The Big 12 has been arguably the best conference in all of college basketball for the past handful of years. Aside from the obvious success (back to back National Championships from Kansas and Baylor), the conference has also had a title game appearance, a Final Four, and two Elite Eights in the past five tournaments. They have had a team in the Final Four of five of the last six tournaments.
What makes those stats even crazier is that the five Final Fours have come from four different teams. That just goes to show how loaded the conference has been lately. That leads me to the point of this article. I will be giving my thoughts on every team and how I think they will fair this season.
Since I’m talking about the Big 12, I might as well start with the defending National Champions. Picking against Kansas in the Big 12 is just insanity, right? The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the Big 12 regular season title in all but two seasons since 2004. That means that since Bill Self took over as head coach, they are just as likely to win a National Championship as they are to not win the Big 12 regular season title. That is a wild thing to think about. However, the amount of production they have to replace this year is just astronomical.
Whether it be two players leaving for the NBA or four players graduating, the Jayhawks will be tasked with replacing six of their top eight scorers from last year’s title team. Included in that list are three starters are four of the top five scorers. Ochai Agbaji is the biggest loss, as he was a consensus All-American after averaging 19 points and five rebounds. The other departing starters are Christian Braun and title game hero David McCormack, who combined for 25 points, 14 rebounds, and four assists. Major role players that departed are Remy Martin, Mitch Lightfoot, and Jalen Coleman-Lands. Those six players combined for a whopping 60.4 points, 25.1 rebounds, and 8.5 assists. They made up 77 percent of the team’s scoring and 66 percent of the minutes played. Needless to say, there is a lot of work to do for Self and his staff.
The team will rely HEAVILY on the two returning starters from last season, Jalen Wilson and Dajuan Harris. Wilson is the only returner who averaged more than six points per game, as he put up 11.1 last season. He will be asked to shoulder a lot more of the workload this year. Harris is more known for his defense and ability to control the floor. He is one of the best back court defenders in the country and had 4.2/1.5 assist/turnover ratio last season. His scoring should see a jump from the 5.4 mark, but his main role will remain the same. Other returners who will be asked to contribute more include KJ Adams, Zach Clemence, Joseph Yesefu, and Bobby Pettiford. At least a couple of those guys will need to take a leap if the Jayhawks want to find their normal level of success.
While KU has always had highly rated recruits coming into their program, they may rely on them more than they have since the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid roamed the campus. The fourth ranked class in the country will be tasked with replacing one of the most successful groups in Kansas history. Gradey Dick is the biggest name, as he was the 20th ranked player in the country and is the lone five star in the class. He may very well be the leading scorer on the team, depending on how quickly he can acclimate to the college level. The other three players, all of which are four star recruits, are MJ Rice, Ernest Udeh, and Zuby Ejiofor. All three should see enough time to make an immediate impact on the team. The last piece of the puzzle, technically part of the recruiting class, is Texas Tech transfer Kevin McCullar. He averaged 10 points and five rebounds last season for the Red Raiders. Like with the returners, they will need at least a couple of these guys to be major factors if they want to have a successful season.
The Jayhawks, as per usual, play a pretty competitive non-conference schedule. They have three teams on their schedule that are in the preseason top 25, highlighted by two top ten matchups with Duke and Kentucky. With the team trying to replace so much production, I think it could be a relatively slow start for the Jayhawks. Luckily for them, only one of those three ranked opponents is in the team’s first 10 games. I have them going 10-3 in the non-conference, with two losses to the ranked teams and one letdown somewhere along the line. I’ll give them five conference losses, as road games in the Big 12 are never a guarantee, no matter the opponent. That would put them at 23-8 for the season. With a 13-5 record in the conference, they will likely be right in the mix for another regular season title. Their biggest competition is the next team on the list.
The Bears are the preseason favorite to win the Big 12, and with good reason. Scott Drew and company are bringing back their top three scorers from a season ago, along with two other players who played 20+ minutes a game. Adam Flagler, James Akinjo, and LJ Cryer will carry the load offensively (along with a freshman to be named later), as the three combined to score 42 points per game last year. Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua and Flo Thamba are the other key returners and should provide two very well rounded complimentary pieces for the Bears.
The recruiting class for Baylor isn’t deep whatsoever, but boy does it pack a punch at the top. Keyonte George, the number seven recruit in the country, is the highest ranked player to join the Bears since Isaiah Austin in 2012. While the likes of Flagler, Akinjo, and Cryer may carry the offense early on in the year, George may very well end up as the leading scorer and go to guy for Coach Drew. Along with George, the Bears also brought in Caleb Lohner and Jalen Bridges. Both of them started for BYU and West Virginia last season, and should provide solid bench pieces.
Baylor has a non-conference schedule that is pretty comparable to the Jayhawks, as they also have three preseason top 25 teams lined up. The biggest of the three is the preseason favorite to win the National Championship, the Gonzaga Bulldogs. They will also face off against Arkansas and Virginia in the non-conference.
With the Bears bringing back much more than Kansas is, I think they will have smoother sailing in the early part of their season. I think they can hang tough with Gonzaga, but I will pick that as there only early season loss. Arkansas is an interesting matchup and if it were straight up, I would probably lean towards Baylor. However, that game is part of the Big 12/SEC Challenge, and it happens to be sandwiched between games against Kansas and Texas. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Bears were much more worried about their conference opponents and slipped up against the Razorbacks.
With that, I will give them two non-conference losses. For conference play, they have a tough stretch near the end of the season. They play three straight preseason top 25 teams and five ranked teams in a seven game stretch. I will give them losses on the road games in that stretch, which is three, along with another stumble early or late in the conference schedule. That would put them at 14-4 in the conference (25-6 overall), which would line them up very well for a conference title and number one seed in the NCAA tournament. It should be another great year for the Bears.
This Texas team is loaded, plain and simple. They are returning their two leading scorers, while also bringing in two five star recruits, a four star recruit, and the Big 12’s reigning Freshman of the Year. To say expectations are high in Austin would be an understatement.
Let’s start with the returners. Timmy Allen and Marcus Carr were the catalysts for a team that won 22 games last season, and will likely be asked to do the same this year. Both of them are super seniors, so they have certainly “been there and done that” many times. They will be tasked early on with taking this mass of talent and turning it into a cohesive unit.
While Allen and Carr may be the leaders of the group, it may be the newcomers that determine just how far this team can go. Tyrese Hunter transferred in from Iowa State after his freshman season and will likely take over the true point guard role for the Longhorns. He was a five star recruit coming out of high school and had a very good freshman campaign at Iowa State. Sir’Jabari Rice comes over from New Mexico State after a solid four years for the Aggies. Hunter will slide into the starting lineup, while Rice should provide a little bit of everything off the bench.
Along with the transfers, the Longhorns are bringing in the third ranked freshman class in the country. Two five stars and a four star will be joining the team, which is a Kentucky-like class, but with star power already on the roster. Dillon Mitchell is the highlight of the class (if there is one), as the fifth rated player in the country. He is joined by fellow five star Arterio Morris and four star Rowan Brumbaugh. With Morris, Hunter, and Carr already at the point guard position, Texas may be so loaded that their four star recruit doesn’t even see the floor for meaningful minutes.
The only reason I don’t have the Longhorns above the Bears and Jayhawks is their propensity to lose a few games every year that they have absolute zero reason for losing. They have had the talent on their roster for years now and for whatever reason they just can’t seem to put it together for a full season. Their non-conference may be tougher than the other two teams, as they play four ranked teams. They also face Gonzaga, along with Creighton, Tennessee, and Illinois. I’ll give them losses in three of those games, along with one inexplicable loss in the non-conference. For conference play, I think they get swept by the Jayhawks and Bears, split with TCU, and lose another road game (looking at you Iowa State). That would put them at 12-6 in conference play and 21-10 overall. While that is just a slight upgrade over last season’s record, I think they will be better setup for postseason success.
TCU Horned Frogs
If ever there were a year for TCU to make some noise in the college basketball world, this would be it. They have their highest preseason ranking ever (14) and return their top SIX scorers from last season. While they didn’t bring in much from the transfer portal or freshman class, returning that much production goes a long way in finding success.
The catalyst of the team will be Mike Miles, who comes in as one of the favorites to win Big 12 Player of the Year. He is coming off of a sophomore campaign that saw him put up 15 points a game. The other five returners include three seniors, a junior, and a sophomore. Those six combined to score 86 percent of TCU’s points and played 79 percent of the total minutes last season. What they lack in incoming talent, they more than make up for in returning talent and continuity. That goes a long way in finding early success, grinding through a conference schedule, and making a run in the postseason. Just look at last season, when the Frogs made the semifinals of the Big 12 Tournament and took number one seed Arizona to overtime in the NCAA Tournament.
As for this season, it may be the early success that plays a pivotal role in TCU’s season. They don’t play a non-conference game against a preseason top 25 team, and they only play two road games against a Power 5 school. In fact, they don’t play a true road game until late December. I have the Horned Frogs sweeping their non-conference scheduling and going into Big 12 play as a potential top five team. As for the conference schedule, they have a tough start and finish, with a seemingly easier middle of the schedule. I’ll give them three losses early (all on the road) and two losses late. That puts them at 13-5 in the conference and 26-5 overall. While the weak non-conference schedule will hurt their chances of getting a top seed, 25 wins is certainly worthy of a top two seed.
Texas Tech Red Raiders
If TCU is on one end of the ‘returning talent’ spectrum, Texas Tech is about as far as you can get to the other end. Of their top nine scorers from last season, they are bringing back just one. In order to make up the lost production, they are bringing in three top 100 recruits and five transfers. With that many new faces, it is nearly impossible to tell how the Red Raiders’ season will go.
Kevin Obanor is the only significant returner and is coming off of a season scored 10 points a game. Coach Mark Adams will lean heavily on Obanor early to try to bring any semblance of continuity to the team. The most interesting of the incoming players is Utah Valley transfer Fardaws Aimaq, who put up a staggering 19 points and 14 rebounds per game last season. While the transition from the WAC to the Big 12 is a massive jump, it would be huge for the Raiders if they could get close to a double double stat line from Aimaq. Unfortunately for the Raiders, Aimaq will be out until at least February with an injury. D’Maurian Williams and De’Vion Harmon both showed flashes last season and will likely be asked to be major contributors. The last two transfers are Kerwin Walton and Jaylon Tyson, both of which got very limited playing time last season, but were both four star recruits coming out of high school.
Rounding out the incoming players is the freshman class. While it’s nothing super impressive, they did land three top 100 players (all four stars), including 46th overall recruit Elijah Fisher. He, along with Richard Isaacs and Lamar Washington, will likely have a chance to see playing time early and often.
Figuring out a starting lineup with this group is about as tough as picking the winning lottery numbers. If I were to fathom a guess, it would look something like Harmon, Williams, Obanor, Aimaq (when he returns), and one of Tyson/Fisher. That lineup could, in theory, work well together. It could also not gel whatsoever. Time will tell.
Luckily for the Red Raiders, they will have a relatively easy non-conference to figure out what works best. Aside from Creighton (and a pending matchup in the Maui Invitational), they don’t play another team in the preseason rankings and only play one other true road game against a Power 5 school. If they were a two loss team by the time conference play rolled around, I wouldn’t be all that surprised. However, I am going to give them four losses in the non-conference. Two in Maui and two somewhere along the way while they find their groove.
They open conference play with a rough stretch, playing ranked team in four of their first six games. I will give them 7 conference losses, 5 of which will come in either the first six or the last three games. That would put them at 11-7 in the conference and 20-11 overall. Again, it wouldn’t surprise me if this team ended up winning 25 games and was competing for a top three seed in the conference. There are just too many variables for me to feel confident in them from day one.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
The Cowboys look to return to the postseason after they were banned from the dance last season due to previous recruiting violations. On paper, it would appear as if they have a pretty good chance to get back to the tournament this season. They return three of their top four scorers from last year and bring in a freshman that should be able to make an impact for the team.
The three returners are highlighted by the back court running mates, Avery Anderson and Bryce Thompson. The duo were the team’s leading scorers last season, combining for 23 points a game. That could very easily jump up to around the 30 range as Anderson heads into his senior season and Thompson heads into his junior season, which is his second season in Stillwater. Joining them will be junior Moussa Cisse, who is a solid big man to help anchor the Cowboys. The only other returners of note are Tyreek Smith and Kalib Boone, who combined for nine points and five rebounds in 23 minutes. They will be asked to take on a larger role this season.
The lone freshman for the Cowboys is Quion Williams, who was a four star recruit and just outside the top 100 ranking. While he isn’t a high level recruit, his all out motor will provide some much needed energy to the lineup. My guess would be that he slides into the starting lineup along with Anderson, Thompson, Cisse, and Boone.
A few incoming transfers may end up being crucial components to the team. Caleb Asberry, Russell Harrison, and John-Michael Wright all found their way to Stillwater after impressive seasons at lower level schools. What they bring to the team is outside shooting. The three shot a combined 37.6 percent from deep last season on 523 total attempts. To put that into perspective, the Cowboys return only one player who shot above 30 percent, and he was at 32.4 percent. While I don’t expect all three of these guys to see major minutes, it wouldn’t surprise me if one or two of them got good minutes as an outside threat. That could easily turn into the three of them combining to average somewhere in the 15 points per game range.
If the three major returners can steady the ship while all the newcomers get acclimated, this team could be in a really good spot come conference play. They play a pretty weak schedule up until December, and even then they won’t see a ranked opponent until conference play. I’m going to give them just three losses in the non-conference. For the conference schedule, their tough games are pretty well spread out. I am putting them at 10-8 in the conference, which would make them 20-11 overall. If they can pick up a few big wins against the conference’s elite, they could very easily hear their name called on Selection Sunday.
This is where the conference starts to take a downhill turn. I think that the first six teams I talked about have at least a legitimate shot at making the NCAA Tournament. From here on out, the teams will either need to surprise everyone or, in some cases, hope for a miracle. That group starts with the Oklahoma.
The Sooners are losing a good bit of their production, but also bring back a handful of players who contributed meaningful minutes. Their first, third, and fourth leading scorers all graduated last season, but they bring back nearly everyone else of note. This will be an interesting mix of players, as all but two of the significant returners are seniors or super seniors. They also brought in two transfers who will likely be contributors, one who is a senior and one who is a junior. With two incoming freshman, their roster breakdown will consist of 5 seniors/super seniors, a junior, two sophomores, and two freshman. This will likely be a very experienced group. It’s just a matter of how well all the new pieces fit together.
Tanner Groves and Jalin Hill will be the biggest contributing returners, as they combined for 21 points and 12 rebounds last season. They will likely split major scoring duties with transfer Grant Sherfield. Sherfield averaged 19 points, six assists, and four rebounds for Nevada last year. He may very well be the team’s leading scorer. Those three should make a solid inside out threat. Sherfield will likely run the point, with Groves playing inside out and Hill patrolling the middle. If they can fit a couple pieces around them, it could be a solid year for the Sooners.
The other starters will likely be Tanner’s brother, Jacob, and either CJ Noland or Miles Uzan. Jacob isn’t a consistent scorer but can hit multiple threes on any given night. Noland could see his points creep closer to the double digit mark if he gets an increase in playing time. Uzan is a four star freshman who, if I were to put money on it, will beat out fellow four star recruit Otega Oweh for the fifth starter spot. Oweh and transfer Joe Bamisile, along with whichever of Noland and Uzan doesn’t start, will make up a majority of the bench minutes.
The Sooners have set themselves up to do one of three things: make a huge statement in the non-conference, learn their weaknesses in the non-conference and be better for it in the postseason, or stumble through their non-conference and take the bad momentum into conference play. They play three preseason top 25 teams, along with a few other above average major conference teams. As of writing this, they have already lost one game to *checks notes* Sam Houston. That is not a good sign for Porter Moser’s group.
I am going to give the Sooners seven losses (including Sam Houston). As for conference play, it doesn’t get any easier. I will put them down for 11 Big 12 losses. That lands them at 13-18 overall and 7-11 in conference play. The path to a tournament bid for Oklahoma is a couple major non-conference wins, a few conference upsets, and a couple wins in the Big 12 Tournament. That would put them closer to 17-14 and with a much better resume. It’s a stretch, but it’s possible.
Iowa State Cyclones
The Cyclones will have one of the most experienced teams in the country and probably have the best shot of these lower teams to far exceed expectations. They will have six seniors or super seniors that are projected to be contributors at some level. The rest of their roster will be three freshman who were outside the top 140 ranking and a junior transfer. A couple of those players may work their way into meaningful roles, but my guess would be that at least 75 percent of minutes will be played by fourth and fifth year players.
The key returners are Gabe Kalscheur, Caleb Grill, and Aljaz Kunc. They will likely all find their way into the starting lineup, as they are the top returning scorers from last season. The only other returner is Robert Jones, who played just 12 minutes a game, but could see an uptick in playing time if Coach Otzelberger trusts him early on in the season.
The Cyclones’ success may hinder on what they brought in through the transfer portal, as they will likely have at least three new additions contributing at a high level. My guess would be that St. Bonaventure teammates Osun Osunniyi and Jaren Holmes will fill the other two starting spots, given their fit with the three returners. The two combined for 25 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists per game last season and should be a nice compliment to the other three. Hason Ward is the other transfer and is a solid rim protector.
The three freshman are Demarion Watson, Eli King, and Tamin Lipsey. While I don’t expect them to be major contributors, they are worth mentioning as three star recruits. If the season starts slow or doesn’t go well for the Cyclones, these three could see more time on the court than expected.
Their non-conference schedule should allow them some early success to find their footing with each other. A matchup with Villanova will be their only ranked opponent (unless they come across North Carolina, Alabama, or Oregon in the PK80 tournament). I think they lose a couple games in that loaded tournament, but only two others the rest of the non-conference. That will either turn them into believers or get them more confident than they should be. I think they will have a rough go in conference play, even with the experience. They just don’t have the firepower to hang with the big dogs. Like the Sooners, I will give them a 7-11 record in the conference. However, with how they tend to play superior teams, I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up closer to double digit wins. With an impressive non-conference showing, I will put them at 16-15. Like Oklahoma, if a handful of those wins are big time games, they could sneak their way into the field of 68.
Kansas State Wildcats
Mostly every poll I’ve seen has had the Wildcats slated to finish last in the Big 12. While I don’t think they’ll compete for the title, I think they have a little more juice than the rest of the country is giving them. Two returners plus a couple key incoming transfers will be the main core of the team.
Markquis Nowell is the major returning player, as he put up 12 points and five assists a game last season. As just the third leading scorer last season, he should be able to get his scoring up closer to the 15-17 point range. Ismael Massoud is the other returner and should see a major uptick in usage and production. He started 18 games last season, averaging seven points in 24 minutes. Those two will be tasked with helping first year coach Jerome Tang get the most out of his team.
Joining Nowell and Massoud are a handful of transfers that should all compete for playing time with the Wildcats. The biggest name that was brought in is former Florida Gator Keyontae Johnson. Johnson, who hasn’t played in a game since collapsing during a game in December of 2020, will likely compete with Nowell for the team’s leading scorer, as he was averaging 16 points a game before the incident in 2020. The others that are expected to be major contributors are Tykei Greene, David N’Guessan, and Cam Carter. Greene put up 14 points and eight rebounds last season for Stony Brook, while N’Guessan and Carter look to make bigger marks than they did at Virginia Tech and Mississippi State.
The only freshmen of note are Taj Manning and Dorian Finister. They are both three star recruits and their playing time will likely depend on the team’s success. If they are a surprisingly competitive team, they will likely only see reserve minutes. If they struggle like they are expected to, they could give their youth more of a chance to see the floor.
I’m not sure if the Wildcats planned ahead or are just lucky, but their non-conference schedule is probably the easiest in the Big 12. The highlights include trips to California and Butler, as well as home games against Wichita State and Florida. I am going to give them losses in all four of those games, as well as one in the Cayman Islands Classic tournament. Five losses is the non-conference is nothing to be ashamed of, but it will definitely be the highlight of their season.
Their conference schedule is nightmare fuel. Of the 10 games that they play against preseason top 25 teams, not a single one of them is sandwiched between two non-ranked opponents. They are all either back to back or back to back to back. They will have to get their wins in the stretches outside of the ranked games. I am going to give them five wins, but even that seems a bit generous given how grueling the schedule looks. That would put them at 13-18 overall and 5-13 in the conference. It should be a tough first year for Coach Tang, but hopefully he sees some growth from his team.
West Virginia Mountaineers
The Mountaineers season could go one of two ways: it all falls into place perfectly and they finish around the middle of the pack in the Big 12 or it all falls apart terribly and they struggle to stay out of the conference cellar. They are returning a total of five players from last season. Of those players, only one average more than two points and nine minutes. Kedrian Johnson is the ONLY notable returner, and even he only put up five points per game. Coach Huggins will be relying on freshmen and transfers more than probably any other coach in the country.
The good news for Huggins is that the incoming transfers are a very experienced group that have shown flashes of stellar play. My pick for the best of the bunch would be Tre Mitchell. He averaged 18 points and seven rebounds in his first two years at UMass before starting 17 games for Texas last season. He has certainly shown that he can carry an offense if needed.
The other three transfers, all of which I could see making their way into the starting lineup, are Erik Stevenson, Emmitt Matthews, and Joe Toussaint. Stevenson is now on his fourth team in five years, but has averaged nearly 10 points a game for his career. Matthews is now in his second stint with the Mountaineers after spending a year at Washington. He started all 31 games for the Huskies and averaged 12 points and five rebounds. Toussaint came over from Iowa and will likely give Huggins a little bit of everything that doesn’t necessarily show up in the box score.
They do have a couple intriguing freshmen coming in. Josiah Harris, Josiah Davis, and Pat Suemnick are all three star recruits that will likely see some solid minutes. Mohamed Wague and Jimmy Bell are both unranked recruits, but will be the only players on the roster that are taller than 6’9″. They could see some playing time against bigger teams.
Unfortunately for the Mountaineers, their schedule is doing them absolutely zero favors. They play two preseason top 25 teams, along with a handful of other high level teams. I am going to give them six non-conference losses, putting them just above .500 heading into their Big 12 schedule. It certainly won’t get any better from there. They won just four games in the conference last season, and I don’t think they hit that mark this year. I have them going 3-15 in the conference, which would make them 10-21. Needless to say, it will be a rough year for West Virginia.
Now that you have read through an encyclopedia’s worth of information, here is the good stuff. This is how I have the Big 12 standings looking like when all is said and done.
- Baylor (13-5)
- Kansas (12-6)
- TCU (11-7)
- Texas (11-7)
- Texas Tech (11-7)
- Oklahoma State (10-8)
- Oklahoma (7-11)
- Iowa State (7-11)
- Kansas State (5-13)
- West Virginia (3-15)
As per usual, the Big 12 will likely come down to the very last week of the season, with multiple teams in the running for the regular season title.