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When one hears the term “basketball conference,” thoughts of the ACC or the Big East quickly come to mind. When one looks at the numbers over the past four seasons, it becomes clear that the Big 12 should be in those thoughts. Kenpom.com has rated the Big 12 as the #1 conference in the country four years in a row, and with the depth and talent in the league again this season, it could become five. Of course, when we talk Big 12, it all starts with the Kansas Jayhawks, who have won or shared a mind-boggling 13 straight conference regular season titles. There is no reason to suspect that number will not reach 14 this season, as the Jayhawks have one of the most talented teams in the nation and may find themselves in San Antonio cutting down nets at the end of the day.
Beyond the Jayhawks, a pair of up-and-coming teams look to make big strides this year, as TCU will try to ride an NIT championship last year to an NCAA berth this one, and Shaka Smart may finally have a roster of “his” players capable of leading Texas into the conference’s upper echelons. West Virginia and Baylor should both be very good again while Oklahoma will try to rebound from a disappointing 2016-17 season. Finally, don’t overlook Texas Tech as Chris Beard is doing an excellent job elevating the Red Raiders despite the surprise departure of Tubby Smith a year ago. This conference certainly has depth, enough so that if the team we are predicting for last place, Oklahoma State, can put aside its off-court problems, they might have enough weapons to finish several spots higher and contend for an NCAA Tournament bid.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Kansas – Frank Mason, Josh Jackson and Landen Lucas combined to average over 45 points and 20 rebounds per game last season. All three are gone, and yet the Jayhawks still enter the season with a real shot at heading to the Final Four. Devonte’ Graham will lead the way, joined in the backcourt by Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, who was once the No. 2 overall prospect in the nation, and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk who passed on a chance to enter the NBA draft. Down low, the Jayhawks are young but very talented, with Udoka Azubuike healthy after only playing 11 games as a freshman and another top prospect in forward Billy Preston. This team has all the pieces necessary for another Big 12 title, and a lot more beyond that.
- TCU – No, this is not a typo. Jamie Dixon led the Horned Frogs to 24 wins and the NIT Championship last season — and returns his entire starting lineup. This team now has experience and depth, and added in one of the conference’s top recruiting classes. Kenrich Williams and Vladimir Brodziansky are legitimate double-double threats every time out, and with added depth this season, TCU will be dancing for the first time since 1998.
- Texas – The Longhorns have a roster filled with freshmen and sophomores, but those sophomores all got a ton of playing experience last season despite losing 22 games. Andrew Jones should score a ton of points this year, especially with Matt Coleman arriving to help solve the point guard problems and Mo Bamba, the potential #1 NBA draft pick in 2018, coming in add a ton of size, strength and power. Shaka Smart’s team has a chance to be very good this season, and could finish even higher than this.
- West Virginia – Press Virginia led the nation in turnover margin last season, and this year should be more of the same. Bob Huggins has another solid, deep team. Although they are not likely to dethrone Kansas, the Mountaineers, led by Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, Jr. and Esa Ahmad (assuming he is reinstated from an indefinite suspension by the time conference play begins), will cause opponents problems on a nightly basis and should be wearing their home uniforms in a first round NCAA Tournament game in March.
- Baylor – The Bears will once again be difficult to beat with Manu Lecomte running the point and seven-footer Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. down low. However, another finish in or near second place will be difficult as they have to find a way to make up for several offseason losses, most notably Johnathan Motley.
- Oklahoma – Lon Kruger’s team gained a ton of valuable experience last season despite losing 20 games. With the majority of last year’s team back and the addition of stud freshman point guard Trae Young, there is nowhere to go but up for the Sooners. The team will need to compensate early for a lack of depth in the frontcourt, especially with Kristian Doolittle academically suspended for the fall semester.
- Texas Tech – Head coach Chris Beard has an intriguing mixture of senior leaders (Justin Gray, Keenan Evans and Zach Smith) and heralded prospects (point guard Davide Moretti and shooting guard Zhaire Smith). The Red Raiders failed to win a single road game last season — if they can change that and get the new players to blend with the veterans, it would not be a complete shock to hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
- Kansas State – The Wildcats have a pair of very good guards in Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown, but the team may not have as much talent down low or as much depth as they did last season, when they barely snuck into the NCAA Tournament as a member of the First Four. Kansas State will win some games, but probably not enough to dance again.
- Iowa State – The Cyclones could be in for a long season as they lost their top four starters from last season’s team. The good news is that a few highly-rated recruits will get some playing time. They will also get some help from senior guard Donovan Jackson and UTSA transfer forward Jeff Beverly.
- Oklahoma State – The Cowboys lost three of their top four players from last season and saw their head coach bolt for the Illinois job after just one season. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they were one of the programs targeted by the recent FBI investigation, including a massive document subpoena request that just made headlines this week. Despite a few solid players, including returnee Jeffrey Carroll, Cal State Northridge transfer Kendall Smith and St. John’s transfer Yankuba Sima (eligible after the fall semester), the off-court issues may be too much to keep this team out of the cellar in a very deep conference.