Big 12 men's basketball: Texas, Kansas head into season as title favorites
College basketball returns on Nov. 9, 2021 and the countdown to the end of a Big 12 Era begins.
And yes, that means the two schools trade Kansas for Kentucky, Baylor for Florida and so on. It means that key rivalries during the relatively short history of Big 12 basketball, like Kansas and Texas, come to a close.
It means that long storied rivalries, like Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, will now become a little less meaningful in the big picture.
But, as Bob Seger would say, it’s still the same... this year.
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And probably next year.
But the exit sign for Texas and Oklahoma are showing up on the mileage markers on the college athletics highway.
In the meantime, college basketball will enjoy what is the end of one of the greatest sustained runs of elite basketball a conference has ever had. It began when the league went to a true round robin schedule.
Baylor won the National Championship in March. Kansas would have been the No.1 overall seed in the 2020 tournament. Texas Tech was in the National Championship game in 2019.
(Hey, all those programs will still be in the conference after Texas and Oklahoma leave.)
There is a sting, though, with Texas and Oklahoma leaving right now. Both of those programs are in exciting transitional periods after they made the best possible hires they could this offseason.
Texas added one of the best coaches in college basketball in Chris Beard. Oklahoma hired an equally as good, if not better, coach in Porter Moser.
The change in the conference means we don’t get the Beard-Texas Tech blood feud for very long. But we still get it when the wound is fresh in Lubbock. We should enjoy it as basketball fans.
And once those programs leave, the league gets beefed up.
Cincinnati has been a much more consistent basketball program than Texas has been for the last 20 years (and historically, just better). Houston has been better than Texas and Oklahoma in the last four seasons. BYU and Central Florida haven't been as good, but both have been far from awful and have made the tournament recently.
And that’s the first big thing this week in 12 Big things about Big 12 basketball, the preview edition.
11. Chris Beard and Porter Moser: The famous faces at new places
There are four new head coaches in the league, but two have higher profiles than the others (Mark Adams at Texas Tech and T.J. Otzelberger at Iowa State).
No one who knows Big 12 basketball needs the 4-1-1 on Beard. He had an epically great offseason since coming to Texas, loading up with transfers and the Longhorns start the season No.5 in the AP Poll.
The biggest issue they have will be chemistry, which is the issue most loaded, highly-ranked teams have in November.
It was a perfect hire, though I think Texas fans will see a lot of similarities to Shaka Smart's defense-first approach and Beard's defense-first approach (offense was always the problem for Beard's Tech teams).
Moser took Loyola-Chicago to the Final Four in 2018 and then, just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, took the program to the Sweet 16 in 2021. What stands out watching Moser’s teams play, unlike watching Beard’s teams, is how fluid and impressive the offenses have always performed (Beard makes it up for how amazing his team’s defense usually performs).
The big difference between the two hires is one program has massive expectations this season and one program doesn’t. So the pressure in Season One for Moser is not the same as Beard. The rosters are completely different and unlike Beard, Moser needs to prove he can recruit at a Power 5 level to compete in the league like Lon Kruger did for so many years in Norman.
It's time to preview the teams.
'It's gonna be a long season' zone
10. Kansas State Wildcats basketball
Why are they here: The Wildcats lack a lot of proven Power 5 stars and players.
Kansas State does return their top two scorers in fifth-year senior Mike McGuirl and sophomore Nijel Pack. Davion Bradford was the fourth leading scorer and he’s back. Both Gordons, DaJuan and Antonio (not related) are gone.
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This is a theme for the Big 12, but there are a lot of transfers.
The depth could be an issue. On one hand they have enough players back to be sneaky. But on the other hand, I don’t think they have enough impact players to survive in the league.
The big-picture story: Bruce Weber is probably at the top on the list of Power 5 hotseat coaches. Heck, he may be there by himself. He’s been in this position before and reeled off some of the best teams in recent K-State history. One thing about Weber is he oddly enough usually over-delivers when there are low expectations, but this seems like a bridge-too-far of a roster for even Weber.
'No one believed in us entering the season' zone
9. Iowa State Cyclones basketball
Why are they here: Because of all the unknown. Though Big 12 coaches picked Iowa State last in the poll.
This is a sign that the league could be pretty deep. Iowa State was bad the last two years and the program moved on from Steve Prohm this offseason. T.J. Otzelberger was once one of the best assistants in the Big 12 under former Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. He’s back in Ames and I expect he’ll find success.
But this team is a mystery.
George Conditt is a fun big man to have and Caleb Grill and Tristan Enaruna are all transfers.
The ninth and eighth spots on this list are similar in that they can both be good teams but it’s hard to really predict at this point with the roster turnover and many of these players were not actually impact players at their last program.
Take Enaruna, for example. He was a top 100 recruit who played minutes for Kansas as a freshman but was widely unused last season, a year where you’d have thought he’d play more with KU's depth issues. So maybe he blossoms in Ames or maybe he has the same issues. That is what you get, sometimes, with transfers who are transferring because of playing time.
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Iowa State also has gone through roster turnover this season. Xavier Foster was booted from the team amid a sexual assault investigation. Blake Hinson and Javan Johnson transferred.
The Big-picture story:I’m excited for the Otzelberger era. The 43-year-old coach was 88-55 at South Dakota State and UNLV. He went to two NCAA Tournaments and I disregard his two seasons in Vegas because he never really had a fair chance to rebuild there du COVID-19 era. I expect Otzelberger to harness some of the Hoiberg-style offense and team building. Otzelberger was the point man for most of Hoiberg’s biggest recruiting wins.
8. TCU Horned Frogs basketball
Why are they here: Kevin Samuel is playing for Florida Gulf Coast this season. Hell, most Horned Frogs from last season are gone. Nine players from TCU’s losing team last season transferred.
After coach Jamie Dixon’s first losing season at TCU he is retooling the roster with portal players and high school recruits. Micah Peavy was a former top prep player in Texas who started 25 games for Texas Tech last season. Peavy transferred after Chris Beard left for Texas.
He’ll likely be the go-to player for TCU who also welcomes Emanuel Miller (Texas A&M), Damion Baugh (Memphis), Xavier Cork (Western Carolina), Shahada Wells (UT Arlington), JaKobe Coles (Butler) — wow it keeps going — Maxwell Evans (Vanderbilt) and Cashius McNeilly (Texas A&M).
Even one of TCU’s returning top players, Chuck O’Bannon Jr., is a former transfer (USC).
The Big-picture story: This much turnaround in one program makes TCU the most difficult team to project. They could be the surprise squad of the league or they could be a chaotic mess. TCU is on NCAA probation for the next three years, so they dodged a bullet there, but the big-picture story here are the transfers, notably: why has TCU seen so many players transfer out of the program the last three years?
'The teams we'll see on the NCAA Tournament bubble in March' zone
7. Oklahoma Sooners basketball
Why they are here: Out of respect for their new basketball coach Porter Moser. Outside that, there’s no reason OU shouldn’t be higher. Lower? Maybe.
Brady Manek is at North Carolina. De’Vion Harmon is at Oregon. The return of either one of those players would have put OU in the top five of the league. However, the transfer of brothers Tanner and Jacob Groves — as well as Duke point guard Jordan Goldwire — makes this team incredibly enticing.
The Groves addition probably would have flown under the radar had they not pulled a Kevin Durant-in-Allen-Fieldhouse like performance in the tournament against KU. But they did and now OU fans can be excited. I expect OU to be the most improved team from start to finish because of what Moser did at Loyola-Chicago.
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The Big-picture story: Moser building a program at OU.
You may have heard, but Texas has a new coach, OSU and KU gave their coaches big extensions and Baylor’s coach just won a title. So Moser has a lot to compete with recruiting wise in Norman. A strong first season built on the shoulders of transfers should help him on the high school recruiting trail as well as OU being one of the top brands in college athletics.
6. Texas Tech Red Raiders basketball
Why they are here: Terrence Shannon came back. And Kevin Obanor came to town.
Shannon was probably the biggest wait-and-see player because he has been the Red Raiders most talented piece the last two years and has the ability to be the type of scorer that can drag a team to the tournament.
Kevin McCullar and Marcus Santos-Silva give Tech a semblance of a Big 3. Tech should have length and maybe even depth with the addition of Obanor (Oral Roberts) Daniel Batcho (Arizona), Bryson Williams (UTEP), Sardaar Calhoun (Florida State) and three more transfers.
Obanor and Shannon will be the reason this team makes the tournament. Obanor was one of the ORU's best scorers last season and was the second-best player for a Sweet 16 team. He averaged 18.7 points and 9.6 rebounds last season.
The Big-picture story: Mark Adams hasn’t been a head coach since 2013. He hasn’t been a Division I head basketball coach since 1997, when he coached UTRGV (then known as Texas-Pan American) from 1992-1997, where he was fired after the program was caught violating several NCAA rules.
So the microscope should be on Adams who definitely deserved the shot as the head coach when Beard left.
Most Tech fans will tell you now that Beard is gone that Adams was the secret to Tech’s success as he created the “no-middle” defense. Like Moser, there’s a lot riding on the first season for Adams.
He has a team that can make the NCAA Tournament and even produce a lottery pick if Shannon takes a step. But it will be interesting to see if Adams dives deep into the elite high school recruiting scene like Beard tried to do or if Adams leans more into the transfer portal. So far, he seems just fine on the recruiting trail.
'Teams that should be in the NCCA Tournament unless bad things happen' zone
5. Baylor Bears basketball
Why they are here: I’m zagging, as they say, on the No. 8-ranked Bears. Most preseason polls have Baylor in the top 10, including the AP, but there were a lot of players leaving Waco. But maybe they should be higher with the championship pedigree now?
I think putting them at five does that in this league.
Matthew Mayer is going to be the go-to-player, but Baylor is going to be asking guys to step up to fill needs and I don’t think they have the point guard situation under control.
Adam Flagler and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchouwa give Baylor a three-headed attack that make them a sure preseason top 25 team.
Baylor also has the second-best incoming recruiting class in the conference, ranked No.13 by 247Sports. The highest-ranked recruit entering the conference is 6-foot-8 Kendal Brown, the No.11-ranked recruit in the country.
The point guard is probably Arizona/Georgetown transfer James Akinjo.
However, while I’m not going to be the person who picks the defending national champions to finish in the bottom half of their league, I do think a building year for Baylor is fair after losing the players they did. But Scott Drew shouldn’t be doubted anymore.
The Big-picture story: Fran Frachilla often talks about Kansas’ target. Teams seem to rise to the occasion to play the Jayhawks in this league. I don’t think any team faces the same thing that KU does. But I think that should/has to change now that Baylor has a championship on the resume.
Baylor should no longer expect to get sleep-walk games from the backend of the league anymore. Fans at a opposing arenas shouldn’t skip the Baylor game anymore. If that still happens, it’ll say a lot more about the league.
4. Oklahoma State Cowboys basketball
Why they are here: Isaac Likekele is back. Unlike the three teams above, he is a returning star in the Big 12 and probably a top three guard in this league.
This team is sneakily bringing back a lot of players from last year’s squad and the addition of Bryce Thompson (Kansas), Woody Newton (Syracuse) and Tyreke Smith (Texas Tech). OSU could be the toughest team to play in the Big 12.
The Big-Picture story: OSU will be barred from the NCAA Tournament. Oklahoma State was only allowed to play in last year’s tournament because its tournament ban appeal was still pending, thus allowing them and this year’s No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham to play in the tournament.
Perhaps that appeal works and OSU can play in March. Perhaps it doesn’t. And perhaps it doesn’t get addressed until next season. It would be awful for this team to learn of their fate during the season, so hopefully we’ll learn something soon or not at all. The same can be said for the team I expect to win the league.
3. West Virginia Mountaineers basketball
Why they are here: They might have been my No. 2 team had Miles McBride decided to return, but he’s gone. With McBride, WVU probably is on a shortlist of teams that could have made the Final Four. Without him, the Mountaineers didn't even receive a top 25 vote.
I have them third because I believe in coach Bob Huggins, and I think Taz Sherman, Jalen Bridges, Sean McNeil and Gabe Osabuohien give them the athletic ability to return to a pressing style. Huggins adjusted that style when his best player was Derek Culver. He’s gone. While I’m no WVU insider and can’t say for certain that they will do, if WVU goes back to the press -- and no coach has ever coached that style better than Huggins -- I expect WVU to win a lot.
Also, I expect freshman Kobe Johnson to be the darkhorse top freshman in the league. In a year where transfers highlight the best newcomers, Johnson, 3-star recruit, was the Ohio High School player of the year from Canton McKinley High School. He’s a darkhorse alright, because he’s also the No. 194th ranked recruit at 247 Sports.
The Big-picture story: This is the wildest prediction I have on here. I may wind up being more wrong about WVU than any team on this list. As much as this team could be really good and athletic, they could also bomb and be one of the worst teams in the league because I don’t believe they have the half court offense to win games, thus my prediction they'll press.
'Championship contender' zone
2. Texas Longhorns basketball
Why they are here: The curse Texas basketball has within in its program that started in the early 2010s has to end someday.
If Chris Beard can build an elite program in Lubbock, he should be able to do it in Austin. And it helps that Texas didn’t see a mass exodus of players after the hire.
Andrew Jones is back. So are Courtney Ramey, Jase Febres and Brock Cunningham. The first two I wasn’t sure would stick around. And while they did lose a lot of players to either the NBA or transfer portal, Texas replaced them with high-level transfers.
Tre Mitchell (UMass), Timmy Allen (Utah) and local product Dylan Disu (Vanderbilt) all averaged at least 15 points and two of them did it at Power 5 schools. Two more transfers, Christian Bishop (Creighton) and Devin Askew (Kentucky) were highly coveted.
But the biggest addition, the one that made this a top five team, is Marcus Carr. The Canadian was a standout at Minnesota and started his career at Pittsburgh. Carr averaged 19.4 points for the Gophers last season. He is a career 33.6% shooter from 3-point range, and shot 36.1% in 2019-2020. He has carried a reputation as being an in-efficient volume scorer in the past, but might have been the best transfer on the market this offseason.
Because of the coaching change and transfers, Texas’ high school recruiting class wasn’t loaded with just one, Jaylon Tyson (No. 33-ranked recruit) arriving on campus.
The Big-picture story: Point guard.
So many college basketball experts have Texas in the top 5 of the preseason rankings. It’s reflection of Chris Beard and what he’s done. But Beard’s teams the last two seasons were underachievers because of a lack of a true point guard. And Texas’ recent most disappointing teams -- Shaka Smart’s second season -- were disappointing because the point guard play was not good.
You can’t win big at the college basketball level without good to solid to elite point guard play. If Matt Coleman was coming back, I’d have Texas as the No. 1 team in the country.
Is Carr going to be that?
He averaged nearly five assists last season. He is a volume scorer and needs the ball in his hands.
He's also at Texas for a year. Can Beard develop Askew, once a marquee recruit for Kentucky, into a point guard longterm?
1. Kansas Jayhawks basketball
Why they are here: The more things change in this league, the more they stay the same. KU is the AP's No. 3-ranked team in the country and was chose by the Big 12 coaches as the favorite to win the league.
Many preseason polls have them ranging from 3-5. It steams from the decision of All-Pac 12 point guard Remy Martin, one of college basketball’s most prolific scoring point guards the last two seasons, picking KU.
Martin is the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year.
Bill Self’s work with point guards is often overlooked during his hall-of-fame career, but Self has had more success with point guards than big men at Kansas (Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Tyshawn Taylor, Frank Mason, DeVonte’ Graham, Devon Dotson). Last year’s team struggled not because of big man depth but because of a lack of scoring point guard that KU has had for years.
That not only changes but it has depth this year. KU has another transfer (Joseph Yesufu) and even a high-level recruit Bobby Pettiford at the position along with Martin. It should make Ochai Agbaji, KU’s top wing, and Christian Braun and Jalen Wilson even more dangerous. And David McCormick, the best big man in the league last year, is back.
All those new faces but yet four starters and two role players off the bench return.
On paper, KU is as a complete team as there is in the country with proven players in a program that has had success with transfers. It’s an older team, it’s an experienced team and it’s coached by Bill Self.
The big-picture story: No one knows when the IARP decision will come.
In April the NCAA said the decision will come within 12 months. KU was the third program to head to the new IARP board and then the pandemic struck that pushed everything back.
KU is facing 5 Level I NCAA violations. If the NCAA wants to avoid a PR situation, they would hold off on making any punishments that affect this season, and the same could be said for Oklahoma State. The way KU pursued both recruits (the best class in the league) and transfers indicate that the NCAA’s impending decision may not be on their mind. KU currently as the No. 3 2022 recruiting class in the country according to 247Sports.