About a week ago, the Big 12 coaches came out with their preseason all Big 12 teams and preseason Big 12 poll. I’ll save the all Big 12 teams for later in the week, but the poll is today.
Unlike the last couple of years, Kansas looks to be head and shoulders above the rest of the league this year. But spots 2-10 really look up for grabs. I’ve seen people pick West Virginia, Texas, Iowa State, and Baylor to finish 2nd in the league, and I have seen people pick one of those teams to finish as low as 7th. It’s anyone’s guess this year.
First, like every year, the chart. While it isn’t as useful for major leagues as it is for mid majors (more on that in a bit), it is still very useful to get the big picture. All it does is plot a team’s percentage of returning minutes by its adjusted efficiency margin from last year. Because a bigger efficiency margin is better (unlike KenPom rank, where lower is better) the top right is where you want to be in the chart:
A couple quick notes:
Kansas (and to a lesser extent Texas) illustrates some of the flaws with this for major teams. Kansas loses over 40 percent of its minutes to the NBA, but because it adds two McDonalds All Americans, including the top player in the class, these losses are mitigated. Likewise, Texas adds Jarret Allen to a roster losing its two best players, and its two best big men, which should offset the damage a bit, whereas a mid major team with those kind of losses would be in deep trouble.
Oklahoma State is in better shape than the returning minutes (and KenPom rank) would indicate. The Cowboys return just over 40 percent of their minutes, but will get Phil Forte back as a 6th year senior after he was hurt very early last year, and Jawun Evans played in just 22 games due to injury, and he will be back for a full season as well.
Alright, onto the rankings:
The Jayhawks should face little trouble this year. They have maybe the best backcourt in the country, the best recruit in America, and multiple future NBA players coming off the bench. Barring injury, I think they’ll clinch a share of the title with multiple games to go in the season.
This is probably as aggressive a ranking as you’ll find for Baylor. I’ll lay out my case. For starters, Baylor did a pretty good job of preventing 3-point attempts last year, but allowed teams to shoot 41 percent from deep. Given the lack of control defenses have over 3-point percentage allowed, I think the defense will improve from that alone. I also think that Rico Gathers and Lester Medford were also a pretty big part of a defense that ranked 8th in the league. I am also not sure the offense is going to drop off that much going from Medford to King McClure, and Taurean Prince to Jonathan Motley. Add in a couple transfers who I am incredibly high on (including Manu Lecomte, who shot 46 percent from 3 as a sophomore for Miami) and I think Baylor will be a shock 2nd place finisher in the league.
3. West Virginia
Some people have pushed back on this because they don’t have Devin Williams or Jaysean Paige. I don’t buy it. Those guys were very good, but the system is the star. Jevon Carter is going to be great and the defense will still force a lot of turnovers. The one thing that is worrisome is WVU loses its two best offensive rebounders in Devin Williams and Jonathan Holton, and they absolutely cannot shoot. I am banking on them finding some rebounding, but if they don’t then they could slip a bit in the rankings.
4. Kansas State
Bruce Weber seems like a lock for coach of the year given that the coaches pegged K State for 9th. I don’t buy it. This is good news for Kansas of course because it means K State should keep him around longer. K State returns a whopping three-fourths of its production from last season, which is huge news for a team whose biggest problems last year were turning the ball over and putting the ball in the basket. Sophomore Dean Wade turned into a bit of a handful towards the end of last season, and if he’s bulked up at all he should improve even more on his 53.5 percent shooting on twos in Big 12 play. The one thing that gives me pause about ranking them 4th is I am not sold on Barry Brown as a Big 12 caliber point guard, which would hurt, although Wesley Iwundu has proven he can distribute the ball from the forward spot.
5. Oklahoma State
At this point I realize my ranking probably looks a lot different than everyone else’s and I am either going to look like a genius or an idiot (or probably a little bit of both) but I am really into this OSU team. Jawun Evans is freaking incredible, posting a 41.9 percent assist rate last year while shooting 47 percent on twos and 47.5 percent from three. Phil Forte returns to give the Cowboys some leadership (and a 38.6 percent career 3-point shooter) and the Cowboys have an impressive stable of role guys. I really like new head coach Brad Underwood, although won’t be 100 percent sold on him until he can prove he can win without the overwhelming best player on the floor, considering he had Thomas Walkup in each of his three years at Stephen F. Austin.
I will admit to not seeing it with Texas. The Longhorns lose Isaiah Taylor, who took 80ish more shots than anyone else on the team, Javan Felix, who took the 2nd most shots on the team, Cam Ridley, and Prince Ibeh. Yes they bring in a pair of talented freshmen. Yes Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis have a ton of potential. But teams that lose their overwhelming top scorer don’t usually recover so quickly, to say nothing of a team losing its 3 best players.
7. Iowa State
I can certainly see Iowa State finishing as high as 4th, just to get that out of the way. Monte Morris is awesome, but I think his numbers have been padded a bit by being able to throw it to Georges Niang for free assists and Niang opening the floor up for him as much as he did. I don’t see him being as efficient with a much bigger load to carry, and even though Iowa State should have more depth this year than the last couple seasons, Monte Morris needs to be an All American for the Cyclones to be a top half of the league team.
See the Texas blurb for why I think Oklahoma will take a step back. Jordan Woodard is awesome, and Christian James and Khadeem Lattin will probably take big enough steps forward for this ranking to look terrible by the end of the year. Plus they have Lon Kruger. Hmmm, maybe I can pretend I got Oklahoma and Oklahoma State mixed up. Anyway, Buddy Hield rescued the Sooners so often last year that I think it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest OU will take a step back in close games (Oklahoma was 7-5 in games decided by 6 points or less in Big 12 play)
9. Texas Tech
As is custom, these two don’t get much of a write up, although I do think Texas Tech could surprise some people. Aaron Ross is probably the best athlete in the league as well. TCU, meanwhile, made overwhelmingly the best hire in the league this offseason, and maybe the best Big 12 hire since Oklahoma hired Lon Kruger in 2012. TCU probably won’t challenge the upper echelon Big 12 teams anytime soon, but should be contending for NCAA bids in short order.