Last year, the Big 12 conference was by most accounts the best conference in the country. 70% of the league's teams (more than any other conference in America) made the NCAA tournament. And though the conference lost a ton of star power (Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Marcus Smart, Isaiah Austin, etc), it may once again end up being the nation's best.
The Mountaineers have yet to crack to Big 12 code, going a combined 30-35 in their first two season with only a single NIT loss to show for postseason play. The coaching staff feels confident that this roster is the one that will prove their worth in this conference. We'll soon find out.
For now, there seems to be three tiers in the conference. The favorites (1-4), the mostly unknowns (5-8) and the doormats (9-10). Here's the breakdown:
1. Kansas Jayhawks, 1-0
Very few programs in America could lose two top-five NBA draft picks and still not miss a beat. Kansas is one of those programs. Out go Andrew Wiggins & Joel Embiid, and in come Kelly Oubre & Cliff Alexander. The Jayhawks also return Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis, and will be dominant once again. They've won 10 straight Big 12 regular season titles. At this point, you just have to give Bill Self the benefit of the doubt. We'll get a pretty good idea this week where they stand nationally, when they take on #1 Kentucky on Tuesday night.
Last week: Defeated UCSB (11/14) 69-59
2. Texas Longhorns, 2-0
Last season, the Mountaineers had absolutely no shot against Texas because of the Longhorns' size. Guess what? They got even bigger. 6'10 superstar freshman Myles Turner joins Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes in the front court of an already stacked team that returns everyone important from last season. In his first game with the Longhorns, Turner had 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks in only 20 minutes. Last season Texas was a nightmare matchup for WVU, but with the Mountaineers also adding some size it's more manageable than last year, when they just had no shot.
Last week: Defeated NDSU (11/14) 85-50, Defeated Alcorn State (11/16) 85-53
3. Iowa State Cyclones, 1-0
The Cyclones lose DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim, but still have plenty of weapons. Fred Hoiberg once again has cornered the market on transfers, this year adding former UNLV guard Bryce Dejean-Jones and JUCO big man Jameel McKay, who joins the team in December. Oh, and there's Georges Niang, who very well could be the best player in the Big 12. Niang dropped 30 in the Cyclones' season opener. He was the only player in the conference to make the SB Nation Preaseason All-American first team, and will be a major problem again for the rest of the conference.
Last week: Defeated Oakland (11/14) 93-82
4. Oklahoma Sooners, 1-0
High-scoring guard Buddy Hield returns to a Sooner team ranked 19th in the AP preseason poll. The Sooners also return big man Ryan Spangler, who nearly averaged a double-double last season. Oklahoma received huge news on Saturday from the NCAA about transfer TaShawn Thomas, who was declared immediately eligible. In their season opener, Hield went 7-7 from three and scored 25 points. Impressive.
Last week: Defeated SE Louisiana 78-53 (11/16)
5. West Virginia Mountaineers, 2-0
I could be way off, but I really like the potential of this Mountaineer team. Much more than any team since WVU has joined the Big 12. They're as deep as they've been in the Huggins era, and (when healthy) legitimately go 10-deep. It may take a while for everyone to learn their roles and for the freshman and JUCOs to adjust to big-time college basketball, but there's potential here for a very solid squad. The Mountaineers looked terrible to start the season against Monmouth, but showed some really good things in Sunday's win over Lafayette. Being even league average in FG% will be a challenge. If they can do that, then this ranking is justified.
Last week: Defeated Monmouth 64-54 (11/14), Defeated Lafayette 83-56 (11/16)
6. Kansas State Wildcats, 1-0
Kansas State will be led by scoring machine Marcus Foster, who averaged over 15 PPG as a freshman. They also have this guy, 6'11 Brandon Bolden, who crushed all the hopes and dreams of a Southern Utah player last Friday:
Last week: Defeated Southern Utah 98-68 (11/14)
7. Baylor Bears, 1-0
The Bears have a ton of production to try and replace this year after losing Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson, and Brady Heslip. Baylor will rely heavily on senior point guard Kenny Chery, who averaged 11.5 points, and 4.7 assists last season. They also return Royce O'Neale, who Mountaineer fans remember being introduced to last year when he shot a perfect 12-12 and dropped a 22-6-6 on WVU in Morgantown.
Last week: Defeated McNeese State (11/14) 80-39
8. Oklahoma State Cowboys, 2-0
Losing Marcus Smart to the NBA is a huge blow. Even though he sometimes couldn't control his emotions, Smart was the heart and soul of the Cowboys. Oklahoma State does return some veteran leadership in Le'Bryan Nash and Phil Forte, and they added transfer Anthony Hickey Jr. from LSU. Still, this could be a rebuilding year in Stillwater.
Last week: Defeated SE Louisiana (11/14) 83-55, Defated Prairie View A&M 74-52 (11/16)
9. Texas Tech Red Raiders, 1-0
Tubby Smith will get this program turned around at some point. For this season, though, the most memorable moment of Red Raider hoops has already occurred:
Last week: Defeated Loyola (MD) 71-59
10. TCU Horned Frogs, 1-0
The Horned Frogs didn't win a single Big 12 game last season. They'll be better this year, after adding a couple transfers in Trey Ziegler and Chris Washburn and the expected improvement of promising big man Karviar Shepherd. They were decimated by injuries last season, and you have to think their luck will turn around enough to at least win one conference game.
Last week: Defeated Prairie View A&M (11/14) 71-54