The Big 12 is consistently one of the most competitive leagues in the country but there is one thing that remains steady and that is the Kansas Jayhawks sitting at the top. The Jayhawks are going for their 12th straight Big 12 regular season championship this year and Bill Self and company seem primed to get it. Is this the year Buddy Hield leads the Oklahoma Sooners to the top? Iowa State may have lost Fred Hoiberg to the NBA, but they return a majority of their team that was a three-seed in last year’s NCAA tournament. The Big 12 could be the best league in the country and it will be fascinating to watch it unravel throughout the year. Below is a predicted order of finish and some comments on each team.
1. Kansas Jayhawks- After a disappointing end to the season, the beat will go on in Lawrence again this year. The Jayhawks return a plethora of talent from last years team. Their backcourt should be amongst the best in the nation with Frank Mason, Jr. and Wayne Selden leading the way. Kansas also gets Perry Ellis who has been a leader of this team for a few years. Carlton Bragg, who is a five-star recruit, will join Ellis in the Jayhawk frontcourt. The biggest question mark for Kansas right now is the eligibility of their top recruit Chieck Diallo. The 6'9" freshmen was expected to start and be a big factor for Kansas. If he isn’t eligible Kansas will be affected, but will it be enough to knock Kansas off the top spot? Probably not, but only time will tell.
2. Oklahoma Sooners- Oklahoma will be led by last year’s conference player of the year, Buddy Hield. He will be joined in the backcourt by Isiah Cousins and Jordon Woodard. The three of them make up a very very good backcourt. In the interior the Sooners will rely heavily on Ryan Spangler who averaged just over eight boards a game last year. The four of them will be horsemen for the Sooners this year. Outside of them the Sooners will need to get some production from some unexpected role players. If that happens, the Sooners have the talent to dethrone Kansas from the top stop.
3. Iowa State Cyclones- Iowa State will look different on the sideline this year after Fred Hoiberg departed to take the Chicago Bulls head coach opening. In comes Steve Prohm who inherits a ton of talent. The Cyclones will be led by Georges Niang. Niang has been amongst the nation’s top players the last couple years and averaged 15.3 points per game last year. Cyclones also return one of the top point guards in the country in Monte Morris. Prohm has thrived in developing point guards in the past with Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne at Murray State, making you believe Morris should have a great year. Throw in Jameel McKay and the Cyclones have a great three man combination. The biggest issue for Iowa State, much like Oklahoma, will be depth. If they can adjust to Steve Prohm, Iowa State should contend for a very high seed in the NCAA tournament.
4. Texas Longhorns- Shaka Smart is a fantastic coach and should evoke fantastic energy into the Longhorn program that was desperate for a breath of fresh air. Smart will have a pretty solid team to build confidence with. Point guard Isiah Taylor is a fantastic guard and his backcourt mate Kendal Yancy is a solid player. The Longhorns will be led by a couple experienced leaders down low in Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh. If Smart can get Texas to thrive in his style of play early, Texas can really surprise some folks this year.
5. Baylor Bears- The staple of this team is Rico Gathers, who is a leader on this team and controls the paint as he averaged 11.6 points and 11.6 rebounds last year for Baylor. The Bears will need more production from his this year, as their leading scorer Taurean Prince (13.9 PPG) returns but there is concern as to who will fill the shoes of Kenny Cherry. At this time Baylor will look at guard Lester Medford and Al Freeman to fill that role but they will be a downgrade from Cherry.
6. West Virginia Mountaineers- After getting humiliated by Kentucky last year and losing Juwan Staten, it will be very interesting to see how good this West Virginia team is this year. They do bring back a good portion of last year’s team and expect Daxter Miles, Jr. to take a significant step forward this year. Jonathon Holton, Jevon Carter and Devin Williams also return so the Mountaineers will have some good potential this year. West Virginia’s best attribute is their pressure, and if they can continue to make teams uncomfortable they should be a dangerous team in the Big 12 and the NCAA tournament.
7. Oklahoma State Cowboys- Travis Ford’s seat is getting hot in Stillwater and will likely need a trip to the NCAA tournament to save his job. Senior Phil Forte, one of the best shooters in the country, will try and get that done for Ford. Outside of Forte, nobody who averaged more than seven points per game returns. Oklahoma State will need big year's out of Jeff Newberry and Anthony Allen Jr. if they have tournament aspirations. If not, trouble could be ahead for Travis Ford.
8.Texas Tech Red Raiders- Tubby Smith will expect to see continued improvement from his team this year and he should have a really good scorer in Devaugntah Williams. The main concern with the Red Raiders is their ability to win outside of Lubbock. Texas Tech didn’t win a game last year outside of Lubbock and will need to learn to do that if they want to make a significant improvement.
9. Kansas State Wildcats- Bruce Weber will lose his top three scorers and it’s hard to see things getting better in Manhattan this year. Kansas State is essentially starting over this year and it’s tough to see this team being very successful. Justin Edwards and Wesley Iwundu, who combined to score 12.1 points a game last year, will lead Kansas State. Will Bruce Weber survive another year without a postseason bid?
10. TCU Horned Frogs- The Horned Frogs lost three of their best players from last year’s team. Trent Johnson’s team won four more games in conference play last year then they did it 2013. The program is heading in the right direction but it’s tough to see any players on TCU that will lead this team to a NCAA Tournament bid in 2015.