 12 opponents. It is, after all, the Mountaineers' first hoops season within the league.Hopefully this will hit on nuggets you can retain. Marshall, for instance, is hosting Tulsa on Wednesday. I can report the players for the visitors, but what will probably stick to you, and perhaps draw you out, is that the Golden Hurricane is coached by Danny Manning. See?WVU, of course, has already played Oklahoma twice. What we learned is that's where coach Lon Kruger landed and he sends out five starters with no stars. Am I missing anything there?So let's take a look at WVU's new league opponents other than OU, in the order the Mountaineers will meet them.
  • TEXAS - What you'll see on ESPN2 tonight is Longhorns coach Rick Barnes roaming the sideline. (Yes, he used to be at Providence in the Big East.)
  • What you won't see is the team's star, and that's been the big UT story so far this season. Sophomore point guard Myck Kabongo is serving a 23-game suspension that was imposed in part because he traveled to Cleveland last spring to work out with Cleveland Cavalier Tristan Thompson and a professional trainer.
  • KANSAS STATE - If you haven't kept up, much of the story line with the Wildcats is gone. WVU's Bob Huggins left Manhattan, Kan., for Morgantown and left behind a nice team. In his place stepped buddy and former assistant Frank Martin. Martin, though, is now at South Carolina and Bruce Weber, the ex-Illinois coach, is with KSU.
  • K-State is one of only two Big 12 teams in the latest Associated Press Top 25. The main man for the Wildcats is senior guard Rodney McGruder, a preseason all-conference pick. Against Oklahoma State he scored two points in the first half - and 26 in the second.
  • IOWA STATE - There's not much to know here. The Cyclones are the only team in the nation to score 70 or more points in every game, up to tonight's matchup with Kansas. There are, however, no wins of note. Other than that, the most notable gem is the team is coached by Fred Hoiberg, former vice president of basketball operations for the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves. You might remember him playing for the Chicago Bulls.
  • TCU - Remember when ol' Billy Tubbs was coaching the Horned Frogs? If you do, you remember the last time TCU was in the NCAA tournament: 1998. If you think that's bad, consider that TCU hired current coach Trent Johnson after ex-Frogs coach Jim Christian left the program to take over at Ohio University. Not Ohio State, but Ohio U. Oddly, though, Johnson left LSU to take over at TCU. Is this a wacky world or what?
  • OKLAHOMA STATE - The Cowboys are a fascinating story. The coach there is former Kentucky player Travis Ford. (You might also remember him in the movie "The Sixth Man.") But he's been on the hot seat of late. Ford landed 6-foot-7 Le'Bryan Nash, a former McDonald's All-American, last season with limited results. He did, however, add another flashy recruit in guard Marcus Smart, who turned down North Carolina, Kansas and Texas. It's helped. Smart has scored 48 points on 61.5 percent shooting in the last two games and the Cowboys are 10-3 with wins over Tennessee and N.C. State. But they've lost those last two (to Gonzaga and K-State) as well as one to (drum roll) Virginia Tech.
  • KANSAS - Even if you're simply a casual fan you should know the Jayhawks are the class of the Big 12. Currently ranked No. 6, Kansas is 12-1 and hosts Iowa State tonight. You should know coach Bill Self. You might know about big man Jeff Withey. But store this in your noggin: Freshman guard Ben McLemore has been so good that some are wondering if he could be the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick this year. He's averaging 15.6 points.
  • TEXAS TECH - While the Texas story line is about the player that's not there, the Texas Tech story line is about the coach that's not there. You might remember Billy Clyde Gillispie. He went from Texas A&M to Kentucky to Tech to out amid allegations of mistreatment. The man in charge on an interim basis is Chris Walker, a former Villanova assistant. In sum, though, Tech basketball is bad. A click (maybe) above TCU.
  • BAYLOR - BU had an awful scandal in the early 2000s that involved the death of player Patrick Dennehy. Coach Dave Bliss was ousted. But current coach Scott Drew has been impressive turning around the program. The Bears won 30 games last season and went to the NCAA South regional finals behind Perry Jones III. Jones, though, is gone and Baylor is 9-4 with losses to the College of Charleston and Northwestern. Drew does have a future NBA pick in 7-foot Isaiah Austin, now averaging 8.9 rebounds.
  • So there you have it. Your Big 12 primer as WVU heads into the meat of its conference schedule. Hope it helps.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, or follow him at   
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