Big 12 Preview: Status Quo for Jayhawks
The Big 12 quietly had seven of its ten teams qualify for the NCAA tournament last season. Quite an impressive feat for a conference especially when you consider West Virginia was very much in the bubble mix. This year’s conference will be replacing three lottery picks from last June’s draft with another highly touted class across the conference. The level of play here will remain high with the schedule treacherous. The only question remains is if someone can finally unseat ten time defending regular season champion Kansas?
Pretty much status quo in the Big 12. All ten teams return their coaches and Kansas is the favorite.
Kansas is absolutely loaded with lottery talent yet again. Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre are top 10 recruits. They also added Ukranian star Mykhailiuk and highly touted PG Devonte Graham. Myles Turner and Texas continue to fly under the radar. Make sure you tune in to see Texas take on Kentucky on December 5th. Joe Burton heads to Oklahoma State to provide a scoring boost ,while Dante Buford should see minutes right off the bat for Oklahoma.
Hot in here or just me?
Travis Ford come on down! After failing to get a tournament win with generational player Marcus Smart, the seat is understandably pretty hot heading into 2014-15 as OK State fans are openly questioning if Ford can take the team to the next level. Complicating matters is Ford recently signed a long contract extension that would leave OK State on the hook for the remainder of his contract unless he gets another job. This will certainly be a telling season for Ford if he falls back to the NIT or worse.
The Big 12 plays an 18 game schedule. Meaning every team has to play each league member twice creating, in my opinion, the most brutal conference schedule in the nation. For the second straight year it looks like eight of ten teams will be either in the tournament or on the bubble making for a lot of shuffling in the standings. No room for off nights in the Big 12.
Kansas – As mentioned, Kansas is absolutely loaded for yet another Big 12 title run. Yes they have to replace arguably the top two prospects from this year’s NBA draft in Wiggins and Embiid, but they add top 10 recruits in Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander. Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden also return. There’s not much that hasn’t been written about this Kansas team, but I actually think they’ll be better than last year’s version. Why? Point guard. I see the combination of freshman Devonte Graham and Frank Mason actually working better for this squad than Naadir Tharpe last year. Also, unlike last year, a ‘veteran’ in Selden will make sure the scoring load doesn’t fall primarily on the freshmen. My reservation with Kansas is three-point shooting, as I’m not sure where the consistency will come from in that regard. Will sophomore wing Brannen Greene break the rotation? Maybe Ukrainian freshman wing Sviatoslav Mykhauiliuk (good luck pronouncing that one Dick Vitale!)? The one thing that is certain, this team should only continue to improve throughout the season and will likely be playing its best basketball in March.
Iowa State – Watching Fred Hoiberg’s position-less basketball is an absolute joy. Hoiberg has established a program at Iowa State primarily using the transfer market. This year he replaces DeAndre Kane with another high level transfer in Bryce Dejean-Jones as a graduate transfer from UNLV. The guy that makes the offense go is Georges Niang, who plays a lot like Boris Diaw of the Spurs. They’ll add a true center in Jameel McKay (Marquette) in December and a key reserve in Abdel Nader (Northern Illinois). They also return improving sophomore PG Monte Morris, Naz Long, Matt Thomas, and Dustin Hogue from last year’s rotation. This is a deep team set up to make a run as long as the new arrivals buy in to Hoiberg’s system.
Oklahoma– Coming off a surprise run last year, Oklahoma’s season ended with a disappointing tournament loss to North Dakota State. The Sooners lost a key piece in second leader scorer Cameron Clark, but the talent is present in the backcourt to be even better this year. Junior guard Buddy Hield may be the best guard in the conference and he’s joined in the backcourt by sharpshooter Isaiah Cousins and improving sophomore PG Jordan Woodard. Those three guards will start, but keep an eye on Frank Booker off the bench. He shot nearly 37% from the three and could be even better this year. This team has been weak up front beyond forward Ryan Spangler, but does add two freshmen forwards from Texas in 6’9” Khadeem Lattin and 6’10” Jamuni McNeace. Defense and rebounding is all that is needed from these two against some of the bigger frontcourts the Sooners face. A big unknown for this team remains the eligibility of talented Houston transfer Tashawn Thomas. If he gains eligibility, watch out. If not, top 100 recruit Dante Buford will likely see significant minutes at forward.
Texas – Coming off a surprise run to third place in a tough Big 12, Texas is ranked in the top 10 heading into this season. They return everyone from last year’s overachieving squad and add top 2 recruit in center Myles Turner. There’s a lot to love here, but I do have some concerns about this team. They struggle to shoot the ball consistently and after a 7-2 start in Big 12 play last year, finished the season 4-6 including a first round Big 12 tournament exit. With centers Cameron Ridley, Turner, and F Jonathan Holmes there are very few teams in the country that will do better on the glass than Texas. Isaiah Taylor returns for his sophomore season leading this team at PG and looks to improve on his 39% field goal percentage. Joining him in the backcourt are Javan Felix, Demarcus Holland, and freshmen Jordan Barnett. This is a deep and talented team that may be hitting its stride come March for a deep tournament run, but I think some growing pains will keep them from a conference title in a tough Big 12.
Kansas State – Marcus Foster was one of the best guards in the conference as a freshman and the sky is the limit for him if he can take a leap into his sophomore year. Also returning is big man and second leading scorer Thomas Gipson and sophomore forward Wesley Iwundu. Sophomores Nigel Johnson and Jevon Thomas will battle for minutes at PG to replace departing senior Will Spradling. The rotation will be bolstered by several transferred including Justin Edwards (Maine), Stephen Hurt (Lipscomb), and Brandon Bolden (Georgetown). Edwards is a scoring wing who may start, but will certainly earn big minutes alongside Foster. Hurt and Bolden are both big bodies who should bolster the frontcourt adding rebounding and size. Provided Foster continues to improve, this Kansas State team should also improve on its 10-8 Big 12 mark from last season.
Oklahoma State – The Cowboys folded under controversy and expectations last year, ending Marcus Smart’s college career with a first round exit in the NCAA tournament after a mediocre 8-10 Big 12 record. They lose Smart as well as second leading scorer Markel Brown and big man Kamari Murphy (transfer). Despite losing two of the best players in the conference, I think this team may be slightly better this season. Call it the patented Patrick Ewing theory if you will, but I see room for improvement. Former top 10 recruit Le’Bryan Nash will likely lead this team along with sharpshooter Phil Forte. Replacing Smart at PG will likely be LSU transfer Anthony Hickey or JC transfer Jeff Newberry. Mike Cobbins will also return from an Achilles injury to a frontcourt that will feature freshman center Mitchell Solomon as well as 7 foot JC transfer Anthony Allen. The Cowboys are also counting on top recruit Joe Burton to provide some scoring on the wing. Don’t get me wrong, the loss of Smart will hurt and limit the upside of this team, but there’s still a lot of talent in Stillwater.
West Virginia – Juwan Staten emerged as one of the most unstoppable scorers in the country last year and looked primed to lead a dangerous West Virginia team into the tournament this year. Then the transfers hit. Eron Harris, the team’s second leading scorer at 17.4 PPG, transferred to Michigan State. Terry Henderson, averaged 11.7 PPG last year, transferred to NC State. Rotational big Remi Dibo signed to play in France. That’s a lot of shooting and spacing for a team to weather. Sophomore’s Brandon Watkins, Nathan Adrian, and Devin Williams show a lot of promise in the frontcourt, but most of Staten’s help in the backcourt will come from new arrivals. Huggins again dipped into the Juco ranks for guards BillyDee Williams, Jaysean Paige, and Tarik Phillip. BillyDee Williams, as well as freshmen guards Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter, should provide some outside shooting. This team went quickly from returning everyone, to a team with a lot of questions. There’s definitely upside here though. Also, keep an eye on former top recruit Elijah Macon who did not gain eligibility last season.
Baylor– Baylor loses quite a bit when you consider starters Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, and Brady Heslip all depart. However, Scott Drew continues to put this program in the position for sustained success after another run to the Sweet 16 last season. Senior PG Kenny Chery will be the leader of this team with an upperclassmen frontcourt made up of Royce O’Neale at SF, Rico Gathers taking Jefferson’s spot at PF, and Taurean Prince potentially replacing Austin at center. Jefferson, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, will be missed the most. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Motley will also help try to fill the void left by Jefferson. While experienced down low, this team may need to rely more on Chery and its guard play including freshmen guard Damiyne Durham, redshirt freshmen Allerik Freeman, and JC transfer Lester Medford. The failure of top recruit Kobe Eubanks to gain eligibility is definitely a blow.
Texas Tech –Tubby Smith has his work cut out for him in his second year in Texas Tech. Something about Texas Tech and coaches on the way out. Bobby Knight anyone? Is Lubbock just a nice place to ease into retirement? Let me know. The Red Raiders lose four of their top five leading scorers including senior Jaye Crockett and their entire frontcourt. Returning are guards Robert Turner and Toddrick Gotcher although both struggled from behind the arc last year. Texas Tech will largely be relying on inexperienced freshmen to help fill out the rotation. They should have some help from two Missouri State transfers in F Justin Jamison and G Devaugntah Williams, but this squad looks to be in rough shape heading into a brutal Big 12 schedule. They’ll be fighting with TCU to stay out of the basement.
TCU– Trent Johnson and the Horned Frogs had a rough year last year to say the least. Winless in conference play, there is hope with the return of second leading scorer Amric Fields from injury as well as the arrival of transfer Trey Ziegler (Pittsburgh). Pair them with leading scorer Kyan Anderson and they might win a few conference games this year. Additionally the improvement of returning sophomores Karviar Shepard and Brandon Parrish, both logged over 29 minutes as freshmen, should help this team take some strides. However, I don’t think that’s enough to get out of the basement in a tough Big 12.
All Big 12