Although the ACC came close to dominating the NCAA tournament last year, the regular season clearly belonged to the Big 12. The Big 12 placed seven of its ten members into the NCAA Tournament, and all 7 of them wore white in their first round games. In fact, the conference had a team seeded on each of the first eight seed lines other than 7, as Kansas was a 1, Oklahoma 2, West Virginia 3, Iowa State 4, Baylor 5, Texas 6 and Texas Tech grabbed an 8. Four of those teams (West Virginia, Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech) all suffered first round upset losses, while Kansas fell in the Regional Final and Oklahoma in the national semifinal, both to national champion Villanova. Only Iowa State, losing to Virginia, was wearing the road jerseys of the underdog when they were eliminated. In all, despite a great regular season and Oklahoma’s Final Four appearance, the postseason was somewhat disappointing for a league whose conference tournament semifinals looked stronger than most NCAA Tournament regionals.
This season should only feature one thing that is the same in the Big 12 and that is the team that will finish on top. Kansas can and should tie UCLA’s record from 1967-79 by winning their 13th straight conference regular season title. Beyond the Jayhawks, however, most of the conference’s top teams will be taking a step back as every team was hit hard by offseason player losses. Iowa State and West Virginia appear to be the top challengers to Kansas, while teams like Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech may struggle just to be in contention for a postseason bid. It will also be interesting watching how three new coaches affect the bottom half of the league, with Jamie Dixon taking over at TCU, Chris Beard at Texas Tech and Brad Underwood coming in at Oklahoma State. Although the Big 12 may not have the power at the top (beyond Kansas) that it did last year, there looks to be a ton of parity in the league which should make things very exciting during conference play.
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Kansas – The Jayhawks are loaded again with Frank Mason III, Devonte’ Graham and the nation’s #1 recruit Josh Jackson in the backcourt. Down low they have Carlton Bragg, Jr. and Landen Lucas back, plus add in Ole Miss transfer Dwight Coleby and freshman big man Udoka Azubuike. This team may have lost a few of its best players (Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden, Jr. notably), but Bill Self’s squad should win the league again and will be a serious contender for the Final Four.
2. West Virginia – The Mountaineers will be tough to beat again with guards Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, Jr., and Tarik Phillip all returning. The questions marks will be in their frontcourt with scoring production and rebounding.
3. Iowa State – Even with three double-digit scorers gone, the Cyclones still have a ton of solid pieces, especially in the backcourt, where they are led by point guard Monte Morris, along with Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas and Deonte Burton.
4. Texas – All five starters are gone, but Shaka Smart has brought in a Top 10 recruiting class led by big men Jarrett Allen and James Banks, plus guard Andrew Jones. The Longhorns may struggle early, but could be very dangerous by March.
5. Baylor – Even with Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers gone, the Bears have a lot of talent led by forward Jonathan Motley. Scott Drew’s team will rely on Ishmail Wainwright, Al Freeman and Miami transfer Manu Lecomte to lead the backcourt.
6. Oklahoma – A step back is expected with Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler all gone. The Sooners will need Jordan Woodward, Khadeem Lattin and their newcomers to step up just to challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid this year.
7. Texas Tech – New head coach Chris Beard will rely heavily on transfers this year. Junior college transfers Niem Stevenson and Shadell Millinghaus, Quinnipiac transfer Giovanni McLean, and Arkansas State transfer Anthony Livingston will all need to be key contributors if the Red Raiders want to succeed. Even then, a serious lack of size down low could be the team’s undoing.
8. Oklahoma State – The Cowboys have a strong backcourt led by last year’s Big 12 Freshman of the Year, Jawun Evans, and the now-healthy Phil Forte III. They are undersized down low, but new head coach Brad Underwood had a ton of success without a lot of size during his time at Stephen F. Austin.
9. Kansas State – Most of last year’s team is back, but the Wildcats struggles against Big 12 foes. The team needs to improve vastly on the 226th nationally-ranked shooting percentage and 332nd nationally-ranked 3-point percentage if they want to move up in the standings.
10. TCU – It will take Jamie Dixon a little bit of time to grow this program, but there are enough pieces this year for the Horned Frogs to steal a few games, led by juniors Malique Trent and Vladimir Brodzlansky.
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