For the last couple seasons, the Big 12 has been the best and deepest country in America. There probably isn’t the top end talent this year for it to lay claim to best, but it again should be the deepest. All 10 teams will likely finish in the KenPom top 100, and scenarios exist where 8 or 9 finish in the top 50. So how do you begin to break it down?
I like to start with this handy chart. It looks weird, but is actually pretty simple. It’s a team’s ending KenPom rank last season combined with the percentage of minutes a team has returning.
As you can see, the horizontal axis is KenPom rank and the vertical axis is minutes returning. Because the lower you get in KenPom, the better your team is, ideally you’d like to be in the top left of the graph.
OK, let’s make some picks:
The Jayhawks actually return the 2nd fewest minutes of anyone, but have two McDonalds All-Americans as their key newcomers, and the Big 12 Player of the Year. This isn’t their deepest team, so an injury could sink them, but on personnel alone they belong at the top.
2. West Virginia
Their style is so tough to prepare for, and they have such a good bench that I think they will overwhelm opponents as much as possible. Jevon Carter should be first team All-Big 12, and they’ll get Esa Ahmad back from suspension in the 2nd semester.
Jamie Dixon has transformed the Frogs immediately (gee who could have seen that coming) and they look a cinch to get to the NCAA tournament for the first time since joining the league. Vlad Brodziansky is one of the best big men in the league, and if Jaylen Fisher takes the step forward he should, TCU can challenge for best backcourt in the league.
The Sooners were the 2nd worst team in the league last year according to KenPom, but return almost 90 percent of their minutes. Their big newcomer is also a McDonalds All-American. Furthermore, Oklahoma finished 3rd in the league defensively last year and their 9th-ranked offense will improve with continuity now that everyone is a year older.
After a huge step back last year, Texas has to cope with the departure of Jarrett Allen. To ease the pain they welcome in cinch lotto pick Mohamed Bamba. I also really like Andrew Jones’ game as well. The ‘Horns should have one of the best defenses in the league, but I don’t know how much the offense can improve, especially considering they finished 10th last year despite having the best 2-point percentage in the league.
I might regret putting Baylor this low, but Jonathan Motley is a ton to replace. Manu Lecomte should have a bounce back year, and I am a big Jo Acuil fan. Also, even with his other faults, Scott Drew gets his guys to play hard for him night in and night out better than most coaches in the country, which should be worth some extra wins.
7. Kansas State
I could see the Wildcats finishing as high as 5th, but Barry Brown took a worringly large step back offensively last season. Defensively the Wildcats finished just 6th, but I think luck played a part there considering all the threes opponents made (then again the Wildcats allowed a ton of attempts). Dean Wade had a big year offensively last year, but needs to improve his defense in order for K-State to make the tournament.
8. Texas Tech
I could also see the Raiders finishing as high as 5th. Zach Smith rules, Keenan Evans is good, and they might see a second year bump now that Chris Beard is more familiar with the team. Still, they finished 7th in offense and 8th in defense last year, and have fewer minutes returning than K-State, so I had to put them after the Wildcats.
9. Iowa State
The Cyclones have freshman sensation Lindell Wigginton, who could drag the Clones higher than this by himself, and Solomon Young showed a lot of potential last season as a freshman. Still, the Clones lose their entire offense in Monte Morris and Deonte Burton, and return fewer minutes than anyone in the league. One small silver lining is the loss of the old guard should allow them to improve quite a bit defensively.
10. Oklahoma State
They are the hardest team to rank thanks to the ongoing FBI investigation, but after being turned into a legitimate team by Brad Underwood, he’s gone (to Illinois). So is Jawun Evans, their do everything point guard. They’re not bereft of talent, with Jeffrey Carroll and Mitchell Solomon, but the loss of Evans and Underwood is devastating.