Recently we had a chance to catch up with ESPN college basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla for a brief chat about all things Big 12. A former head coach at Manhattan, St. John’s and New Mexico, Fran covers many a Big 12 contest and knows the clubs well. CHN was happy to pick his brain for a few predictions.
Tom Dalton (CHN): There’s sure going to be a whole lot of new faces roaming the sidelines this year. …
Fran Fraschilla (FF): This is one of the greatest facelifts I can ever remember in any conference. I mean this is a conference with 12 teams, and six of them have new head coaches!
CHN: Bob Huggins going to K-State has garnered the most attention, and everyone pretty much knows what to expect from Sean Sutton at Oklahoma State, but what about some of the others?
FF: These are some very bright young coaches. Mike Anderson (Missouri), Doc Sadler (Nebraska), Greg McDermott (Iowa State) and Jeff Capel (Oklahoma) are all great hires. I think there were a lot of people surprised when Oklahoma hired Capel, because he is so young. He doesn’t have the experience of Mike Anderson or Greg McDermott, but he’s going to be a good coach. Capel’s situation is a lot like a talented freshman getting picked in the NBA Draft.
CHN: Obviously Bob Huggins is going to make K-State a lot better in a hurry. He’s already landed some big-time recruits like Michael Beasley. How long before the Cats get back to the Big Dance?
FF: I think K-State can be a bubble team right away if Cartier Martin returns from his suspension. If that happens, I think they may well be the proverbial last team in. They would be the fifth team, and that’s usually good enough to get you in.
CHN: Is it your sense that Martin will return from suspension?
FF: Yes, I really do. He is by all accounts a good kid and I think he’ll be back.
CHN: Kansas is loaded again. Last year it took half the season for Coach Self to settle on a consistent rotation. And now with some highly touted frosh joining the likes of Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers, Julian Wright and gang, will Self have the same problem early on this season?
FF: That could be a problem. But it’s ultimately better to have too much talent than too little. Coach Self will have to find a way to play Sherron Collins and Darrell Arthur, two outstanding freshman, into the rotation with Rush, Wright and the others. I think Bill did a great coaching job last year finding a way to create positive chemistry with his rotation as the season went on.
CHN: By the time the Big 12 championship rolled around last year KU was playing an up-tempo game and getting up and down the court nicely. It sounds like many Jayhawks have hit the weight room pretty hard this off-season and bulked up a bit. Is this a sign they plan on reverting back to a half-court game?
FF: The misconception about Bill is that he only wants to play a bruising, half-court offense. But KU isn’t one dimensional. And none of the teams Bill has coached – Tulsa, Illinois – were one dimensional. Good teams can adapt to any situation. Kansas has big guys like Sasha Kaun and Darnell Jackson that they can pound it into, but they also have a great perimeter game. They can adjust to different situations. The real strength of KU is its athleticism.
CHN: What do you make of the KU-Florida match-up in Vegas this November?
FF: In basketball November games don’t mean much. This isn’t like college football where one game affects the entire season as we saw with Oregon and Oklahoma this past weekend. This game will be exciting because Kansas and Florida will be two of the three best teams in the country when they face off in November. But I’m more interested in where these players will be four months later.
CHN: Texas A&M surprised a lot of folks last season. Coach Billie Gillispie has done a tremendous job down there and expectations are high. They’ll probably come into this season ranked in the top 10. Can they rise to the occasion?
FF: I think A&M will rise to the occasion, but they’ll have a far more difficult schedule this season. I think they play UCLA and LSU twice. I think there’s a good chance they’ll be a better team this year, but with a worse schedule than last year. There are high expectations, but this isn’t Kentucky, Duke or Kansas. Fans are excited about what Billie Gillispie has already done and excited to see what he can accomplish this year. They are deeper than they’ve been, and A.C. Law and Joseph Jones both return. They could be a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight team.
CHN: It seems like Texas is always getting decimated by the draft. They lose LaMarcus Aldridge and P.J. Tucker to the draft. What do you expect from the Longhorns this year?
FF: Texas is similar to Kansas a year ago. They are talented enough and, barring injury, should be one of the five best teams in the Big 12. Damion James and Kevin Durant are about as good as any two freshmen you’ll see on a given team. But Texas’ greatest strength is also its greatest weakness. Anytime you bring in as many talented players as they do, it becomes difficult to keep other great players from leaving.
CHN: Your prediction for the outright Big 12 champion?
FF: On paper, Kansas should win it, but that’s why we play the games. I see KU and A&M as the top two teams, with all the others falling in underneath them with Texas atop the second tier.
CHN: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us Fran.