1. Kansas Jayhawks
2014-15 Record 26-8 (13-5 Big 12)
Key Additions: Carlton Bragg, Lagerald Vick, Cheick Diallo
Key Losses: Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander
As Kansas wrapped up their exhibition season on Wednesday, the Allen Fieldhouse crowd broke into the chant “Free Diallo” during the second half of action. The biggest question going into the 2015-16 season for the defending conference champion Jayhawks, is if and when freshman Cheick Diallo will be able to suit up for Kansas. With or without the McDonalds, and Jordan Brand Classic MVP, KU brings back a rock solid group of upperclassmen that include Perry Ellis, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden Jr, and Jamari Traylor. Their depth chart is staggering when you throw in names like Landen Lucas, Hunter Mickelson, Devonte Graham, Brannen Greene, and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who all could start for a number of other Big 12 schools. It’s clear that the conference champs, 11 years running, are well equipped to bring back a 12th straight ring to Lawrence. Add Diallo to the mix, and their hardware collection could stretch well beyond the conference season.
Oklahoma was in for a pleasant surprise when reigning Big 12 Player of the Year, Buddy Hield decided to return to Norman for his senior season. Hield is an elite collegiate player who gives the Sooners a bona fide number one scoring option, and a confident leader on both ends of the floor. Many viewed teammate Isaiah Cousins as a potential breakout player going into this season if Hield were to leave, but the two can absolutely co-exist as a sharp shooting, athletic wing combination next to junior point guard, Jordan Woodard. Senior TaShawn Thomas is now playing professionally overseas, but despite losing his production, Lon Kruger has quietly built up an athletic, long, front line to pair with Ryan Spangler’s below the rim, gritty style of play. Sophomore Khadeem Lattin played well in limited minutes as a freshman, 6’10’’ Jamuni McNeace is now on the active roster after redshirting as a freshman, and shot blocking 7 footer, Akolda Manyang, has joined the team after two seasons at the junior college ranks. Experience, size, and athletic ability, are all represented in abundance on Oklahoma’s 2015-16 roster, and fully expect Lon Kruger’s squad to be among the best teams in the country.
3. Iowa State Cyclones
2014-15 Record 25-8 (12-6 Big 12)
Key Additions: Deonte Burton, Hallice Cooke, Brady Ernst
Key Losses: Bryce Dejean-Jones, Dustin Houge
The biggest loss for Iowa State this past season could very well be Fred Hoiberg who made the jump to the NBA coaching ranks. Still, they return three of the best players in the conference in Georges Niang, Monte Morris, and Jameel McKay. For a team going through a coaching change, they have a great deal of upperclassmen, experience, and depth. In addition, Naz Mitrou Long, and Matt Thomas provide excellent long range shooting, and Abdel Nader’s versatility make him a tough matchup. The one thing different from this year’s ISU team is the lack of a high level transfer. Deonte Burton is an amazing athlete, and is suiting up as a Cyclone for the first time this year, but is still rather unproven, and may take a while to hit his stride. Still, Steve Prohm was left an exciting roster by Hoiberg, and I would expect Iowa State to continue to be a major player in the Big 12, and the NCAA tournament.
Despite losing senior point guard, Kenny Chery, and defensive stopper, Royce O’Neale, the Bears are bringing back a formidable team capable of challenging anyone in the country on a given night. Lead by double-double machine, Rico Gathers, and versatile wing, Taurean Prince, Scott Drew’s Baylor team is one of the most experienced squads in the conference. Redshirt sophomore, Johnathan Motley is hoping to build on a solid freshman campaign, and his blend of defensive length, and offensive firepower could make him a player to watch in 2015-16. Baylor also brings in ESPN Top 100 player, and high scoring guard, King McClure, who could play a role out of the gate. In addition, Australian, Jo Acuil, is a mobile 7 footer who should also provide depth to Baylor’s front line. Expect the Bears to remain a presence in the top 25 rankings, as they look for redemption after falling victim to R.J. Hunter’s 25-foot dagger last March.
5. Texas Longhorns
2014-15 Record 20-13 (Big 12 8-10)
Key Additions: Kerwin Roach, Eric Davis, Tevin Mack
Key Losses: Myles Turner
As expected, Myles Turner completed his one year obligation at the NCAA level before hearing his name called in the lottery last June. Despite Turner’s talent, Texas is in a pretty good place as Shaka Smart takes the keys to Texas’ men’s basketball team. Lead by point guard, Isaiah Taylor, the Longhorns have a nice blend of size, speed, and shooting. Senior centers, Cameron Ridley, and Prince Ibeh are both experienced, and among the largest players in the conference. Throw Connor Lammert in off the bench, and even despite losing Turner, UT has a beastly front line. Smart’s backcourt is also extremely familiar. Javan Felix, Demarcus Holland, and Kendal Yancy have all played roles last season, and can help top recruit Eric Davis Jr acclimate to the guard position at the NCAA level. Kerwin Roach is also an exciting recruit, and with a new leader at the helm the Longhorns look to be a force this season, once again.
6. West Virginia Mountaineers
2014-15 Record 23-9 (11-7 Big 12)
Key Additions: Esa Ahmad, Teyvon Myers
Key Losses: Juwan Staten
Although the Mountaineers have lost West Virginia great, Juwan Staten, Bob Huggins brings back a great deal of talent back to Morgantown. A front line lead by Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton are a force, and potential All-Big 12 players this season. Sophomore guards, Daxter Miles, and Jevon Carter thrived in the Moutaineers fast paced scheme as freshmen, and look to break out as they take on larger roles on the team. 6’8’’ Esa Ahmad, ranked 46th in the class of 2015 by ESPN, was a huge signing, and provides depth at the forward spot along with Elijah Macon. Coach Huggins’ scheme is a nightmare for opposing ball handlers, and this season he has an extremely talented lineup to implement his 40 minutes in hell. The Mountaineers being ranked 6th says more about the conference’s depth, as WVU is capable of beating anyone in the conference, and are poised to earn another birth in the NCAA tournament.
Returning to the Cowboys is one of the premier shooters in the country, in Phil Forte, who is capable of catching fire, and gives OSU a bona fide number one option on offense; however, his supporting cast isn’t quite as prolific as last season. Defensive stopper, Michael Cobbins, will be replaced by sophomore big man Mitchell Solomon at the center position. Solomon has size, and intangibles, and while much different than Cobbins, he should be a key contributor. LeBryan Nash had been a staple for 4 years in Stillwater, and 6’7’’, Leyton Hammonds, will do his best to fill his void on the wing. Newcomers include, Jawun Evans, a high level recruit, who should provide key minutes in the starting lineup, or backing up Jeff Newberry. Transfer, Chris Olivier, will provide experience, and muscle down low after playing last season at EIU. Overall, Oklahoma State has taken a step back in terms of overall talent, but they have a nice blend of new faces, and up and coming players worthy of stepping into a bigger role. The Cowboys look to be a dangerous, middle of the pack team in the Big 12, and while not a post season lock, they certainly have the potential to be in the mix.
8. Texas Tech Red Raiders
2014-15 Record 13-19 (3-15 Big 12)
Key Additions: Jordan Jackson, CJ Williamson Jr, Devon Thomas
Key Losses: Robert Turner
Despite a humble 8th ranking in the Big 12 going into the NCAA season, Tubby Smith’s Red Raiders are an up and coming team in the conference. Texas Tech’s core is built around sophomores that played significant minutes as freshmen. Human pogo stick, Zach Smith, last year’s leader in both rebounds and blocked shots, could be a player to keep an eye on this season. His raw athleticism, and defensive potential provides him with a lot of room to grow. Power forward, Norense Odiase, and center Isaiah Manderson were also part of that freshman class, and both showed great promise at various points of the season. The lone senior slated for major playing time is Devaugntah Williams, who lead TTU in scoring as a junior. Keenan Evans, Toddrick Gotcher, and Justin Gray all look to contribute as well, so despite the Red Raiders’ youth, they’re shockingly experienced. Tubby Smith and company may not look to finish in the top half of the Big 12 this season, but this group of youngsters is extremely dangerous to those who may overlook them. For the most part, this is the same squad that upset Iowa State last season, but a year older, a year more experienced, and a squad that’s had time to gel.
9. Kansas State Wildcats
2014-15 Record 15-17 (8-10 Big 12)
Key Additions: Dante Williams, Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, Austin Budke
Key Losses: Marcus Foster, Thomas Gipson, Nino Williams, Nigel Johnson
Coach Weber has his work cut out for him this season in Manhattan, Kansas. Leading scorer, Marcus Foster, is now in Nebraska waiting out his transfer year before he can suit up for Creighton, while Thomas Gipson, and Nino Williams have graduated. Those three players were the Wildcats’ only double-digit scorers last season, and combined for 54% of K-State’s scoring. Leading this year’s Wildcat team will be Wesley Iwundu, who regressed a bit as a sophomore, but has a great deal of potential on the wing. Justin Edwards is extremely athletic and very capable of chipping in about every statistical column after coming off the bench as a junior. K-State has some intriguing new comers as well, which include, Dean Wade, Barry Brown, and Austin Budke, who all contributed in the Wildcats’ exhibition games. K-State’s youth could prove both exciting, and frustrating, but this season projects to be a rebuilding year for Kansas State.
10. TCU Horned Frogs
2014-15 Record 18-15 (4-14 Big 12)
Key Additions: JD Miller, Malique Trent, Vladimir Brodziansky
Key Losses: Kyan Anderson, Hudson Price, Amric Fields, Trey Zeigler
The Horned Frogs, of TCU, will have to discover a way to make up for a great deal of production lost to graduating players and transfers. The good news is the junior class, lead by Karviar Shepherd, and Brandon Parrish have been key contributors since they arrived on campus, and sophomore, Chauncey Collins is a capable scorer who will likely slide into the starting lineup as well. 6’10’’ sophomore, Vladimir Brodziansky, is a versatile big man who also looks to contribute out of the gate after a junior college stint in Pratt, Kansas. Much like last season, TCU lined up a non-conference schedule chalked full of cupcakes, so expect a good record until the end of the 2015. The trouble will come during the Big 12 season, where wins will be much harder to earn.
All Big 12, First Team
All Big 12, Second Team
Devonte Graham (Kansas), Zach Smith (Texas Tech), Naz Mitrou Long (Iowa State), Johnathan Motley (Baylor), Jevon Carter (West Virginia), Wesley Iwundu (Kansas State), Cameron Ridley (Texas), Jonathan Holton (West Virginia), Justin Edwards (Kansas State), Vladimir Brodziansky (TCU)
Top 5 Draft Prospects
1.Cheick Diallo – Kansas
The Big 12 is chalked full of freshman talent this season, but Diallo is the lone potential one-and-done player this year. Diallo’s physical length, athletic ability, and intense motor make him a true force on defense, and although his offensive game is not particularly polished, his physical tools will allow him to contribute at on the glass, and on D right away at the NBA level.
2.Buddy Hield – Oklahoma
Buddy Hield will pick up right where he left off as a junior, and that is one of the best collegiate players in the country. Hield is a deadly long-range shooter, with solid NBA positional size, and while not a lock down defender, he’s clearly a step ahead of most offensively focused shooting guards. Buddy is a potential 1st rounder who can contribute as a rookie.
3.Taurean Prince – Baylor
Taurean Prince’s ability to knock down long range shots, and provide excellent defense make him a potential 2nd round pick after his senior season. Prince’s role on for the Bears looks to expand after a junior season in which he lead the team in scoring off the bench. Taurean can play D, hit long range bombs, and rebound, but continued growth offensively will determine how high he rises on draft night.
4.Isaiah Cousins – Oklahoma
Isaiah Cousins is another Big 12 prospect that can really get hot from downtown. A little on the thin side, Cousins is a great athlete, and another solid defensive player who will most likely be among the best 3 point shooters in the conference. He’s a tad undersized for an NBA shooting guard, but shooting and athletic ability are two things that translate to the NBA, and Cousins has both.
5.Perry Ellis – Kansas
Although a bit of a tweener, Perry Ellis continues to get in better shape, and improve his game every season. At 6’8’’, Ellis does not project as a true NBA power forward, but he doesn’t really fit the mold of an NBA small forward either. What makes him intriguing is his improved long range shot, his ability to post up mismatches, and his improved conditioning has taken him from a mobile freshman, to an explosive, ripped senior. Ellis is probably a system fit at the NBA level, but he will still most likely be in the mix on draft night.
Follow David Ray on twitter @DR_NBADraft