Conference Preview: Big 12

Conference Preview: Big 12

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

The Big 12 has been arguably the best conference in the country over the last decade from top to bottom. Going into last season, however, no team from the Big 12 had cut down the nets in April since Kansas in 2008. That changed last NCAA Tournament when Baylor steamrolled their way to the team's first national title since 1951. That Baylor team has a much different look than a season ago, as the team will have to replace one of the best backcourts in recent memory of Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague. The Bears bring in Arizona transfer James Akinjo, who averaged 15.4 points and 5.4 assists last season and is poised to take the keys to Scott Drew's high-flying offense. Adam Flagler, Matthew Mayer, and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua are key returning pieces with plenty of experience and are in a position to take the next step, along with five-star freshman forward Kendall Brown.

Baylor was the clear-cut favorite to win the conference a year ago, but going into this season, two other team's appear to be a step ahead -- Kansas and Texas. For the Jayhawks, they return four starters and bring in star Arizona State transfer Remy Martin to fill in at point guard for Marcus Garrett. The team also added a marksman transfers in Drake's  Joseph Yesufu and Iowa State's Jalen Coleman-Lands. Both should provide a spark off the bench. For the Longhorns, they are a completely

The Big 12 has been arguably the best conference in the country over the last decade from top to bottom. Going into last season, however, no team from the Big 12 had cut down the nets in April since Kansas in 2008. That changed last NCAA Tournament when Baylor steamrolled their way to the team's first national title since 1951. That Baylor team has a much different look than a season ago, as the team will have to replace one of the best backcourts in recent memory of Jared Butler, Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague. The Bears bring in Arizona transfer James Akinjo, who averaged 15.4 points and 5.4 assists last season and is poised to take the keys to Scott Drew's high-flying offense. Adam Flagler, Matthew Mayer, and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua are key returning pieces with plenty of experience and are in a position to take the next step, along with five-star freshman forward Kendall Brown.

Baylor was the clear-cut favorite to win the conference a year ago, but going into this season, two other team's appear to be a step ahead -- Kansas and Texas. For the Jayhawks, they return four starters and bring in star Arizona State transfer Remy Martin to fill in at point guard for Marcus Garrett. The team also added a marksman transfers in Drake's  Joseph Yesufu and Iowa State's Jalen Coleman-Lands. Both should provide a spark off the bench. For the Longhorns, they are a completely different looking team than a year ago. For starters, they replace Shaka Smart with former Texas Tech coach Chris Beard. Beard has always been able to work magic in the transfer portal, and he did that again this year, bringing in Marcus Carr from Minnesota, Dylan Disu from Vanderbilt, Tre Mitchell from UMass, Timmy Allen from Utah and Christian Bishop from Creighton. All of those players were productive scorers and rebounders that should all mix into one of the deepest rotations in the country. The team also brings back starters Courtney Ramey and Andrew Jones, with Devin Askew behind them as a long-term answer at point guard after transferring from Kentucky.

Those top three teams are pretty sure-fire bets to be a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. After that, however, there are a number of teams that are featuring a new-look roster and hoping to contend in the Big 12. Texas Tech lost its starting backcourt of Mac McClung and Kyler Edwards along with its coach, as mentioned above. The Red Raiders return forwards Kevin McCullar and Terrence Shannon, however, both of whom will stand out this season with more opportunity. They also add key transfers Bryson Williams from UTEP, Mylik Wilson from Louisiana, Kevin Obanor from Oral Roberts and Davion Warren from Hampton who will boost this rotations considerably.

West Virginia will need to replace its best two players of Miles McBride and Derek Culver. Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil were two solid scorers from a year ago that will need to make the next step to make the Mountaineers a threat. Malik Curry should start at point guard from Day 1 as a transfer from Old Dominion. Gabe Osabuohien will get the lane all to himself this season. The 6-foot-7 forward is a monster defensively and head coach Bob Huggins will trust him to play a lot of minutes.

Oklahoma loses its best three players along with long-time head coach Lon Kruger. The Sooners brought in a good hire in former Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser. He was able to work the transfer portal and bring in Jordan Goldwire from Duke, who should start at point right away, and the Groves' brothers Tanner and Jacob. Tanner was the Big Sky Conference Player of the Year last season, averaging 17.2 points and 8.0 rebounds. The play of returning guards Umoja Gibson and Elijah Harkless will likely determine how far they go.

Over in Stillwater, coach Mike Boynton will have to replace last year's Big 12 Player of the Year and No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham. This was a solid roster already, but Cunningham took the team to that next level with his effortless scoring and playmaking ability. The ball will go back into do-it-all point guard Isaac Likekele's hands this season, and Avery Anderson has the potential to lead the conference in scoring. Rondel Walker and Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe were the other two highly-rated recruits in Oklahoma State's amazing class of 2020 that are hoping to take the next step in their development. Kansas transfer Bryce Thompson and Memphis transfer Moussa Cisse should both factor into the rotation as well.

Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, and Oklahoma are pretty interchangeable this season, and I would expect them all to get an NCAA Tournament bid. The bottom three teams are where the questions start. Kansas State would be the one of the three I think has the best chance to compete on a game-by-game basis in this conference. The Wildcats bring back their three best players from last season in Nijel Pack, Mike McGuirl and Davion Bradford. They also add in Mark Smith from Missouri and Ismael Massoud from Wake Forest, both of whom could potentially start. There's a lot of solid young pieces on this team who will start to grow together and eventually work themselves back towards the top half of the conference. TCU and Iowa State are both complete overhauls from a season ago. The Horned Frogs bring in eight new players from last season to put alongside rising sophomore Mike Miles, who may very well lead the conference in scoring. Their best get in the transfer portal was Emanuel Miller from Texas A&M who was a double-double machine last season and will hope to fill the void inside left by Kevin Samuel. Then we arrive at Iowa State, and well, they are just looking to actually win a game in the conference, something that couldn't be said of last year's team. Tyrese Hunter is the lone bright spot for the Cyclones, as he should come right in and be productive. Transfers Gabe Kalscheur, Izaiah Brockington, Blake Hinson and Tristan Enaruna should all play decent minutes in the main rotation.

Hopefully, the 2021-22 season goes smoother than last season -- one that featured extended breaks for a number of different teams as well as a myriad of cancellations due to COVID-19. We should also get the return of full arenas, which gives each game that extra juice in one of the most competitive conferences in the country. Transfers will play a big impact in the Big 12 this season, with several teams leaning on the transfer portal to revamp their rosters. The future of the Big 12 may be in question, but as for this basketball season goes, there is legit potential for this to be an eight-bid league. Kansas' core has been together so long now that it just feels like this is their year, not only to take the crown at the top of the Big 12 again, but take home Bill Self's long awaited second National Championship in Lawrence.

Top Players

Overall: James Akinjo, G, Baylor

The NCAA champs are facing a big overhaul this season, but head coach Scott Drew has plenty of talent to make it happen and go on another deep tournament run this season. Akinjo is their prized acquisition, and he will look to fill the shoes of former Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year Jared Butler. Davian Mitchell and MaCio Teague also are no longer back from one of the great backcourts in recent memory. Akinjo should get full control of the offense coming off a one-year stay at Arizona in which he averaged 15.6 points, 5.4 assists, 2.3 rebounds, 2.0 three-pointers and 1.4 steals per contest. There are certainly others capable of winning Big 12 POY, but none have a better mix of talent and opportunity for this upcoming season than Akinjo.

Also Considered: Marcus Carr (TEX), David McCormack (KU), Mike Miles (TCU), Taz Sherman (WVU)

Scoring: Taz Sherman, G, West Virginia

Miles McBride leaving for the NBA was a bit of a surprise for head coach Bob Huggins. Now Sherman will be needed to fill that scoring roles for the Mountaineers in 2021-22 after McBride and his 15.8 PPG have left. Considering Derek Culver and his 14.3 PPG are also gone, you have 30.1 PPG that need to be filled just from those two players. West Virginia is very thin in the backcourt this season behind Sherman, Sean McNeil and Old Dominion transfer Malik Curry, so all three should see significant playing time and shots. Sherman should lead the way in the scoring department for West Virginia next season, however, as he proved himself as a very crafty scorer coming off the bench down the stretch last season. The 6-4 guard averaged 14.9 points, 2.0 assists, 1.8 three-pointers and 1.3 steals over the final nine games a season ago.

Also Considered: Mike Miles (TCU), Marcus Carr (TEX), Avery Anderson (OKST), James Akinjo (BAY)

Rebounding: Emanuel Miller, F, TCU

Miller standing at just 6-7 doesn't have the prototypical size you would think about for being potentially top rebounder in the conference, but TCU is very small this year and the Texas A&M transfer should see a lot of time at center. Miller will take over for Kevin Samuel, who had been a reliable big on the interior for the last three seasons. Miller is coming off a huge season at Texas A&M in which he averaged 16.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest. There is plenty of opportunity for Miller to make a big impact in 2021-22, as Mike Miles is really the only other proven commodity on this roster.

Also Considered: Jalen Wilson (KU), Marcus Santos-Silva (TTU), Dylan Disu (TEX), Gabe Osabuohien (WVU)

Assists: Isaac Likekele, G, Oklahoma State

Likekele is coming off a bit of a down season that saw him battle a foot injury and have to adjust his play style a bit. Cade Cunningham came right in last season and assumed a ball dominant, point-forward role that he rode to a Big 12 Player of the Year title and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. With Cunningham now out of the fold, Likekele gets to go back to handling the ball and distributing within the offense. He averaged 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.9 steals as a sophomore, all of which he should be able to improve on as a senior.

Also Considered: James Akinjo (BAY), Marcus Carr (TEX), Jordan Goldwire (OU), Nijel Pack (KSU)

Center: David McCormack, C, Kansas

McCormack had a lot of weight on his shoulders coming into last year's campaign having to replace Udoka Azubuike as the team's starting center. It wasn't the greatest of starts to 2020, but by conference play McCormack was playing super confidently and able to score at will on the interior. Over the final 14 games of last season, the former McDonald's All-American averaged 15.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.0 block on 57 percent shooting. Even on a loaded Kansas roster, McCormack is the best center in the Big 12.

Also Considered: Moussa Cisse (OKST), Davion Bradford (KSU), Dylan Disu (TEX), Marcus Santos-Silva (TTU)

Freshman: Tyrese Hunter, G, Iowa State

Iowa State has been a mess for the last few years, and if it wants to make any noise in the Big 12, the Cyclones' highest rated recruit in program history will have something to do with it. Tyrese Hunter is a athletic and dynamic scorer. He has a slight build, but he has a solid feel for getting his teammates involved and has the ability to finish at a variety of angles around the rim. There are not a whole lot of other proven commodities for Iowa State going into this season, so Hunter should take over as the starter at point guard Day 1.

Also Considered: CJ Noland (OU), Kendall Brown (BAY), Langston Love (BAY), Zach Clemence (KU)

Sleepers

Sean McNeil, G, West Virginia

McNeil broke out into a very productive player last season in which he averaged 12.2 points and 2.4 three-pointers per contest. As I mentioned earlier with Taz Sherman, with the loss of Miles McBride and Derek Culver, there is a ton of production that needs to be absorbed on a roster that is pretty thin, especially in the backcourt. McNeil is going to get the green light to chuck from deep whenever he wants and it would not be a surprise to see him average north of 15 PPG and 3.0 3PM. He should also see his rebounds, assists and steals go up as well.

 Nijel Pack, G, Kansas State

Pack was easily one of the more impressive freshman in the conference last year, and he seems poised to take another step forward on an improving Kansas State team. Pack averaged 12.7 points, 3.8 assists, 3.7 rebounds, 2.5 three-pointers and 1.2 steals per contest last season. The team brings back veteran Mike McGuirl along with stud young center Davion Bradford, but Pack will be relied upon heavily to carry the load offensively if head coach Bruce Weber wants to stick around Manhattan much longer.

 Kevin McCullar, G, Texas Tech

McCullar had his 2020-21 campaign slowed early by a foot injury, but once he got on the court he was a difference maker. The 6-6 forward averaged 10.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.8 blocks and 0.7 three-pointers per contest. McCullar will have the opportunity to step up with guards Mac McClung and Kyler Edwards out of the fold. Transfer Mylik Wilson is really the only true point guard on the roster, but McCullar has shown good playmaking ability in the past and could see some point forward opportunities this season. He will be a joy for roto players due to his chances to produce in every statistical category.

Also Considered: Matthew Mayer (BAY), Mylik Wilson (TTU), Kevin Obanor (TTU), Umoja Gibson (OU)

Transfers

 Marcus Carr, G, Texas

When Chris Beard made the move to Texas one thing was for certain: he was going to attract a few big-name transfers. You'd definitely be hard-pressed to find anyone in the portal more productive than Marcus Carr. Last season he averaged 19.4 points, 4.9 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 2.1 three-pointers and 1.3 steals per game. Now there are a ton of mouths to feed on the Longhorn roster, but Carr should be that game-breaking leader and scorer that Texas has been lacking for the last several years.

Remy Martin, G, Kansas

Much like Carr, Remy Martin is another elite scorer that decided to move to the Big-12 in the offseason. Martin has averaged north of 19 PPG each of the last two seasons. He is also dynamic in terms of getting his teammates the ball and hitting perimeter shots. Martin will slot in at point guard immediately and take over for Marcus Garrett. The two couldn't be any different from a playing standpoint, but Martin should spread the court even more for head coach Bill Self as he leads one of the best starting lineups in the country.

Tanner Groves, C, Oklahoma

It's fitting that Groves might wind up as the second-best center in the conference behind KU's David McCormack. In the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament last season, these two had an incredible battle going back and forth in the post against each other. Groves ended up scoring 35 points, but McCormack and company would get the victory. After winning Big Sky Conference Player of the Year at Eastern Washington behind his 17.2 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game, Groves will look to test himself in the Big 12 by taking over for Brady Manek at center for Oklahoma. There is no other Sooner to really challenge Groves in the frontcourt in 2021-22.

Also Considered: Tanner Groves (OU), Emanuel Miller (TCU), Malik Curry (WVU), Timmy Allen (TEX)

Top-10 Players*

  1. James Akinjo, G, Baylor
  2. Marcus Carr, G, Texas
  3. Taz Sherman, G, West Virginia
  4. Mike Miles, G, TCU
  5. David McCormack, C, Kansas
  6. Remy Martin, G, Kansas
  7. Isaac Likekele, G, Oklahoma State
  8. Terrence Shannon, F, Texas Tech
  9. Avery Anderson, G, Oklahoma State
  10. Adam Flagler, G, Baylor

*Note: These rankings are at the discretion of the article author, and may not necessarily correspond with RotoWire's official 2021-22 player rankings.

Projected Team Standings

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

Projected Team Rotations

First NameLast NameSchoolPosition
JamesAkinjoBaylorG
KendallBrownBaylorF
FloThambaBaylorF
JonathanTchamwa TchatchouaBaylorF
AdamFlaglerBaylorG
MatthewMayerBaylorF
LangstonLoveBaylorG
GeorgeCondittIowa StateF
TreJacksonIowa StateG
IzaiahBrockingtonIowa StateG
GabeKalscheurIowa StateG
BlakeHinsonIowa StateF
TyreseHunterIowa StateG
JadenWalkerIowa StateG
CalebGrillIowa StateG
TristanEnarunaIowa StateF
RemyMartinKansasG
JalenWilsonKansasF
JosephYesufuKansasG
JalenColeman-LandsKansasG
OchaiAgbajiKansasG
DavidMcCormackKansasF
Christian BraunKansasF
NijelPackKansas StateG
MikeMcGuirlKansas StateG
MarkSmithKansas StateG
SeltonMiguelKansas StateF
IsmaelMassoudKansas StateF
DavionBradfordKansas StateF
MarkquisNowellKansas StateG
KaosiEzeaguKansas StateF
JordanGoldwireOklahomaG
ElijahHarklessOklahomaG
UmojaGibsonOklahomaG
TannerGrovesOklahomaC
EthanChargoisOklahomaF
JalenHillOklahomaF
C.J.NolandOklahomaG
IsaacLikekeleOklahoma StateG
AveryAndersonOklahoma StateG
BryceWilliamsOklahoma StateG
KalibBooneOklahoma StateF
Matthew-AlexanderMoncrieffeOklahoma StateF
BryceThompsonOklahoma StateG
MoussaCisseOklahoma StateC
RondelWalkerOklahoma StateG
MikeMilesTCUG
DamionBaughTCUG
MaxwellEvansTCUG
ShahadaWellsTCUG
MicahPeavyTCUF
CharlesO'Bannon Jr.TCUG/F
EmmanuelMillerTCUF
FranciscoFarabelloTCUG
MarcusCarrTexasG
CourtneyRameyTexasG
AndrewJonesTexasG
TimmyAllenTexasF
TreMitchellTexasF
Christian BishopTexasF
DylanDisuTexasF
DevinAskewTexasG
MylikWilsonTexas TechG
SardaarCalhounTexas TechG
BrysonWilliamsTexas TechF
TerranceShannonTexas TechF
MarcusSantos-SilvaTexas TechF
KevinMcCullarTexas TechF
KevinObanorTexas TechF
DavionWarrenTexas TechG
JalenBridgesWest VirginiaF
DimonCarriganWest VirginiaF
PaulyPaulicapWest VirginiaF
GabeOsabuohienWest VirginiaF
MalikCurryWest VirginiaG
TazShermanWest VirginiaG
SeanMcNeilWest VirginiaG
KedrianJohnsonWest 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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