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Big 12 Top 25 Returning Players Series: Introduction and 25-21

We begin our look at the top 25 players returning to the Big 12 with a look at the first group of 5

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Big 12 was again one of the deepest conferences in the country last year, as 7 of the conferences 10 teams earned NCAA tournament berths. And even though players like Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart, and so on all left the league for the NBA, the Big 12 once again looks to be good and deep.

I debated whether to try to rank the top 25 players overall or just the top 25 returners and settled on returners for a couple reasons: first, it's tough to predict what kind of a role some of the Freshmen will have. Sviatoslav Mikhailiuk could play 25-30 minutes per game and end up a top 15 player in the league, or because he's 17 he could play 10 minutes per game and not rate on the list at all. I'd rather not make those kind of judgment calls about fit and playing time because it is up to the coaching staff and who can predict what some of those guys will do. The other reason is I find it more fun to talk about some of the fringe type guys (though obviously a top 25 player in the league can hardly be classified as a fringe player). Everyone knows about Cliff Alexander or Myles Turner, and those guys are already ranked in terms of their recruiting ranking. It's much more fun to try to defend ranking, say, Phil Forte over Naz Long and then checking my mail for any bombs coming from Ames.

By the numbers, Kansas, Texas and Iowa State lead the pack with 4 selections each. Oklahoma, whom I peg to finish ahead of Texas and Iowa State in the league (spoiler alert) has three players on the list. Every team in the league except 1 is represented, and it's not the team I have picked to finish last. In all, it should be another great  year of Big 12 basketball. To the list!

25. Naz Long, Junior, Iowa State

The first of four Cyclones, Long posted impressive shooting numbers this year, making 56% of his twos and 40% of his threes. His numbers dipped in Big 12 play however, as Long shot just 35.6% from three and 38% from the field overall. Long also didn't have much of a role in the offense, with just a 14% usage rate, and he played in just under half the team's minutes on the year. He should have a much bigger role in the offense next season, and we'll see if he can keep up the efficiency.

24. Phil Forte, Junior, Oklahoma State

Forte made 44% of his 227 threes last year, making him a dangerous weapon from beyond the arc. He also barely turned it over last year, ranking 10th in the country in turnover rate.

However, Forte is a liability defensively and providing value beyond the arc is virtually the only thing he does on offense. A great argument could be made for having Long ahead of him, but Forte can legitimately explode for 30 points just from three pointers, so I'll tentatively have him at 24.

23. Isiah Taylor, Sophomore, Texas

Texas fans loved Taylor last year. He is a very exciting player, but his penchant for shooting so much probably contributed to Texas ranking 262nd nationally in eFG. He had a sub 40% eFG, and managed to do so while taking just 19 threes on the year. He took an impressive 349 twos and managed to make only 39.8% of them, which I suppose could be construed as impressive as well.

Taylor did draw his fair share of fouls, and he had a good 26% assist rate and just an 18% turnover rate, so if he can manage to make a few more shots he'll belong much higher on this list, and Texas will have a better chance at winning the league than I currently think they do.

22. Conner Frankamp, Sophomore, Kansas

I am ready for the first calls of bias. It is probably not unwarranted in this case, though I will note it comes not from a place of homerism but from a place of getting to watch every Kansas game (most of them 2 or 3 times) and reading about, and poring over the stats of, every Kansas player on the roster. So perhaps being so familiar with Frankamp leads me to ranking him this high when if his name were Joe Smith and he played for Baylor he probably wouldn't crack the list.

Still, Frankamp was a heralded recruit who was one of the best players on every USA Basketball team he played on. Frankamp scored in double figures in each of Kansas's two NCAA tournament games last year, and went 4-7 from beyond the arc vs. Stanford. But it's more than overvaluing a pair of tournament games. Frankamp has a great outside shot, doesn't turn the ball over, and plays adequate on ball defense. I made this point on the first podcast, but Kansas could legitimately run their offense through him and let him shoot 10 threes per game and I think they'd end up with the best offense in the league.

21. Jordan Woodard, Sophomore, Oklahoma

Woodard struggled from two last season, making just 35% of his 162 attempts inside the arc, but he shot 37% from three. Woodard somehow managed to shoot under 40% at the rim, so assuming that mark comes up he should see his shooting percentage rise a bit.

Woodard excelled at the other areas of his offensive game, however. He posted a 28% assist rate next to just a 19.4% turnover rate, and he was one of the best players in the league, and in the country, at drawing fouls. He went to the line for 188 free throws, ranking 27th nationally in free throw rate.