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  • Kansas appears to be in position to win the Big 12 for a record 15th consecutive year, but don't count out the Jayhawks' in-state rivals and their primary adversaries from a year ago to make it interesting if Bill Self's team stumbles out of the gate.
By Molly Geary
August 16, 2018

Now that August has set in and we’re just three months away from the start of college basketball’s regular season, it’s time to check in on each of the six major conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC). Every team in the country has questions at this point of the summer, some more pressing than others. So in addition to power-ranking each league, we’ll be asking some burning questions about the conference, whether they’re related to specific teams and players or the league as a whole. We already did the ACC, next up: the Big 12.

Big 12 Summer Power Rankings

1. Kansas: The Jayhawks will be in the conversation to be the No. 1 team in the country, let alone the Big 12 preseason favorite.

2. Kansas State: Yes, the Wildcats caught a couple major breaks in terms of who they played during their Elite Eight run, but they bring back all five starters from a 2017 team that finished fourth in the league.

3. West Virginia: The Mountaineers will have an elite frontcourt, but things are a little less clear on the perimeter.

4. Texas: Even without Mo Bamba, the Longhorns have a good core returning, especially in the backcourt. A top-10 recruiting class joins them.

5. TCU: A healthy Jaylen Fisher is key to this team, which also returns starters Alex Robinson, JD Miller and Desmond Bane.

6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders lost a considerable amount of talent but added key grad transfers in Tariq Owens and Matt Mooney and could see Jarrett Culver break out.

7. Iowa State: Lindell Wigginton is back after flying under the national radar despite a big freshman year, and four-star Talen Horton-Tucker is a versatile addition.

8. Baylor: After losing three key starters, the Bears’ new additions include freshmen, Jucos and transfers (see below for the latter). Senior guard King McClure is the leading returning scorer.

9. Oklahoma: The Sooners’ rebuild took a detour with the early surge of Trae Young, but it should resume as they look to reset after a wild season.

10. Oklahoma State: Cameron McGriff and Lindy Waters are the Cowboys’ lone returning starters, but Indiana transfer Curtis Jones will be eligible after the fall semester.

Burning Questions

Should we hand Kansas the regular-season title now?

Just kidding—kind of. But you know the drill: The Jayhawks have won 14 straight Big 12 regular-season titles, the last of which came even after things looked in doubt last January, and now that streak seems destined to continue. It’s highly likely that Bill Self’s reloaded team will be in the top three of the preseason national AP poll, maybe even No. 1. And while teams like West Virginia and Kansas State may push Kansas, it doesn’t feel right now like anyone looms as a legitimate threat to finally steal the Big 12 away. Then again, this is college basketball, and we are just coming off a season that brought an especially high frequency of chaos. Things like injuries, suspensions or underperformance can always alter a conference race, but for now, it’s probably safe to consider the Jayhawks the clear favorites.

What’s Oklahoma’s next step post–Trae Young?

The Sooners are coming off a roller coaster season that saw them rise faster than anyone expected on the back of a freshman that took college hoops by storm, then crash just as quickly as it hit a massive wall during Big 12 play. In the end, it all resulted in an 18-win season, a first-round NCAA tournament exit and the departure of said freshman as a one-and-done. So what now? Per kenpom.com, Trae Young led all players nationally in percentage of possessions used when on the court, so if it wasn’t already clear, things are going to look very different in Norman this winter. Several of the same faces will be back, however, including seniors Christian James and Rashard Odomes and sophomore Brady Manek, who together made up three of the Sooners’ five leading scorers. Kameron McGusty transferred, but Lon Kruger’s roster additions include grad transfers and three-star guard Jamal Bieniemy. It’s highly unlikely Oklahoma will have another unexpected strong start, but stranger things have happened…

Is the Kansas State hype simply a product of its unexpected NCAA tournament run?

… Speaking of strange things, it’s true that the Wildcats got massively fortunate last March when UMBC knocked out Virginia, clearing a path to the Sweet 16 and beyond. And it’s completely fair to question if the ‘Cats would even appear in so many offseason Top 25s had they simply played the Hoos and lost. But overlook this K-State team at your own risk. For one thing, tournament wins over Creighton and Kentucky are nothing to sneeze at—especially when you consider that they came without the usual services of leading scorer and rebounder Dean Wade, who was limited to eight minutes all tournament due to injury. Now, not only is Wade back, but the next six top scorers are as well, including Barry Brown Jr., who averaged 15.9 points, and Xavier Sneed, who scored a career-high 22 points in the Sweet 16 win over Kentucky. Sneed was a bit of a streaky three-point shooter at times last season, and it’s an area where the Wildcats (minus Wade and Carter Diarra) struggled as a whole, but if he can find more consistency, a big year could be in store—for both him and Kansas State.

How much will West Virginia miss Jevon Carter?

Jevon Carter was a pivotal four-year player for the Mountaineers and one of the very best defenders in the country. He was a major part of “Press Virginia” and was sixth nationally in win shares as a senior, so his absence will definitely be felt. With shooting guard Daxter Miles also having graduated, WVU’s backcourt will look quite different next season. Between Sagaba Konate, Esa Ahmad, Lamont West, Wesley Harris (who was arrested and charged with two misdemeanor counts of assault in July, 247Sports reported Thursday morning) and more, the three, four and five positions will be in strong hands, but Bob Huggins is going to need people to step up on the perimeter, both offensively and defensively, to even begin to replace what Carter (and Miles) brought night in and night out. Junior guard James Bolden should see an increased role after serving as a backup, while redshirt freshman Brandon Knapper was recently medically cleared to play. Juco signing Jermaine Haley, four-star recruit Jordan McCabe and junior Chase Harler are also among those who should be in the mix in the backcourt.

Who will emerge as the league’s next crop of stars?

Of the 10 total players on last season’s All-Big 12 first and second teams, only two are still in college basketball, and both go to school in Manhattan. Dean Wade and Barry Brown Jr., should once again be among the conference standouts, but who else will take up that mantle? Kansas big man Udoka Azubuike and now-eligible transfer Dedric Lawson have to be up there, as does West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate and Iowa State’s Lindell Wigginton, who returned to Ames after averaging 16.7 points and shooting 40.1% from three as a freshman. In terms of this year’s rookies, only three of the RSCI ranking’s top 40 recruits are in the Big 12, and all three (Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson, David McCormack) are at Kansas; additionally, Texas has a pair of top-50 four-stars in Courtney Ramey and Gerald Liddell. This is likely to be a veteran-led league, with Texas’s Kerwin Roach II and Dylan Osetkowski, WVU’s Esa Ahmad, Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver and TCU’s Jaylen Fisher also among players who could take the next step to the top tier in 2018–19.

How quickly will Kansas’s new pieces jell?

If there’s a potential roadblock or adjustment period for the Jayhawks next season, it’ll probably be fitting all of their new pieces together with the returning ones. Some of them, like K.J. and Dedric Lawson and Charlie Moore, are transfers that spent the last season practicing with the team, which should give them a leg up. Others, like top-30 recruits Quentin Grimes, Devon Dotson and David McCormack, will likely need to go through the typical high school-to-Division I adjustment, even as elite prospects. Those six will then join a returning core that includes Udoka Azubuike, Lagerald Vick, Silvio De Sousa, Marcus Garrett and Mitch Lightfoot. That’s a plethora of talent in Lawrence—and Bill Self is no stranger to integrating both top freshmen and transfers—but if Kansas doesn’t look quite as sharp as expected out of the gate, it doesn’t mean the sky is falling, or that this team is overrated. Just look at last November, when the Jayhawks scored only 65 points in a work-in-progress-style win over Kentucky in the Champions Classic and didn’t come into their own until February, kick-starting an eventual Final Four run. It shouldn’t take that long this time around, but that doesn’t mean everything will immediately fall into place.

How will transfers impact the middle of the Big 12?

Kansas pulled off the biggest transfer coup in the league in the Lawson brothers and Charlie Moore, but how the middle tier of the Big 12 shakes out could come down to the performance of several now-eligible players. Texas adds Elijah Mitrou-Long, a former Mount St. Mary’s standout, to its deep backcourt, while Iowa State will have the services of Marial Shayok, who averaged 8.9 points as a junior at Virginia. Baylor, which loses three starters, adds former four-star Mario Kegler, and more importantly, could have ex-Yale standout Makai Mason (who has played just one game since March 2016, when he helped the Bulldogs upset the Bears) take the floor at point guard. Texas Tech filled a big need down low with St. John’s grad transfer Tariq Owns and also added guard Matt Mooney, who averaged 18.7 points on 44.5% shooting for South Dakota last season. It’s rarely easy to predict exactly how transfers will work out, especially when jumping from a mid-major to high-major league, but the answer has the power to alter some Big 12 team’s seasons.

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