Thursday, October 27, 2016

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.–The Big 12 has been one of the nation’s toughest basketball leagues in recent years. The 2015-16 season looks like another stacked year for the conference.

During the 2014-15 season, seven of the conference’s 10 teams earned spots in the NCAA Tournament. However, four of those teams lost in the second round.

Last season the Big 12 was ranked No. 1 in RPI and more than 91 percent of Big 12 games last season involved at least one top 25 team.

Baylor's Lester Medfor (11) dribbling and WVU's Jevon Carter (2) defends  (Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

Baylor’s Lester Medfor (11) dribbling and WVU’s Jevon Carter (2) defends
(Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

Baylor Bears (24-10; 11-7):

Baylor has the talent to once again battle for the top spot in the Big 12. The Bears return three starters from last season’s team and sixth-man Taureen Prince. Scott Drew’s Bears will have a few holes to fill with the loss of leaders Kenny Chery and Royce O’Neale. Last season Chery and Lester Medford combined for 225 assists. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Medford will be counted on to fill the leadership role. Baylor returns its two top scorers from last season, forwards Rico Gathers and Prince.  The 6-foot-8, 275-pound Gathers is a force to reckon with. He led the Big 12 in rebounding with 11.6. He added 11.6 points per game and led the conference with 17 double-doubles. Gathers set a school record with 394 boards last season. The 6-foot-7, 220-pound Prince led the Bears with 13.9 points. He came off the bench most of the season. Al Freeman is expected to be the most likely option to pair with Medford. He provides quality depth to the rotation. Freshman King McClure is a Top-40 recruit that is expected to contribute immediately. Baylor’s offense has been ranked among the nation’s best in efficiency the last eight years, and the Bears should  not expect that to change too much this season.

Iowa State Cyclones (25-9; 12-8):

(Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

(Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

Iowa State has a new coach at the reins. Steve Prohm took over the Cyclones when Fred Holberg left for the NBA.  In August, the Cyclones took a team trip to Spain, allowing the new coach a chance to bond with his players. Prohm is an offensive-minded coach and has a talented group of athletes that can find the hoop. Iowa State returns four starters from last season. Point guard Monte Morris returns for his junior season. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound guard is the only active Big 12 player with 300 career assists and 100 steals. He led the nation in assists-to-turnover ratio the past two seasons. He averaged 11.9 points as a sophomore. Nazareth Mitrou-Long will be starting alongside Morris. He ranked second in the Big 12 with 2.3 3-point baskets per game. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound senior guard averaged 10.1 points. Senior forward Georges Niang led the Cyclones in scoring last year with a 15.3 scoring average. The 6-foot-8, 230-pound forward was one of 15 players, including just four from the Power 5 conferences, to average 15 points, five rebounds and three assists. Jameel McKay complements Niang well. He shot 58.3 percent from the field and averaged 11 points in 25 games. McKay excels on defense. Last season he had 59 blocked shots. Abdel Nadar should see more action this season. The 6-foot-6 forward averaged 5.8 points last season, and the Cyclones were 8-1 when he saw more than 20 minutes of action. Newcomers Hallice Cooke and Deonte Burton could be in the mix to help the Cyclones challenge Kansas for the Big 12 crown.

Kasas Jayhawks (27-9; 13-5):

The Jayhawks have won 11-straight conference regular season championships and are in pursuit of their 12th. Kansas is very well equipped to do so. The Jayhawks spent their summer representing the United States in the World University Games. The team made up of mostly Jayhawks and a few players from SMU and Florida Gulf Coast beat Russia in the semifinal and knocked off Germany in double overtime for the championship. Kansas returns several key players from last season. Guard Wayne Selden averaged 19.3 points last season while shooting 50 percent from the field. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior dropped a team-high 18 3-pointers. Point guard Frank Mason III anchors the backcourt with Selden. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound junior ranked in the league’s top 10 in scoring, field-goal percentage and assists. He averaged 12.6 points and 3.9 assists per game. Kansas’ backcourt got stronger with he addition of Lagerald Vick, who averaged 24 points as a high school senior. The 6-foot-5 Vick will fill a void left by the departure of Kelly Oubre Jr. Perry Ellis is a first All-Big 12 athlete. He scored 10 points or more in 25 games and recorded seven double-doubles. The 6-foot-8, 225-pound senior averaged 13.8 points and 6.9 rebounds. Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson will all provide depth on the front-line. Freshman Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg Jr. are Top-15 recruits that will get a shot.  Kansas will definitely be the team to beat for anyone looking to become the new champs.

Kansas State Wildcats (15-17; 8-10): 

After a disappointing campaign in 2014-15, things aren’t looking much better for the Wildcats. Kansas State lost five key pieces to last season’s team. The talented Marcus Foster was dismissed from the program, Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson transferred and Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson graduated. Those five accounted for 71 percent of the scoring. Head coach Bruce Weber will have to count on his recruiting class this season. The Wildcats’ returning players combined to average 17.2 points per game last season but found success at times. Guard Justin Edwards scored 16 against Iowa State. Stephen Hurt tallied 15 in a victory over Oklahoma. Kansas State will need someone to take over at the point. Freshman Kamau Stokes could be the perfect fit. The 5-foot-10, 155-pound Stokes led his high school team to two state championships. Carble Ervin II will also get a shot at the point. He averaged 15.9 points and 8.3 rebounds at Connors State. Swingman Wesley Iwundu showed flashes of brilliance last season but he will need to play more like he did as a freshman. Newcomer Dean Wade is capable of helping the Wildcats’ frontcourt. He averaged 21.2 points and 8.4 rebounds in prep school. The 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward is capable of stretching defenses with his shot from beyond-the-arc. He is also a defensive talent. The Wildcats will need players to gel together and step up if they want to compete this season.

Jordan Woodard (10) defends WVU's Juwan Staten (3) (Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

Jordan Woodard (10) defends WVU’s Juwan Staten (3)
(Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

Oklahoma Sooners (24-11; 12-6):

Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger has turned the Sooners into a dominant force in the Big 12. Last season Oklahoma was in the run for the conference title and advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners became a defensive minded team last season. They turned it on when it counted most. Oklahoma allowed 0.903 points per possession last season. They led the Big 12 in defensive efficiency and were 13th in the nation. The Sooners return four of its top five scorers, including Big 12 scoring champion Buddy Hield. The 6-foot-4, 214-pound Hield passed on the NBA draft to return for his senior season. He averaged 17.4 points and 5.4 rebounds last season. Hield returned in hopes of becoming a better ball handler. The senior guard has the ability to get to the rim and knock down the three. He shot 36 percent from beyond-the-arc last season. Oklahoma also returns Isaiah Cousins and Jordan Woodard. Cousins boosts the Sooners with his strong perimeter play. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound senior guard made 45 percent of his shots from 3-point range and averaged 11.7 points.  Woodard runs the point and is one of the best in the Big 12 at doing his job. He led the Sooners in free throws made with 129 and attempted with 154. Oklahoma lost a big piece of their backcourt when Frank Booker transferred, but Rashard Odomes is a high-scoring recruit. He averaged 25.2 points and 12.4 rebounds in high school. The big loss for the Sooners is TaShawn Thomas, who was an inside presence and a big key to the team’s defensive success. Oklahoma is counting on the 7-foot junior college transfer Akolda Manyang to help on defense. Ryan Spangler returns for his senior year. The 6-foot-8, 234-pound forward is a high-energy player. He averaged 9.7 points and 8.2 rebounds last season. Forward Khadeem Lattin showed promise last season and Jamuni McNeace is ready to go.

Oklahoma State Cowboys (18-14; 8-10):

Oklahoma State surprised many last season, making the NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys lost three key players. Le’Bryan Nash, Anthony Hickey and Michael Cobbins combined to score 1,043 points last season. All three are gone, but Oklahoma State returns one of the league’s best guards Phil Forte III. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Forte enters his last season in Stillwater, where he sits fourth on the career 3-point list with 238 baskets from 3-point range. He averaged 15 points and finished third on the team in assists and second in steals. The Cowboys got McDonald’s All-American Jawun Evans. The 6-foot guard was the top prospect in Texas and No.27 in the nation according to Oklahoma State will depend on Evans to step in and replace Hickey. Jeff Newberry came on strong at the end of the season and finished as the team’s fifth best scorer. Mitchell Solomon, Leyton Hammonds and Anthony Allen will need to step up and fill the void of Cobbins and Nash. Graduate transfer Chris Olivier averaged 13 points and 5.3 rebounds at Eastern Illinois last season and figures into the Cowboys’ frontcourt. The Cowboys will have their work cut out for them to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

TCU Horned Frogs (18-15; 4-14):

Trent Johnson’s Horned Frogs have improved each year in the Big 12. Texas Christian started the season 13-0, against a relatively weak schedule. TCU lost 15 of its final 20 games and finished ninth in the conference. The Horned Frogs lost Kyan Anderson, Trey Zeigler and Amric Fields. The loss of Anderson leaves a huge hole for TCU to fill. He led the team in scoring and assists. The Horned Frogs will look to juniors Karviar Shepherd, Chris Washburn and Kenrich Williams to carry the team. Washburn and Shepherd started last season, while K. Williams became a starter during the second half. They led the team in rebounding and combined to average 21.8 points. The 6-foot-7 Williams averaged 6.7 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Washburn ranked eighth in the league in blocked shots and seventh in steals. TCU will need all three to step up in the offense department. Shepherd averaged 9.1 points during his freshman campaign but fell off a little as a sophomore. Washburn had his best game in the Big 12 Tournament victory over Kansas State with 16 points. Devonta Abron can give the Horned Frog solid backup minutes. Chauncey Collins and Michael Williams could find themselves splitting time at the point. The Horned Frogs have four newcomers joining the program. Junior college transfer Vladimir Brodziansky is a skilled player who will likely see some playing time. The 6-foot-10 sophomore averaged 15.3 points at Pratt County CC. Point guard Malque Trent averaged 15.8 points at New Mexico Junior College and won Freshman of the Year. Lyrik Shreiner and JD Miller help give TCU its best recruiting class since joining the Big 12. TCU needs to improve from the line. They shot 61.5 percent from the line, which may have been the difference in a couple of games.  The Horned Frogs have some talented pieces, but they are not quite ready to contend with the big dogs of the conference just yet.

Texas Longhorns (20-14; 8-10):

Shaka Smart made VCU into a top basketball program and he is the new coach of the Longhorns this season. Smart will place emphasis on defense but it’s his aggressive style that catches the eye. Smart runs practice much like he did at VCU with 94 feet of intense pressure that produces turnovers. Texas led the Big 12 in rebounding at 39.7 percent per game, blocked shots (7.8 per game) and field-goal percentage defense at 36.8. The Longhorns were the worst team when it came to steals, but that is about to change with Smart at the helm. Isaiah Taylor returned to Texas for his junior season. The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Taylor was a third-team All-Big 12 choice who led the Longhorns in scoring with 13.1 points and assists (4.6 per game). He missed the final 10 games with a wrist injury. Kendal Yancy, Demarcus Holland and Javan Felix are three other veterans in the backcourt. Felix can play the point or shooting guard. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior is the Longhorns’ primary perimeter threat. He made 51 3-pointers last season. Holland is the team’s top backcourt defender and Yancy is a quick, athletic guard. He improved offensively in the final eight games, averaging 12 points. Texas added a pair of Top 100 recruits to its backcourt in Eric Davis Jr. and Kerwin Roach Jr. The Longhorns will be without Jonathan Holmes and Myles Turner. Cameron Ridley returns to the front-line, along with Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh. The 6-foot-9 Ridley is a dominant post defender. Newcomer Tevin Mack could make an immediate impact this season. Texas struggled shooting last season and this is where Mack could help. He is a four-star prospect who can drain jumpers. Shaquille Cleare is a transfer from Maryland who is eligible to play right away.

Texas Tech Red Raiders (13-19; 3-15):

The Red Raiders are a year older and a little better. Texas Tech finished last in the Big 12 last season, winning just three conference games. The Red Raiders’ offense was ranked 311th in the nation in scoring last season. Isaiah Manderson, Justin Gray, Zach Smith, Keenan Evans and Norense Odiase are regarded as the best recruiting class in 10 years at Texas Tech. Each showed moments of promise last season. Devaugntah Williams and Toddrick Gotcher will lead the Red Raiders this season. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Williams was Texas Tech’s leading scoring last season, averaging 10.5 points. He shot 39 percent from beyond-the-arc. Williams scored 28 points against Baylor last season. The 6-foot-4 Gotcher started 32 games over the last two seasons in Lubbock. He is an athletic guard who can shoot. He averaged 7.3 points and shot 37.5 from 3-point range. Evans started three games last season and averaged 5.8 points and 1.4 assists. Newcomer C.J. Williamson is highly touted recruit that should contend for playing time. The 6-foot-6, 200-pound guard is versatile. He led his high school team to back-to-back appearances in the Florida state championship game. Junior college transfer Devon Thomas was a top assist player last season at Missouri State. He is a talented passer and could see some action at the point. Women’s basketball star Sheryl Swoops son Jordan Jackson figures to be in the mix for playing time. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard has basketball in his blood but is still learning. The 6-foot-9 Odiase is a big body that shut down some of the leagues’ top scorers last season. He shot 50.6 from the field. The 6-foot-8 Smith also showed promise defensively. He set a record for shots blocked by a freshman with 46. Smith also showed that he could find the net, too. He averaged 6.2 points. Gray averaged 6.7 points before injuring his knee halfway through the season. The Red Raiders return 85 percent of its scoring, 86 percent of its rebounding, 98 percent of its shot blocking and 76 percent of its assists. However, the Red Raiders are still a very young team. They may make a few surprises this season but may still be a year or two away from stealing the show.

Jaysean Paige, Daxter Miles Jr. and Tarik Phillip (Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

Jaysean Paige, Daxter Miles Jr. and Tarik Phillip
(Photo Credit: Kelsie VanderWijst, BGS)

West Virginia Mountaineers (25-10; 11-7):

The Mountaineers won 25 games last season and danced into the Sweet 16 where they lost to Kentucky. West Virginia adopted the full-court press that took the nation by storm. “Press Virginia” led the nation in steals and finished second in turnover margin. On the downside, the Mountaineers averaged 25 free throws per game and committed more fouls than any other team in the country. That could pose a problem for West Virginia with the new rule changes. The Mountaineers lost their two veteran leaders Juwan Staten and Gary Browne Jr. Staten led the Mountaineers in scoring and assists. Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. are key pieces the Mountaineers’ backcourt. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Carter led the team with 67 steals and 3-pointers with 48. The sophomore made the league’s All-Defensive Team as a freshman. Carter struggled offensively when the Mountaineers needed him to run the point. Tarik Phillip and Jaysean Paige will help on the defensive end. Miles averaged 7.3 points and made 43 from beyond-the-arc last season. Junior Devin Williams will be called upon to lead the Mountaineers. The 6-foot-9, 255-pound forward averaged 11.6 points and 8.1 rebounds. West Virginia was 7-2 in games where Williams posted a double-double. Jonathan Holton and Elijah Macon are also big pieces to the Mountaineer frontcourt. Williams, Holton and Macon combined to grab 241 rebounds. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound Holton averaged 7.5 points but needs to cut down on fouls. Brandon Watkins’ status is still unknown after having knee surgery in the offseason. Nathan Adrian had wrist surgery over the summer and is hoping to improve on his shot. Newcomer James “Beetle” Bolden is sidelined for the season after suffering a knee injury. Cleveland native Esa Ahmad should make an immediate impact for the Mountaineers. He averaged 23.3 and 10.2 rebounds as a high school senior. Lamont West is another freshman that could help West Virginia. The Mountaineers need to cut back on the fouls and improve offensively if they hope to take down the Jayhawks.


Projected Finish:
1. Kansas
2. Iowa State
3. Oklahoma
4. West Virginia
5. Texas
6. Baylor
7. Oklahoma State
8. Kansas State
9. TCU
10. Texas Tech



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