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Breaking Down Big XII Basketball

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The Big XII is expected to be much different this season. If you are relying on another season in which the Big XII is the best basketball conference in the nation from top to bottom, you may be disappointed. Perennial all-conference caliber players like Frank Mason, Monte Morris, Matt Thomas, Jawun Evans, Naz Mitrou-Long, Jonathan Motley and a host of others have all come and gone.

Yet, even though some forecast this upcoming season to be a down year for the Big XII, familiar narratives remain true.

As expected, Kansas was dubbed the best team in the conference according to the pre-season coaches poll. Also to be expected, West Virginia came in second. Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State, and Oklahoma State round out the preseason votes.

The Big XII also released its annual pre-season awards list:

Player of the year: Devonte Graham (Kansas)
Freshman of the Year: Mohamed Bamba (Texas)
Newcomer: Malik Newman (Kansas)

Pre-season All-Big 12:
Devonte Graham (Kansas)
Jevon Carter (West Virginia)
Kameron McGusty (Oklahoma)
Zach Smith (Texas Tech)
Jeffrey Carroll (Oklahoma State)

Let’s take an in-depth look at how the Big XII conference shapes up for the 2017-18 season.

1. Kansas
Kansas won 31 games and its 13th straight regular-season Big 12 Championship in 2016-17. But after losing phenomenal freshman Josh Jackson and the player of the year Frank Mason, Kansas will look different. This Kansas team will have to play small-ball to match the speed and athleticism of the other teams in the league. Senior Devonte Graham will lead this team along with sophomore Malik Newman, freshman Billy Preston, senior Svi Mykaliluk, and sophomore Udoka Azubuike. The Jayhawks will also add sophomore Sam Cunliffe after the first semester. This Jayhawk team is young at its core, but carries talent that the other teams do not have. Look for this Jayhawk team to win 12-15 conference games on their way to their 14th straight conference championship.

Projected conference record: 15-3

2. West Virginia
Losing seniors hurt any and all programs, but West Virginia will certainly miss lost seniors Nathan Adrian, Tarik Phillip, Brandon Watkins, and Teyvon Myers. Also gone is big man Elijah Macon. Still, however, the Mountaineers carry enough talent to challenge Kansas for the Big 12 championship. Defensive player of the year and senior Jevon Carter is back to hassle opposing point guards. Look for Daxter Miles to raise his scoring drastically and once Esa Ahmad comes back, look for him to take another big step. Sophomore Sagaba Konate will continue to block shots and add much needed interior scoring. Lamont West is destined to be the best shooter in the entire Big 12. Newcomers Wesley Harris, D’Angelo Hunter, and Teddy Allen will prosper in this younger than normal league. The Mountaineers come close, but fall short of their first Big 12 regular season championship.

Projected conference record: 13-5

3. Oklahoma
Many people have TCU in this spot. The Horned Frogs are coming off a NIT title and return a solid core, but I do not trust them this high. Oklahoma, however, is vastly undervalued in this league. Kameron McGusty is a future star in the Big 12 and will handle the scoring load for the Sooners. Kristian Doolittle, Rashard Odomes, Khadeem Latin, and Christian James are solid returning players. Throw in former five-star freshman Trae Young, and this Sooner team can challenge people.

Projected conference record: 11-7

4. Texas Tech
Texas Tech returns FIVE seniors in Keenan Evans, Zach Smith, Niem Stevenson, Justin Gray, and Tommy Hamilton. They are by far the oldest team in this conference. This core has also been together for several years. Keenan Evans may lead the Big 12 in scoring. Forwards Zach Smith and Justin Gray are going to control the tempo and wings of this team. The true catalyst, however, is Niem Stevenson. If Stevenson can help take scoring off the hands of Evans, this Texas Tech team will be dangerous.

Projected conference record 10-8

5. TCU
This is where TCU should be valued. Sure, they will have a winning record and make the NCAA tournament, but what is the ceiling after that? Senior Vladimir Brodziansky returns and is the unquestioned leader of that team. He is a lanky, long big man who possesses guard skills, but he lacks true interior toughness to carry this TCU team inside. Jaylen Fisher is inconsistent with turnover and decision-making issues. He will increase his scoring, but will continue to struggle shooting. Desmond Bane, J.D. Miller, Kenrich Williams, and Alex Robinson are the other key returning players for TCU.

Projected Conference Record: 9-9

6. Baylor
Baylor returns Manu Lacomte, TJ Maston, and Jo Acuil. However, where does the scoring come from? Jonathan Motley and Ish Wainwright are gone along with their scoring. If juniors King McClure and Jake Lindsey step up, the Bears have a chance to finish higher in the Big 12 standings. I see them as a middle-of-the-pack team with many questions that have to be answered.

Projected Conference Record: 9-9

7. Texas
Texas returns Kerwin Roach, Andrew Jones, and Eric Davis. The problem comes from the ability of these players to score the ball. Texas ranked as the worst offense in the Big 12 last season and will most likely finish at the bottom again. The Longhorns do add two outstanding players in Mohamed Bamba and Matt Coleman, but it is yet to be determined what type of scoring lift these players will give them.

Projected Conference Record: 9-9

8. Kansas State
Wesley Iwundu is gone. And so is big man D.J. Johnson. Juniors Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes, and Dean Wade will have to lead this team. Xavier will have to step up and take over a position and minutes left by Iwundu. Scoring at a viable clip may be an issue, so look for this Wildcat team to struggle to finish with more than 6 conference wins.

Projected Conference record: 7-11

9. Oklahoma State
The last spot is being fought for by two teams: Iowa State and Oklahoma State. The slight edge goes to the Cowboys because of Jeffrey Carroll. The senior is likely to challenge Keenan Evans as the league’s leading scorer and will score over 60% of this team’s points. Add in an average supporting cast in Lindy Waters and Cameron McGriff and the Cowboys might win 6 conference games. The loss of Jawun Evans cannot be overstated.

Projected Conference Record: 6-12

10. Iowa State
Simply put, Iowa State will be awful. They did add three transfers in Zoran Talley, Jeff Beverly, and Hans Brase, but that will not be enough. The Cyclones lost four key players and their scoring. Monte Morris was the leader of that team, Matt Thomas was the best shooter in ISU history, Deonte Burton was a match-up nightmare, and Mitrou-Long was a rangy guard who shot the lights out. Where will this team gain leadership, scoring, and toughness? That is to-be-determined. Until then, expect Iowa State to win 2-3 conference games.

Projected conference record: 3-15

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