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The Briefest of Big 12 Previews

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

With late night coming on Friday, we will be unveiling some Big 12 and KU preview stuff in the coming weeks, including ranking the KU rotation players (3rd installment!), ranking the 10 Big 12 teams, and releasing our (my) preseason all Big 12 ballot.

To help me visualize the Big 12 race, especially at the bottom of the pack, I have a graph of the Big 12 teams plotting their 2015 end of season KenPom rank against the percentage of minutes they have returning. As you can see by the fact that Iowa State has over 70 percent of its minutes back from last year's team and that only ranks fifth in the league, the Big 12 should be a dogfight this season.

Keep in mind that this obviously doesn't account for recruiting as well as transfers who will become eligible this season. Still, it is a good short form, big picture glance at the league:

As you can see from the alignment of the chart, the ideal spot to be is in the top left corner of the graph. Fortunately for our purposes, that's exactly where the Jayhawks reside. Kansas finished last season one spot below Oklahoma in the KenPom ratings, but the Jayhawks return 81.8 percent of their total minutes. Add in a pair of elite recruits, and the fact that Bill Self has done his best work with veteran teams, and the equation leads to what could be a very special season in Lawrence.

Elsewhere, Oklahoma returns quite a bit of talent from a potential Final Four caliber team. However, the Sooners lose Tashawn Thomas, who could have been their most important player, despite the fact that they also had Big 12 player of the year Buddy Hield. The Sooners ranked 8th nationally and 1st in the Big 12 defensively last season with Thomas, a transfer from Houston. Without Thomas the season before, Oklahoma ranked 91st in the country and 5th in the Big 12. If Thomas was really that important to Oklahoma's defensive numbers, the Sooners could be taking a step back.

The other note at the top is just how similar Iowa State and Baylor are. The Cyclones are nearly universally thought of as a contender for the conference title, but we should be paying more attention to the Bears. They will need to get their point guard situation figured out but if they can, Baylor should be in the hunt until the end.

We'll skip the middle and bottom of the league until the preview rolls out, but it already looks like there are some tiers developing within the league. And once again the Big 12 should be one of the best and deepest leagues in the country. Kansas has the best team, but #12 is going to be a challenge.