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Big 12 Preview: Who Can Keep Kansas From a Record 14th Straight Title?

It's no surprise that Kansas is once again the favorite to win the Big 12, and its two biggest challengers know their way around the conference title race, too.

Sports Illustrated’s 2017–18 preview is guided by data from our College Basketball Projection System, a collaboration between economist Dan Hanner and SI’s Chris Johnson 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.

More Projections: Top 100 scorers | Top 100 transfers | Top 50 freshmen | NPOY

The Big Picture

Kansas’s roster won’t look like the one that won 31 games and reached the Elite Eight last season, but the changes don’t portend a different state of affairs at the top of the Big 12. It would be a major upset if the Jayhawks do not take home at least a share of their 14th consecutive regular-season conference championship and thereby break the record UCLA set from 1967 to ’79. The league’s other nine teams are probably just shooting for runner-up status, although West Virginia, which brings back eighth-year senior candidate Jevon Carter, feels like Kansas’s most formidable competitor, and TCU could push for third after winning the NIT last season.

Player of the year: Devonte’ Graham, Kansas

Graham rode shotgun on point guard Frank Mason’s drive to sweeping the National Player of the Year awards last season. Now he’s ready to take the wheel as the Jayhawks’ offensive workhorse and ice-in-his-veins dagger-wielder. We see Graham increasing his points-per-game output from 13.4 to 15.8, maintaining his scoring efficiency and taking on among the highest minutes shares in the Big 12. It could take some time for Graham to find a healthy balance with Malik Newman, but although the Mississippi State transfer and former five-star recruit could have value as a backcourt scorer, he should spend more time deferring to Graham than hunting shots for himself.

Newcomer of the year: Trae Young, Oklahoma

Young, the No. 20 prospect in the class of 2017 according to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, reportedly drew scholarship offers from brand-name programs like Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Arizona, but the Norman North (Okla.) product elected to stay home and play for the Sooners. Head coach Lon Kruger won’t put any training wheels on the most significant recruiting win of his Oklahoma tenure. Young should be the Sooners’ first-choice shot-maker from Day One. He’ll team with sophomore Kameron McGusty, himself a former top-40 recruit, to get Oklahoma in the conversation for an at-large bid after the program won just 11 games and failed to qualify for the field of 68 last season.

All-conference team and sixth man

G: Jevon Carter, West Virginia
G: Devonte’ Graham, Kansas
G: Trae Young, Oklahoma
F: Jeffrey Carroll, Oklahoma State
C: Mohamed Bamba, Texas
Sixth man: F Vladimir Brodziansky, TCU

Projected order of finish

(For teams with the same projected conference record, the tiebreaker was their place in SI’s ranking of teams 1-351, which will be revealed later this month.)


The Skinny on each team

1. Kansas (12–6)


Given the composition of his roster, Jayhawks coach Bill Self is going to have to roll out some small-ball looks at times. The addition of Arizona State transfer Sam Cunliffe at the end of the first semester will give Kansas an athletic shooter who can be moved around in the lineup depending on who else is in the game.

2. West Virginia (11–7)


With Carter back to lead West Virginia’s press, the Mountaineers will remain a chore to run offense against. But they won’t have their most important frontcourt player available before the start of conference play in January: Esa Ahmad is suspended for the first half of the season because he did not meet NCAA eligibility requirements.

3. Baylor (10–8)


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No Big 12 team suffered a bigger blow at the NBA draft withdrawal deadline than Baylor with power forward Johnathan Motley. The Bears won’t easily replace his scoring, rebounding on both ends of the court and rim defense. Manu Lecomte can help prop up this offense by continuing to drain more than 40% of his three-point attempts.

4. TCU (10–8)


The Horned Frogs’ progress under new head coach Jamie Dixon last season was not a mirage. They should be back in the NCAAs next March for the first time since 1998. Vladimir Brodziansky, an efficient inside scorer and ace shot-blocker who led the Big 12 during conference play with an 86.7 free throw percentage in 2017, deserves more national attention.

5. Oklahoma (9–9)


We project only four other freshmen (Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr., Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Kentucky’s Hamidou Diallo) to average more points per game than Young, with 15.2, in 2017-18. His stats won’t amount to much for the Sooners, though, unless players like McGusty and Kristian Doolittle can draw defensive attention away from him.

6. Texas Tech (9–9)


Keenan Evans quietly put together one of the better seasons of any point guard in the Big 12 in 2017. It wasn’t enough to get the Red Raiders into the tournament, but he might be able to propel them into the field of 68 in ’18, particularly since power forward Zach Smith decided to return to Lubbock after entering the draft pool without hiring an agent.

7. Texas (9–9)


It’s reasonable to think Bamba, the No. 4 recruit in the class of 2017 according to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, could be the most impactful freshman defender in the country. But neither that, nor the return of former top-25 recruit Andrew Jones for his sophomore season, is likely to fix an offense that rated out as the worst in the Big 12 last season.

8. Iowa State (8–10)


A trio of transfers—former Princeton forward Hans Brase, former UTSA forward Jeff Beverly and former Old Dominion forward Zoran Talley Jr.—will buoy an offense that loses its four leading scorers from last season (Monte Morris, Nazareth Mitrou-Long, Deonte Burton and Matt Thomas). SI projects Talley to lead all Big 12 transfers with prior Division I experience in points per game.

9. Kansas State (7–11)


The Wildcats are going to miss wing Wesley Iwundu, an early second-round pick in this year’s draft, and big man D.J. Johnson. Our model sees juniors Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes shouldering heavier offensive workloads than anyone else in the rotation, but neither guard was an efficient scorer last season. A second consecutive tourney bid feels like a long shot.

10. Oklahoma State (5–13)


Former assistant coach Lamont Evans’s arrest as part of an FBI investigation into corruption across college basketball will cast a pall over Oklahoma State’s season. Finishing outside of the Big 12 cellar would be a minor victory for the Cowboys, but opponents will need to take note of Carroll, an efficient wing scorer who sank 46.8% of his 77 three-point attempts during conference play in 2017.