Return of the Rock: Big 12 Preview

by JUSTIN FITZGERALD

Just like the ACC, the Big 12 has gone through some upheaval recently. In 2011 Colorado and Nebraska left to join the Pac-12 and Big 10 respectively, and just a year later Texas A&M and Missouri both left to join the SEC. Colorado and Nebraska didn’t add a lot to the conference in terms of basketball, but Texas A&M and Missouri added depth to the conference. West Virginia and TCU joined in 2012, and the Mountaineers added a solid basketball tradition. Last year the conference sent seven teams to the NCAA Tournament, with three contenders bowing out early (I’m looking at you Baylor, Iowa State, and Kansas) and two making the Sweet Sixteen. This year looks to be another strong year for the conference, and the top three teams have Final Four potential. As always, here are my expectations, with last year’s record in parentheses. Also make sure you check out my previews of the ACC and Big East.

  1. Kansas Jayhawks (27-9, 13-5)

    Perry Ellis. Courtesy of rockchalkblog.com
    Perry Ellis. Courtesy of rockchalkblog.com

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Third Round

Bill Self has built the most consistent program in college basketball.  The Jayhawks have captured 11 straight Big 12 Conference titles, the second longest streak in college basketball history. This team is in great position to make it 12 straight, as they return starters Perry Ellis, Frank Mason III, and Wayne Selden Jr. from last season and added one of the best freshman big men in the country in Cheick Diallo.

Although Kansas has dominated Big 12 play for the past decade, as the Jayhawks have failed to get further than the Sweet Sixteen after being no lower than a two seed the past three seasons. While Self has brought in great one and done players before, it hasn’t translated to success in March. That could change this season.

  1. Iowa State Cyclones (25-9, 12-6)

    Georges Niang. Courtesy of blacksportsonline.com
    Georges Niang. Courtesy of blacksportsonline.com

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Second Round

Gone is the Mayor, in comes new coach Steve Prohm. Prohm left Murray State for one of the best jobs in the country when he succeeded Fred Hoiberg. Prohm inherits a roster filled with talent, including All Big 12 first team member Georges Niang. The Cyclones also return starters Monte Morris and Jameel McKay, as well as last years’ top bench players in Abdel Nader and Matt Thomas. Recent Iowa State teams have added top transfers as well, with this year being no different. New to Iowa City are lights out three point shooter Hallice Cooke from Oregon State and guard Deonte Burton. With this much talent under his belt, Prohm should have this team ready to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 title. But the Cyclones should have a bigger goal in mind, especially after last year’s heartbreaking NCAA Tournament loss to 14 seed UAB.

  1. Oklahoma Sooners (24-11, 12-6)

    Buddy Hield. Courtesy of draftexpress.com
    Buddy Hield. Courtesy of draftexpress.com

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen

Fans in Norman breathed a huge sigh of relief when reigning Big 12 Player of the Year Buddy Hield decided to return for his senior season. Although the Sooners would have returned three starters in Isaiah Cousins, Ryan Spangler, and Jordan Woodard, Hield takes this team to another level. After averaging 17.4 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season, Hield is poised for another huge season and is a national player of the year candidate. The only question facing Lon Kruger’s squad is whether Khadeem Lattin can take Tashawn Thomas’ position inside and be a solid compliment to Spangler. If Lattin, the grandson of former Texas Western big man David Lattin, falls into place, the Sooners could advance to their first final four since 2002.

  1. Baylor Bears (24-10, 11-7)

    Rico Gathers. Courtesy of CBS Sports.
    Rico Gathers. Courtesy of CBS Sports.

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Second Round

Scott Drew has done a fantastic job turning around the Baylor program since taking the job in 2003, leading the Bears to five NCAA Tournaments in the past eight seasons. Drew has assembled another talented team this season, led by seniors Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince. Gathers, who averaged 11.6 points and rebounds per game, is one of the best rebounders in the country and could have another monster year. Prince led the team in scoring last season and along with Gathers gives Baylor one of the best front courts in the Big 12. Top bench player Jonathan Motley enters the starting lineup this season, and could have a breakout year alongside Prince and Gathers. The Bears lost point guard Kenny Chery, but Lester Medford is ready to take over his role and has three great scoring options to look for down low. This could propel Baylor deep into March, barring another RJ Hunter gets in their way.

  1. West Virginia Mountaineers (25-10, 11-7)

    Devin Williams. Courtesy of Mountaineer Sports Report.
    Devin Williams. Courtesy of Mountaineer Sports Report.

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen

The first two seasons in the Big 12 were tough for West Virginia, but the Mountaineers broke through last year with a relentless press defense that knocked Maryland out of the NCAA Tournament on the way to a Sweet Sixteen appearance. Gone is last years’ leading scorer Juwan Staten, but Bob Huggins brings back numerous key contributors. Back are four players who played more than 20 minutes a game last season, led by senior forward Devin Williams, who has double-double potential. Also back is Nathan Adrian, whose hard screen gave Melo Trimble a concussion that led to the Terps exit from the NCAA Tournament. This team doesn’t have the talent to compete for a Big 12 title, but their relentless press defense could give teams trouble in March.

  1. Texas Longhorns (20-14, 8-10)

    Isaiah Taylor. Courtesy of USA Today.
    Isaiah Taylor. Courtesy of USA Today.

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Second Round

After Rick Barnes was fired after another disappointing season, Texas became the first team to lure Shaka Smart out of VCU. Smart brings his signature Havoc defense to Austin, and will attempt to tap into the Longhorns full potential after they underachieved last season. Dynamic point guard Isaiah Taylor returns, but the rest of the supporting cast needs to step up. Kendal Yancy and Jamarcus Holland could be solid press defenders, but Yancy needs to prove he can be a better offensive option. Down low, Cameron Ridley and Connor Lammert need to improve their production to make up for the losses of Myles Turner and Jonathan Holmes. Smart’s team will be fun to watch, but it is yet to see whether he can turn that into consistent success.

  1. Oklahoma State Cowboys (18-14, 8-10)

    Phil Forte. Courtesy of Tulsa World
    Phil Forte. Courtesy of Tulsa World

Postseason: NCAA Tournament Second Round

Travis Ford has led Oklahoma State to five NCAA Tournament in eight seasons as head coach, but he enters the season on the hot seat. The Cowboys had a golden opportunity to make a deep run in March with  Le’Bryan Nash, but failed to get past the first weekend. This team will be more depleted this year, as Nash and fellow starters Anthony Hickey Jr. and Michael Cobbins graduated.This teams is now in the hands of guard Phil Forte, but he won’t carry the burden alone. Ford brought point guard Juwan Evans to Stillwater and he also gets back bench player Jeff Newberry. This team will take a step back, and that could lead to the end of Ford’s tenure.

  1. Texas Tech Red Raiders (13-19, 4-14)

    Devaugntah Williams. Courtesy of Fly War Eagle.
    Devaugntah Williams. Courtesy of Fly War Eagle.

Postseason: None

This is isn’t what Texas Tech envisioned when they brought Tubby Smith to be the head coach in 2013. The Red Raiders wanted the Smith that helped lead Kentucky to the 1998 National Championship, not the one that couldn’t get Minnesota past the first weekend in March. Needless to say, Smith has struggled so far in Lubbock, going just 27-37 his first two seasons. The Red Raiders return five of their top six scorers, but their leading scorer Devaugntah Williams only averaged 10.1 points per game. This is a team that struggles to score, and they will find themselves at the bottom of the conference.

  1. TCU Horned Frogs (18-15, 4-14)

    Chris Washburn. Courtesy of zimbio.com
    Chris Washburn. Courtesy of zimbio.com

Postseason: None

The Horned Frogs went from 0 to 4 conference wins last season, but this team still has a long way to go if they want to contend in the Big 12. It could be another uphill battle this season, as TCU lost their top two scorers in Kyan Anderson and Trey Ziegler. Kenrich Williams was supposed to return, but underwent knee surgery in September and will miss the season. Coach Trent Johnson will need Chris Washburn and Karviar Sheperd to step up, as the Horned Frogs have a thin bench. This team won’t compete in the Big 12 this season, and faces an uphill battle to do so going forward.

  1. Kansas State Wildcats (15-17, 8-10)

    Justin Edwards. Courtesy of kansascity.com
    Justin Edwards. Courtesy of kansascity.com

Postseason: None

Bruce Weber has his work cut out for him. After last year’s disappointing season, Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson graduated while leading scorer Marcus Foster decided to transfer to Creighton. Justin Edwards and Stephen Hurt are the only players returning who played more than 10 minutes a game, and last year the Wildcats averaged only 63 points a game. It could be a long season in Manhattan.