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2020-21 NCAA Basketball Conference Preview: Big 12

The College Basketball season is now less than a month away, and the schedule is starting to come together. Although there are still many questions to be answered about this season, we are starting to get an idea of what this unique year might look like. As always, intraconference battles will be a key part of this season, especially in the power-five conferences plus the Big East. So over the next few weeks I will be giving my predictions for how these conferences will shake out. We start with the Big 12, a conference that is quickly gaining consideration as a top basketball conference, not something anyone have said 10 years ago. 

Individual Awards

Big 12 Conference Player of the Year: Jared Butler (Baylor)

Coach of the Year: Scott Drew (Baylor)

Freshman of the Year: Cade Cunningham (Oklahoma State)

Newcomer of the Year: Mac McClung (Texas Tech)

First Team All Big 12:

Jared Butler

Cade Cunningham

Marcus Garrett (Kansas)

Derek Culver (West Virginia)

Oscar Tshiebwe (West Virginia)

Second Team:

MaCio Teague (Baylor)

Austin Reaves (Oklahoma)

Ochai Agbaji (Kansas)

Matt Coleman III (Texas)

Brady Manek (Oklahoma)

Third Team:

Rasir Bolton (Iowa State)

Mac McClung

Miles McBride (West Virginia)

Mark Vital (Baylor)

Greg Brown (Texas)

Final Standings Prediction

  1. Baylor (2nd in 2019-20)

After coming very close last year, it may finally be the season that the Baylor Bears win their first Big 12 title, regular season or postseason. Few teams in the country are bringing back as much proven talent as Baylor. Jared Butler and MaCio Teague, two possible NBA draftees, are returning to the program and will make up one of the most dangerous backcourts in the country.

They are also bringing back the rest of their starting lineup excluding starting center Freddie Gillespie. This means that head coach Scott Drew will be able to run his four guard starting lineup once again with much of the same personnel, a small-ball style that made Baylor one of the best defensive teams in the country. Not to mention they are also bringing in a top 30 recruiting class with two four-star freshmen. This is undoubtedly going to be one of the most competitive conferences in the country, but Baylor appears to be the clear favorite to win it, and likely end up as a one seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

  1. Kansas (First in 2019-20)

It is hard to imagine a program losing two players as talented as Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike and still maintaining a top-25 caliber roster. Yet with internal improvement and more talent coming in, Kansas is on track to do just that. Their key holdover from last year’s team, a team that was top ranked in the country at the conclusion of the season, is Marcus Garrett, the National Defensive Player of the Year. He will be expected to not only be an elite defensive force once again this season, but will also have to initiate a large chunk of the offense. Ochai Agbaji will also be expected to make a jump this season. Now a junior, he will take on the responsibility of being this team’s primary scorer.

Azubuike’s shoes will be hard to fill down low, but David McCormack has proven that he is a more than serviceable paint presence on both ends. The program’s incoming freshman class is not as deep as what the Jayhawks normally bring in, but five-star wing Bryce Thompson should make an immediate impact. Overall, the Jayhawks don’t look as dangerous on paper as they did last year, but that doesn’t mean they won’t once again make a legitimate run for the Big 12 title.

  1. West Virginia (Third in 2019-20)

Bob Huggins has come out and said that this is the most talented team that West Virginia has had in quite some time. Based on what the Mountaineers are bringing back from their roster that was third in the conference a year ago, this doesn’t appear to be an exaggeration. Oscar Tshiebwe, coming off of a very productive freshman season, is an All-American candidate heading into this season. Derek Culver, entering his junior year, projects as an All-Conference performer this season, and along with Tshiebwe gives West Virginia a very intimidating frontcourt, with both averaging north of 8 rebounds per game last year. In the backcourt they return another player who had a very productive freshman year. Miles McBride averaged 9.5 points per game last year, and was named to the conference’s all-freshman team. The program did not add many major pieces via recruiting or transfers, but considering that they only lost two rotational pieces, they could have a shot to compete with Kansas and Baylor.

  1. Texas Tech (Sixth in 2019-20)

Another team that lost several key pieces, Texas Tech has replaced the losses of Jahmi’us Ramsey and Davide Moretti with a top 10 recruiting class and several high profile transfers. Mac McClung, one of the most sought after players in the transfer portal this summer, received a waiver to play immediately for the Red Raiders. They also brought in Marcus Santos-Silva, a very productive power forward from VCU. The best returning player on the roster is Kyler Edwards, an incoming junior two-guard who broke out as a great scorer last year. Their two ESPN top-100 recruits are both also wings, which gives Chris Beard a lot of interesting options in terms of lineups. Expect this to be another Texas Tech team that is incredibly disruptive on the defensive end. They may not have the firepower of the teams above them, but they have a very good chance to be top 25 in the country at the end of the year.

  1. Texas (Fifth in 2019-20)

Although ranked only five on this list, this Texas team is one of the most exciting teams talent wise they have had in several years. In other years when the conference as a whole was not very talented, they would be a lot higher. They virtually return every key player on their roster, and although their recruiting class is not very impressive as a whole, they landed one of the top freshmen in the country in forward Greg Brown. They have great positional balance, and a rotation that should fit together quite nicely. Matt Coleman III, their leader in points and assists, is not a household name, but is the senior leader at point guard that every team wants. Expect this team to go 10 or 11 deep night in and night out, using their great depth to wear teams down. They don’t have a clear star player, which is another reason they aren’t higher ranked than this, but they could certainly surprise a lot of teams and end up much higher than the middle of the conference.

  1. Oklahoma State (Seventh in 2019-20)

Given the circumstances, this is a very hard team to rate in the grand scheme of things. Oklahoma State has been banned from postseason play due to NCAA violations committed by an assistant coach. So they are going to be rated on purely their regular season performance. With that being said, this team has a chance to do relatively well in regular season conference play. The headliner for this team is the 19-year-old sensation Cade Cunningham, a 6-foot-7 point guard who scouts see as a can’t miss prospect for next year’s NBA Draft. He has drawn quite a bit of excitement, and deservedly so, but he is far from the only exciting player on the Cowboys. Isaac Likekele is a versatile two-guard who can play both ends of the floor, and is a dark horse All-Conference candidate. They also bring four-star freshman point guard Rondel Walker into the fold. They are relatively thin in the frontcourt, but their guard talent could carry them enough to remain competitive.

  1. Oklahoma (Fourth in 2019-20)

Outside of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike, the graduation of Kristian Doolittle might be the biggest player loss for any program in the Big 12. The senior averaged close to 16 points and 9 rebounds per game last year. However, Oklahoma still has a solid core of upperclassmen this year to fall back on. Austin Reaves, a senior, is one of the best scoring guards in the conference, and should account for a large percentage of the offense this year. Brady Manek, also a senior, was an All-Conference performer last year, and is a great pick and roll partner for Reaves. Given the graduation of Doolittle though, and a lack of high level incoming freshmen and transfers, the team may struggle with depth, and is why they land here, at seventh in this tough conference.

  1. Iowa State (Ninth in 2019-20)

With a talented team last year, Iowa State had high hopes for what they could do in the Big 12 and beyond. With an injury to their star point guard Tyrese Haliburton the team struggled, and ended up ninth in the conference. With Haliburton declaring for the NBA Draft this summer, and with multiple other rotational players graduating, the expectations for the Shockers this year aren’t nearly as high. Their hopes for competing this year lie with Rasir Bolton, a talented two-guard who averaged 14.7 points per game last season, and transfer Jalen Coleman-Lands from Depaul, another score-first guard. This duo needs to put big numbers almost every night for Iowa State to remain relevant this season.

  1. TCU (Eighth in 2019-20)

Placing seventh in the conference last year, the loss of deadeye shooter and 16.6 point-per-game scorer Desmond Bane is not going to help their cause this year. They do have some talented holdovers from last year though. Junior guard R.J. Nembhard was the second leading scorer behind Bane last year. They also have a transfer forward from 2019, Kevin Easley from Chattanooga, who will be eligible this season after sitting out a year. In other conferences the Horned Frogs might have enough talent to compete, but not in the Big 12.

  1. Kansas State (10th in 2019-20)

There is not much debate about which team in the Big 12 looks the least impressive on paper coming into this season. Finishing last in the conference last year, the Wildcats lost their three top scorers to graduation or transfer. The one positive piece of news in their offseason was landing a top-35 recruiting class, but even that only includes one four-star recruit. Their leading scorer of returning players is Mike McGuirl, who will have to do a lot better than the 6.9 points per game he averaged last year. Considering all this, it is likely to be a long year for Bruce Weber and the Wildcats. 

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