ESPN.com is starting a new series where they will call out the "players, teams, coaches and games that will leave their mark on the 2009-10 season."
In the first installment Andy Katz identifies 3 players and 2 teams from the Big 12 who are NEXT.
Avery Bradley, 6-3, Fr., G, Texas: Bradley seems to be the perfect fit for Texas coach Rick Barnes. He can get to the hole, he can shoot and he can defend. Barnes has made Texas a guards' destination of late, with T.J. Ford, A.J. Abrams and D.J. Augustin all having stellar careers in Austin. Barnes' ability to manage a game in his guards' best interest has been a key to his success. Bradley should slide into a team that is capable of challenging for the Big 12 title as well as a national title. For some reason he hasn't had as much pop nationally as a few others in the class, but soon enough he will get his due.
Craig Brackins, 6-10, Jr., PF, Iowa State: Brackins gets the game, both on and off the court. He understood he needed to polish his skills and was well aware that just putting up 40-plus points on Kansas wasn't enough to run for the first-round cash. Brackins wants more. He wants to enter the NBA as a contributor, not just a name with potential. You could see his work ethic during the USA Basketball trials in Colorado Springs, Colo., this past summer. He knew he wasn't guaranteed to make the World University Games team. He was there to work. He has a shot to take Iowa State to the postseason, more likely the NIT or CBI than NCAA, but that would still be an accomplishment if he can lead in that manner. The Big 12 has produced some monster talent recently and he's next in line to compete for the national honor.
Willie Warren, 6-4, So., G, Oklahoma: What is it about the Sooners lately? Oklahoma could legitimately produce consecutive national player of the year candidates from players who entered college without as much hype as some of the recent recipients. Blake Griffin was a stud, but he grew into an intimidating force within a year. Warren knew he had a chance to make his mark if he stayed. He's an exceptional creator with the basketball, a strong guard, who can make plays on every possession. Jeff Capel has done a fantastic job of managing elite-level talent in his brief career in Norman. Warren sensed that staying put instead of chasing the money was the right thing to do. Now the focus is on him, and he'll have plenty of momentum toward the NBA after this season.
Kansas vs. Texas: This is the NEXT rivalry if it's not one of the top two already. To the casual fan nothing will compare to Duke and North Carolina, and nothing should. But look deeper at the game and Kansas and Texas are putting together quite a run. The schools are 1-2 in the conference and will likely remain that way for the foreseeable future. One of the best things about Duke and Carolina is that the rivalry also extends nationally, as both are usually in contention for a title. That's also now true of these two programs. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Missouri and Kansas State will have turns trying to unseat either program, but the depth of talent KU and Texas are hauling in is unmatched. They are the marquee programs television wants to see on a nightly basis. Now, if the Big 12 could scrap its scheduling formula and mix it up a bit so this game was played twice a season, that would be something to savor. Can you imagine Duke and North Carolina only once in the ACC? That game has to be twice. So does this one.