Hoops: Barnes' Bunch a Consensus 'Top Six' Pick

Is Texas a basketball school, or what?

There is little doubt the Big 12 is the nation's premiere basketball league in 2002-03. At least that was the general consensus among conference coaches at the Big 12 Men's Basketball Media Day held Thursday in Dallas.

A testament to the strength of Big 12 hoops this year is the fact that its coaches picked Texas to finish third in the league (behind Kansas and Oklahoma) this season, while Rick Barnes' bunch is a consensus Top Six NCAA pick in virtually all pre-season polls released to date.

"Players make the league," Barnes said. "I think we would all tell you, as coaches, that we're only as good as our players. But I can tell you from a coach's standpoint that there's not a league in this country that has any more head coaching experience than what this league has. And because of that, when you're talking about coaches who have been around a long time, they know how to keep games close and a lot of games will be won in the last couple of minutes."

Sophomore guard T.J. Ford is a Preseason Coaches All-Big 12 team selection (not to mention a preseason Playboy All-American). Ford was the first freshman to lead the NCAA Division I in assists with an 8.3 average in in 2001-02. Joining Ford on the All-Big 12 team are Kansas F Nick Collison, Texas Tech G Andre Emmit, Kansas G Kirk Hinrich and Oklahoma G Hollis Price. Price is the coaches' choice as Preseason Player of the Year.

While most pundits are picking Arizona to win it all (the Wildcats are a December 15 road game for the ‘Horns), Texas joins the Jayhawks and Sooners as a top five (or six ) team nationally.

The Longhorns are ranked as high as No. 4 according to some hoops analysts (Basketball News, CollegeInsiders.com), and are ranked fifth by Lindys and Slam basketball magazines. Both The Sporting News and FOXSports.com list Texas as their No. 6 preseason choice.

"When you say ‘conference' for us, it means the ‘country'," Missouri head coach Quinn Snyder said.

The coaches poll reflects directly on the six Big 12 squads which advanced to the NCAA Tournament last March. The Jayhawks and Sooners advanced to the Final Four while Texas returns all five-starters from last year's Sweet Sixteen squad (a team that was actually one lay-up away from an Elite Eight appearance).

"Right now it (Big 12) probably is the best conference in the country," Texas Tech head coach Bobby Knight said. "Every school has a good place to play and a good following of fans. I think we'll always be one of the five best conferences in the country. I've never been involved in a situation where the coaching (in a conference) has ever been better."

Texas will host Tarleton State in an exhibition game, 7 p.m., Monday at the Erwin Center, before opening the season Nov. 15 at the AT&T Wireless Classic at New York's Madison Square Garden. Texas is slated to tip-off at approximately 8 p.m. (CST) against nationally ranked Georgia in a game televised by ESPN2.

"Most coaches believe if we can get to that sixth spot (in Big 12) we can get into the NCAA Tournament but that is so difficult to do," Colorado head coach Ricardo Patton said. "What happens with the top teams in the league is they don't have slippage, which makes it doubly hard for those of us who are in the bottom half of that league to get into the top tier."

2002-03 Big 12 Men's Basketball Preseason Coaches Poll

Team (First place votes) Points

1. Kansas (7) 116

2. Oklahoma (3) 113

3. TEXAS (1) 103

4. Missouri 86

5. Texas Tech 77

6. Oklahoma State 76

7. Iowa State 54

8. Baylor 47

9. Colorado 43

10. Nebraska 36

11. Kansas State 22

12. Texas A&M 19

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