Fans of the Kansas Jayhawks love Big 12 championships, and fresh after winning an 11th straight crown, people are already looking ahead to the 2015-16 season. The Big 12 was one of the best conferences in college basketball this year. Loaded from top to bottom, the league was rewarded with an astounding 70% NCAA tournament rate, and it figures to be very competitive again next season.
Using information put together from user nallen34 on the Iowa State fan site Cyclone Fanatics, let’s take an expanded look at the impending personnel changes for each of Big 12 schools. Today, we’ll run through three teams that all had bright moments, but ultimately placed 7th, 6th, and 5th in the 2014-15 Big 12 standings: Texas, Oklahoma State, and West Virginia.
2015 finish: 20-14 overall, 8-10 conference (7th)
Players Leaving/Potentially Leaving:
Myles Turner, freshman, 6’11” PF/C – NBA Draft (Projected #11 overall on DraftExpress.com, and #14 overall on NBADraft.net)
10.1 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, 22.2 minutes per game
Jonathan Holmes, senior, 6’8″ F – Graduating
10.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 26.1 minutes per game
Kerwin Roach, 6’3″ SG – #36 overall on Rivals, #34 overall on ESPN, #51 overall on 247 Sports
Eric Davis, 6’3″ SG – #54 overall on Rivals, #45 overall on ESPN, #48 overall on 247 Sports
Shaquille Cleare, 6’8″ RS Jr. C – Transfer from Maryland
3.0 points, 2.5 rebounds, 13.8 minutes for Maryland in 2013-14 season
The Longhorns were ranked in the Top 10 at Christmas, but had fallen out of the polls by Valentine’s Day. A season that began with Final Four aspirations concluded in another early tournament exit, and it ultimately cost Rick Barnes his job. He had been the longest tenured-coach in the Big 12, and he’s not the only man leaving the basketball program. Texas will lose its best NBA prospect in Myles Turner, a horribly underused talent who was the #2 overall recruit on ESPN and didn’t even start for the majority of Texas’ games. However, new coach Shaka Smart will take over a talented roster that could compete for the Big 12 crown in 2016.
Texas’ leading scorer, sophomore point guard Isaiah Taylor, appears to be a safe bet to return to Austin after appearing in various NBA mock drafts earlier in the season. He averaged 13.1 points and 4.6 assists per contest in 2015, and will likely be named to the 2015-16 preseason All Big 12 team. Texas will lose its top two scorers in Turner and Holmes, but 6’9″ center Cameron Ridley will return for his senior season. The big man’s numbers and playing time decreased this past year partially due to Turner’s role with the team, but he figures to be the centerpiece in a frontcourt that will also feature seniors Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh.
The key to whatever success the Longhorns accomplish next season could be in the play of 6’3″ junior guard Kendal Yancy, who showed occasional brilliance this last year. Yancy only averaged six points and nearly two assists per game, but he moved into the starting lineup and is expected to keep his place alongside Taylor, Lammert, Ridley, and DeMarcus Holland. Javan Felix will return for his senior season and play a large role off the bench. Texas has a pair of top-50 ESPN recruits already committed to the school, and it expects to be a factor in other high school seniors’ decisions in the coming weeks.
Rick Barnes won’t get an 18th season, but it’ll be a boom-or-bust season for the Longhorns and Shaka Smart. Texas boasts arguably the league’s top point guard, and their pair of 6’9″ starting forwards bring height that few teams can match. Formerly, a lack of cohesiveness and progress throughout the season plagued Texas through years of underachievement. The Longhorns could quickly become one of the powerhouses of college basketball.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
2015 finish: 18-14 overall, 8-10 conference (6th)
Players Leaving/Potentially Leaving:
Le’Bryan Nash, senior, 6’7″ PF – Graduating
17.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 31.7 minutes per game
Anthony Hickey Jr., senior, 5’11” PG – Graduating
9.8 points, 3.4 assists, 29.8 minutes per game
Michael Cobbins, senior, 6’8″ C – Graduating
6.8 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 27.3 minutes per game
Marek Soucek, senior, 7’0″ C – Graduating
0.4 points, 0.1 rebounds, 2.6 minutes per game
Jawun Evans, 6’0″ PG – #28 overall on Rivals, #36 overall on ESPN, #15 overall on 247 Sports
Igor Ibaka, 6’9″ RS sophomore PF – Juco Transfer
The Cowboys predictably regressed in 2015 after losing Marcus Smart and Markel Brown the previous year, and that trend figures to continue next season. Oklahoma State will lose three starters, most notably Le’Bryan Nash, who was one of the best players in the conference and leaves the Cowboys as a top-ten scorer in school history. Travis Ford’s job appears safe, at least for another season, though his Cowboys began the year 17-7 before finishing 1-7 down the stretch. The Pokes had a five-game stretch against Top 25 teams, and after they won four of those games, they appeared to be well on their way to a high NCAA tournament seed and a top-four conference finish. A disappointing ending to 2014-15 combined with a trio of crucial departures will leave Ford with some major holes to fill.
Oklahoma State returns All-Big 12 second-team guard Phil Forte, who was third last season in the Big 12 in scoring with 15.1 points per game. Jeff Newberry returns for his sophomore season to play the third guard in Ford’s backcourt-heavy system, but he averaged less than seven points in 21 minutes this year. Freshman point guard Juwan Evans, a five-star recruit according to 247 Sports, figures to immediately step in and start as the floor general.
The frontcourt for the Cowboys will be full of unfamiliar faces. Mitchell Solomon will be thrust into the lineup after averaging 11 minutes per game in his freshman season. The 6’9″ center is talented but raw, and was often out-muscled while fighting for rebounds. The power forward position, at least at the beginning of the year, will likely be covered mostly by sophomore Tavarious Shine. He averaged over 13 minutes and has a bright future, though he struggled shooting the ball. Jeffery Carroll and Leyton Hammonds are also expected to contribute, but the loss of Nash will definitely hurt the Cowboys when they face physical teams.
Forte will score his points and have a terrific season, and Evans could be a sleeper for Big 12 freshman of the year, but an inexperienced group of forwards and centers will likely keep the Cowboys from contending atop the league in 2016. What will make Oklahoma State dangerous is Forte’s ability to be completely explosive at times, and it will likely play spoiler to several teams when they travel down to Gallagher-Iba Arena.
West Virginia Mountaineers
2015 finish: 25-10 overall, 11-7 conference (5th)
Players Leaving/Potentially Leaving:
Juwan Staten, senior, 6’1″ PG – Graduating
14.2 points, 4.6 assists, 31.3 minutes per game
Gary Browne, senior, 6’1″ G – Graduating
7.0 points, 1.4 assists, 20.1 minutes per game
Kevin Noreen, senior, 6’10” C – Graduating
2.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 15.5 minutes per game
Esa Ahmad, 6’8″ PF – #71 overall on Rivals, #46 overall on ESPN, #71 overall on 247 Sports
Teyvon Myers, 6’3″ RS junior SG – junior college transfer
James Bolden, 6’0″ PG – #206 overall on 247 Sports
When the embarrassment of the Kentucky drubbing wears off, 2015 will be remembered as a season where the Mountaineers tip-toed their way to an unexpected Sweet 16 appearance. West Virginia will essentially undergo the opposite scenario of Oklahoma State: its backcourt will be shelled while the major frontcourt pieces return.
Senior point guard Juwan Staten’s career concludes after consecutive All-Big 12 first-team honors. West Virginia’s starting shooting guard, Gary Browne, also leaves by way of graduation. Their respective replacements will be Daxter Miles Jr. (averaging 7.3 points in 20.5 minutes per game last season) and Jevon Carter (8.1 points in 23.8 minutes), who will both only be sophomores but have potential to become terrific players. Their effort defensively was very good in 2015, and in Bob Huggins’ aggressive press defense, that’s exactly what young players need to do to get playing time for the Mountaineers, especially as freshmen.
6’9″ forward Devin Williams will return for his junior season after averaging 11.6 points and a team-best 8.1 rebounds last year. He will likely find his way on one of the end-of-season All-Big 12 teams, but it’s the progression of senior Jonathan Holton and sophomore Elijah Macon that will be pivotal for the Mountaineers moving forward. Top-100 recruit Esa Ahmad should also see plenty of playing time as a freshman.
West Virginia is losing its two top guards, but the team played through a stretch at the end of the regular season without either Staten or Browne. Despite those absences, the Mountaineers took Kansas to overtime in Allen Fieldhouse and played well down the stretch. They’ll certainly be ranked in the preseason AP poll, and as long as they continue to successfully execute a maddeningly frustrating and effective style of defensive play, they’ll contend in a stacked Big 12 conference.