Big 12 Preview: Can Kansas Re-Take the Conference Crown?

One season after the Jayhawks' historic streak was snapped, they will look to get back to reigning over Big 12 basketball.
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Big 12 basketball 2019-20 preseason rankings

As part of SI.com's preview of the 2019–20 college basketball season, we're breaking down each of the seven major conferences, plus the best of the rest. We've done the AACACC and Big East; next up for our conference previews is the Big 12, complete with our analyst's breakdowns of each team and a projected order of finish.

The Big Picture

Kansas ceded the Big 12 crown for the first time since 2004 last season, but don’t expect a drought in Lawrence anytime soon. The Jayhawks enter 2019-20 as the premier power in the conference, boasting a slate of impact returners including Preseason Player of the Year Udoka Azubuike. The threat of legitimate sanctions could knock Kansas’s season—and program—off course at any moment. In the meantime, the Jayhawks will remain the best team in the Big 12.

Conference Player of the Year: Udoka Azubuike, Kansas

The 7’0” senior is back healthy after a wrist injury limited him to nine games last season, and Azubuike should be ready to return to the All-Big 12 form of 2017-18. Azubuike averaged 13 points, seven rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game two seasons ago, punishing opposing bigs en route to a 77% field goal percentage. Kansas feasts on its athletic advantage in the Big 12; Azubuike is no exception. He’s overpowering in the paint, and he can stretch the floor far above the tin. He’s a cut above the rest of the conference’s bigs.

Newcomer of the Year: Chris Clarke, Texas Tech

The Virginia Tech transfer should fit right in with Chris Beard out in Lubbock, bringing a physical wing presence after the Red Raiders lost Jarrett Culver and Brandone Francis. Clarke averaged 11.4 points and 1.3 steals a game per game in 2016-17, and he snagged 6.9 rebounds per 100 possessions in 2017-18, his last season with the Hokies. He even crept toward respectable percentages and attempts from three in 2017-18, showing a willingness to take the corner triple. The Buzz Williams disciple is a perfect fit for Beard in west Texas.

Darkhorse Team: Oklahoma State

Mike Boynton’s second season in Stillwater was a bit of a disaster, but there is a talented team lying under last year’s 12–20 roster. Oklahoma State returns all five starters from last year’s team, including seniors Cameron McGriff and Lindy Waters. UMass transfer Jonathan Laurent should bring additional wing scoring. Ditto for four-star guard Marcus Watson. Oklahoma State could challenge for a top-three finish in the Big 12 with another strong season from beyond the arc.

First-Team All-Big 12

Devon Dotson, Guard, Kansas
Tyrese Haliburton, Guard, Iowa State
Davide Moretti, Guard, Texas Tech
Tristan Clark, Forward, Baylor
Udoka Azubuike, Center, Kansas
Sixth Man: Derek Culver, West Virginia

Predicted Order of Finish

1. Kansas

Kansas’s talent advantage over the conference should be enough to weather any controversy that arrives for Bill Self and his program in 2019-20. Azubuike is a force to be reckoned with, while guard Devon Dotson may be the better Player of the Year candidate. Kansas’s interior defense is fearsome; its athleticism is overwhelming. Dotson’s development could swing the Jayhawks from a second weekend team to the top crew of Final Four contenders.

2. Baylor

Bears head coach Scott Drew manufactured an NCAA tournament appearance with a depleted roster last season, and the 17-year veteran has a serious shot at the Sweet 16 in 2019-20. Baylor is anchored by Preseason All-Big 12 member Tristan Clark, who finished last season with an ultra-efficient 14.6 points per game on 73.7% shooting from the field. A pair of transfers (UNC Asheville’s MaCio Teague and Auburn’s Davion Mitchell) should bolster Baylor’s backcourt depth, while a second season in Waco for swingman Mario Kegler will likely pay major dividends. Baylor is the premier threat to Kansas in the Big 12.

3. Texas Tech
A string of new pieces could make for a bumpy start in Lubbock, though this has the outline of a team that could generate Final Four buzz come March. Sharpshooter Davide Moretti will grow as a playmaker through Big 12 play, and Findlay Prep product Kyler Edwards could become a major backcourt piece in his second season. Clarke should have a marked impact similar to transfer Tariq Owens last year. Chris Beard will get the most out of this young roster.

4. Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State could be the conference’s most exciting team on a given night. The Cowboys love to let it fly from deep, and they’re pretty proficient from behind the arc, too. Only Iowa State made more threes last season. No Big 12 team shot a better percentage. Boynton emboldens his players to run-and-gun with abandon, a welcome sign amid a conference collapsing to the interior. The Cowboys will live and die by the three in 2019-20.

5. Texas

Shaka Smart’s seat will begin to get awfully warm with a slow start given Texas’s string of disappointing seasons. Will Baker is the newest impact center in Austin, and the local kid is more polished than the likes of Jaxson Hayes and Jarrett Allen. Baker can handle the ball end-to-end and he’s competent outside of 12 feet. Perhaps a new center prototype will change the calculus for Smart. A strong year from senior point guard Matt Coleman could do the same. Texas has the talent to be a tournament team. Another year in the NIT may be Chris Del Conte’s last straw.

6. Iowa State

Tyrese Haliburton is a real threat for Big 12 Player of the Year, and he’ll be tasked with carrying the Cyclones to the NCAA tournament in 2019-10. Haliburton shot 43.4% from three as a freshman. He may double his points per game this year from last season’s 6.8 mark. Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton gives Haliburton a partner-and-crime in the backcourt, with Bolton finishing last season canning 52 threes in 32 games. The Cyclones’ depth is slashed compared to previous seasons. Their backcourt talent should keep them in the tournament conversation.

7. West Virginia

Expect a welcome return to Press Virginia in Morgantown this season. Bob Huggins now has the necessary length and depth to initiate his signature scheme, headlined by 6’10” sophomore Derek Culver. West Virginia will punish teams on the offensive glass and wreak havoc with turnovers. Huggins will be back in his natural habitat. The Mountaineers’ defensive prowess should mask their offensive efficiency issues, especially if sophomore Jordan McCabe struggles to become a reliable point guard.

8. Oklahoma

There’s not a ton of perimeter options for Lon Kruger’s crew, though slotting Brady Manek as a small-ball five could provide some serious offensive juice for a team likely in the back-half of conference. Manek is the Sooners’ frontcourt spacer, and Kristian Doolittle is the bruiser. Doolittle averaged 11.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season. Further growth for last year’s Big 12 Most Improved Player could send Oklahoma to the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive season.

9. Kansas State

Bruce Weber’s squad is one of the best defensive units in the conference. Do they have anyone to carry the offensive load? Xavier Sneed is an impressive interior scorer, though he’s largely a one-dribble finisher with little feel as an interior passer. There’s a lot riding on junior guard Cartier Diarra to emerge as a major playmaker in place of a deep list of departures. Taking this Wildcats team to the tournament would be a major accomplishment for Weber.

10. TCU

Can anyone help Desmond Bane? The senior guard is one of the few legitimate scoring options in Fort Worth after averaging 15.2 points per game last season, with Jamie Dixon’s squad entering the season bereft of veteran talent. Point guard Alex Robinson ran the show for TCU last season. He dished nearly seven assists per game last season with a usage rate over 25%. With no immediate heir, TCU will have plenty of empty possessions in 2019-20.