November 24, 2020

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Big 12 College Basketball Preview

by Zack Lambert (@bigbird8224)
November 22nd, 2020

A quick reminder of how the teams finished last season (order based on seeding in the Big 12 Tournament):

  1. Kansas Jayhawks: 28-3 (17-1)
  2. Baylor Bears: 26-4 (15-3)
  3. West Virginia Mountaineers: 21-10 (9-9)
  4. Oklahoma Sooners: 19-12 (9-9)
  5. Texas Longhorns: 19-12 (9-9)
  6. Texas Tech Red Raiders: 18-13 (9-9)
  7. Oklahoma State Cowboys: 18-14 (7-11)
  8. TCU Horned Frogs: 16-16 (7-11)
  9. Iowa State Cyclones: 12-20 (5-13)
  10. Kansas State Wildcats: 11-21 (3-15)

Kansas Jayhawks

2019-20 Record: 28-3 (17-1)

The 2019/20 version of the Kansas Jayhawks were my (and the Lynq College Basketball Team’s) pick to win the national title after a dominant regular season. Kansas checked all the boxes with really good guards, an efficient big man, great defense, and good shooters. In fact, Kansas laid claim to the 4th most efficient defense in the country and the most efficient offense and defense in the Big 12.

However, with the end of that season came the impactful departures of two stars, Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson, as well as the loss of Isaiah Moss who was a key role player. That’s nearly 40 points and 17 rebound worth of production lost, not to mention the playmaking abilities of Dotson.  However, this is still Kansas and the combination of recruiting and depth will leave them far from vulnerable.

Returning point guard and lockdown defender Marcus Garrett is likely to take over duties at point guard after leading the team in assists last season with 4.6 per contest. Beside him will be 5-star true freshman Bryce Thompson who was a terror around the rim in high school. He’ll need to improve his outside shooting to be able to take over games at this level, but Christian Braun will help take some of that load off when he’s in the game.

Size is not an asset for this Kansas team, but athleticism still is and that’s what’s going to be used at the other positions. Ochai Agbaji is another really talented player who will start as a swingman. He was a decent shooter last season and did a little bit of everything. The attention won’t be on him again this season so he ought to be comfortable where he is. Power forward is a bit of a mystery position in terms of starters but with plenty of options like Mitch Lightfoot, Silvio de Souza, and JUCO transfer Tyon Grant-Foster on the roster, Kansas won’t worry too much.

Replacing Azubuike will be the toughest job in the country and is entrusted to 6’10 junior David McCormack. McCormack started a lot of games last season but was largely unable to play with Azibuike on the floor due to spacing issues. Though he’s a solid scorer and rebounder he doesn’t have the defensive presence of his predecessor which will make things a bit tougher for Kansas. When he leaves the floor the Jayhawks will probably opt to play some form of small-ball with faster offensive possessions.

Projected Starting Lineup
G: Marcus Garrett
G: Bryce Thompson
F: Ochai Agbaji
F: Tyon Grant-Foster
C: David McCormack

Big 12 Conference Title Odds: +170

2020/21 Projected Big 12 Ranking: 2nd

2020/21 Projected Postseason Placement: NCAA Tournament #2 seed

Baylor Bears

2019-20 Record: 26-4 (15-3)

Baylor was one of the many sweetheart teams in college basketball last season who were denied their right to compete for a very possible title, but with a strong returning cast and some really talented freshmen on their way in, Baylor is more than prepared for another deep run.

The only real loss from last season’s team is Freddie Gillespie, a senior big who was 4th in scoring and topped the team sheet in rebounding. Without that presence around the rim Baylor will struggle to retain their 9th ranked defensive efficiency status, but Tristan Clark and Matthew Mayer have the size to put up points and rebounds while Flo Thamba (a very suspicious name for a big man in the state of Texas) has the makings of a defensive stopper.

Scoring won’t be an issue for the Bears as their three leading scorers are all returning. The three guards, Jared Butler, MaCio Teague, and Davion Mitchell combined for over 39 points a game. Mitchell will probably have facilitation duties while Butler and Teague open themselves up for threes or cutting opportunities, both areas where the guards excelled.

That final starting spot is locked down by Mark Vital who was one of the best defensive players in the country last season. He could score when forced to but did his best work off the ball, collecting rebound, screening, and clamping down on opposing playmakers. He’s going to be a key player for Baylor this season and will probably be the deciding factor in some of their games.

What makes Baylor a preseason favorite to many people is their depth and experience. Not only are they returning four starters with a bunch of bench players, but they’re also debuting two star freshmen as well as two desired transfers. Top 60 recruit LJ Cryer will give a nice spark off the bench in place of the guards while 4-star Dain Dainja will be a staple substitute at the 5. Adam Flagler is coming in after a monster season with Presbyterian and UNLV transfer Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua provides even more cover.

Projected Starting Lineup
G: Davion Mitchell
G: Jared Butler
G: MaCio Teague
F: Mark Vital
F: Tristan Clark

Big 12 Conference Title Odds: +165

2020/21 Projected Big 12 Ranking: 1st

2020/21 Projected Postseason Placement: NCAA Tournament #1 seed

West Virginia Mountaineers

2019-20 Record: 21-10 (9-9)

If you haven’t realized it yet, the Big 12 was one of the toughest conferences in the country if you wanted to score points as West Virginia was the 3rd top-10 team in defensive efficiency, coming in at 8th. It was a trademark Bob Huggins team last season with big, long, athletic dudes who enjoyed playing hard and defending well.

The big loss from last season was 4th leading scorer Jermaine Haley, though the local Chase Harler’s contributions will be missed as well. The starting lineup will probably be a slew of familiar faces for the West Virginia fans as there were no additions who could be classified as “great”, but JUCO transfer Kedrian Johnson and freshman Isaiah Cottrell will be top selections from the bench.

West Virginia has the best big man combination in the Big 12 win Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver, who also happen to be the only top 100 recruits of their class on West Virginia. Though they did lead the team in scoring they only accounted for about 21.6 points per game, instead excelling at defending the rim and forcing opponents to settle for lower-percentage shots.

Emmitt Matthews Jr. is a 6’7 combination forward who is the true buffer on this team between guards and forwards. The player struggled in 2019/20 after a strong close to his freshman season and was ultimately relegated to the bench where he played really, really well. He might be a sub this season but the more likely option is for Matthews to get another chance as the starting small forward.

The starting guards will certainly feature breakout freshman Miles McBride, but the second half of the partnership is open for competition. I personally see Sean McNiel as the best option to start, though Jordan McCabe might take the job with better ball handling and playmaking already an issue for the team. Either way, McNiel, Kedrian Johnson, and Taz Sherman will all see minutes throughout the season.

Expect a heavy rotation of players as Huggins loves to get out and press. His West Virginia teams have been way up there in full-court press percentages and even taking a bit off last season put them 26th in the country in terms of possessions. That effort requires a lot of energy, thus a lot of rotation to keep the stars available for the end of games.

Projected Starting Lineup
G: Jordan McCabe
G: Miles McBridge
F: Emmitt Matthews Jr.
F: Oscar Tshiebwe
C: Derek Culver

Big 12 Conference Title Odds: +500

2020/21 Projected Big 12 Ranking: 4th

2020/21 Projected Postseason Placement: NCAA Tournament #5 seed

Oklahoma Sooners

2019-20 Record: 19-12 (9-9)

The Sooners are long gone from their days of domination with Buddy Hield or Trae Young, but things looked a lot better last season as they were able to top the kill zone that was the 2nd tier of the Big 12. Unfortunately, team MVP Kristian Doolittle and key swingman Jamal Bieniemy are gone and Doolittle’s production won’t be replaced, but a slew of first year players and transfers will give the team more options from the bench at least.

The three real known commodities on Oklahoma are Bardy Manek, Austin Reeves, and De’Vion Harmon, the three who will make this team whatever it actually is this year. Reeves hasn’t shot the ball as well as he did at Wichita State but scores well enough regardless. Were he to get back to those totals he would be one of the best players in the Big 12. Manek is a modern power forward who can stretch the floor with very good shooting and does well around the rim on defense.

The season may hang on the development of Harmon, though. We know what the top-50 recruit can do considering his 41-point outburst against TCU, now it comes down to channelling a productive version of himself into every game. He’s a great scorer and will need to facilitate more this season, but he’s capable of being great.

Alondes Williams will take Bieniemy’s role at small forward after starting 10 games last season and scoring six points per game. He’ll be relied up to either excel in one area or improve significantly elsewhere, though the wealth of guards will give him some relief in most scenarios. The other starter is lining up to be Kur Kuath who excelled as a defensive player whenever Doolittle came to the bench. He’ll need to come up with some sort of offensive consistency to really help the team and retain his starting job, but the depth at big man is so thin he’ll start by default.

There really are a lot of unproven commodities on this team, especially when tapping into the bench, Past Victor Iwuakor and Jalen Hill no one on the bench will have played for Oklahoma before and that’s a concern. It’s probable that a couple of these guys are ready to go right now but also realistic that none are. If Oklahoma is only seven deep all season they’re in big trouble.

Projected Starting Lineup
G: De’Vion Harmon
G: Austin Reeves
F: Alondes Williams
F: Brady Manek
C: Kur Kuath

Big 12 Conference Title Odds: +2000

2020/21 Projected Big 12 Ranking: 7th

2020/21 Projected Postseason Placement: NCAA Tournament #10 seed

Texas Longhorns

2019-20 Record: 19-12 (9-9)

Texas and Oklahoma finished with identical records in 2019/20 but the Longhorns hold the early advantage heading into the new season. Texas has disappointed recently with the list of recruits coming in always pretty impressive but the results not matching them. This season Texas is returning literally everyone of consequence and added one of the best freshmen in the country to their roster.

Despite a pretty good record on the season and a sure berth to the NCAA tournament coming from last season the offense was dreadful, but it’s only going to get better. Texas ran a three guard setup for most of the season with Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, and Andrew Jones. Those three were the top scorers from last season and will keep their positions in the starting lineup with Coleman as the main producer and Jones keying in from the perimeter. Jase Febres will be a very valuable player off the bench after averaging just under 10 points per game last season.

Jericho Sims will retain his starting position at forward after leading Texas in blocks and rebounds. Sims is a back to the basket post player who hardly ever shoots from outside of 10 feet but did enough to average over nine points per game. Star freshman Greg Brown was the recruiting catch of the season and will fill a position of need at power forward. He’s going to be a double-double threat every night with really impressive skills on defense that will make Texas a tough team to score on.

The bench situation is great. There’s a really deep crop of athletic bigs and forwards that will give teams like West Virginia trouble and all the experience that can be brought in will make them especially dangerous if they’re hanging around late in games. The only issue I can identify is a lack of depth for ball handling guards which will put pressure on the three starters, but they’ll likely be enough to keep the offense functional.

Projected Starting Lineup
G: Matt Coleman
G: Courtney Ramey
G: Andrew Jones
F: Greg Brown
F: Jericho Sims

Big 12 Conference Title Odds: +650

2020/21 Projected Big 12 Ranking: 5th

2020/21 Projected Postseason Placement: NCAA Tournament #6 seed

Texas Tech Red Raiders

2019-20 Record: 18-13 (9-9)

There was a ton of turnover for this Texas Tech roster, especially where it mattered, in the starting lineup. Jahmi’us Ramsey and Davide Moretti are done after great seasons for the Red Raiders and will leave with seniors Chris Clarke and T.J. Holyfield. That alone would be enough to sink a team, but a great class of incoming players means that Texas Tech might actually get better.

Mac McClung is transferring into Chris Beard’s team after a breakout season with Georgetown where he scored over 15 points per game with decent defense and creating numbers. His three-point shooting could improve though his ball handling won’t have to as Kyler Edwards will be available to facilitate after posting nearly four assists a game last season. Edwards was the go-to scoring option after Moretti and Ramsey last season. Also in the mix will be 5-star freshman Nimari Burnett. It’s possible that Burnett could bump someone in the starting lineup but I believe the more realistic possibility is that he leads the team off the bench and could actually close games for them.

Terrence Shannon Jr. is the 6’6 swingman on the roster after finishing last season just below 10 points per game with decent rebounding numbers and dependable defense and playmaking. He’ll be backed up by Kevin McCullar and true freshmen standouts Chibuzo Agbo Jr. and Micah Peavy.

The starting forward positions are open for competition but at the moment it seems like both could go to transfer students. Joel Ntambwe from UNLV and Marcus Santos-Silva from VCU both averaged well over 11 points per game and could be big pieces for Texas Tech. Ntambwe will be a great option to plug and play with really good size and athleticism to play at all levels. Santos-Silva lacks the height to be a true 5 but his defense and offensive efficiency will keep him on the court. If height becomes an issue JUCO transfer Esahia Nyiwe and Vladislav Goldin have more than enough to suffice.

Projected Starting Lineup
G: Mac McClung
G: Kyler Edwards
F: Terrence Shannon Jr.
F: Joel Ntambwe
F: Marcus Santos-Silva

Big 12 Conference Title Odds: +600

2020/21 Projected Big 12 Ranking: 3rd

2020/21 Projected Postseason Placement: NCAA Tournament #3 seed

Oklahoma State Cowboys

2019-20 Record: 18-14 (7-11)

Losing your 5th and 6th ranked scorers always hurts a team but anyone would take losing those players if it meant you could keep your top four and that’s what happened with the Pokes. Yor Anei and Jonathan Laurent left Oklahoma State this offseason but everyone else was able to stay which means that this team should get better. State is bringing in a ton of players including some proven commodities so the prospects are looking good this season.

This would normally be a season that Oklahoma State is looking forward to making a deep run for the tournament, but a postseason ban stemming from infractions years ago might close those hopes out. A three season postseason ban was instituted this summer by the NCAA and though the ban is being appealed, the process is moving very slowly.

Regardless, Oklahoma State has a very good team headlined by the star backcourt of Isaac Likekele and star freshman Cade Cunningham. Likekele can do everything, putting up a 10.9/5.6/4.5/1.9 statline last season and will handle the ball. Cunningham was the top recruit in the country for this class and at 6’7 will be a matchup nightmare for teams. He’s an incredible shooter and ball handler and will be the star of this team.

Ferron Flavors Jr. is a transfer from Cal. Baptist and has the best chance of earning the starting small forward spot for the Cowboys. He’s a good scorer who can help all over the court and allow Cunningham to guard a forward instead of being wasted on a guard. Flavors will excel as a 3-and-D type player for this team.

There are some issues with the frontcourt, though. Keylan and Kalib Boone are back with the team after modestly productive seasons at best last season, combining for just 21 minutes per game last season. The brothers should be fine to start and put forward some decent numbers this season but behind them are unproven players. Matthew Alexander-Moncrieffe and Montreal Pena have size but are true freshman while 6’10 Bernard Kouma is a JUCO transfer. If this team falls apart it will be because they can’t protect the rim with consistency.

Projected Starting Lineup
G: Isaac Likekele
G: Cade Cunningham
G: Ferron Flavors Jr.
F: Keylan Boone
F: Kalib Boone

Big 12 Conference Title Odds: +2200

2020/21 Projected Big 12 Ranking: 6th

2020/21 Projected Postseason Placement: Banned

TCU Horned Frogs

2019-20 Record: 16-16 (7-11)

The Desmond Bane era is over at TCU and a new, maybe even worse, era has begun. Bane’s production will be missed but TCU has a pair of capable returning guards who should be able to up their numbers to replace him. RJ Nembhard scored 12 points per game last season and created at a level that should also rise this season from an already good baseline. The other starting guard will be Francisco Farabello. The Argentine was used sparingly last season but showed very good chops as a playmaker, averaging over two assists per game.

PJ Fuller could also play on the perimeter after scoring 5.7 points per game last season, but his shooting does need to improve so that spacing doesn’t become an issue. At worst he’ll be a good option off the bench. Guard depth could be an issue this season with Mike Miles and Taryn Todd both buried deep on the bench, but if things go as planned there shouldn’t be much more help needed past the top three.

The frontcourt is shaping up to be pretty solid this season. Kevin Samuel will start at center after a dependable 10 point, eight rebound per game showing last season. Beside him will probably be the Chattanooga transfer Kevin Easley who was very good in 2018/19 with over 14 points per game and over six rebounds. Rim protection could be an issue as Samuel isn’t a great defender but his size along with Eddie Lampkin off the bench could be enough. Forward depth won’t be an issue as there’s five or six guys on the bench who can fill in if needed.

Projected Starting Lineup
G: Francisco Farabello
G: RJ Nembhard
G: PJ Fuller
F: Kevin Easley
C: Kevin Samuel

Big 12 Conference Title Odds: +1000

2020/21 Projected Big 12 Ranking: 9th

2020/21 Projected Postseason Placement: None

Iowa State Cyclones

2019-20 Record: 12-20 (5-13)

Going 12-20 makes for a very tough season, but following up by losing one player to the NBA as a lottery pick and your 4th and 5th scorers aging out makes the next one potentially more difficult. One bright spot this season will be that of Rasir Bolton who will start at point guard while being charged with the main creation and scoring duties. He’s a plus defender and will be the star of the team mainly because no one else can keep up.

Tyler Harris and Jalen Coleman-Lands are both incoming transfers from Memphis and DePaul respectively who could fill in the starting lineup. Neither has shown much inclination in terms of playmaking and the stature of the 5’9 Coleman will make him a target while defending, but both can do a bit of scoring and will be depended upon to hit shots. Tre Jackson was one of the first options off the bench last season and can inject a bit of scoring and life into the team when Bolton sits.

The big man situation is looking pretty good for the moment. Solomon Young was a 10 point scorer last season with good chops on defense while 6’10 George Conditt IV showed an inclination with his back to the basket and was a good rim protector at the other end. The frontcourt depth is very good with 7-foot freshman Xavier Foster looking promising and two 6’7 transfers, Javan Johnson from Troy and Blake Hinson from Ole Miss, more than capable of contributing this season.

Projected Starting Lineup
G: Rasir Bolton
G: Tyler Harris
F: Jalen Coleman-Lands
F: Solomon Young
C: George Conditt IV

Big 12 Conference Title Odds: +8000

2020/21 Projected Big 12 Ranking: 8th

2020/21 Projected Postseason Placement: None

Kansas State

2019-20 Record: 11-21 (3-15)

As tough as things were for Iowa State in losing their star players, it’ll be even tougher for Kansas State. After their 3-15 season in conference the Wildcats are staring down the barrel after losing their three leading scorers in Xavier Sneed, Cartier Diarra, and Makol Mawien. This season’s starting lineup will include less than 30 points of returning offense from last season. It’s not good.

The starting frontcourt will probably be Antonio Gordon and Montavious Murphy who combined for just over nine points per game last season, both averaging 3.7 rebounds per game. Neither of the 6’9 players has shown any skill at protecting the rim though UTEP transfer Kaosi Ezeagu, 7-foot freshman Davion Bradford, or 6’11 Carlton Linguard could prove useful on that front.

DaJuan Gordon and Mike McGuirl are the other returners to play in the starting lineup, averaging around six points apiece. Gordon is a good defender and could find himself making an impact as a good two-way player this season. McGuirl is a good shot from the perimeter but that doesn’t always transfer when you tack on the added workload this season. Rudi Williams and Luke Kasubke will also backup at guard. The starting point guard will probably be true freshman Nigel Pack who could actually end up being the best player on this team by the end of the season.

Projected Starting Lineup
G: Nigel Pack
G: Mike McGuirl
F: DaJuan Gordon
F: Montavious Murphy
C: Antonio Gordon

Big 12 Conference Title Odds: +30000

2020/21 Projected Big 12 Ranking: 10th

2020/21 Projected Postseason Placement: NCAA Tournament #10 seed

PROJECTED Big 12 FINAL STANDINGS:

  1. Baylor Bears*
  2. Kansas Jayhawks*
  3. Texas Tech Red Raiders*
  4. West Virginia Mountaineers*
  5. Texas Longhorns*
  6. Oklahoma State Cowboys
  7. Oklahoma Sooners*
  8. Iowa State Cyclones
  9. TCU Horned Frogs
  10. Kansas State Wildcats

*Denotes projected NCAA Tournament Participant

Conference Award Predictions

Player of the Year: Davion Mitchell, Baylor

Coach of the Year: Scott Drew, Baylor

Freshman of the Year: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State

Defensive Player of the Year: Mark Vital, Baylor

6th Man of the Year: Nimari Burnett, Texas Tech

First-Team All-Conference:
Davion Mitchell, Baylor
Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
Ochai Agbaji, Kansas
Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia
Derek Culver, West Virginia

Second-Team All-Conference:
Marcus Garrett, Kansas
Mac McClung, Texas Tech
Jared Butler, Baylor
Mark Vital, Baylor
Greg Brown, Texas