By Ben Everett | Sports Writer
With college basketball starting this week, I took a look at the Big 12 programs and where they stand heading into opening night.
The Jayhawks have won 13 straight Big 12 regular season championships and show no signs of slowing down, even after graduating National Player of the Year Frank Mason. Senior point guard Devonte’ Graham is the preseason pick to win Big 12 Player of the Year as he takes the reins from Mason. Mississippi State transfer guard Malik Newman looks to resurrect his college career alongside Graham while freshman power forward Billy Preston and sophomore center Udoka Azubuike will give head coach Bill Self a formidable front court.
2. West Virginia
As long as Bob Huggins is head coach, the Mountaineers will be no fun to play. His “Press Virginia” style of defense has wreaked havoc across college basketball and keeps the Mountaineers near the top of the Big 12 each year. The veteran backcourt, consisting of senior guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, Jr., returns for its final year in Morgantown while junior forward Esa Ahmad will look to take a step forward after averaging 11.3 points per game as a sophomore.
The AP poll voters learned their lesson last year. After not receiving a vote in the preseason poll, the Bears ended up being a mainstay in the top 10 and reached No. 1 for the first time in school history. Defensive stalwart Ish Wainright is gone, as is leading scorer Johnathan Motley, but the No. 24-ranked Bears have much of the same team returning. Senior point guard Manu Lecomte is the best three-point shooter in the conference and senior center Jo Lual-Acuil, Jr. has a chance to lead the Big 12 in blocks in back-to-back years.
Every coach in the Big 12 should be afraid of Jamie Dixon. In his first season as head coach of the Horned Frogs, they went 24-15 and won the NIT. Entering his second season, they were picked to finish third in the conference and narrowly missed being ranked in the AP Top 25. Jaylen Fisher will run the show after a strong freshman season and former Texas A&M transfer guard Alex Robinson will provide veteran leadership in the backcourt. Up front, senior Vladimir Brodziansky could be a dark horse candidate for Big 12 Player of the Year after averaging 14 points and six rebounds a game for the Horned Frogs in only 23 minutes per game as a junior.
The Longhorns head into the 2017-18 season with high expectations and lots of pressure to succeed. Texas had a highly disappointing 2016-17 campaign, going 11-22 despite being ranked No. 21 in the preseason AP poll. The Longhorns reload despite losing first round draft pick Jarrett Allen by bringing in five-star center Mohamed Bamba, who was voted Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year. Additionally, freshman point guard Matt Coleman and transfer power forward Dylan Osetkowski should help alleviate some of the Longhorns’ major struggles (shooting and ball handling) from last season.
Following a Final Four run in 2016, the Sooners put together a solid season in 2017 behind a group of young, talented players. The majority of the team returns, and with the addition of sharpshooting point guard and Norman native Trae Young, Oklahoma could find itself back in the NCAA Tournament. Sophomore guard Kameron McGusty and sophomore forward Kristian Doolittle will look to build off of stellar freshman seasons and rim protecter extraordinaire Khadeem Lattin returns to Norman for his senior campaign.
7. Texas Tech
The Red Raiders return four of their top six scorers from last season, including guard Keenan Evans, who shot a scorching 43 percent from 3-point range last season. Zach Smith could have gone pro, but the athletic forward decided to return for his senior season where he is picked to be first team All Big 12 in the preseason ballot. Head coach Chris Beard will look to guide Texas Tech to its second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years.
8. Kansas State
The Wildcats have been inconsistent under Bruce Weber but always seem to yield a formidable team. K-State loses Wesley Iwundu to the NBA and D.J. Johnson to graduation, but a returning backcourt of Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes will ensure the Wildcats stay competitive. Junior forward Dean Wade has averaged nine points and five rebounds a game in each of his first two seasons in Manhattan, but needs to improve if the Wildcats are to make the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season.
9. Iowa State
Monte Morris, Naz Long, Deonte Burton and Matt Thomas have all finished their Cyclone careers. Iowa State will be a completely new team this year, and that is not a good thing for Cyclone fans. Freshman point guard Lindell Wigginton is a high-level recruit, but there’s not much else. That being said, the Cyclones always get a couple of upset wins, especially at Hilton Coliseum.
10. Oklahoma State
Brad Underwood bolted for Illinois, leaving Mike Boynton in charge of a team that lost Jawun Evans and Phil Forte. Jeffrey Carroll will contend for Big 12 Player of the Year and Mitchell Solomon will beast opponents on the offensive glass, but it’s hard to see the Cowboys winning many games. Additionally, Oklahoma State’s top assistant coach was recently arrested amid the FBI investigations ravaging college basketball.