Jarrett Allen and James Banks haven’t played a minute of basketball for the Longhorns, but the long, tall and dynamic freshmen big men are already starting to get some deserved buzz. Both are finalist for Team USA’s U18 team this week, a team coached by their future Longhorn leader Shaka Smart, and both are impressing many who are watching.
Allen is no stranger to the spotlight and is even being considered a lottery pick in next year’s NBA Draft, while Banks, a 4-star recruit originally from Georgia who played his high school ball in Indiana, has seemingly only gotten better since his commitment.
The talent coming to Texas in the front court is needed after the Longhorns lost Prince Ibeh, Cameron Ridley and Connor Lammert last season.
So where will the Longhorns front court rank in the Big 12?
Let’s rank ’em:
10. Iowa State
The Cyclones are in trouble down low this coming season. Whether that matters for a team with some of the best perimeter players in the league is another question. The Cyclones’ likely starters in the front court at center and power forward are a mix of new players. Darrell Bowie (transfer from Norther Illinois), incoming freshman Solomon Young, transfer Merrill Holden, sophomore Simeon Cater (all 6-foot-8-inches tall) and freshman Cameron Lard and transfer Ray Kasongo are 6-foot-9-inches are likely front court players. Walk-on Stuart Nezlek is the tallest guy on the roster at 6-foot-10-inches. He’s a senior who joined the team last year.
9. West Virginia
The Mountaineers would have been No. 1 on this list had Devin Williams returned. He didn’t, and now it’s a guess as to who will be rebounding and playing in the front court for a team full of returning guards. The star of the WVU recruiting class is Polish product Maciej Bender. The 6-foot-10 forward may be paired with Nathan Adrian, who has started 22 games in his career, including four last year. Lamont West and Esa Ahmad could be options as well.
8. Oklahoma State
A team that could have one of the best guard tandems in college basketball next season with Phil Forte and Jawun Evans will have returning starter Mitchell Solomon in the front court. The 6-foot-9 Solomon started 26 games last season. After Solomon, who only averaged a little more than three points last season, the options are a little unknown. Junior college transfer Tyrek Coger (6-foot-8) could be the answer.
7. Texas Tech
Aaron Ross is a returning honorable mention All-Big 12 selection from last season. He teams with returning post players Justin Gray, Zach Smith and Norense Odiase. Ross has never been a full-time starter, averaging 10.3 points and 4.5 rebounds off the bench last season. Texas Tech has some experience returning in the front court next season.
Seniors Karviar Shepherd and Chris Washburn are the two best players on the TCU roster. Shepherd has been a fixture in the starting lineup since his freshman season. He battled injuries last season that limited his production, but he’s started 85 games in three years and has 97 career blocks and averages 5.9 rebounds per game. Washburn, the son of former North Carolina State standout with the same name, transferred from UTEP after his freshman season and has been a standout the last two years for TCU. Washburn missed 11 games due to injuries last season but has 81 career blocks.
Khadeem Lattin alone makes Oklahoma one of the best returning post teams in the league. Lattin was one of the most important players at Oklahoma last season. The 6-foot-9 forward was an All-Big 12 Defensive team selection and started 37 games. While his numbers don’t jump off the page, he’s as solid of a true front court player on this list. He also played some his best basketball in the Sooners’ biggest games, including going for a double-double against Kansas on the road last season and scoring the game-winning basket against West Virginia. Behind Lattin the Sooners are searching for answers, especially after having to dismiss Lattin’s likely post mate in Akolada Manyang last month.
4. Kansas State
D.J. Johnson and All-Big 12 third team selection Wesley Iwundu are the best players returning for K-State this season. Johnson, an imposing 6-foot-9, 250 pound post shot 60.4 percent from the field last season. Iwundu may not be a power forward, but he was the Wildcats’ MVP last season and was a Big 12 All-Defensive Team selection. The 6-foot-7 forward will be key to everything for the Wildcats. Incoming players like James Love III, Isaiah Maurice and 7-footer Dante Williams should create a nice front court mix.
The “Fro Brothers” make the Longhorns’ front court very long and athletic and also very young. With Shaq Cleare also likely in the mix (probably starting the season as the starting power forward) Texas’ perceived biggest weakness a few weeks ago is suddenly in good shape. Throw in “stretch four” Mareik Isom at 6-foot-9 and the Longhorns could have a very dynamic front court.
Jonathan Motley will be the best returning player on Baylor’s roster. The 6-foot-9-inch, 230 pound forward started 34 games for the Bears last season and led Baylor with 46 blocks. With the loss of Rico “give me all the rebounds” Gathers, Motley’s play on the boards will likely be the difference between Baylor being a strong NCAA Tournament team and a NIT Team. Jo Acuil will be the biggest difference maker for any team on this list. If the 7-foot, 210-pound Australian center can utilize his eye-popping length and the skills that once made him the No.1-ranked junior college recruit in 2015, then Baylor will be in good shape when it comes to replacing Taurean Prince and Gathers.
The Jayhawks’ 12 straight Big 12 title pathway was built on post play. The possible 13th straight title could be as well. The likely overwhelming favorite to win the Big 12 again, the Jayhawks have two former McDonald’s All-Americans on the front court along with returning starting center Landen Lucas. Carlton Bragg Jr., a 2015 McDonald’s All-American, will likely join Lucas on the front line. Meanwhile 2016 McDonald’s All-American, the mammoth 7-foot, 280 pound Udoka Azubuike along with top-50 2016 recruit Mitch Lightfoot and Ole Miss transfer Dwight Coleby, round out the post. Kansas hasn’t employed the high-low offense as often as they used to in recent seasons, but that could change in 2016-17.