Conference Preview: Big 12

Conference Preview: Big 12

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

Kansas bounced back in a major way in the 2019-20 season after snapping a streak of 14-straight regular season Big 12 titles the season prior. Bill Self's squad went 17-1 in the conference, besting Baylor by two games. The Jayhawks and Bears were the only two teams in the Big 12 that had a conference record over .500 last season, as the middle of the pack absolutely beat up on each other.

The Big 12 always goes through Lawrence, but Baylor should be the favorite this time around, along with an argument for preseason No. 1 nationally. The Bears return their top three scorers in Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell. They do lose breakout big man Freddie Gillespie down low, but veterans Mark Vital and Tristan Clark are more than capable of picking up the slack in the frontcourt. Kansas on the other hand, loses two of the best players in the Big 12 last season in Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. Five-star freshman Bryce Thompson will be tasked to step in and replace some of Dotson's production, while former McDonald's All-American David McCormack will hope to replicate Azubuike's defensive prowess on the interior. Do-it-all guard Marcus Garrett could be in store for a Tyrese Haliburton-like season from last year with massive production across the board.

The one team that might be able to challenge Baylor and Kansas is Texas Tech, but that will all be determined on whether Georgetown transfer Mac McClung is

Kansas bounced back in a major way in the 2019-20 season after snapping a streak of 14-straight regular season Big 12 titles the season prior. Bill Self's squad went 17-1 in the conference, besting Baylor by two games. The Jayhawks and Bears were the only two teams in the Big 12 that had a conference record over .500 last season, as the middle of the pack absolutely beat up on each other.

The Big 12 always goes through Lawrence, but Baylor should be the favorite this time around, along with an argument for preseason No. 1 nationally. The Bears return their top three scorers in Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell. They do lose breakout big man Freddie Gillespie down low, but veterans Mark Vital and Tristan Clark are more than capable of picking up the slack in the frontcourt. Kansas on the other hand, loses two of the best players in the Big 12 last season in Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike. Five-star freshman Bryce Thompson will be tasked to step in and replace some of Dotson's production, while former McDonald's All-American David McCormack will hope to replicate Azubuike's defensive prowess on the interior. Do-it-all guard Marcus Garrett could be in store for a Tyrese Haliburton-like season from last year with massive production across the board.

The one team that might be able to challenge Baylor and Kansas is Texas Tech, but that will all be determined on whether Georgetown transfer Mac McClung is able to secure a waiver for eligibility this season. The NCAA has become a little softer on handing out waivers, so it's likely McClung is able to play this fall. If that does indeed happen, the Red Raiders are getting at 15+ PPG scorer with tons of experience. They will replace Jahmi'us Ramsey, who left for the NBA, with their highest rated recruit in school history in Nimari Burnett, a combo guard out of Napa, California. UNLV transfer Joel Ntambwe and VCU transfer Marcus Santos-Silva will lead the frontcourt, while Wichita State transfer Jamarius Burton will join veteran Kyler Edwards in the backcourt. There's a ton of incoming talent with no experience in the system, but if anyone can get individuals to buy in and work as a team in a short amount of time, it's head coach Chris Beard, who in all honesty is still underrated.

There are a couple teams in this conference like Texas and West Virginia, who are returning pretty much all of their key rotational pieces from last season. Texas features a strong guard trio in Matt Coleman, Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey. They also have one of the best sharpshooters in Jase Febres and underrated big man Jericho Sims. West Virginia has the best post combination in the conference with Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe, but the question will be what do they get from their perimeter players offensively. Miles McBride has shown the most potential and will need a big season to put the Mountaineers in the top-four of the conference.

Then, we arrive at teams like Oklahoma, TCU and Iowa State, who are all looking to replace their star player from last season. The Sooners will have to account for Kristian Doolittle's 15.8 PPG and 8.9 RPG that he is leaving behind. The majority of that should be shouldered by seniors Austin Reaves and Brady Manek, who both averaged north of 14 points and five rebounds last season. De'Vion Harmon is the real X-factor, however, as he showed flashes of greatness last season, but also quite a bit of inconsistency. The Horned Frogs will have to replace the best pure scorer in the conference last season in Desmond Bane, who averaged 16.6 PPG and also led the team in assists and steals. R.J. Nembhard should now have full control of the offense and be poised for a big year, and Kevin Samuel could become arguably the best center in the conference. Lastly, Iowa State will have to replace a triple-double threat in Tyrese Haliburton, who led the team in scoring, assists and steals. Rasir Bolton averaged 14.7 PPG last season and will have a decent chance to lead the conference in scoring as a junior. Solomon Young will return for his senior season to lead an inexperienced team in the frontcourt. He will likely pair with George Conditt down low, who has flashed massive potential in limited minutes.

That leaves two teams, Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Starting with the Cowboys, there was serious optimism about a year ago when the No. 1 overall recruit from the 2020 class, Cade Cunningham, committed to Stillwater. Then came the postseason ban that was handed down in early June for recruiting violations, most notably former associate coach Lamont Evans, who accepted bribes to influence student-athletes from 2016-17. That would ultimately lead to their best returning player, Yor Anei, deciding to transfer to SMU. His departure, along with Cameron McGriff graduating, leaves the frontcourt with serious questions. The backcourt, on the other hand, is one of the best in the Big 12 top-to-bottom, led by stat-stuffer Isaac Likekele. Cal Baptist transfer Ferron Flavors will provide an outside shooting threat and four-star recruit Rondel Walker should be a solid contributor in the backcourt at some point this season. Oklahoma State has at least a few reasons for optimism this season, but Kansas State on the other hand is pretty much destined to finish last in the conference for the second-straight campaign. The Wildcats lose their leading scorer in Xavier Sneed to graduation and point guard Cartier Diarra elected to grad transfer to Virginia Tech. Mike McGuirl, DaJuan Gordon and Montavious Murphy will all need to take big leaps this season if Kansas State is to be competitive at all in the Big 12. The Wildcats only real reason for optimism likely comes from four-star point guard recruit Nijel Pack, who should start right away and will have an opportunity for solid production.

Projected Team Standings

  1. Baylor
  2. Kansas
  3. Texas Tech
  4. Texas
  5. Oklahoma
  6. West Virginia
  7. TCU
  8. Oklahoma State
  9. Iowa State
  10. Kansas State

Top Players

Overall: Marcus Garrett, G, Kansas  

Head coach Bill Self has always had high-profile recruits but also has done a tremendous job developing some lower-rated recruits over the course of four years in the system. Two recent guards that he has done that with have been Frank Mason and Devonte Graham, both of whom went on to win Player of the Year in the Big 12. I'm expecting that same type of leap out of Marcus Garrett in his senior season. He will have the ball in his hand a ton with the departure of Devon Dotson and his 18.1 PPG and 4.0 APG. Even with Dotson in the fold, Garrett still led the conference in assists at 4.6 per game and was third in steals with 1.8 per contest. It wouldn't surprise me at all to see Garrett have multiple triple-doubles next season. If the 6-5 guard develops a consistent outside jump shot, that will take Kansas to the next level.

Also considered: Jared Butler (BU), Mac McClung (TTU), Cade Cunningham (OKST), Brady Manek (OU)

Scoring: Rasir Bolton, G, Iowa State  

Bolton's 14.7 PPG last year ranked seventh in the conference, and now with Tyrese Haliburton gone, the ball will be in Bolton's hands a lot this season. He really has no other proven players around him. The junior has a knack for creating contact and getting to the line, where he ranked top-three in the conference in terms of free-throw percentage. If Bolton starts knocking down shots from the perimeter consistently, it wouldn't surprise me at all if he averages very close to 20 PPG. The opportunity is there for a huge season from the 6-3 guard.

Also considered: Austin Reaves (OU), Mac McClung (TTU), Jared Butler (BU), MaCio Teague (BU)

Rebounding: Oscar Tshiebwe, F, West Virginia  

Tshiebwe tore it up as a freshman, ranking second in the Big 12 to only Udoka Azubuike in rebounding at 9.3 per contest. He totaled 10 double-doubles on the season and also led the Mountaineers in scoring. Tshiebwe only averaged just over 23 minutes per game, but I think coach Bob Huggins will be forced to keep his 6-9 power forward on the court more often this season with a team that will really struggle to score. Teammate Derek Culver might take away some of his rebounding upside, but both should be able to co-exist in the frontcourt. Tshiebwe has the higher ceiling as he averaged 4.1 offensive rebounds per game to Culver's 2.7 last season, and is also the more skilled offensive player in the post.

Also considered: Jericho Sims (TEX), Kevin Samuel (TCU), Mark Vital (BU), Derek Culver (WVU)

Assists: R.J. Nembhard, G, TCU  

Nembhard should replace a lot of the production left by Desmond Bane. Both players last season ranked inside the top-eight in the Big 12 in assists last season. With really no other ball-handling threats, Nembhard should have free reign to make all the decision for head coach Jamie Dixon's offense. With a potentially dominant big in Kevin Samuel down low and a few quality shooters on the perimeter, expect the 6-5 guard to have plenty of options for distributing. Nembhard's goal this season should be Alex Robinson from the 2018-19 campaign when he led the Big 12 at 6.9 assists per game for the Horned Frogs.

Also considered: Isaac Likekele (OKST), De'Vion Harmon (OU), Matt Coleman (TEX), Marcus Garrett (KU)

Center(s): Kevin Samuel, C, TCU  

Samuel very well might be the most talented big man in the Big 12, but he still has a little more development to do offensively. Heading into his junior season, I see Samuel and R.J. Nembhard proving to be the most dynamic inside-out duo in the conference. Samuel ranked sixth in the Big 12 in rebounding at 8.4 per contest and led in blocks at 2.7 per game. Expect both of those to tick upward and the 6-11 center to average very close to a double-double. Head coach Jamie Dixon should have his offense go inside more this season with Desmond Bane no longer in the fold.

Brady Manek, C, Oklahoma  

It's kind of hard to believe that Manek is already now a senior. He came on the seen as a reliable shooting big man in an offense led by Trae Young. The 6-foot-9 Oklahoma native has improved his game each season, and last year he averaged career-highs in scoring (14.4 PPG), rebounds (6.2 RPG), blocks (1.2 BPG) and three-pointers (2.3 3PM). With Kristian Doolittle now out of the Sooner frontcourt, that leaves 15.8 points and 8.9 rebounds per game for Manek to absorb. He will be the reason Oklahoma challenges in the Big 12.

Also considered: Derek Culver (WVU), Jericho Sims (TEX), Tristan Clark (BU)

Freshman: Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State  

Usually when we are talking about the best incoming freshman in the Big 12, we are talking about Kansas. This time around coach Mike Boynton and Oklahoma State were able to ink the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2020 with the extremely versatile Cunningham. The Cowboys have a strong collection of guards on their roster but very little proven frontcourt players. The team lists the star freshman at 6-8, so I would fully expect him to play the 4 and have a point forward role due to his elite vision and passing skills. His shooting range should develop as the season progresses, but his size and speed makes him a matchup nightmare for opposing team. His upside for production across the board on this roster is massive.

Also considered: Greg Brown (TEX), Nimari Burnett (TTU), Bryce Thompson (KU), Nijel Pack (KSU),

Transfers

 Mac McClung, G, Texas Tech

This is all assuming the transfer from Georgetown is able to secure a waiver from the NCAA to be able to play this season. It is more likely than not that McClung receives one, and it would make the Red Raiders a strong third team in the Big 12. The 6-2 guard averaged 15.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.4 SPG and 1.5 3PM in 21 games last season for the Hoyas. McClung is an instant threat for Player of the Year in the conference and would make arguably the best backcourt duo in the Big 12 with rising junior Kyler Edwards. Not many coaches in America have gotten more out of transfers recently than Chris Beard.

 Ferron Flavors, G, Oklahoma State

Flavors will be eligible when the season begins as a graduate transfer from Cal Baptist. He should have a role similar to what Thomas Dziagwa had the last couple seasons with the Cowboys before transferring, knock down perimeter shots. Last season Flavors led the Western Athletic Conference in both three-pointers per game (2.93) and three-point percentage (42.7%). He should fit well next to playmakers like Isaac Likekele and Cade Cunningham in that offense. 

 Marcus Santos-Silva, F, Texas Tech

The Red Raider frontcourt has been led by transfers the past few seasons and that will be no different in the 2020-21 campaign. The likely leader of the frontcourt this season will by VCU graduate transfer Marcus Santos-Silva. The 6-7 forward led the Rams last season in scoring (12.8), rebounding (8.9) and blocks (1.2). He should easily be able to easily pick up the slack with the departures of TJ Holyfield and Chris Clarke. 

 Jalen Coleman-Lands, G, Iowa State

Coleman-Lands brings a ton of experience to a relatively young roster. He is a sixth-year senior who began his career in Illinois and led the team in three-pointers each of the two seasons he played with the Fighting Illini. Coleman-Lands played at DePaul each of the last two seasons and averaged 11.1 points and 2.0 three-pointers per contest. He has a good chance to start from Day 1 in the backcourt alongside Rasir Bolton and Tre Jackson

Also considered: Adam Flagler (BU), Tyon Grant-Foster (KU), Joel Ntambwe (TTU), Tyler Harris (ISU)

[All transfers listed other than McClung have already received eligibility for 2020-21 season]

Sleepers

 George Conditt, F, Iowa State

With Michael Jacobson graduating, Conditt has a clear path to a lot of minutes at the center position this season for the Cyclones. In only 16.3 minutes per game last season, Conditt averaged 7.0 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. I'd expect the 6-10 junior to be among the leaders in blocked shots in the conference and have a decent amount of double-doubles.

 Kyler Edwards, F, Texas Tech 

Edwards quietly had a very good season last year in a supporting role on the perimeter to Jahmi'us Ramsey and Davide Moretti. He ranked top-20 in the conference in scoring (11.4 PPG), assists (3.1 APG), three-pointers (1.6), assists/turnover ratio (1.58) and minutes (33.4 MPG). With both of those guards leaving to pursue a professional career, Edwards is poised for increased production this season even with Mac McClung (transfer) and Nimari Burnett (five-star combo guard) coming into the fold. If for some reason McClung was unable to secure a waiver to play this season, Edwards easily becomes a top-10 fantasy option.

Miles McBride, G/F, West Virginia

McBride alone will basically determine whether the Mountaineers can challenge for a top-four spot in the conference. We all know about that impressive frontcourt duo of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver, but the perimeter on the offensive end leaves many questions. One bright spot coach Bob Huggins found last season was McBride, who had an eight-game stretch in the middle of the season when he scored in double figures in every game and averaged 14.1 points in just 23.3 minutes per contest. That type of efficient scoring is something this team desperately needs, and if Huggins is smart, he will give the sophomore every opportunity to show what he can do.

Also considered: De'Vion Harmon (OU), David McCormack (KU), Kalib Boone (OKST), P.J. Fuller (TCU)

Top-10 Players*

  1. Marcus Garrett, G, Kansas
  2. Jared Butler, G, Baylor
  3. Brady Manek, C, Oklahoma
  4. Mac McClung, G, Texas Tech
  5. Cade Cunningham, G, Oklahoma State
  6. Rasir Bolton, G, Iowa State
  7. R.J. Nembhard, G, TCU
  8. Kevin Samuel, F/C, TCU
  9. MaCio Teague, G, Baylor
  10. Oscar Tshiebwe, F/C, West Virginia

*Note: These rankings are at the discretion of the article author, and may not necessarily correspond with Rotowire's official 2020-21 player rankings.

Projected Rotations

For deeper or Big 12-only leagues, we'll include projected team rotations here. Asterisks denote any player whose status is uncertain for the upcoming season. Think we left anyone out? Let us know in the comments. 

First NameLast NameSchoolPosition
TristanClarkBaylorF
JaredButlerBaylorG
MarkVitalBaylorF
DavionMitchellBaylorG
DainDainjaBaylorF
JohnathanTchamwa TchatchouaBaylorF
MacioTeagueBaylorG
AdamFlaglerBaylorG
RasirBoltonIowa StateG
SolomonYoungIowa StateF
GeorgeCondittIowa StateF
TreJacksonIowa StateG
DudleyBlackwellIowa StateF
XavierFosterIowa StateF
BryceThompsonKansasG
DavidMcCormackKansasF
OchaiAgbajiKansasG
MarcusGarrettKansasG
SilvioDe SousaKansasF
JalenWilsonKansasF
MikeMcGuirlKansas StateG
MontaviousMurphyKansas StateF
NijelPackKansas StateG
DavionBradfordKansas StateF
DaJuanGordonKansas StateF
CarletonLinguardKansas StateF
BradyManekOklahomaF
AustinReavesOklahomaG
De'VionHarmonOklahomaG
AlondesWilliamsOklahomaG
JalenHillOklahomaF
VictorIwuakorOklahomaF
IsaacLikekeleOklahoma StateG
AveryAndersonOklahoma StateG
CadeCunninghamOklahoma StateG
FerronFlavorsOklahoma StateG
KalibBooneOklahoma StateF
KeylanBooneOklahoma StateF
Matthew-AlexanderMoncrieffeOklahoma StateF
DianteSmithTCUF
JaedonLeDeeTCUF
R.J.NembhardTCUG
KevinSamuelTCUC
P.J.FullerTCUG
TerrenFrankTCUF
CharlesO'BannonTCUG
AndrewJonesTexasG
MattColemanTexasG
CourtneyRameyTexasG
JerichoSimsTexasC
GregBrownTexasF
JaseFebresTexasG
KaiJonesTexasF
MacMcClung*Texas TechG
JamariusBurtonTexas TechG
KylerEdwardsTexas TechG
TerranceShannonTexas TechF
MarcusSantos-SilvaTexas TechF
NimariBurnettTexas TechG
DerekCulverWest VirginiaF
EmmittMatthewsWest VirginiaF
JordanMcCabeWest VirginiaG
OscarTshiebweWest VirginiaF
MilesMcBrideWest VirginiaG
SamMcNeilWest VirginiaF
GabeOsabuohienWest VirginiaF
TazShermanWest VirginiaG

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan  Andrade
Ryan has covered golf and college basketball for RotoWire since 2016. He has also written articles for ProGolfNow.com.
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