Big 12 Summer Reset: It's Kansas's conference till proven otherwise
- Get ready for another round of the Big 12's annual question: Can any team keep Kansas from winning another league title?
With summer recruiting heating up and summer sessions underway, SI.com is taking a look at the state of each conference. Players are listed by what year they will be in the 2016–17 season. Click here for the American, ACC, A-10, Big East and Big Ten. Below, the Big 12.
State of the Champion: Kansas
Kansas will enter the 2016–17 season on the heels of its 12th consecutive Big 12 title, and Bill Self yet again boasts one of the nation’s most talented teams. Despite losing mainstays Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden Jr., the Jayhawks return one of the conference’s best backcourts in senior Frank Mason III and junior Devonte’ Graham, who together averaged 24.2 points and 8.3 assists per game last season. Junior sharpshooter Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk should be able to bring his 40.2% three-point shooting into more than 12.8 minutes a game this winter. The loss of big man Cheick Diallo to the NBA draft hurts, but Self will replace him with highly touted seven-footer Udoka Azubuike, one of three top-100 recruits heading to Lawrence.
The Jayhawks will likely go eight deep, with senior forward Landen Lucas and 2015 four-star recruit Carlton Bragg Jr. manning the paint. Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman will need to sit out this season due to NCAA rules, but a player of his caliber should bring out the best of Mason III and Graham every day in practice.
Notable newcomer: Josh Jackson, Kansas
The 6' 7" Jackson was the Class of 2016’s No. 1 recruit, according to Scout.com, and for good reason. Jackson is an explosive scorer who is as comfortable pulling up from distance as he is getting to the rim. He’s long, has elite ballhandling skills and next-level athleticism. He is coming off a high school senior season in which he averaged 27 points, 13 rebounds and six assists per game and could start on the wing in coach Self's offense where he can get out in transition or take on a defender one-on-one and create his own shot.
Jackson is nearly the identical size of former top Kansas recruit Andrew Wiggins, now of the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves, but Jackson may already be a better distributor than Wiggins was when he first arrived on campus in 2014. Jackson is an instant-impact performer who is going to light up gyms from Norman to Ames this year, but he’s more than likely a one-and-done, which is a good thing for KU’s Big 12 opponents.
Notable departure: Georges Niang, Iowa State
With the graduation of Niang, the Big 12 lost one of its most productive and talented players of the past four years. Niang averaged at least 12 points in each of his seasons at Iowa State, including 20.5 in his final season. He was a part of Iowa State’s return to relevancy during his tenure and was one of the faces of the conference by the time his career ended.
Niang’s loss is exacerbated by the fact that the Cyclones also lose Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader to graduation, which accounts for three of their top four scorers from last season. Niang was a key cog for former coach Fred Hoiberg’s staff and bought into Steve Prohm’s gameplan after Hoiberg bolted for the NBA.
Baylor: Things won’t be easy for the Bears in 2016–17 as they try to replace three starters from last year’s squad that went 22–12 (10–8). Unless four-star recruit Mark Vital can step in immediately and contribute, Scott Drew’s side lacks a secondary go-to scorer outside of guard Al Freeman.
Iowa State: Prohm is going to have to find a way to grind out wins and hope for a little Hilton Magic this year as the Cyclones lose a ton of firepower from last season. Senior guard Naz Mitrou-Long is back after missing most of last year with a hip injury, as is Monte Morris, but Iowa State looks weak in the post right now.
Kansas: The Jayhawks are reloaded and will be looking to defend their regular-season and tournament titles in 2016–17. Once again stacked with some of the country’s best talent and a fair amount of depth, Self’s KU team again has the makings of a conference favorite and national title contender.
Kansas State: K-State finished near the bottom of the league standings last season, mustering only five conference wins, and it’s going to be a difficult ask for much more this season. Last year’s leading scorer Justin Edwards graduated, leaving senior forward Wesley Iwundu as the Wildcats’ only returning player who averaged double-digit scoring. Coach Bruce Weber is going to have his hands full.
Oklahoma: Oklahoma no longer has All-America Buddy Hield or fellow senior playmaker Isaiah Cousins or big man Ryan Spangler, but the Sooners will still tout a talented starting five. Senior guard Jordan Woodard, who was second on the team in scoring last season, returns, as does junior big man Khadeem Lattin. OU will also bring in two four-star recruits in shooting guard Kameron McGusty and Kristian Doolittle. Expect Oklahoma to push Kansas for the title.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys finished with a dismal three wins in conference play last season as Big 12 Freshman of the Year Jawun Evans was left to fend for himself. Evans, who missed his final nine games to an injury, led all Cowboys with 12.9 points a game. Pokes fans should see a bit of a turnaround in 2016–17 under new coach Brad Underwood, but this is still no better than a .500 team.
TCU: Resident bottom-dweller TCU is coming off a frustrating season in which it won just two conference games and only one true road game, but it might have had the biggest victory of any team this off-season with the hiring of veteran head coach Jamie Dixon. The 2008–09 Naismith College Coach of the Year, Dixon brings a notable and respected name to Fort Worth for a team that hasn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 1998. The opportunity is there, but a turnaround won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, especially not after leading scorer Chauncey Collins departed the program in May and left the Horned Frogs with a roster of just nine scholarship players.
Texas: The Longhorns lose a massive amount of scoring and veteran play from last season, including its top three scorers in Isaiah Taylor, Cameron Ridley and Javan Felix, as well as Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Prince Ibeh. Sophomores Kerwin Roach Jr. and Eric Davis Jr. return after solid freshman campaigns, and Texas does have one five-star and two four-star recruits coming to Austin, but the amount of talent and leadership it lost won’t be easy to overcome in the early going.
Texas Tech: Despite Tubby Smith earning Big 12 Coach of the Year honors last year, not one of Smith’s players earned an All-Conference nod on a team that finished just .500. The Red Raiders and new head coach Chris Beard face a tall task in 2016–17 as well after losing their top two scorers from last season, Toddrick Gotcher and Devaugntah Williams, to graduation. TTU does add Quinnipiac grad transfer Giovanni McLean, who averaged 12.9 points per game for the Bobcats, but Beard, the former longtime Texas Tech assistant who takes over after one year at Little Rock, will have to hope his team overachieves if it wants to hit that .500 plateau again.
West Virginia: Before being upset by Stephen F. Austin in the first round of the NCAA tournament, West Virginia had a wildly successful year, finishing second in the Big 12 regular season and runner-up in the Big 12 title game. The losses of Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams are huge, but this is still a team capable of competing with anyone thanks to its trademark press defense. The Mountaineers may indeed compete for another shot at the conference title this season, but they’ll need big-time production out of junior guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr.