Big 12 preview: Kansas looks like a lock for 13th straight title
- Bill Self and Kansas are seeking to tie UCLA's record of 13 straight conference titles. Which Big 12 teams can get in the way?
Sports Illustrated’s 2016–17 preview is guided by data from our College Basketball Projection System, a collaboration between economist Dan Hanner and SI’s Luke Winn and Jeremy Fuchs. We project teams on a player-by-player, lineup-based level and then simulate the season 10,000 times to generate our 1–351 national rankings and conference forecasts.
These are the model’s projections for the Big 12, including individual awards, the teams’ order of finish and (advanced and raw) stats for the top seven players in each school’s rotation.
The Big Picture
If you’re looking for a tight conference championship race to follow this season, ignore the Big 12. Kansas has claimed at least a share of the league crown for 12 consecutive years, and there’s a good chance it will extend the streak to 13 in a few months. With a savvy veteran backcourt, a former top-25 recruit set to break out as a sophomore, a potential top-three pick in the 2017 NBA draft and a cast of talented role players filling out their rotation, the Jayhawks enter this season as the clear frontrunner in the conference. While teams such as West Virginia, Baylor and Texas should be in contention for NCAA tournament berths, Kansas may be the Big 12’s only realistic national title contender. The biggest source of intrigue beyond the Jayhawks’ ridiculous streak may be the introduction of three new coaches: Jamie Dixon at TCU, Brad Underwood at Oklahoma State and Chris Beard at Texas Tech.
Player of the year: Monte Morris, Iowa State
Morris battled a shoulder injury toward the end of his junior season that he said influenced his decision to return to school for 2016–17 instead of entering the draft, but he told Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn at the Nike Skills Academy this summer that he “wasn’t in a rush” to jump to the pros after observing the success Denzel Valentine and Buddy Hield enjoyed in their respective senior campaigns at Michigan State and Oklahoma. If Morris performs anywhere near as well as either of those two players did in 2015–16 this season, he shouldn’t face serious competition for this honor. Morris has already proven he’s a skilled playmaker who minimizes mistakes, but with star forward Georges Niang moving on, Morris will need to become a more assertive scorer for the Cyclones as a senior.
Newcomer of the Year: Josh Jackson, Kansas
Jackson is the top-ranked prospect in a recruiting class that is being hailed as one of the best of the last decade. Unsurprisingly, he’s drawn comparisons to the last No. 1 RSCI prospect Kansas signed, current Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins. Yet Jackson could make a bigger impact in his (likely) one season in Lawrence before being selected near the top of the 2017 draft. Jackson is an incredible athlete, a tenacious defender who works hard on both ends of the court and a shrewd distributor who excels making plays in transition. Perhaps Jackson’s most glaring weakness at this point is his jump shot, but that won’t prevent him from becoming one of Kansas’s top scoring options right away. We project the Detroit, Mich., native to lead the Jayhawks in points per game and rank among their top rebounders.
All-Conference Team & Sixth man
PG: Monte Morris, Iowa State
PG: Frank Mason, Kansas
PG: Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
SF: Josh Jackson, Kansas
PF: Johnathan Motley, Baylor
6th man: Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma
Projected Order of Finish
(Projected conference record in parentheses. The tiebreaker for teams with identical records is their standing in SI’s 1–351 national rankings, which will be revealed in early November.)
|Conference Rank||Team||Proj. Conf. Record||’15-16 Conf. Record|
The Skinny on Each Team
1. Kansas (15–3)
Were it not for Duke’s staggering combination of proven returnees and high-upside freshmen, there’d be a strong case for Kansas as the best team in the country. The Jayhawks may merit that distinction at some time before the 2017 tourney. For now, though, we can comfortably slot them atop our projected Big 12 standings. While Kansas may stumble on the road a few times in January and February, no squad in this league looks capable of keeping pace with the Jayhawks over the course of the entire league season. Jackson, senior guards Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham and sophomore forward Carlton Bragg should account for the lion’s share of the Jayhawks’ scoring, and it would be a surprise if they don’t finish with the conference’s top defense. For Kansas, anything short of hanging another Big 12 banner and earning a No. 1 seed in the tourney will feel like a disappointment.
2. West Virginia (10–8)
The Mountaineers enter this season as Kansas’s top competitor for first place in the Big 12 even though they lose leading scorer Jaysean Paige and one of the nation’s top rebounders in Devin Williams. Coach Bob Huggins will lean on a trio of guards (juniors Daxter Miles Jr. and Jevon Carter and senior Tarik Phillip) to power West Virginia’s offense, and former top-50 RSCI recruit Esa Ahmad can help replace Williams’s production on the glass.
|Daxter Miles Jr.||Jr||SG||12.0||3.2||1.6||112.8||20%||67%|
3. Baylor (10–8)
Speaking of teams that need to account for the loss of an elite rebounder . . . The Bears won’t have Rico Gathers around anymore. Nor will wing Taurean Prince, a first-round pick in the 2016 draft, be back for another season. Baylor should be able to overcome those departures and make the NCAAs if junior power forward Johnathan Motley adjusts to a heavier scoring load and Miami transfer Manu Lecomte can approximate the 45.6 three-point percentage he posted as a sophomore.
4. Texas (10–8)
Shaka Smart is building the sort of roster he needs to push Kansas at the top of the league, but that’s unlikely to happen this season. Even so, guards Kerwin Roach Jr. and Eric Davis should make progress as sophomores as Texas moves on from leading scorer Isaiah Taylor (who went undrafted this summer). We expect the Longhorns to get instant returns from top-25 RSCI recruits Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen.
|Kerwin Roach Jr.||So||PG||13.8||4.6||2.5||106.6||24%||77%|
5. Iowa St. (9–9)
Morris is the headliner for a Cyclones team that needs to replace both Niang and All-Big 12 honorable mention center Jameel McKay. The senior floor general is the best player in this conference as well as one of the nation’s top players at his position, but coach Steve Prohm will also need scoring from other sources so defenses can’t stifle Iowa State’s attack by locking down Morris. We project a points-per-game increase of 3.9 for senior wing Deonte Burton.
6. Oklahoma (9–9)
How will the Sooners replace Hield, who was selected as the No. 6 pick in the 2016 draft? Look for them to orient their offense around senior point guard Jordan Woodard, sophomore wing Christian James and junior forward Khadeem Lattin. Also, keep an eye on incoming freshman Kristian Doolitte, a top-100 RSCI recruit from Katy, Tex., whom we project as one of the nation’s top-50 scoring freshmen.
7. Texas Tech (9–9)
Beard takes over a program that has been to the NCAAs only once since 2007, last season. Another trip in 2017 seems like a long shot, though he inherits a roster with more potential for instant success than either of the other two new coaches in this conference. Three of our projected top-100 scoring transfers (power forward Anthony Livingston, point guard Giovanni McLean and shooting guard Shadell Millinghaus) will suit up for the Red Raiders.
8. Oklahoma St. (6–12)
Point guard Jawun Evans shined as a freshman a year ago, but his season was cut short in early February when he suffered a shoulder injury. Assuming he can stay healthy, Evans should be better as a sophomore: We expect him to improve his scoring efficiency. The Cowboys also will benefit from the return of sharp-shooting guard Phil Forte, who played in only three games last season because of an elbow injury.
|Phil Forte III||Sr||SG||15.9||2.9||1.8||120.8||21%||80%|
9. Kansas St. (6–12)
The Wildcats did a good job preventing opponents from putting the ball in the basket last season (25th in defensive efficiency), but they couldn’t generate enough scoring to consistently compete with the upper half of the Big 12. Now Kansas State needs to find a way to recreate the production of its leader in points per game, guard Justin Edwards. The good news is All-Big 12 third-team member Wesley Iwundu is back for his senior year.
|Carlbe Ervin II||Sr||PG||4.7||2.5||2.0||101.4||17%||48%|
10. TCU (6–12)
It seems doubtful that Jamie Dixon will engineer a quick turnaround at his alma mater. The Horned Frogs will need time before they’re ready to push for a spot near the top of the league table. This year, TCU will lean on a pair of top-100 JUCO transfers in power forward Vladimir Brodziansky and guard Malique Trent, and a Power 5 transfer, Texas A&M’s Alex Robinson, will help stabilize the backcourt.