We are counting down the top 25 players returning to Big 12 basketball this year, and in this group of five we encounter the first group to be sans Jayhawks.
Because of my staunch 'no Freshmen" rule, most of the players in this list have been guys who need something to break right for them to make an all conference team, whether it be playing time (Jamari Traylor) or the ability to throw the ball in the ocean (Isiah Taylor).
Now, though, we mostly move into the realm of guys who have an inside track on those top spots. Obviously I can forsee a world in which Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre, and Myles Turner take up 3 of the top 10 spots in the league, but for the most part the next 15 guys on the list won't be guys who need a huge jump in usage rate or anything else to be considered the upper echelon of the league.
15. Buddy Hield, Junior, Oklahoma
Hield shot 39% from three and 51% from two, which obviously immediately creates a matchup problem for defenders. Hield doesn't offer much on the glass (though I do think his 6% offensive rebound rate says more about his team than him, as Lon Kruger has rarely been one to stress that facet of the game), nor is he a great passer. However, he's one of the only Sooners that defends fairly well, and I think his numbers would look even better if he weren't shoehorned into playing the 3 for Oklahoma.
14. Thomas Gipson, Senior, Kansas State
Let's be honest, Thomas Gipson does not look like a division 1 basketball player. He also has a bit of a Jamari Traylor-esque habit of turning the ball over. And, to be honest, given the same amount of playing time there's little doubt in my mind that Traylor would be the better player.
However, Gipson is a solid inside scorer (56.3% from two) for a team that at times really struggled to put the ball in the basket last year ("at times" meaning "from November to March"), which has a lot of value. Gipson also was a good offensive rebounder and the best defensive rebounder on an admittedly poor defensive rebounding team. (note: someone should do a study on whether if you're the only good rebounder on a poor rebounding team your numbers will look better than they should or worse than they should. I'm inclined to believe better, but I could see arguments for worse as well).
Enough digressions. Gipson doesn't make it look pretty but he is effective and provides two valuable services for a team in dire need of them.
13. Monte Morris, Sophomore, Iowa State
Morris didn't get a ton of chances to show his stuff last year, posting just a 12.7% usage rate, but that usage rate is going to go way up with the departures of Deandre Kane and Melvin Ejim.
It's not a great stat obviously, but Morris posted a 6.4 assist to turnover ratio in Big 12 play last year, which led the league by a wide margin. A lot of that came down to his not having to really do anything on offense, so his numbers were inflated, but it still shows a but of potential for the Sophomore.
Morris shot 40% from three last season, but just 33% in league play. Was it because defenses adjusted, or just a cold streak? With the offense Fred Hoiberg runs, and the attention that will be on Georges Niang this year, Morris should get quite a few opportunities to show what his true shooting ability is.
12. Kenny Chery, Senior, Baylor
I have quite the mancrush on Chery (so much so that I spelled his name wrong for like half the season last year), who was a standout at the Juco level before coming to Waco. His eFG was under 50%, but that was mostly due to his decision to shoot 117 threes for some reason. He shot 47% from two despite being under 6 foot tall, and his assist/turnover numbers were off the charts. Chery had a 33.3% assist rate and a turnover rate of just 18.9%. Perhaps the much maligned Scott Drew is pretty good at coaxing amazing seasons out of tiny point guards. Chery won't get the recognition he deserves this year because Baylor should be pretty bad, so consider this me making it up to him.
11. Ryan Spangler, Junior, Oklahoma
Speaking of man crushes, if it wasn't for his horrible tattoos Spangler would be my favorite player in the Big 12. His usage rate was really low last year (15.9%) and with most of the Sooners back it might be again, but that would be good news for OU opponents.
Spangler is your classic junkyard dog type. You won't be able to throw it to him on the block and let him go to work. But he is a very smart player who is adept at getting position both down low and in anticipation of rebounds. It's a large reason why Spangler shot over 60% from two and was one of the best offensive and defensive rebounders in the league.
Because of OU's offense, Spangler won't get any Big 12 POY talk or anything (nor should he probably) but it's worth noting he was second in the league in offensive rating during conference play, and if there were a draft of players who you'd expect to average a double double this year, Spangler would be my #1 (and maybe only) pick.