Big 12 men's basketball: A look at each team in the conference entering the season
College basketball season begins Wednesday across the country. The Big 12 is again poised to be a powerhouse conference.
Here is a look at each team in the conference:
What to watch: Coach Scott Drew has the Bears as the Big 12 favorite and possible national championship contender following a 26-4 season. Four starters return, including national player of the year candidate Jared Butler (16 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.1 apg). Butler and MaCio Teague (13.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) both pulled out of the NBA Draft near. Senior Mark Vital also returns with his elite defense alongside junior guard Davion Mitchell, who could be in line for a breakout year. Forwards Tristan Clark and Matthew Mayer provide veteran presence.
Bottom line: A lot will depend on how the returning stars deal with being the team to beat. The Bears also need to find an inside presence to complement their star guards. If they do, they’ll be in the thick of the title hunt.
What to watch: The Cyclones are a mystery with seven new players. They could elect to go big with veterans Solomon Young (10.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and George Conditt IV (7 ppg, 4.8 rpg). Seven-foot freshman Xavier Foster is expected to contribute. Junior guard Rasir Bolton (14.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.8 apg) emerged late last season as a strong scoring option. Sophomore Tre Jackson and transfers Jalen Coleman-Lands and Tyler Harris will be expected to improve the Cyclones’ shooting.
Bottom line: With the roster turnover, the Cyclones have a lot of questions to answer. They’ll first need to figure out an identity before being capable of being a contender.
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What to watch: The Jayhawks’ NCAA battle that could lead to major sanctions looms. They remain ultra-talented, especially on defense. Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Garrett (9.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.6 apg) returns on the perimeter. Junior guard Ochai Agbaji (10 ppg) will be bolstered by the return of Christian Braun and arrival of five-star recruit Bryce Thompson, a Tulsa Booker T. Washington product. Replacing the production of center Udoka Azubuike inside will be the biggest challenge. Junior center David McCormack (6.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg) is primed to get the first opportunity.
Bottom line: The Jayhawks will face two challenges this season: the pending NCAA investigation centered on coach Bill Self and their Big 12 title defense. They still have one of the top rosters in the nation.
What to watch: Last season was dismal, but coach Bruce Weber has remade the roster. That could mean a lot of growing pains. Guard Mike McGuirl (6.9 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.8 apg) is the lone senior. Sophomores DaJuan Gordon, Montavious Murphy and Lawton Eisenhower product Antonio Gordon will be expected to lead. Junior college stars Rudi Williams and Carlton Linguard Jr. were also brought in to bolster the roster alongside a talented recruiting class led by Davion Bradford.
Bottom line: The Wildcats have nowhere to go but up. A roster makeover has worked for Weber before, but for a fast turnaround the freshmen stars will need to exceed expectations.
What to watch: Aided by a strong finish last season, the Sooners are eyeing a bigger year led by seniors Brady Manek and Austin Reaves. Manek (14.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg) shined as a stretch option, scoring 30 or more points twice. Reaves (14.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 3 apg) was at times electric, ranking sixth in the conference in scoring. The Sooners rotated De’Vion Harmon and Alondes Williams in the starting lineup at guard. With Jamal Bienemy transferring, both will have more minutes. Senior forward Kur Kuath became a strong shot blocker, but depth behind him remains a question.
Bottom line: OU has been consistent under Lon Kruger, making the NCAA Tournament six times. With a solid core in place, they could be a dark horse contender. Finding consistency from their big men will be key.
What to watch: The Cowboys have their most talented roster under coach Mike Boynton, but cannot play in the postseason due to NCAA sanctions. That puts a damper on the likely only season with freshman point guard Cade Cunningham. The Cowboys are appealing and playing like they have a shot. They return leader Isaac Likekele (10.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.5 apg), who can control the floor on both ends. Sophomore 6-foot-9 forward Kalib Boone (4.7 ppg, 3 rpg) had a breakout second half. OSU still lacks size around him, likely leading to a small ball attack.
Bottom line: The Cowboys need to win the NCAA appeal or the season becomes a disappointment with Cunningham likely headed to the NBA. If not, this is all about setting the stage for future NCAA Tournament runs with the talented recruiting class.
What to watch: Longhorns coach Shaka Smart has his best roster in his tenure, which brings the star coach more expectations to make a deep NCAA Tournament run. Smart landed his big prize, signing local five-star forward Greg Brown III, a likely one-and-done player expected to make an enormous impact. Guards Courtney Ramey (10.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.9 apg), Matt Coleman III (12.7 ppg, 3 rpg, 3.4 apg) and Andrew Jones (11.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg) anchor the team. Texas’ frontcourt returns Jericho Sims and Jase Febres, while sophomore forward Kai Jones showed promise and Brock Cunningham had big moments, too.
Bottom line: The Longhorns’ talent is enough to make the postseason. They must stay healthy and consistent. If Brown quickly develops and clicks with the Longhorns’ talented guards, they become even more dangerous.
What to watch: A year ago, the Horned Frogs started 6-1, but collapsed to 10-15 down the stretch. But guard RJ Nembhard (12.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 3.5 apg) emerged as a consistent scorer. Freshman guard Mike Miles, a local star, is expected to be an immediate boost with his scoring ability. USC transfer Chuck O’Bannon Jr. also received a waiver for immediate eligibility. A former McDonald’s All-American whose career was marred by injuries, he’s a strong addition for TCU’s thin frontcourt.
Bottom line: Coach Jamie Dixon brought in a solid recruiting class centered around Miles. But the Horned Frogs still need to get big performances from their bigs to have a shot at making a postseason tournament, NCAA or NIT.
What to watch: Chris Beard is once again reshaping the roster with transfers, much like he did two seasons ago en route to the national championship game. Wichita State transfer Jamarius Burton gained immediate eligibility in September. VCU transfer Marcus Santos-Silva is also eligible after recording 10 double-doubles last season. The biggest question is whether Georgetown transfer Mac McClung will be immediately eligible was recently answered. He's eligible and a gamechanger in the backcourt. UNLV transfer Joel Ntambwe is eligible after sitting out a season. Veterans Terrance Shannon Jr. and Kyler Edwards do return.
Bottom line: Getting McClung eligible was a big boost, though there was enough talent to still challenge for the conference title. The new cast could need some time to click on the court, but Beard has proven capable of getting a new roster to succeed.
What to watch: The Mountaineers are big and improved from last year’s bounce-back season. Coach Bob Huggins believes this is perhaps his deepest team with the Mountaineers. They feature the best frontcourt in the conference — and perhaps country — with sophomore Oscar Tshiebwe (11.2 ppg, 9.3 rpg) and Derek Culver (10.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg). Six-foot-10 freshman Isaiah Cottrell is expected to bolster depth. Sophomore guard Miles McBride was primarily a bench player, but could be a potential breakout candidate this season.
Bottom line: The Mountaineers remain a rugged squad, but inconsistencies in the backcourt plagued them in the past. If they get back to their press defense that intimidated opponents, they again will be a feared matchup.