Last season the Big 12 was regarded as the deepest conference in college basketball. With 7 teams making the NCAA tournament, and 1 qualifying for the NIT, there was virtually never an easy game once the conference season started. This year the mid conference depth takes a step back, but the power at the top of the league is staggering. Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, and Iowa State are all Final 4 contenders, and Kansas State isn’t far behind. Baylor and Oklahoma State are in the mix for post season play, and even TCU has made major strides when compared to last season. Despite the power at the top, the Big 12 will remain incredibly competitive heading in to the 2014-15 season, and will most likely see at the very least half of it’s schools in the Big Dance.
1. Kansas Jayhawks
2013-2014 Record: 31-6(14-4)
Lost in round of 32
With a running total of 10 straight Big 12 regular season titles, the Jayhawks are back at the top of the conference projections despite losing Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins in the first three picks of the 2014 NBA draft. Bill Self has really hit his stride as a recruiter as he re-loads with another top 10 recruiting class. The 2014 class is headlined by potential one and done players Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, and long term prospect Svi Mykhailiuk. Unlike last year, KU brings a little more experience to surround this year’s class of freshman as Self again fields a team capable of defending this outrageously dominant streak of conference hardware.
Last year’s team that was one of the most inexperienced in the country, but the 2014-15 Jayhawks bring back junior forward, and last year’s 2nd leading scorer, Perry Ellis. Ellis’ ability to score facing up or in the paint will provide KU with an experienced offensive technician when a bucket is needed in a pinch. Former 5 star recruit and another double digit scorer from last year, Wayne Selden also chose to come back to Lawrence, and after a minor knee surgery is look as explosive as ever. Combo guard, Frank Mason, and sharpshooter Brannen Green also saw time as freshmen, and rounding out the returning contributors are athletic forward Jamari Traylor and 6’10’’ center, Landen Lucas. Both bigs give the Jayhawks different looks, and veteran stability. The new faces are exciting ones. Cliff Alexander is a bruiser, who could contend for the Big 12’ rebounding and shot blocking crown as a freshman, and Kelly Oubre is chalked full of potential, but is still polished enough to contribute right off the bat. Transfer Hunter Michelson is legit rim protector, and also coming over from another program, Devonte Graham, gives KU something that they’ve missed for years now, and that’s a true pass first point guard to bring the team together. Naadir Tharpe and Elijah Johnson struggled as distributors in years past, but Graham is constantly drawing comparisons to All-Time Big 12 assist leader, Aaron Miles. A real wild card for this season could be 6’8’’ Ukrainian, Svi Mykhailiuk, who boasts three position versatility but may not be ready for many minutes this season. Although late to join the team, he was gaining valuable experience playing in the FIBA World Championship at only 17 years of age, and has the ability to earn a larger role as the season progresses.
The Jayhawks have a lot of weapons as usual, and how quickly and how well they can mesh will determine how many games KU wins this season. Alexander and Oubre are potential top 10 picks in the 2015 NBA Draft, but the experience of Selden, Ellis, and Mason could be the real keys to how this team gels as a unit, and ultimately how far they advance in the NCAA tournament. There’s a lot of competition at the top of the Big 12 this season, but the Jayhawks still have all the pieces in place to add to their streak and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
2. Texas Longhorns
2012-13 Record 24-11(11-7)
Lost in round of 32
Key Departures: None
When a team that finished 4th in the conference a year ago returns every starter, and lands one of the top recruits in the country, there’s usually only one way to go, and that’s up. Rick Barnes’ squad has possibly the biggest frontline in the NCAA, outside of Kentucky, and has slew of experienced guards, and talented forwards at his disposal. With the top of the Big 12 in a very tight race, the Longhorns project to be a major player in deciding who takes home the conference crown.
Myles Turner is the big new addition for the Longhorns, and his length at 6’11’’ and sweet mid range shooting touch is a near perfect style contrast to pair next to 6’10’’ bruiser Cameron Ridley. The two big men will be an imposing combination of sheer strength and low block prowess, and more a finesse inside outside style with an emphasis in swatting shots and protecting the rim. As if those two aren’t a hard enough matchup, Barnes can bring 6’10’’ 260 pound athlete, Prince Ibeh, off the bench for a tough nosed defensive minded look, and 6’9’’ Connor Lammert who shot 34% from deep as a sophomore. The potential lineups Texas can run are almost limitless as combo forward, and last year’s leading scorer, Jonathan Holmes comes back with his well balanced perimeter game and ability to play the 3 and 4 spots. This Longhorn team isn’t just potent in the front court, as all three starting guards from last year return to Austin. Isaiah Taylor is one of the fastest players in the NCAA ranks, and shoulders most of the point guard duties for UT. His direction changing ability, knack of getting in the paint, and skill in the drive and kick game make him a great guy to lead this promising squad. Demarcus Holland, Javan Felix, and Kendal Yancy are all experienced and look to get minutes for the Longhorns as well. Turner wasn’t the only high level recruit coming in either, as Jordan Barnett also joins the recruiting class of 2014 along with junior college forward Obinna Oleka.
Coach Barnes has all the talent and depth needed to win the conference and contend for a national championship at his disposal this year. He can go big, and field a front court with NBA size, or go back to the three guard lineups that he ran last season. The experience for the Longhorns is also key, as their leading scorer is a senior, and their starting point guard has a season as a full time starter under his belt. The talent is there, and if Texas maximizes their potential they could be insanely good, and even if they don’t UT has the ability be a very dangerous to any team in the country.
3. Oklahoma Sooners
2013-14 Record 23-10(12-6)
Lost in round of 64
Key Departures: Cameron Clark, Je’lon Hornbeak, Tyler Neal
As the Oklahoma Sooners enter the 2014-15 season, 4th year head coach Lon Kruger easily boasts his deepest and most talented squad since he arrived in Norman. Big 12 Player of the Year contender, Buddy Hield, headlines this Oklahoma roster, but outside of the loss of Cameron Clark to graduation, the Sooners retain just about every key contributor from last year. OU also brings in one of the highest ranked transfer players, in TaShawn Taylor, and an athletic recruiting class. After two straight NCAA tournament births, Kruger has the talent to take this year’s team even further.
Hield is the clear headliner of this roster, who gives them a knock down shooter and a guy who could very well lead the conference in scoring. Formerly a team that often ran a 4 guard lineup, the new look Oklahoma Sooners are a bigger, more rugged version of last year’s team. 6’8’’ power forward, Ryan Spangler, lead the Big 12 in rebounding last season as OU’s sole post player, but 6’8’’ 240 pound Tashawn Thomas now gives the Sooners two high caliber starting forwards. Thomas also is a high level shot blocker, who brings a rim protection element that was clearly lacking a season ago. Aside from Thomas, Kruger brings in super athletic ESPN top 100 recruit, Dante Buford, plus the 6’9’’ and 6’10’’ duo of Khadeem Lattin and Jamuni McNease. All three players are terrific athletes, and McNease brings a staggering 7’4’’ wingspan and major defensive potential to Norman. Jordan Woodard is a promising young distributor and returns to man the point guard duties after a very solid freshman campaign. Dinjiyl Walker is a sharp shooting combo guard coming over from the junior college ranks, who’ll pair well with sophomore Frank Booker and Hield to create plenty of space for Oklahoma’s newfound size and post prowess.
Kruger’s mastery as an in game coaching strategist, paired with such a deep, experienced and talented squad make OU a legit contender to win the Big 12 title, and go deep into the NCAA tournament. Hield is one of the best players in the conference, and this year’s team is far from a one man show. The existing chemistry between the returning players will be key in incorporating the new guys. The Sooners have a star player, an experienced point guard, post size, spacing, depth and a hall of fame coach to bring it all together.
4. Iowa State Cyclones
2013-14 Record 28-8(11-7)
Lost in Sweet 16
Iowa State, under Fred Hoiberg, has begun to cement itself as a major player in the Big 12 on a year in and year out basis. Losing Big 12 player of the year, Melvin Ejim, and dynamic starting point guard, DeAndre Kane, the Cyclones continue to reload at an elite level. Coach Hoiberg, is a true transfer whisperer. This year, he brought in Marquette big man, Jameel McKay, and high scoring guard Bryce Dejean-Jones from UNLV to fill a lineup headed by a leaner, meaner Georges Niang. A solid group of role players and specialists also return and the new look Cyclones are back in business for 2014-2015.
The clear headliner of this roster is Junior combo forward Georges Niang, who has ditched his familiar, doughy physique in favor of a more toned, athletic version. Already insanely skilled, his newfound quickness and stamina make him a serious threat to bring home the second straight Big 12 player of the year award to Ames. Joining him is sophomore point guard Monte Morris, who is tailor made for Hoiberg’s run and gun offense. As a freshman, Morris sported a 4.625 Assist to Turnover ratio, and shot over 40% from downtown. Monte could really be a breakout player in the upcoming season. Coming over from the transfer ranks are Jameel McKay, who’s much needed length pairs well with Dustin Houge’s undersized rebounding prowess and athletic ability. Formerly of UNLV, Bryce Dejean-Jones brings a 6’6’’ frame and scoring experience to the Cyclones. Hallice Cooke also comes over from Oregon State, and add’s to ISU’s immense depth at the guard spot that also includes sharp shooters Matt Thomas, Naz Long, and freshman Clayton Custer. Young 7 footer Georgios Tsalmpouris is also part of Hoiberg’s recruiting class, and although he doesn’t project to play big minutes, his size now gives Iowa State a new element when matching up with bigger teams.
The Iowa State Cyclones look to be as dangerous as ever in the Big 12. Led by Niang, Hoiberg may be fielding his deepest team during his stint in Ames. Possibly his biggest, as well. ISU will most certainly be a contender at the top of the conference, and a team worthy of earning a very high seed in the NCAA tournament. As is with all teams who lose their leading scorer and primary ball handler from the year before, Iowa State will need to adjust and work on chemistry, but if and when they put it all together, they’ll be a high scoring nightmare for opposing defenses.
5. Kansas State Wildcats
2013-14 Record: 20-13(10-8)
Lost in round of 64
Key Departures: Will Spradling, Shane Southwell
Entering year three of the Bruce Weber era, Kansas State has a lot to look forward to in the upcoming season. The Wildcats have a true, go to scorer in super soph, Marcus Foster, and they bring back a number key contributors from the 2013-14 season. K-State does lose two high minute players in Will Spradling, and Shane Southwell, but the guys waiting in the wings may indeed be upgrades.
The return of a scorer as prolific as Marcus Foster is a huge asset, especially when he’s playing for a defensive minded coach, like Weber. Foster will most likely be in the mix for the Big 12 scoring title, and his prowess as a scorer and big game player is only looking to improve this year. Joining him in the backcourt is Nigel Johnson, who never really found his groove as a freshman, but is lightning quick and has the potential to make big strides during his second college season. 6’7’’ swingman Wesley Iwundu is another guy with breakout potential, as he worked very well as a glue guy during his first season. He flashed athleticism, a nice shooting touch and has the ability to play both the shooting guard and small forward spot. Senior Nino Williams is a nice role player, who also has two position versatility. The stout frontline of Thomas Gipson and D.J. Williams gain some help from athletic, 6’7’’ freshman Malek Harris, lanky Georgetown transfer, Brandon Bolden, and massive Junior College alum Stephen Hurt. K-State brings a deep, well rounded roster into the upcoming season.
Bruce Weber’s stingy defense paired with the scoring of Marcus Foster will make K-State a dangerous team to just about anybody in the Big 12. They have a lot of depth, and a physical, experienced front line. Scoring outside of Foster may prove to be a challenge, and the improvements of sophomores Wesley Iwundu, and Nigel Johnson could play a major role in how far the Wildcats go. Expect Kansas State to be back in the NCAA tournament for the 6th straight season, and involved in a tight race in the top half of the Big 12 standings.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
2013-14 Record 21-13(8-10)
Lost in round of 64
Oklahoma State enters the 2014-15 season without their highest drafted player since Big Country Reeves, and Marcus Smart isn’t their only key player gone. High flyer Markell Brown joins Smart in the NBA, and post man Kamari Murphy decided to take his talent to South Beach, well, the University of Miami. Coach Ford and the Cowboys do return some talent, and bring in a nice recruiting class to help adjust to the post Smart era.
Oklahoma State will not be lacking in outside shooting as long as Phil Forte is a Cowboy, and his 98 threes were 2nd in the Big 12 last year. Forte looks to join either, Juco All-American, Jeff Newberry, or LSU transfer, Anthony Hickey, in OSU’s starting backcourt. Senior Forward, LeBryan Nash, provides them with a probable #1 scoring option and key wing defender, and freshman swingman Joe Burton will probably share some minutes at the 2 and 3 spots for Travis Ford. Michael Cobbins missed much of last season with an achilles injury, and his presence as a rim protector was sincerely missed. His toughness and athleticism plus, Juco transfer, Anthony Allen’s 7’1’’ 245 lb frame, and the inside/outside game freshman big Mitch Solomon will give OSU a better front line than the gang that limped down the stretch last season.
Oklahoma State is looking to get back to the NCAA tournament, and I certainly think they have a chance. The NIT could also be in the mix for the Cowboys, but Coach Ford’s bunch has enough experience, scoring, and depth to be a player in the middle of the Big 12, and if they find a way to gel, they could make a push up the list.
7. Baylor Bears
2013-14 Record: 26-12(9-9)
Lost in Sweet 16
Baylor is looking at a bit of a rebuilding year after losing two parts of one of the longest front lines in the NCAA last season, as well as one of the most prolific 3 point shooters in Big 12 history. Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin, and Brady Heslip are no longer suiting up for Scott Drew’s Bears, and although he brings back some nice upperclassmen, the talent lost will most likely showcase a Baylor team with a vastly different identity than last year’s squad.
Senior point guard, Kenny Chery, and power forward, Rico Gathers highlight the group of players returning to Baylor. Chery is an unselfish floor leader, who can do a little bit of everything, but may have to step up his role as a scorer this year. The burly Gathers is a monster on the glass, and is my pre-season favorite to lead the Big 12 in rebounding. Now that Rico is in the starting lineup, he should be good for double digits in the rebounding column on a nightly basis. The Bears also return 3 solid defensive swingmen in Royce O’Neale, Taurean Prince, and Ish Wainright, but Baylor looks like a team that may struggle to score points. Also joining the Baylor backcourt is Lester Medford, who comes over from Indian Hills CC, and high upside project Damiyne Durham. Front court additions, T.J. Maston, and Deng Deng will provide help for Gathers, and 6’9’’ Jonathan Motley takes off his red-shirt to give Baylor a much needed rim protector.
The Bears shift from a team chalked full of NBA length, to an undersized group of scrappers, but they do pack enough punch to be a factor in the conference standings. Chery and Gathers are absolute gamers, and should provide the fire and leadership necessary to bring this group together. Coach Drew’s squad should be in the hunt for post season tournament play, whether it be a birth in the NCAA tournament or the NIT. Baylor’s scoring, and lack of experience for their reserves are their biggest concerns, but I feel they could be an overachieving team in 2014-15.
8.West Virginia Mountaineers
2013-14 Record: 17-16(9-9)
Lost in NIT first round
At the end of last season, West Virginia’s upcoming Big 12 projection looked pretty bright. Juwan Staten had a monster junior year, Eron Harris was among the top scorers in the conference, and Terry Henderson was a nice 3rd option for the Mountaineers. Where things fell off a bit is when Harris and Henderson decided to leave Morgantown, and Bob Huggins is once again forced to pull together a roster that is vastly different than the year before.
On the bright side, Staten is a fantastic player to headline a team. The senior point is a fearless scorer, good distributer, and all around stat stuffer, who projects as one of the best guards in the NCAA this season. WVU also returns sophomore bruiser, Devin Williams, who posted great rebounding numbers as a freshman, and hopes to build on his all around game. Huggins also brings in 4 star guard, Daxter Miles, who has the ability to play both guard positions, and will most likely need to with Harris and Henderson gone. The Mountaineers also gain some help down low with the addition of senior, Jonathan Holton, after stops in Rhode Island and at the Junior College ranks. At 6’9’’ 240 lbs, Elijah Macon has cleared his eligibility issues, and joins returning contributors Nathan Adrian, and Kevin Noreen to round out a deep, big bodied front line.
The 2013-14 guard heavy Mountaineers are in Bob Huggins’ rearview mirror headed into the 2014-15 season, but luckily he brings back the most prolific of the bunch. West Virginia can still be a dangerous team because they have an elite level college player, and a plethora of big men over 6’8’’ to control the glass. The adjustment of Miles, and the improvement of Williams will play a large role in how for WVU can go. Although consistency outside of Juwan Staten may prove to be West Virginia’s biggest hurdle, you can still expect them to be a tough defensive squad with the potential to upset teams throughout the conference.
9. TCU Horned Frogs
2013-14 Record: 9-22(0-18)
Key Additions: Chauncey Collins, Link Kabadyundi, Kenrich Williams, Trey Zeigler
Key Departures: Jarvis Ray
It’s really hard to get worse than the Horned Frogs’ 2013-14 campaign, and the good news is that it’s hard not to predict improvement for Trent Johnson’s young squad. TCU returns nearly their entire roster, including 17 ppg scorer Kyan Anderson, and a promising sophomore class lead by Karviar Shephard, and Brandon Parrish. The road will not be easy, but entering Johnson’s 3rd season, his rebuilding plan is becoming more clear.
TCU returns one of the Big 12’s most underrated guards, in Kyan Anderson. Although the production from players on 0 conference win teams is often taken with a grain of salt, Anderson is a gamer who not only scored 17 per game, but dished out 4.5 assists and shot 40% from downtown. He’s joined by last year’s 2nd leading scorer, Amric Fields, and a very promising group of second year players. TCU’s biggest name sophomore, Shephard, had a nice freshman year and with an off-season in the weight room is poised to make a nice jump. Swingman Brandon Parrish also returns, and looks to build on his solid freshman campaign in which he averaged 8 points per game. Coach Johnson also added a little depth at the guard spot in landing 3 star recruit, Chauncey Collins, and Pitt transfer Trey Zeigler, who was once a double digit scorer for CMU. He also bolstered his front court lineup in adding 7’ Link Kabadyundi, and JC transfer Kenrich Williams.
Johnson has senior leaders, a go to scorer, and a 6’10’’ big man who can both face up and guard the rim. Nearly everyone who projects to play a major role has at least one season under their belts, and although a post season birth is most likely out of reach in 2014-15, the Horned Frogs look to be significantly better than last year, and have the potential to steal some games from some of the teams in the middle of the conference.
10.Texas Tech Red Raiders
2013-14 Record: 14-18(6-12)
Key Additions: Isaiah Manderson, Justin Gray, Keenan Evans, Justin Jamison, Zach Smith, Norense Odiase
After a surprisingly solid 2013-14 season, Coach Smith has his work cut out for him once again in Lubbock. After losing senior contributors, Jaye Crocket, and Dejan Kravic, to graduation, the Red Raiders also fell victim to the transfer bug. Second and fourth leading scorers, Jordan Tolbert, and Dusty Hannahs parted ways with Tubby Smith and headed to SMU and Arkansas, respectively. Texas Tech has a pretty big talent gap, when compared to the rest of the Big 12, and although Smith has coached up teams in the past, building on their 6 conference wins from last year remains a lofty goal.
Texas Tech returns their starting point guard from last season, Robert Turner, which is a good sign for uniting a group of new faces and inexperienced returnees. Junior combo guard, Toddrick Gotcher was also a contributor from least year is a nice glue player who can do a little bit of everything at the guard spot. Highlighting Smith’s 2014 recruiting class is 6’10’’ freshman Isaiah Manderson. The young center, is a big body, and a guy who could play a major role out of the gate. Probable starter, and juco transfer, 6’9’’ 260 pound, Justin Jamison is another big body, who originally committed to Ohio State, but chose to purse a baseball career before returning to the hardwood. Sophomore forward tandem, Aaron Ross and Alex Foster are looking to build on quiet freshman seasons now that TTU’s big minute forwards from last year are playing ball in Europe or with other D1 programs.
The transferring of Tolbert, and Hannahs is a big blow for the Red Raiders when looking at the the 2014-15 NCAA season. The return of Turner and Gotcher do give them two experienced ball handlers, and the bulk of Manderson and Jamison give them post size on par with some of the bigger Big 12 teams. Tubby Smith will have to blend this group of young players, and hopefully build for a stronger run next year and beyond, but the prognosis for this season is one at the bottom of the conference.
All Big 12, First Team
Juwan Staten – West Virginia
Marcus Foster – Kansas State
Buddy Hield – Oklahoma
Wayne Selden – Kansas
Georges Niang – Iowa State
All Big 12, Second Team
Isaiah Taylor – Texas
Cliff Alexander – Kansas
LeBryan Nash – Oklahoma State
Perry Ellis – Kansas
Myles Turner – Texas
All Big 12, Third Team
Monte Morris – Iowa State
Kelly Oubre – Kansas
Rico Gathers – Baylor
Cameron Ridley – Texas
Ryan Spangler – Oklahoma
Top 5 2015 Draft Prospects
1. Kelly Oubre F, Kansas
Kelly Oubre may not waltz into Lawrence and break freshman scoring records like Andrew Wiggins did last year, but he has that same kind of wing athletic ability and length that makes scouts drool. At 6’7’’ with a 7’1.5’’ wingspan, he has excellent positional size for a shooting guard, and the ability to play the small forward spot as well. His shooting touch, and the fact that he’s a left hander make him very intriguing as his foundation is pretty solid, and his ceiling is extremely high.
2. Cliff Alexander F, Kansas
At 6’9’’ in shoes, Cliff Alexander doesn’t have jaw dropping size for an NBA power forward, but his chiseled frame, high motor, and 7’2’’ wingspan will help ease his transition. In addition, he’s a little bigger than the 7th pick of the 2014 Draft, Julius Randle. A player who projects as a rebounder right away, Cliff still needs to develop his offensive game and shot, to reach his potential, but at only 18 years old and already projected to be one of the better players in the Big 12, he has plenty of time and the potential to do just that.
3. Isaiah Taylor G, Texas
A player in the mix when discussing the fastest players in the NCAA, Isaiah Taylor has an elite physical tool, and that is his speed and direction changing ability. At 6’3’’ he’s pretty decent sized for an NBA point guard, but does lack a great wingspan and strength. He has real potential as a drive and kick and pick and roll point guard in the NBA, and with another season with the Longhorns could really hone his skills as a floor general. He will have to work on his jump shooting, and range to really make waves in the draft.
4. Myles Turner F/C, Texas
Miles Turner has prototypical NBA length standing 6’11’’ and sporting a massive 7’4’’ wingspan. He projects as an NBA rim protector and great weak side shot blocker, and has the size to play both the power forward positions and center spots at the next level. He also boasts a good foundation as an offensive player, with good form on his jumper, and nice passing instincts. An average athlete, by NBA standards, more time in the weight room, and work to improve his mobility will serve him well going forward.
5. Wayne Selden G, Kansas
Wayne Selden was known as a strong bodied slasher in High School, and settled in to more of a shooting role as a college freshman. Entering his 2nd year in Lawrence, a now healthy Selden has the ability to establish himself as the all around shooting guard he has the skills and natural ability to do. A very good perimeter defender, his 6’5’’ 230 pound frame gives him great positional size for an NBA shooting guard, and his ball handling and shooting are on par with high level 2 guard prospects. Wayne will need to assert himself more this season and prove he’s worth a lottery selection, or risk dropping on draft boards.
Follow David Ray on twitter @DR_NBADraft