Thursday, December 8, 2016
Esa Ahmad guards an Oklahoma guard during WVU's victory during the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament. (Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS)

Esa Ahmad guards an Oklahoma guard during WVU’s victory during the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament.
(Photo Credit: Kelsie LeRose, BGS)

Coming off one of the Big 12’s best seasons in which seven of the 10 teams made the NCAA Tournament and Oklahoma made it to the Final Four, the conference will turn a new page led by a new crop of stars. Big name athletes like Georges Niang, Perry Ellis, Taurean Prince and Buddy Hield are gone.The Kansas Jayhawks are once again the favorites to win the Big 12. After all, Kansas has won the title for 12 consecutive seasons. Teams like West Virginia University, Oklahoma, Baylor, Iowa State and Texas are all hoping to overthrow the defending champs, making for another fun-filled, action packed season of college hoops.

Baylor Bears:

Much like every other team in the Big 12, Baylor lost two of the school’s stars. Prince was the No. 12 selection in the NBA Draft last spring and Rico Gathers, the Bears’ all-time leading rebounder, was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Draft. Starting point guard Lester Medford is also gone. That makes up an average of 36 points, 17.4 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game. But like everyone else in the conference Baylor knows how to rebuild.

The Bears have just one senior on the team. Ishmail Wainwright. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound guard is a strong leader and a big component to the team’s chemistry. Last season he 5.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game. Al Freeman is Baylor’s returning leading scorer. He averaged 11.3 points as a redshirt sophomore last season. Manu Lecomte sat out last season after transferring from Miami. There is a ton of excitement surrounding the 5-foot-11, 170-pound guard. He is expected to fill the void left by Medford. Lecomte is an excellent 3-point shooter. King McClure saw limited playing time last season and that role is expected to grow this year. Wendell Mitchell redshirted last season. The 6-foot-3 guard knows how to find the basket. Tyson Jolly was a late addition to the 2016 class and could see playing time in the backcourt.

While Gathers and Prince are huge losses to Baylor’s frontcourt, Johnathan Motley is ready to step in. The 6-foot-9, 230-pound forward has potential to be a star but has been inconsistent at times. Last season he earned third All-Big 12 honors after averaging 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. But the Bears will need Motley to stay out of foul trouble. Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. is in the mix for playing time after redshirting last season. The- 7-foot, 210-pound forward is a skilled big man that excels at shot blocking. He was the No.1 junior college prospect in 2015 after averaging 20.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 4.7 blocks for Neosho (Kan.) Community College. Returning forward Terry Matson needs to emerge as more of a scorer. He averaged 6.1 points and 2.5 rebounds last season. Another JC transfer expected to make an immediate impact is Nuni Omot. The 6-foot-8, 200-pound forward has both size and skill. He has the ability to be a defensive threat. Mark Vital is an athletic small forward that will be looking to contribute. He was a four star recruit out of high school.

There are a lot of questions with this Baylor team but if guys live up to expectations, the Bears could make some noise in the Big 12.

Iowa State point guard Monte Morris. (Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

Iowa State point guard Monte Morris. (Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports)

Iowa State Cyclones:

Iowa State will be without Niang, Abdel Nadar and Jameel McKay this season. But the Cyclones got the talented Monte Morris back. The 6-foot-3, 175-pound senior is one of the nation’s top point guards. He is on pace to break many Iowa State records, including assists and steals. Morris finished third in the country last season in assist-to-turnover ratio at 4.23/1.00. He is a skilled playmaker and a veteran leader who can log a lot of minutes without wearing down. Nazareth Mitrou-Long returns after being shutdown last December after suffering a hip injury. The 6-foot-4, 206-pound guard averaged 12 points and 2.9 rebounds before getting hurt. He is a 3-point specialist, tallying 162 in his career with the Cyclones. Matt Thomas is another perimeter threat that returns for Iowa State. He shot 43.2 percent from beyond the arc. Last season Thomas averaged 11.0 points and 4.4 rebounds filling in for the injured Mitrou-Long. Deonte Burton earned Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors after transferring from Marquette. He averaged 9.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. A pair of newcomers that could impact the Cyclones’ backcourt are Donnovan Jackson and Nick Weiler-Babb. Jackson was the No.1 ranked JC point guard.

Iowa State’s frontcourt lacks experience that the backcourt has. Louisiana Tech transfer Merrill Bowie should see the bulk of the playing time. Last season he averaged 8.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. Another transfer expected to make an immediate impact in the front court is Darrell Bowie, who missed last season recovering from an injury. The previous year he averaged 9.8 points and 5.4 rebounds. Freshman Solomon Young and sophomore Simeon Carter should see significant playing time. Young was a three-star recruit while Carter played sparingly last season.

The Cyclones have a lot of holes in the frontcourt to fill. The return of Morris, Mitrou-Long, Thomas and Burton give Iowa State plenty of hope at running at the conference title.

Kansas Jayhawks:

Once again, Kansas is the favorite to win the Big 12. The Jayhawks lost Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Cheick Diallo, Brannen Greene, Hunter Mickelson and Jamari Traylor but head coach Bill Self brought in another powerful recruiting class.

Kansas returns three starters from last season’s team and the Jayhawks added two McDonald’s All-Americans. The biggest signing was the No. 1 ranked high school player in the nation Josh Jackson. The athletic wing is often compared to former Kansas standout Andrew Wiggins. The 6-foot-8, 207-pound freshman averaged 26.9 points, 13.1 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game as a senior at Prolific Prep. Frank Mason III returns for his senior season. He averaged 12.9 and 4.6 assists per game. Mason and junior Devonte Graham are projected to be two of the top guards in the Big 12 this year. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Graham averaged 11.3 points and 3.7 assists last season. He was named the most outstanding player in the Big 12 last season. Sviatoslav Mykhalliuk is expected the be a key contributor this season. Lagerald Vick saw limited playing time last season but could be poised to see more time.

Landen Lucas isn’t a stud on offense but he is a huge defensive force for the Jayhawks. He led Kansas in rebounding last season, averaging 6.8 boards per game. He shot 64.3 percent from the field. Carlton Bragg Jr. returns. The 6-foot-9 forward showed glimpses of promise last year. Freshman Udoka Azubuike is the other McDonald’s All-American expected to make an immediate impact. The 7-foot forward averaged 16.9 points and 9.7 rebounds as a senior in high school.

The Jayhawks lost a lot of top notch players but a stacked roster has Kansas poised for another NCAA Tournament run.

Kansas State Wildcats:

Bruce Weber’s squad was a young and inexperienced bunch last season. But a year of learning and experience could benefit them Kansas State had an extra two weeks of team bonding and game experience during the Wildcats’ exhibition games in Switzerland and Italy.

Kansas State will get a healthy Kamau Stokes back this season. Last season the 6-foot sophomore missed the final 12 games due to a knee injury. He averaged 9.4 points and 2.7 assists as a freshman. Barry Brown led the Wildcats in 3s and was selected to the Big 12 All-Newcomer Team last season after averaging 8.6 points as a freshman. Senior Wesley Iwundu was a third All-Big 12 selection and made the All-Big 12 Defensive Team. The 6-foot-7 guard averaged 11.9 points  and 3.7 assists last season and is the active team leader in points, rebounds, assists and minutes.

After missing 16 months due to injury, D.J. Johnson returned with vengeance last year.  The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 9.3 points last season. He is expected to be a key component to the puzzle this season. Dean Wade was third in scoring for Kansas State, averaging 9.9 points. He finished second on the team in books and third in double-digit scoring games, offensive rebounding and total rebounding. The 6-foot-8 sophomore earned Big 12 All-Newcomer Team accolades with his flashy performance. Dante Williams and Isaiah Maurice redshirted last season and will provide more depth for the Wildcat’s frontcourt.

Kansas State should be greatly improved from last season but not quite ready to challenge for the Big 12 title.

Khadeem Lattin of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrates in the first half against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Chesapeake Energy Arena on March 20, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Tom Pennington

Khadeem Lattin of the Oklahoma Sooners celebrates in the first half against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Chesapeake Energy Arena on March 20, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Tom Pennington

Oklahoma Sooners:

Oklahoma took a huge hit at the end of last season losing three 1,000 point scorers in Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins and Ryan Spangler. The Sooners still have a lot of talent but it will take a lot to repeat last season’s Final Four run.

Oklahoma will depend heavily on Jordan Woodard in the backcourt. He has been a four year starter and a steady presence from beyond the arc. The 6-foot Woodard was second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.0 points per contest. He was second in the conference is 3-point percentage at 45.4 percent. Christian James notched 17 minutes as a freshman and averaged 3.0 points per game. His role figures to expand this year. JUCO transfer Darrion Strong looks to make an immediate impact. The 6-foot-1 junior was a NJCAA All-American as a freshman. Kameron McGusty is a top recruit looking to immediately make his presence felt. He was a ESPN Top-50 player.

Khadeem Lattin is one of two returning starters for the Sooners. He is poised for a breakout season. Last year he averaged 5.6 and 5.3 rebounds. He is a defensive specialist and earned Big 12 All-Defensive team accolades last year. He led the Big 12 with 2.1 blocks per game. Dante Buford is the third-leading returning scorer from Oklahoma. He was voted the best dunker on the Sooners. Jamuni McNeace average 1.2 points per contest last season. Kristian Doolittle is a Top-100 recruit that could find some time on the court this season. Matt Freeman redshirted last season after enrolling in January.

Oklahoma will need Woodard and Lattin to have big season’s if they hope to repeat last year’s magic. Don’t count the Sooners out just yet but it is hard to imagine a repeat being on the horizon.

Oklahoma State Cowboys:

Oklahoma State fired Travis Ford and brought in Brad Underwood. The former Stephen F. Austin coach pulled off the upset over WVU and VCU in last season’s NCAA Tournament before his team lost a hard fought battle to Notre Dame.The Cowboys are still small in stature but have one of the best backcourt’s in the conference. Oklahoma State lost Tyrek Coger in July due to an enlarged heart. The loss of the forward has been an emotional ride for the Cowboys but its made their bond stronger.

Phil Forte III suffered a season-ending elbow injury last year in the third game of the season and received a medical redshirt. As a junior, her averaged 15 points per game. He is a sharp shooter and hardly misses from the free throw line, shooting 84 percent. Sophomore Jawun Evans was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year last season. The 6-foot-1 point guard averaged 12.9 points per game last season. He scored 42 points against Oklahoma. The backcourt will receive a boost from an incoming freshman class. Lindy Walters III and Thomas Dziagwa were both top high school scorers.

Oklahoma State’s frontcourt was the weak link last season. Leyton Hammond returns for his senior season. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 10.8 points last season and was the team’s top rebounder. Mitchell Solomon started 26 games last year and averaged 3.9 rebounds. Tavarius Shine blossomed late last season. He shot 51.9 percent from the field over a five-game stretch in February. He is a versatile rotation player and a solid defender. He averaged 6.1 points as a sophomore. Davon Dillard appeared in seven games last season and was often in trouble with Ford. He is athletic. Cameron McGriff is a freshman power forward that is expected to be a force to reckon with in the Big 12.

The Cowboys should be competitive in a tough conference. They will get their first test right off the bat in the Maui Invitational where they could meet North Carolina and Oregon.

TCU Horned Frogs:

TCU is hoping former Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon can revamp the program and make the Horned Frogs competitive.

Malique Trent averaged 11.6 points and 2.1 steals last season. He had a team-high 84 assists.  Brandon Parrish started every game last year and averaged 8.7 points and 3.5 rebounds. Texas A&M transfer Alex Robinson will be eligible to play this season. He shot 41.9 percent from the floor and 36.1 percent from beyond 3-point range during the 2014-15 season with the Aggies. Kenrich Williams returns after missing a year due to a knee injury and hopes to vie for playing time. Jaylen Fisher is a four-star prospect and will bolster the backcourt who will look to replace leading scorer Chauncey Collins. Josh Parrish, brother of Brandon Parrish is a four-star recruit looking to make an impact. Freshman Desmond Bane is another scoring threat looking to see the court.

TCU returns big men Karvier Shepherd and Chris Washburn. The duo combined to average 13.7 points and 9.5 rebounds last season. Vladimir Brodiansky averaged 9.7 points and 4.5 rebounds as a sophomore. JD Miller was a solid contributor last season. The 6-foot-8 sophomore averaged 6.8 points and 4.3 rebounds.

Dixon has his work cut out for him getting the Horned Frogs out of the basement.

Texas Longhorns:

Texas lost all five starters from last season, which accounted for more than 60 percent of the scoring and 57 percent of rebounding. Isaiah Taylor left early for the NBA Draft. The Longhorns return two players with starting experience and Shaka Smart has his work cut out for him in year No. 2.

Eric Davis Jr. and Kerwin Roach Jr. earned a spot on the Big 12’s All-Newcomer team last season. Davis averaged 7.6 points and Roach averaged 7.5. Both players should see increased amounts of action this year. Davis led Texas in 3-point percentage as a freshman. Senior Kendal Yancy started 15 games last season but saw about 10.5 minutes per contest. He averaged 3.0 points. McDonal’s All-American Andrew Jones should compete for immediate playing time in the backcourt. He averaged 30 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists per game as a senior for MacArthur. Freshman Jacob Young could also see immediate action.

James Banks and Jarrett Allen were members of the USA U18 team, which Smart coached. Both are expected to see significant playing time in the Longhorns’ frontcourt. Tevin Mack should have an increased role as a sophomore. He averaged 5.1 points per game and won the Jay Arnette Award for behind-the-scene contributions. Maryland transfer Shaquille Cleare played about 12 minutes per game in his first season with Texas. He averaged 3.6 points and 2.9 rebounds per game. Mareik Isom is a 6-foot-9 forward that transferred from Arkansas-Little Rock.

The Longhorns have a lot of fresh faces and inexperienced players and will likely take a step back.

Texas Tech Red Raiders:

Tubby Smith left Texas Tech for a job in Memphis and now its up to first-year head coach Chris Beard to continue fueling the fire. The Red Raiders lost their top two scorers, Toddrick Gotcher and Devaugntah Williams are gone.

Keenan Evans started all 32 games at the point last season. He is a dependable guard and averaged 8.7 points per contest. Junior College All-Americans Shadell Millinghaus and Niece Stevenson will be key components to Texas Tech’s backcourt. Millinghaus averaged 16.9 points at Northwest Florida State. Stevenson averaged 24.7 points at Seward Community College. Backup point guard Devon Thomas and C.J. Williamson will see extra playing time this season. Giovanni McLean scored 12.9 points per game at Quinnipac last season and was added to boost the backcourt.

The Red Raiders have a small frontcourt. Zach Smith is a 6-foot-8 monster. He averaged 10.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks last season. Justin Gray and Norense Odiase combined for 17.2 points and 7.9 rebounds last season. Forward Anthony Livingstone is a graduate transfer from Arkansas State. The 6-foot-8 senior averaged 15.5 points last season.

Texas Tech will take a step back this season.

West Virginia Mountaineers:

Tarik Phillip (12) looks to pass during the Gold-Blue Debut on Thursday, October 13, 2016 at Wesbanco Arena. (Photo Credit: Shanna Rose, BGS)

Tarik Phillip (12) looks to pass during the Gold-Blue Debut on Thursday, October 13, 2016 at Wesbanco Arena.
(Photo Credit: Shanna Rose, BGS)

West Virginia had one of its best seasons since joining the Big 12 last season. Like many other teams, the Mountaineers lost three key contributors. Leading scorer Jaysean Paige is gone. Devin Williams left early to pursue a professional career and Jonathan Holton is gone.

Jevon Carter, Tarik Phillip and Daxter Miles Jr. will likely be the workhorses of the Mountaineers’ offense. Carter led WVU in 3-points, assists and steals. The junior averaged 9.5 points and 3.26 assists per game last season. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Carter is a skilled defensive player and a clutch piece in the Mountaineers’ press. It was his defensive play that helped WVU hold Buddy Hield to just six points in the Big 12 Tournament semifinal. Like Paige, Phillip primarily came off the bench and flourished last season. He averaged 9.3 points and shot 41 percent from beyond the arc. The senior was second on the team in assists and steals. Miles started 30 of the 32 games he played last year. He averaged 9.4 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. The Mountaineers hope that senior Teyvon Myers will play a bigger role in the offense. He was a star at Allen Hancock College and Williston State College but only added 2.4 points last season. James “Beetle” Bolden has recovered from an ACL repair and is ready to chip in and help. The 6-foot, 160-pound redshirt freshman averaged 11 points per game during the Bahamas tour last summer. He led the Gold team with 12 points during the Gold-Blue Debut earlier this month. Moundsville native Chase Harler will look to fit into WVU’s backcourt equation. The 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard averaged 24.4 points and 6.7 rebounds last season. He was the WV Gatorade Player of the Year last season.

Morgantown native, Nathan Adrian, is developing into a leader and a key player for the Mountaineers. He started 16 games last season and played 18.1 minutes per contest. The 6-foot-9, 235-pound forward averaged 4.5 points and 3.1 rebounds last year. He shot 40.7 percent of all shots from 3-point land. Huggins is expecting big things from Adrian this season. WVU will also expect Elijah Macon to step up his game. He averaged 4.5 points per game last year and 3.0 rebounds. Macon needs to become a bigger force on the glass without Holton and Williams in the frontcourt. Esa Ahmad started 34 games last season and averaged 4.9 points. He has a lot of talent but had an up and down freshman campaign. WVU will turn to him to have a bigger role this season. After missing the begining of the season last year, Brandon Watkins should be ready to go this year. In 23 games, he scored 14 points and grabbed 24 rebounds. Lamont West is another newcomer the Mountaineers will depend on. The 6-foot-8 forward redshirted last season. He averaged 17.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a high school senior. Sagaba Konate has been impressive this fall. The 6-foot-8 freshmen led Kennedy Catholic to its first Pennsylvania state championship in 15 years in last season. As a high school senior, Konate averaged 15.5 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. Freshman Maciej Bender was a four star recruit that Huggins nabbed last season. The 6-foot-10 forward is looking for playing time. He averaged 8.3 points and 7.7 rebounds during the U20 European Championships over the summer.

The loss of Williams hurts WVU but if the frontcourt can get production from Adrian, Macon, Watkins and several newcomers the Mountaineers may be fine. WVU’s guards spent the summer in the gym and will carry the offense. There is no reason the Mountaineers can’t repeat off of last season’s success and challenge Kansas.

 

Predicted Big 12 Standings:

  1. Kansas Jayhawks
  2. West Virginia Mountaineers
  3. Oklahoma Sooners
  4. Iowa State Cyclones
  5. Texas Longhorns
  6. Baylor Bears
  7. Oklahoma State Cowboys
  8. Texas Tech Red Raiders
  9. Kansas State Wildcats
  10. TCU Horned Frogs

 

Cover Photo Credit: Kevin Jairaj,  USA TODAY Sports Images

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