In the last year we saw Texas A&M leave the conference and TCU enter but despite those changes Oklahoma will again be the favorite to bring home a 2nd straight Big 12 title though Baylor is coming up hot on the Sooner’s heels. I’ll give Texas Tech the nod for 3rd place banking on the performance of 5 newcomers and Texas and a resurgent TCU will duke it out for 4th place with Oklahoma State bringing up the rear. Due to the small size of the conference each school has to really beef up their out of conference schedule and most schools schedule up instead of down as you’ll see. Note: Big 12 members Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and West Virginia do not field teams.
1. #8 Oklahoma – John Roddick’s Sooners return 4 starters from last year’s conference champions who went 5-0 in conference play and 19-4 overall. The returning starters, who went a combined 66-17 in dual match play at 1, 2, 4, and 5, are Costin Paval (Sr), Guillermo Alcorta (RJr),Peerakit Siributwong (Jr), and Dane Webb (So). The 2 departures from last year’s team who went a combined 20-19 are Tsvetan Mihov who transferred to South Carolina and David Pultr who graduated. OU welcomes in 2 top notch freshmen in Leonard Stakhovsky (brother of ATP top 100 Sergiy Stakhovsky) and Axel Alvarez Llamas both of whom were top 70 ITF Juniors. The Sooners also return depth players Lawrence Formentera (Sr) and John Harrison Warden (Jr). OU’s out of conference schedule is highlighted by home duals against #33 Memphis, #17 Tulsa, #32 Florida State, and #27 San Diego and includes road trips to #22 Indiana, #9 Kentucky, #1 Virginia, and #7 Pepperdine.
2. #15 Baylor – Matt Knoll’s Bears return their top 4 from a team that went 3-2 in conference and 19-12 overall. Mate Zsiga (So), Roberto Maytin (Sr), Marko Krickovic (So), and Diego Galeano (So) are the returning starters. The 3 departures from last year’s team are Kike Grangiero and Julian Bley who both graduated and Lars Behlen who left the team. Grangiero posted a 15-11 dual match record seeing the most action at the 5 spot, Bley went 13-7 at the 6 spot, while Behlen went 1-7. The Bears welcome in 3 newcomers who will each likely see action in the starting 6. Freshmen Julian Lenz went 11-4 in the fall and the 2 that just joined the team in January, Patrick Pradella (Jr) and Tony Lupieri (Jr), already saw action in the Bears opener this past week at Hawaii playing in the 2 and 4 spots respectively. The finishing touches are being put on the Hawkins Indoor Center so Baylor will be able to play indoors on campus for the first time ever which will come in handy on those windy days in Waco. Baylor’s out of conference schedule is highlighted by visits to Waco from #9 Kentucky, #3 UCLA, #1 Virginia and includes road trips to #17 Tulsa, #12 Florida, and #13 Ole Miss.
3. #29 Texas Tech – After 21 years as Head Coach of the Red Raiders Tim Siegel will be riding off into the sunset after this year and if the 5 January enrollees play to their potential it could be a special final season. Last year’s team went 4-1 in conference and 16-9 overall but they’ll have to replace their top 3 with Raony Carvalho, Gonzalo Escobar, and Rafael Garcia departing and taking their 43-21 dual match record with them. Vitor Manzini (Sr), Gabriel Wanderley (Sr), and Francisco Zambon (So) are the returning starters who filled the 4-6 spots respectively and posted a 10-5 record in 5 conference matches. The only other contributor returning is Raphael Pfister (Sr) who went 6-4 during the dual season including a 5-2 mark at #6. The 5 anticipated January enrollees are a pair of former top 70 ITF Juniors from Brazil in Gabriel Dias and Hugo Dojas, a 3rd from Brazil in Felipe Soares who has been ranked in the top 800 of the ATP, and a pair from France in Louis Fabre and Alexandru Danes My guess is that Associate Head Coach Marcelo Ferreira will get promoted to Head Coach after this year due in large part to his recruiting success in his native Brazil. Tech welcomes #17 Tulsa to Lubbock and makes road trips to Houston to face #11 Mississippi State and #55 Rice along with trips to #24 LSU and #34 Louisville.
4. #23 Texas – Michael Center’s Longhorns return everyone from a team that went 2-3 in conference and 16-10 overall. Soren Hess-Olesen (So), Daniel Whitehead (Sr), Sudanwa Sitaram (Jr), David Holiner (Jr), Ben Chen (Sr), and Lloyd Glasspool (So) are the returning starters from last year and the Horns welcome in a pair of freshmen in Nick Naumann and Andrew Korinek. Both of the freshmen posted 8-3 records in the fall so they have shown they are capable of competing for a spot in the starting 6. The Horns had several weaker spots in the lineup last year that will need to be strengthened if they are to return to the Top 10. The #1 spot posted a 12-10 record, #2 posted a 14-11 record, and #6 posted an 11-11 record in dual match play. If the play at those spots gets considerably better Texas will be a contender. Texas will be joining Oklahoma and Baylor as the only Big 12 schools with an indoor tennis center on campus when the Weller Tennis Center is completed in the spring. The 9 million dollar facility will also include 4 outdoor courts to go with the 6 indoor courts. The Horns out of conference schedule is highlighted by visits to Austin from #20 Michigan, #18 North Carolina, and #1 Virginia and includes road trips to #17 Tulsa, #7 Pepperdine, and #2 USC.
5. TCU - David Roditi’s Horned Frogs are entering their first year in the Big 12 and will return 5 starters from a team that went 9-15. Nick Chappell (So), JT Sundling (Sr), Facundo Lugones (So), Will Stein (So), and Max Stevens (Jr) are the returnees while TCU welcomes several more into the fold in Orlando Superlano (Sr) who missed most of last year with an injury after transferring in from New Mexico State, Arnau Dachs (So), and JUCO transfer Rodolfo Bustamante (Jr). Those 3 will likely play in the top 6 with Stein and Stevens helping provide depth. With the upgrades to the singles lineup a 13 to 15 win season is possible despite the tough out of conference schedule. TCU welcomes in #26 Texas A&M, #7 Pepperdine, #18 North Carolina, and #14 Cal while visiting #20 Michigan, #10 Stanford, and #17 Tulsa.
6. Oklahoma State – Jay Udwadia has been tasked with trying to succeed a Cowboy legend with this being the first time in the last 40 years that an Oklahoma State team will be led by someone other than James Wadley who retired after last season. Wadley had a great tenure in Stillwater leading the Pokes to 17 NCAA Tournament appearances and 12 Conference Titles but the wheels started coming off in the last 3 years with State going 0-17 in conference and just 19-41 overall. Udwadia comes in from Fresno State where he guided the Bulldogs to back-to-back conference titles and a 56-24 record over the last 3 years. This year will be one of his toughest with only 4 returning starters and with just 5 players currently on the roster. Oklahoma State lost their #1 and #4 from last year with Vlad Bondarenko and Eric West graduating. The pair combined for 20 of the team’s 51 dual match wins. The returning starters are Rifat Biktyakov (Jr), Chris Haworth (So), Trevor Hortsmann (Sr), and Brandon Champagne (Jr). Thus far Udwadia has welcomed in one new recruit in Blue Chipper Richard Del Nunzio and I assume they’ll be at least a few more additions to the roster in the coming weeks. Up until now Oklahoma State has been the only school in the conference without an on-campus tennis facility but that will change with construction underway to the Greenwood TC which will include a total of 18 courts with 12 outdoors and 6 indoors. The facility should be ready for the 2013-14 season. Okie State’s out of conference schedule includes a visit to Stillwater by #17 Tulsa and a road trip to #19 Tennessee.
Oklahoma will host a regional during the ITA Kick-Off weekend on January 25th -27th in hopes of qualifying for the 2013 National Indoors which get started in Seattle on February 15th. Texas Tech and Texas will both hit the road in their attempts to qualify. Tech goes to Palo Alto and will have to beat #27 San Diego and either #10 Stanford or #26 Texas A&M and Texas goes to Lexington and will have to beat South Carolina and #9 Kentucky. OU will get pushed by Memphis but should qualify while I give Texas a good chance to upset a Kentucky team that is replacing its top 2. It’s tough to make a prediction on Tech since half the team is brand new. 2013 brings us new coaches, new facilities, and new players so what more could you ask for?
CTO Correspondent, Bobby Knight.
Follow him on Twitter @B_Knight77