Who Stays and Who Goes? 2015-16 Big 12 Season Lookahead (Part 3)

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 the top three challengers to the Jayhawks’ eleventh Big 12 title: Baylor, Oklahoma, and Iowa State.

Baylor Bears
2015 finish: 24-10 overall, 11-7 conference (4th)

Players Leaving/Potentially Leaving:
Kenny Chery, senior, 5’11” PG – Graduating
11.3 points, 4.1 assists, 1.4 steals, 32.4 minutes per game

Royce O’Neale, senior, 6’6″ F – Graduating
10.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 32.1 minutes per game

Adding:
King McClure, 6’3″ SG – #77 overall on Rivals, #35 overall on ESPN, #61 overall on 247 Sports

Joseph Acuil, 7’0″ RS junior C – junior college transfer

Wendell Mitchell, 6’3″ SG – #200 overall on 247 Sports

Jake Lindsey, 6’5″ PG – #225 overall on 247 Sports

Analysis:
A stunning collapse in the NCAA tournament opening round wasn’t enough to ruin a very successful season for the Bears. Scott Drew’s team made noise in the Big 12 regular season race, and it figures to do the same in the 2015-16 season behind a lot of the same players that led the team to a three-seed in the NCAA tournament.

Starting point guard Kenny Chery was terrific in his two years at Baylor, and basketball’s most important position will be the biggest question mark for the Bears going forward. Incoming freshman Jake Lindsey, who is ranked outside the top 200, is currently the only point guard on the roster for 2015-16. Of course, considering the assortment of weapons Baylor has in the backcourt, he won’t have to put up Juwan Staten-like numbers for Baylor to be successful, but the drop-off from Chery to a freshman will certainly show. The shooting guard position minutes will be shared by Lester Medford, who averaged nearly eight points and three assists last year, and sophomore Al Freeman, who is raw but has potential to be a talented scorer going forward.

The departure of Royce O’Neale means that Drew will finally have to move his leading scorer, senior forward Taurean Prince, into the starting lineup. Prince’s 13.9 points and 5.6 rebounds will increase as he projects to lead the team in scoring again, but All-Big 12 first-team forward Rico Gathers returns as the team’s most important player. Gathers’ incredible 11.6 points/11.6 rebounds line played a monstrous role in the Bears’ success, and he appears to be a near-lock to lead the league in rebounds again. Johnathan Motley returns to complete the trio of Baylor big men; he averaged seven points and 1.4 blocks in his junior campaign.

Baylor is talented, experienced, and has all the pieces to contend for the conference title next season. Scott Drew’s boneheaded in-game management will likely cost the Bears a couple of coin-flip games, which could ultimately prove to be the difference. However, if he grows as fast as his team did last year, the Bears could easily be the most dangerous team in the Big 12 come 2016.

Oklahoma Sooners
2015 finish: 24-11 overall, 12-6 conference (3rd)

Players Leaving/Potentially Leaving:
Buddy Hield, junior, 6’4″ SG – NBA Draft (#46 overall on DraftExpress.com, #26 overall on NBADraft.net)
17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 32.4 minutes per game

TaShawn Thomas, senior, 6’8″ C – Graduating
11.6 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, 29.7 minutes per game

Frank Booker, sophomore, 6’4″ G – Transferring
5.0 points, 1.4 rebounds, 14.3 minutes per game

D.J. Bennett, senior, 6’8″ C – Graduating
1.9 points, 1.7 rebounds, 7.8 minutes per game

Adding:
Akolda Manning, 7’0″ RS junior C – Juco Transfer

Dante Buford, 6’7″ RS freshman PF – was academically ineligible in 2014-15

Christian James, 6’4″ SG – #139 overall on Rivals, #218 overall on 247 Sports

Rashard Odomes, 6’6″ SG – unranked

Jamuni McNeace, 6’10” RS Freshman C – redshirted in 2014-15

Analysis:
Lon Kruger has done a terrific job with Oklahoma basketball, and the window of opportunity should remain wide open next year if 2015 Big 12 player of the year Buddy Hield opts to remain in school. Hield is projected to be first-round pick on NBADraft.net, but some sites don’t have him listed, assuming he’ll stay in college. Hield was the leading scorer in a loaded conference this year, and anybody who watched him play knows just how big of an impact he’ll have on the Sooners. In the coming weeks, we’ll learn about Hield’s decision, but it appears to be split about 50/50 whether he’ll stay or go.

Aside from Hield, the Sooners will also lose starting forward TaShawn Thomas, who played one season at Oklahoma after transferring from Houston last year. Thomas’ 6.5 rebounds per game will definitely be missed, but the Sooners will return the team’s leading rebounder, 6’8″ Ryan Spangler (8.2 boards per game), for his senior year. Oklahoma’s main weakness this year was vulnerability in the post defensively, and Thomas’ departure certainly won’t help that, but it does open the door for 7’0″ JCCC transfer Akolda Manning. The center prospect is very raw, but he was ranked as a consensus top-five junior college transfer candidate. If he develops, he could form a nasty rebounding duo with Spangler to clean up one of the Sooners’ biggest liabilities.

The backcourt for Oklahoma should remain pretty much the same, particularly if Hield returns. Jordan Woodard ran the point guard position last year, averaging 9.3 points, 3.8 assists and 2.3 turnovers, and he’ll be joined by the team’s second leading scorer in shooting guard Isaiah Cousins. Cousins’ 11.7 points per game was second on the team, and especially if Hield leaves, he could be in for a breakout year on the national stage in his senior season. If Hield declares, his spot would have been filled by Frank Booker, but the junior elected to transfer after averaging five points in 14 minutes each of the last two seasons.

If Buddy Hield returns to school for his senior year, the Sooners are arguably the biggest challenger to the Jayhawks’ run of titles, and will likely be ranked in the preseason Top 15. Even if he leaves, they’ll still post a dangerous threat, as the recruits that Kruger has coming in can step right in and fill immediate holes left by graduates and NBA draftees.

Iowa State Cyclones
2015 finish: 25-9 overall, 12-6 conference (2nd)

Players Leaving/Potentially Leaving:
Dustin Hogue, senior, 6’6″ F – Graduating
9.3 points, 4.9 rebounds, 26.2 minutes per game

Bryce Dejean-Jones, senior, 6’6″ SG – Graduating
10.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 23.0 minutes per game

Daniel Edozie, senior, 6’8″ C – Graduating
3.2 points, 2.5 rebounds, 9.3 minutes per game

Clayton Custer, sophomore, 6’0″ PG – Transferring
1.1 points, 5.8 minutes per game

Adding:
Hallice Cooke, 6’3″ RS sophomore SG – Transfer from Oregon, redshirted in 2014-15

Darien Williams, 6’8″ RS sophomore F – Transfer from San Francisco JC, redshirted in 2014-15

Analysis:
Everyone is well aware how Fred Hoiberg runs his program – superb offense and rapidly improving defense through players acquired via transfer. The Cyclones will lose two starters from 2015’s second-place squad, but they’ll return the pieces to likely make them the biggest threat in the Big 12 to end Kansas’ run of conference dominance.

Georges Niang (15.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists) will duel with Kansas’ Perry Ellis all season for conference player of the year. Monte Morris (11.9 points, 5.2 assists) has the highest assists-turnovers ratio in the country over the last two years; he returns as a junior to quarterback a lethal offense. Jameel McKay emerged as the best defensive player on Iowa State’s roster last year, earning 2015 Big 12 defensive player of the year honors. He’ll enter his senior season after leading the Cyclones with 7.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per contest last year.

With three of the Cyclones’ starters pencilled in, the shooting guard and power forward positions remain open. Naz Long is expected to step into the starting shooting guard role as a senior; he was Iowa State’s top three-point threat (39.1%) and averaged 10.1 points in 27.5 minutes last year. He replaced Bryce Dejean-Jones in the starting lineup in conference season, so of all starters from Iowa State’s last few games, it’s only Hogue’s spot that needs to be filled. Abdel Nader could be a candidate for more playing time, as he’ll enter 2015-16 as a senior. His height (6’6″) remains a liability for an already-small Iowa State team, but Hoiberg is sure to land another recruit or transfer before the spring concludes.

Iowa State has emerged on the national stage as one of the best programs in college basketball over the last couple of years, and a preseason top-10 ranking is in likelihood for next season. Random road losses and occasional home hiccups have doomed the Cyclones in their last two pursuit of conference crowns, but the core nucleus returning will bring experience and talent that could prevent those occurrences in 2016. If Iowa State can put it all together, it’s not only a Big 12 title threat, but also a contender for a Final Four and national championship run.

The Jayhawks have won the Big 12 conference 11 times, and fans will definitely be as rowdy as ever as Kansas pursues #12. Once again, however, the Big 12 appears to be one of the deepest and best conferences in college basketball, and another round of teams will give KU their best shot come early 2016.

Updated with new information on April 9, 2015.

Part 1 | Part 2 | | Part 3 | Part 4

Ryan Landreth

I’m a recent graduate of MidAmerica Nazarene University. In addition to writing for Rock Chalk Blog, I host the Inside the Paint podcast that covers KU basketball, and I write for Royals Review in the summer. My grandma has had season tickets to Jayhawk basketball for 30 years, and I have the privilege of going to most games with her.