As we enter the final week without meaningful college basketball until April, it’s time to break down a conference that has been arguably the nation’s greatest in the last three years. With so many people predicting the Big 12 to drop off a bit in 2017, the balance of the league should keep it stacked with NCAA tournament teams.
This brings me to my first prediction. The Big 12 will be just fine this year. No, it won’t be as good as it was in 2014, 2015, or 2016. But it should still get five or six teams in the NCAA tournament. Six or seven different Big 12 teams will be ranked at some point this year. It will still probably be the most difficult league in the country to pile up road wins within. It may not have five top-five seeds like it did last year, but it’ll be just fine.
Projected Order of Finish:
1. Kansas (15-3): I mean…duh. There’s virtually no way that the Jayhawks don’t win the Big 12 this year. You could make the argument that they possess four of the league’s best five players. The question isn’t if Kansas wins its 13th straight conference title, but rather how many games it will win it by.
2. West Virginia (12-6): Bolted into the No. 2 spot, the Mountaineers will trip up a few times on the road when the offense runs cold, but the press schemes will make it very difficult for opposing teams to win in Morgantown. For the first time in awhile, the best three players on West Virginia’s roster are all guards, meaning scoring should be up and turnover margin should remain positive.
3. Iowa State (11-7): The Cyclones’ inability to win road games will prevent them from making a legitimate run at Kansas, but a strong homecourt advantage should give Iowa State enough wins to keep them near the top. Monte Morris will lead the conference in playing time and assists (and possibly scoring). Deonte Burton should make a big leap forward. Naz Long will be back. The starting five is really good. But the Cyclones’ downfall will, as it seemingly always is, be lack of bench depth. By late February, the starters will be so worn out that it will be difficult to keep up with the deeper Jayhawks and Mountaineers.
4. Baylor (11-7): Quietly, I think this is one of Scott Drew’s better teams. Johnathan Motley is probably the best returning frontcourt player in the conference. Baylor is experienced and should be stout defensively. The question is, can they rebound without Rico Gathers? Who on this roster is going to leap forward to average seven boards per game? I don’t see it happening, though the Bears will be in every game they play because of low turnover rates and good three-point shooting.
5. Kansas State (10-8): Don’t tell anybody, but Kansas State is easily the most underrated team in the conference. I get that it’s deep, but picking the Wildcats to finish ninth is ridiculous. This is the third-best homecourt advantage in the league, which alone should lift K-State to six or seven wins. Wesley Iwundu is really good. Dean Wade will make a step forward. D.J. Johnson could potentially be a really good rebounder. Kansas State is young, but I think that Bruce Weber’s team being an afterthought is ridiculous. The Wildcats won’t win beauty contests, but solid defensive play and just enough inside scoring will let them sneak to a top-five finish.
6. Texas (9-9): I just don’t get the Texas love. In 2017-18, the Longhorns will be contending for conference titles, but who in the world is going to score the ball this year? The frontcourt is great; freshman Jarrett Allen will contend for Defensive Player of the Year, but everyone is banking on Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis making offensive leaps of massive proportions. Yeah, I’m not feeling that one just yet. The only point guard on the roster is freshman Andrew Jones, who probably won’t play enough to get a significant impact. They’ll struggle to score down the stretch of games. But in time, they’re going to be really good.
7. Oklahoma (9-9): Jordan Woodard is fantastic, and I think Christian James will be an All-League player by the time his college career is over. But other than that, the Sooners don’t have anybody that can put up points consistently. Khadeem Lattin will pull down plenty of rebounds, which will keep them in games. But ultimately, I don’t see enough scoring to make a push for a top-five finish.
8. Oklahoma State (7-11): The eighth best team in the league just might possess the best player. Jawun Evans is dynamite and will have heroic efforts that upset several top-of-the-league teams. Phil Forte will be every bit as annoying as he always is. But that’s literally all the Cowboys possess. Triangle-and-two defenses will shut Oklahoma State down consistently. Brad Underwood will get this roster going in time, and Evans and Forte will win them a few games, but the Cowboys are going to get bullied down low by Kansas, Texas, and Baylor.
9. Texas Tech (4-14): The Red Raiders were the Cinderella darling last year, but the stunning departure of Tubby Smith really left this roster in a hole. Texas Tech is a poor man’s Texas: good defensively, but it’ll play in its fair share of 60-57 games that will be brutally painful to watch. I think Aaron Ross will have a really nice year, and he better because if he’s not scoring for them, nobody is.
10. TCU (2-16): Jamie Dixon is a great coach, and two wins may be selling him short in his first year in Ft. Worth. The Horned Frogs will probably get a couple of teams at home, but other than that, what do you want me to say? Turnovers and bad offense doomed this team last year, and both of those are still big problems. Brandon Parrish should have a nice year, but he’s essentially all the Horned Frogs have right now.
Big 12 Player of the Year: Monte Morris, Iowa State
Not to be uncreative, but this is the easy pick. The Jayhawks have too many contributors for one guy to stand out as a Player of the Year candidate. Jawun Evans will post the stats, but his team’s struggles won’t do him favors in the voting. Morris is the smartest player in the conference, and it’ll be an upset if he doesn’t win this award after a likely 16-5-6 type year.
Big 12 Freshman of the Year: Josh Jackson, Kansas
This isn’t as much of a lock as some people think. I’m not sure Jackson will play enough to post the stats everybody thinks he’s capable of posting, and Texas’ Jarrett Allen is really good. But this is Jackson’s award to lose, and he’s hoping it won’t be the only piece of hardware he collects in his one year in Lawrence.
Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year: Landen Lucas, Kansas
The voters love giving this award to shot-blockers, which Lucas isn’t, but there really aren’t any elite centers in the league this year. Jawun Evans, Jarrett Allen, and all of the West Virginia guards will contend, but ultimately, I think Lucas leads the league in rebounds. Kansas will be well represented in the awards.
Big 12 Coach of the Year: Bruce Weber, Kansas State
This one seems too easy. Kansas State is the annual “which Big 12 team will exceed their preseason rank by four slots, thus winning its coach the award” team pegged too low. Weber isn’t a particularly good coach, but his last couple of years have seemed worse than he actually is. If Kansas State even sniffs an NCAA tournament bid, Weber’s name will be engraved on the trophy before the season ends.
All Big 12 First Team:
- Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
- Devonte’ Graham, Kansas
- Josh Jackson, Kansas
- Monte Morris, Iowa State
- Jordan Woodard, Oklahoma
All Big 12 Second Team:
- Jarrett Allen, Texas
- Phil Forte, Oklahoma State
- Frank Mason III, Kansas
- Daxter Miles Jr., West Virginia
- Johnathan Motley, Baylor
For in-depth Final Four picks and other predictions for the 2016-17 season from the entire Rock Chalk Blog team, click here.