Kansas center Udoka Azubuike (35) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against TCU in Lawrence, Kan., Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018. Kansas defeated TCU 71-64. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Men's Basketball

Big 12 basketball season preview: The American-Statesman’s 13 best players

Posted October 24th, 2019

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The NCAA allows 13 scholarships to basketball teams. But what if the Big 12 conference could only handout 13 scholarships to 13 players in the league?

Here are the preseason’s 13 best scholarship players in the Big 12.

First, the preferred walk-ons, or three players we nearly included in the top 13:
Isaiah Moss, senior, Kansas, Cameron McGriff, senior, Oklahoma State, Matt Coleman, junior, Texas

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Moss shot better than 40 percent as a junior at Iowa last season and became one of the most sought-after graduate transfers in America. After initially picking Arkansas, he pulled back and headed to Kansas, where he’s likely to be a starter and fill the need that Kansas desperately needed last season: shooting.

McGriff is a sneaky conference POY candidate. He’s a senior who can shoot, play down low and has been a key player for OSU since his sophomore season. If someone you may not think of emerges as the conference’s leading scorer, perhaps McGriff is that guy since he’s so durable.

Coleman will be a three-year starter for the Longhorns and this season could be the start of a two- year tear for Coleman. Coleman could put it all together and dominate the league, not unlike past Big 12 guards who have done the same, such as Kansas State’s Barry Brown and Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham. If Coleman has a line of 14 ppg., 7 apg., while shooting above 30% from 3-point range, Texas could win a lot of games.

The top 13: 

13. Tyrese Haliburton, sophomore, Iowa State

The lengthy 6-foot-5 guard will probably be the primary ball-handler for the Cyclones this season and thus get the bulk of the playmaking opportunities.

Haliburton gained some NBA attention last season due to his size and length, but he mostly deferred as Iowa State had three scorers ahead of him on the totem pole. Still, he started 34 of the 35 games he played in, averaged 33.2 minutes and shot 43.4 % from 3-point range. Few players in the league are in a better position to increase their NBA prospects more than Haliburton.

The question is: Haliburton or Coleman in this spot? Coleman averaged more points, but shot at a lower 3-point percentage (32.6). It’s close, but the same physical upside that has Haliburton garnering NBA looks vaults him ahead as his 6-5 frame allows him to defend more positions.

Oklahoma State’s Lindy Waters shoots during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Texas on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019, in Stillwater, Okla. (Evan Brown/Tulsa World via AP)

12. Lindy Waters, senior, Oklahoma State

Waters, 6-foot-6, shoots 44.8% from 3-point range and made 69 of them last year. That’s nice shooting by the rising senior. We know he can shoot and there’s not a team in the country who wouldn’t want to give a hard-playing, scrappy shooter a scholarship. He had a breakout junior year and has more help this season than last in terms of making the tournament.

11. Silvio De Sousa, junior, Kansas

The most surprising player on Kansas’s active roster this year is De Sousa. He was suspended for his guardian’s role in the FBI scandal that has engulfed college basketball for two years and counting and contributing to Kansas’ recent Notice of Allegations letter.

The good news is we can start talking about what De Sousa actually brings to a basketball court now because the NCAA is letting him play after he missed all of last year.

Perhaps the only reason you can’t count De Sousa as a former McDonald’s All-American is because he skipped his last semester of high school and joined Kansas’ 2018 Final Four team. He was the No. 32-rated recruit in the class of 2017, but was was originally in the class of 2018.

He didn’t do much in the regular season in his shortened freshman year, but once the postseason came he averaged a double-double in the 2018 Big 12 Tournament and grabbed 10 rebounds in Kansas’ Elite Eight overtime win against Duke.

Texas forward Dylan Osetkowski (21) shoots over Oklahoma forward Brady Manek (35) during a NCAA college basketball game in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

10. Brady Manek, junior, Oklahoma

The 6-foot-9 forward has averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds and shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range in 66 career games. He and Kristian Doolittle are the hands-down leader on this team after playing sidekicks to Trae Young as a freshman and being on a team with a handful of graduate transfer seniors last year.

How OU uses Manek, who playfully grew a mustache and his hair to look like 1980s legend Larry Bird last season, will be interesting to follow. Is he a three? Will he play stretch-four, which Lon Kruger has had some success with with at OU?

9. Tristan Clark, junior, Baylor

Clark missed most of the season last year but the 6-foot-9, 240 pound power forward was very good in the games he played in before the knee injury.

In 15 games, he averaged 14.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and shot a then NCAA-leading 72.1 percent from 2-point field goal range. And he was averaging fewer than 30 minutes a game. Frankly, he’s too low on this list if he shows he’s fully back from the knee injury in November and December.

8. Courtney Ramey, sophomore, Texas

Ramey averaged 8.2 points as a freshman but disappeared at times. He also flashed a lot of potential to be a dominant player, like when he scored 17 and 18 points against Baylor and Iowa State and 17 more in Texas’ dramatic NIT victory over Xavier. Oklahoma’s Kristian Doolitle may be unhappy with Ramey in the top 10, let alone top 13 and not him, and Doolittle very well could have a better season, but Ramey’s role this season is clearer than last and he could wind up being the primary scorer for Texas.

Once a top 50 recruit from St. Louis, the 6-3 guard is perhaps Texas’ best NBA prospect.

West Virginia forward Derek Culver (1) passes the ball over Texas guard Elijah Mitrou-Long (55) during an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]
7. Derek Culver, sophomore, West Virginia

This isn’t my pick for preseason player of the year, because I feel that award is more of a career award for past achievements and goal-post setting, but Culver is my pick to win the award in March before the Big 12 tournament starts.

Not only do I think West Virginia will return to the top half of the standings, I think they’ll have one of the most dominant players in the country leading the way.

The 6-10, 255 pound forward-center was West Virginia’s best player last season and nearly averaged a double-double with 11.5 points and 9.9 rebounds. He played in 26 games and only started in 14, but his per 40-minute numbers indicate that he was one of the best post players in the league: 17 points, 14.7 rebounds, 9.1 free throw attempts and 2.5 assists.

It’s going to be exciting to see what Culver can do with a full season of play not just in general but with the lineup West Virginia played with at the end of last season. He even has some help in the paint this season with the addition of McDonald’s All-American Oscar Tshiebwe.

6. Desmond Bane, senior, TCU

If TCU is ranked at any point this season, then Bane, 6-foot-6, is having an all-league season. If TCU is at the top of the Big 12 standings at any point in February, Bane is probably having an All-American type of season. He’s certainly talented enough to do it.

Bane is one of the best 3-point shooters in the nation and averaged 15.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game as a junior. He played 35.5 minutes per game and shot 42.5 percent from 3-point range, which is actually down from 46.1 percent he shot as a sophomore, the year TCU went to the NCAA Tournament.

Last year, Bane showed that he’s more than just a shooter. If there’s a guy who can win the conference player of the year that’s not from one of the four-best teams entering the season, he’s got the best chance. And he’ll have more opportunities than just about any player in the league to compile numbers.

5. Xavier Sneed, senior, Kansas State

Though a little a streaky, Sneed is a terrific 3-pointer shooter and is a career 41.2% shooter from distance (he shot 39.6 last season). Sneed, like Bane for TCU, will likely be the focal point of the Kansas State offense. He’s not a bad defender, has played 105 games in his career (starting 72) and is a big reason why I don’t see Kansas State tumbling after the Brown-Wade era.

Sneed, 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, is no doubt in the biggest leadership role of his college career.

The St. Louis product tested his draft stock this spring before opting to return. Had he bolted for the pros, Kansas State would have been teetering on disaster.

I expect Sneed to do what a lot of seniors do when they go from being a role player to a go-to player, and that is an all-league type of season.

Davide Moretti (25) gestures to teammate Norense Odiase (32) in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

4. Davide Moretti, junior, Texas Tech

Texas Tech is very excited about top-40 recruit freshman Jahmi’us Ramsey, graduate transfers Chris Clarke and T.J. Holyfield and even sophomore guard Kyler Edwards. But Moretti is the guy and should be the guy for this team. Named to the NCAA Elite 90 last season and a third team All-Big 12 selection, Moretti shot 92.4 percent from the free throw line, so your dad will love him. He also shot 45.9 % from 3-point range while averaging 11.5 points for the national runner-up. He scored in double figures in all but one NCAA tournament game in 2019.

All that and Moretti averaged 31.6 minutes a game, which means he played quite a bit for one of the best defensive teams in NCAA history.

The 6-foot-3, 180 pound Italian should be in the mix for conference player of the year.

3. Mark Vital, junior, Baylor

It’s incredible that a guy who barely scores is so, no pun intended, vital to his team’s success.

Vital, who was dubbed a “YouTube sensation” once, averaged less than eight points a game last year, but had West Virginia coach Bob Huggins wondering if he should be the conference player of the year.

Baylor isn’t a stranger to having these type of high-motor, low-scoring dirty work type of post players, but Vital is just a different player. At 6-foot-5, he’s a drastically undersized center, but at 230 pounds, he’s strong underneath the basket. The redshirt junior averaged 7.2 rebounds per game and led the league in offensive rebounds, had 35 steals in 34 games and blocked 31 shots.

His ability to own the paint, grab rebounds, set screens and play with energy allows and allowed players like Jared Butler, Freddie Gillespie and Mario Kegler to succeed. If you want any further proof on Vital’s importance, just go back and watch Baylor play without him last season when Vital got in foul trouble and how disjointed and out of whack Baylor played.

I doubt Vital will receive a lot of media consideration for preseason All-Big 12, but I wouldn’t be surprised if league coaches vote on the official preseason first team.

2.  Devon Dotson, sophomore, Kansas

The Jayhawks are probably lucky he’s even back on campus. When Dotson declared for the NBA last spring, Kansas fans went into full panic mode as the Jayhawks were left with one point guard on the roster heading into next season.

Then Dotson decided to return to campus on NBA Draft deadline day and all was OK in Jayhawks fan circles — or as close as it gets to OK.

Hall of Fame coach Bill Self probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves in terms of his ability to develop terrific college basketball guards. The key words there are “college basketball.” His Hall of Fame contemporaries have had players who were OK to great in college who become sensational point guards in the NBA, but Self’s track record in developing outstanding college guards includes two national player of the year guards and three others who helped take the team to the Final Four.

Dotson is the best athlete he’s ever had play point guard at Kansas, and that’s a bold and accurate statement. He’s certainly the quickest. A former McDonald’s All-American, Dotson was supposed to play sidekick to Quentin Grimes last season and instead became one of, if not the most, important player for Kansas, playing heavy minutes (32.4 minutes per game), averaging 12.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists while shooting 36.3 percent from 3-point range and 78.2 percent from the free throw line.

I expect Dotson to blow up this season. He went to the free throw line 4.1 times per game. The two point guards before him, Devonte’ Graham and Frank Mason averaged 5 and 6 attempts per game, and I expect Dotson to get to those numbers. His weakness is his funky 3-point shot, but he didn’t shoot terrible with it, slightly above 36%.

1. Udoka Azubuike, senior, Kansas

Like Tristan Clark, there is some injury hesitation with Azubuike, considering he’s missed two of his three years at Kansas because of wrist injuries. Unlike Clark, it’s a lot easier to imagine Azubuike, 7-foot, 270 pounds, returning to his sophomore year version because it was a wrist injury and not a knee injury.

He shot nearly 80 percent from the field when healthy as a sophomore and was a huge part of the Final Four team. And for the first time at Kansas, Azubuike has depth behind him, so pressure is off him a little.

Can he and De Sousa play together? What about he and sophomore David McCormick? Kansas probably thinks so. If teams have to pick and choose in doubling Azubuike or De Sousa, they’re going to be in trouble.

He’s the Big 12 Preseason player of the Year. He’s probably going to make a preseason All-American team.

He averaged 13 points in 2018 and 2019 and shot 77 percent as a sophomore. He slumped in the nine games he played last season when he only shot 70.5 percent from the field.

He knows what he is. He dunks the basketball and plays within a five-feet radius of the hoop.

He does have a weakness, and it’s not even the 39 percent career free throw shooting. Azubuike isn’t the best defender. Given his physical tools, he should probably be blocking more shots and maybe should expect double-digit rebounds with that size. Get him away from the basket and Azubuike can be exposed. This is why De Sousa could play some center and this is why McCormick could get some playing time.

But the combination of what he has done in career and that he is an experienced senior means people should expect big things from him.

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