Big 12 Preview 2015-16

Rankings:

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

Player of the Year: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Coach of the Year: Steve Prohm, Iowa State
Rookie of the Year: Cheick Diallo, Kansas

All-Conference 1st Team
C/F Perry Ellis, Kansas
F Georges Niang, Iowa State
G/F Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
G Monte Morris, Iowa State
G Frank Mason, Kansas

All-Conference 2nd Team
C/F Rico Gathers, Baylor
F Taurean Prince, Baylor
G/F Wayne Selden, Kansas
G Isaiah Taylor, Texas
G Phil Forte, Oklahoma State

All-Conference 3rd Team
C/F Cheick Diallo, Kansas
F  Jameel McKay, Iowa State

G/F Devin Williams, West Virginia
G Naz Long, Iowa State
G Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State

All-Freshman Team
C/F Cheick Diallo, Kansas
F Carlton Bragg, Kansas
G/F Esa Ahmad, West Virginia
G Kerwin Roach, Texas
G Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State


1. Iowa State

Key Losses: Dustin Hogue, Bryce Dejean-Jones
Key Returners: Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Jameel McKay, Naz Long
Key Newcomers: Deonte Burton, Hallice Cooke

Lineup:
C Jameel McKay, Sr.; (11.0/7.6/0.6/0.8/2.4)
F Georges Niang, Sr.; (15.3/5.4/3.4/0.5/0.5)
F Abdel Nader, Sr.; (5.8/2.9/0.7/0.4/0.5)
G Naz Long, Sr.; (10.1/2.9/2.0/0.8/0.1)
G Monte Morris, Jr.; (11.9/3.4/5.2/1.9/0.4)

Reserves: Hallice Cooke, Deonte Burton, Matt Thomas
Postseason Prediction: 2 Seed
Outlook:
It’s sad to see Fred Hoiberg leave Ames, and frankly I thought I’d never see the day. Hoiberg is basically a god in that town after growing up there, starring for the Clones, and then returning to coach some of their most exciting teams – I mean the guy’s nickname is the Mayor (of Ames); he is Iowa State basketball. But I can’t I blame him for jumping ship to the NBA, it’s a great opportunity and I think he’ll do well at the helm for the Bulls.

Replacing Hoiberg this season is former Murray State coach Steve Prohm. Prohm had excellent success at Murray in his four years, taking the team to a tourney (as a 6 seed!) in his first season and going undefeated in conference play while inserting the Racers into the national Bubble conversation a year ago. I think it’s a good hire, but with any new hire, there are bound to be growing pains as the players and coach feel each other out. Luckily for Prohm, he inherits one of the best teams in the country in Iowa State; a team stocked with leaders, a Wooden award candidate, and exciting newcomers.

The Clones lose Bryce Dejean-Jones and Dustin Hogue, two major contributors on last year’s squad, but return a plethora of talent. Leading the returners is Wooden award candidate Georges Niang. Niang, back for his senior season, is an absolute force. Last year Niang put up a shooting slash of .485/.400/.808 while also contributing as the second leading rebounder and assist(er?) on the Clones. Niang fizzled out in the NCAA tourney versus UAB, but was the key piece to Iowa State’s success in the Big 12 tourney as they made their way to a title. Prohm hopes to get more consistency out of Niang this season and the senior will be counted on to lead the Clones to a potential Big 12 regular season title.

The Clones also return three stalwarts in Monte Morris, Naz Long, and Jameel McKay. Morris is a gem of a point guard. The junior turned in the 21st best O-rating in the country a season ago (126.2), had an Assist Rate of 27.4 (154th), TO Rate of 10.7 (78th), and owned shooting slashes of .547/.395/.753. One more stat – Morris averaged 1.6 fouls per 40 minutes (36th) and he played 33.9 minutes per game, that’s outrageous. Morris is everything you want in a lead ball handler – he’s super durable, a great passer, protects the rock, and puts the ball in the basket. He will be fun to watch this season, and narrowly beats out Fred Van Vleet for the Three-Man Weave’s point guard on the All-WE-LOVE-THIS-GUY Team. McKay and Long will be key cogs once again this season to the Cyclone machine. McKay is a beast on the boards (and looks like the Predator), is a good finisher around the basket (58.3% 2P FG %), and protects the hoop (8.7% Blk %). McKay is a bit undersized as far as Big 12 centers go, but his tenacity helps make up for it – if only that tenacity could also make up for his 59.8 FT%. Long was an asset from long (ha) distance last season, shooting 39.1% on 197 attempts. He also shot 64.9% from inside the arc – but he only took 57 shots inside the 3-point line and only 11% of those were jumpers away from the rim. With Long, Morris, and Niang, Iowa State starts a pretty formidable 3-point shooting trio – dangerous against any type of defense.

Joining the Clone family this season are two transfers that will figure to have a huge impact on the Clones success this season – Marquette’s Deonte Burton and Oregon State’s Hallice Cooke. Burton was a mid-season transfer last year (as such he will be eligible starting second semester) after playing 10 games for the Golden Eagles in which he averaged 6.4 ppg in about 16 minutes per contest. As a freshman, Burton put together a nice year and earned a spot on the Big East All-Rookie team. Cooke, a former Beaver, had a very nice freshman year at Oregon State in which he shot 45.6% from deep (and also made the Pac-12 All-Rookie team). Cooke and Burton will contribute massively for the Clones and look for one of them to compete for a starting gig (probably Cooke), bumping Long to the 3 spot.

The bench will feature two vets for sure, guard Matt Thomas and swingman Abdel Nader (eh, he may start), and maybe a tall Greek guy, Georgios Tsalmpouris, whose status on rejoining the team this season is still very much in question. Thomas is a deep threat capable of catching fire at any point and Nader (though he did struggle a bit last season) has the capabilities to finish at the basket and play plus defense (I have to mention his 3P% though – 15/67 21.7% - yuck). A duo of freshmen also joins the Clones – power forwards Brady Ernst and Simeon Carter. Ernst and Carter (a former SMU commit) promise to add much needed depth in the frontcourt for Iowa State. Neither big man is necessarily a highly touted recruit, but both can provide value to the Clones this year off the bench.

The Clones are national title contenders this season, they are a top-10 pre-season team, and they have a legitimate shot at winning the Big 12 outright. The question will be how well Prohm can adapt to a new scene and continue the winning ways of Hoiberg.

2. Kansas

 Look at this stupid bird

Look at this stupid bird

Key Losses: Kelly Oubre, Cliff Alexander
Key Returners: Perry Ellis, Frank Mason, Wayne Selden
Key Newcomers: Cheick Diallo, Carlton Bragg, Lagerald Vick

Lineup:
C Cheick Diallo, Fr.
F Perry Ellis, Sr.; (13.8/6.9/1.2/0.8/0.7)
G Wayne Selden, Jr.; (9.4/2.8/2.6/0.6/0.5)
G Svi Mykhailiuk, So.; (2.8/1.2/0.7/0.3/0.0)
G Frank Mason, Jr.; (12.6/3.9/3.9/1.4/0.1)

Reserves: Brannen Greene, Devonte Graham, Carlton Bragg, Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas
Postseason Prediction: 1 Seed
Outlook:
Dammit. I really wanted to rank Kansas 3rd behind OU. I really, really did. But I can’t in good conscience, they’re way too good, and one could definitely argue they deserve to be the #1 pre-season ranked Big 12 team. But screw that, go Clones, 11 years is too long, its time that streak is broken.

The Jayhawks return most of their core from last season’s 2-seeded squad, including floor leaders Perry Ellis and Frank Mason. Kansas loses only freshmen Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, both of which decided to go the NBA after just one season in Lawrence. Bill Self also brings in one of the best freshmen classes in the nation (per usual), highlighted by ESPN #7 Cheick Diallo, #21 Carlton Bragg, and #51 Lagerald Vick. Diallo is the crown jewel of the three; the big man will likely start alongside Ellis and will provide an endless source of shot blocking, rebounding, and jaw dropping athleticism for the Birds. Bragg is another ultra-athletic power forward who provides a little more than Diallo on the offensive side of the ball and should offer a fair share of rebounding and defense of his own. Vick is a scoring wing with a lot of potential; he is poised to provide greater depth at the 2 and 3 spots for the already impressive Jayhawk lineup.

Ellis and Mason will be the team leaders once again this year. Both stalwarts are potential first team All-Big 12ers and both proved last season they could compete with the elite competition. Ellis showed signs of being able to play a stretch 4 last season for Kansas, and turned in fairly respectable shooting slashes (.467/.391/.730) considering he shoots significantly less shots near the rim than your average big man. In addition, Ellis was a solid rebounder on both ends of the floor and had a knack of getting to the free throw line. Combined with the fact this is his 4th season under Self points to a formula for success in the coming year. Mason turned in a hell of a sophomore campaign last season taking a major leap in production from his rookie year. The guard improved his three-point shooting from 32.7% to a scorching 42.9% and his free throw percentage from 66.2% to 78.6%. Mason was a true leader at point and though he served mostly as a scoring point guard, he posted a strong Assist Rate (24.7) and a tolerable TO Rate. Mason is poised and has emerged as a go-to scorer for the Jayhawks; expect even more from the junior guard this season.

Returning with Ellis and Mason is a cast of characters including junior wing Wayne Selden, sophomore wing Sviatoslav (Svi) Mykhailiuk, guards Brannen Greene and Devonte Graham, and senior forward Jamari Traylor. Selden wasn’t outstanding his sophomore season, but will benefit greatly from his decision to forego the draft. The 6’5’’ Selden has endless potential and a sweet stroke that is bound to be more refined in the coming year. Selden is the x-factor; if he plays at a high level, the Jayhawks will be very difficult to beat. Mykhailiuk saw his playing time dwindle dramatically as the 2014-15 season progressed as he turned in a rough rookie campaign. Hopes are high that the 18-year old Ukrainian takes a giant leap forward in his sophomore season with his tremendous size and shooting potential. Greene is a gunner and will provide the Hawks with long-range shooting off the pine (40.4% on 99 attempts last season). Graham plays more of a point-guard style of ball and will provide Mason breathers (if he ever requires them). Limiting his turnovers will be the key for Graham in the coming year. Traylor is a nice big man off the bench who will provide even more depth to the already crowded KU frontcourt. Traylor’s specialties focus on rebounding and rim protection, but he’s shown the ability to be an offensive contributor (scored in double figures 5 games in 2014-15). Landen Lucas, a 6’10’’ junior, will also earn limited minutes inside.

So the Jayhawks are going to be really good – again. KU is super deep, they have strong veteran leadership, and they have a talented group of freshen coming in. Also, Bill Self is a terrific coach; despite my hopes that KU doesn’t win the regular season title, Self’s prowess as a leader and his experience most likely will vault his team over the green Steve Prohm and the Clones. Overall, I think Kansas, despite finishing second in the Big 12 will earn a 1-seed and are a national title contender to the highest degree.

3. Oklahoma
Key Losses: TaShawn Thomas
Key Returners: Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard, Ryan Spangler
Key Newcomers: Akolda Manyang, Rashard Odomes, Christian James

Lineup:
C Ryan Spangler, Sr.; (9.7/8.2/1.3/0.7/1.1)
F Khadeem Lattin, So.; (2.0/3.2/0.3/0.4/0.9)
G Buddy Hield, Sr.; (17.4/5.4/1.9/1.3/0.2)  
G Isaiah Cousins, Sr.; (11.7/4.6/2.2/1.2/0.4)
G Jordan Woodard, Jr.; (9.3/3.5/3.8/1.6/0.1)

Reserves: Akolda Manyang, Dinjiyl Walker, Rashard Odomes, Christian James
Postseason Prediction: 3 Seed
Outlook:

Expectations are high this year for the Sooners with the return of their savior Buddy Hield. Hield forewent the NBA draft to come back to Norman for his senior campaign, much to coach Lon Kruger’s and Sooner fans’ delight. The electrifying swingman will all but certainly be a preseason 1st All-American and will contend for the Wooden Award. Buddy turned in an O-Rating of 110.2 while playing 80% of his team’s minutes, he was a serviceable defender, and he shot the ball well with a 2/3/FT slash of 46.9/35.9/82.3.

Returning with Hield will be essentially almost everyone else from the 3-seeded squad of prior year. TaShawn Thomas is the main departure and his absence will hurt especially on the defensive side of the ball where he helped the Sooners blossom to become the 8th best defensive team in the nation (a significant improvement from their 91st ranking in 2013-14). The Sooners return their starting backcourt tandem of Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins, both of who will function as a nice Robin and Nightwing to Hield’s Batman. Cousins was a money 3-point shooter a season ago, cashing 45% of his threes on 140 attempts; he was however a pretty lousy mid-range shooter, connecting on only 31.4% of those shots. Conclusion: stop shooting pull up J’s and stay behind the arc Mr. Cousins. Woodard will continue his role as point guard for the Sooners in 2015-16. The junior guard brings a pesky defensive presence to the floor and has a knack for getting to the foul line and cashing in on the free points (83.8% a season ago). Woodard struggled a bit at times with turnovers but hopefully one more year of experience under his belt will help iron out the kinks in his decision-making ability.

Returning to man the middle is Ryan Spangler who is on my All-I-Can’t-Believe-This-Guy-Is-Still-Playing Team. Seriously it seems like Spangler has been on the team for a decade (like former Sooner Kevin Bookout). Spangler looks like a hardo/tool with his hair and tats but he’s actually a pretty formidable post presence. Spangler showed tenacity in protecting the rim for the Sooners and was very effective on the boards – his 62.7% 2P FG % doesn’t hurt either (by the way he was 10/33 from 3 last year, who knew?). Spangler even owned an O-Rating of 120.5 (good for 85th in the nation) while playing 77.2% of OU’s minutes – not too shabby.

So with Thomas gone, the natural question is who joins Spangler to round out the front court? OU has two options and both are pretty solid. One is sophomore center/forward Khadeem Lattin, who despite his pretty limited offensive abilities has shown great potential cleaning the glass and swatting shots out of bounds. The other (and more intriguing) option is JUCO transfer Akolda Manyang. Manyang is a seven-footer who can score, rebound, and Mutumbo people. He is the #1 rated JUCO center and #2 JUCO player overall, also (interesting fact) he played at the same JUCO has as co-leaguer Lester Medford. Whoever ends up starting for OU alongside Spangler, the Sooners will be nice and deep at center/power forward with this tandem of bigs.

In addition to Manyang, OU also brings in two promising 4-star recruits in Rashard Odomes and Christian James. The Texas products both play SF/SG and will most likely see the court this season in some capacity. Odomes especially could be a source for offensive firepower off the bench with his size (6’7’’ 205) and promising scoring ability. Rounding out Oklahoma’s bench will be senior Dinjiyl Walker who saw limited time a season ago but will be counted on to take a leap in both minutes played and development as he provides backup for Woodard and Cousins in the backcourt.

Oklahoma isn’t a terribly deep team, but their starting unit is so solid they really don’t have to be. This is a top-3 team in the Big 12 and could be the team that finally jars Kansas off its title streak.

4. Baylor

Key Losses: Kenny Chery, Royce O’Neale
Key Returners: Rico Gathers, Taurean Prince, Lester Medford
Key Newcomers: Joseph Acuil, King McClure

Lineup:
C Rico Gathers, Sr.; (11.6/11.6/0.5/1.2/1.0)
F Johnathan Motley, So.; (7.7/4.2/0.7/0.4/1.4)
F Taurean Prince, Sr.; (13.9/5.6/1.3/1.5/0.9)
G Al Freeman, So.; (4.8/1.9/1.0/0.3/0.0)
G Lester Medford, Sr.; (7.6/1.4/3.1/1.5/0.1)

Reserves: Joseph Acuil, King McClure, Deng Deng, Ish Wainwright
Postseason Prediction: 4 seed
Outlook:
Last year’s early exit for the Baylor Bears was disappointing and shocking to say the least. The focus though around the Bears’ 2014-15 season shouldn’t be the tourney finish but rather the team’s impressive regular season. The Big 12 was loaded last year (as it usually is) and Baylor was able to secure a second-place conference finish and a 3-seed in the NCAA tourney despite minimal expectations. This season the Bears will most likely be undervalued again to start the year as most of the nation’s attention will be on Kansas, Iowa State, and Oklahoma.

The Bears however bring back a potent combination of players and should be a top 25 team starting out the basketball season. Of course the main attraction is real-life Beast from the X-Men Rico Gathers. Gathers was a monster last year in every sense of the word. He owned the 3rd highest OR% in the nation at 18.2% and the 34th DR% at 24.7% - this is while standing only 6’8’’, not such a tall height for a D1 center. Oh yeah, Gathers also weighs 280 pounds. An in-shape, tear your face off, muscle bulging 280 pounds. So maybe the rebounding stats aren’t so unbelievable after all. Gathers’s rebounding was so insanely good it didn’t even matter that he was an absolute awful finisher (45.5 FG %) and a sub-par free-throw shooter (61.3%).

Joining Gathers in the starting lineup and the senior friendship club are Baylor’s two other standout returners – forward Taurean Prince and guard Lester Medford. Taurean Prince was an absolute man last year; he was the Bears’ leading scorer and second-leading rebounder behind Gathers. In addition, Prince managed to average 2.4 “stocks” per game (stocks courtesy of Grantland), meaning he was in every sense of the word a two-way player for the Bears. On top of that, Prince shot the shit out of the ball from everywhere (well except the FT line, but we won’t count that right now). The forward connected on 40% of his 3-point attempts (147 taken) and shot 52.6% from 2. Assuming he experiences even a shred of positive development this coming season, Prince will be firmly in the talks for an All-Conference spot nod in the spring. Lester Medford will be forced into taking over point guard duties from the departed Kenny Chery. Medford had a good assist rate last year (20.6) but turned it over more than coach Scott Drew would like (the Bears as a team last season were one of the worst teams in the nation in coughing the ball up – they turned the ball over 20.1% of the time). Medford did shoot the ball well from deep last season though (37.8%) and so did the Bears as a squad – 38% good for 34th in the nation, juxtaposed with a 68% FT %, which was 250th in the nation. The Bears will need that shooting this year with the losses of Chery and other sharpshooter Royce O’Neale (the pair combined to take 250 three-pointers last year, good for almost 42% of the team’s attempts).

Assisting in filling the shooting void will be sophomore guard Allerik (Al) Freeman and newcomer King McClure. Though the guard tandems aren’t perfect substitutes for Chery and O’Neale (Freeman connected on 33% of his 3s in 57 attempts in 2014-15 and McClure has been scouted as more of a slashing/rim-attacking guard) there will be plenty of opportunities and open shots from the combination of guard penetration and hellacious offensive rebounding from Gathers. Both Freeman and McClure have good size and strength for 2-guards and are anticipated to have big roles in the Bear backcourt (by far Baylor’s weakest spot) as the team marches to March.

Joining Gathers and Prince in the frontcourt effort will be sophomore Johnathan Motley, senior Deng Deng, and JUCO transfer Joseph Acuil. Motley was serviceable his freshman year for the Bears proving his worth on the offensive glass and as a rim protector; Baylor could potentially start both Motley and Gathers, moving Prince to the 3-spot which would form a rebounding mega-zord that will be near impossible to keep off the glass. I mentioned Deng Deng because of his awesome name; there isn’t much I want to say about him. Acuil will be interesting. He is a 7-footer but likes to play more as a PF versus a true center and as a JUCO player Acuil averaged 20 points and 11 boards. Will this production translate to Big 12 basketball? Maybe, who knows?

Whether Acuil pans out or not, this season promises to be a one of prosper for the Baylor Bears. Though it is impossible to put Baylor ahead of Oklahoma, Kansas, or Iowa State, this is a dangerous team that could earn as high as a 3 or 4 seed in this year’s tourney.

5. Texas

shaka.jpg


Key Losses: Jonathan Holmes, Myles Turner
Key Returners: Isaiah Taylor, Cameron Ridley
Key Newcomers: Kerwin Roach, Eric Davis, Tevin Mack

Lineup:
C Cameron Ridley, Sr.; (8.0/5.3/0.4/0.3/1.8)
F Connor Lammert, Sr.; (5.1/5.4/1.3/0.5/0.4)
G Kendal Yancy, Jr.; (6.3/2.8/1.7/0.3/0.1)
G Demarcus Holland, Sr.; (7.1/3.2/2.4/0.4/0.1)
G Isaiah Taylor, Jr.; (13.1/3.2/4.6/1.0/0.1)

Reserves: Javan Felix, Kerwin Roach, Eric Davis, Jordan Barnett, Prince Ibeh, Tevin Mack
Postseason Prediction: 6 Seed
Outlook:
The age of Shaka Smart is upon Austin, and with its birth comes the end of Rick Barnes’ 18-year reign of “eh I mean they did pretty well but if you consider their talent they probably should have few more final fours”. Barnes wasn’t necessarily a bad coach at Texas, but he certainly wasn’t good and last season is the epitome of what kind of results he provided the school post-Kevin Durant. Texas by all advanced metrics should have been a dominant squad, certainly at least better than what a 6-10 record in conference play would suggest. They were one of the stingiest defenses around, played better than average on offense, and had a pro sitting in the middle of their attack. Alas, Texas earned an 11 seed in the Big Dance and fizzled out like an untied balloon being released into the air, fart noise and all.

It’s a new season and the Longhorns have a new coach; the squad loses senior leader Jonathan Holmes to graduation and big man Myles Turner to the NBA lottery but return a bevy of savvy vets both in the frontcourt and backcourt and add three top 50 recruits to bolster the returning group. Isaiah Taylor will be the Longhorns’ leader this coming season. Taylor comes off a sophomore season in which he posted a top 50 assist rate in the nation (33.4) and owned one of the better free-throw percentages in the country as well (84.2%). Taylor was extremely effective at getting to the line last year, averaging nearly 5 drawn fouls per 40 minutes. The knock on Taylor last year was his shot selection which hindered his percentages (42.1% from 2, 28.2% from 3), Smart will look to reign in his point guard to mold him into a more poised offensive threat in 2015-16.

Joining Taylor in the backcourt will be a slew of returners and newcomers making Texas one of the deepest teams in the conference (their frontcourt is deep as hell too, more on that later). Returning is senior Demarcus Holland and reserves Javan Felix and Kendal Yancy. Holland started alongside Taylor last season and will likely do the same this year. The guard didn’t really shoot a lot, but when he did it usually found the bottom of the net. Holland boasted a 46.4% 3pt % on 56 attempts and shot 50.4% from inside the arc on 117 attempts. Holland’s value to the Horns didn’t really show up in the box score, his role was more of a “glue-guy” and he provided a sense of consistency in the backcourt. However, it wouldn’t surprise me to see his minutes go down from a season ago to make way for Felix, Yancy, and the combo of freshman guards. Felix and Yancy both shot the ball more than Holland last season, and both owned effective shooting percentage splits at .446/.392/.750 and .457/.333/.778 respectively. Felix will spend most his time backing up Taylor this season at point while fending off electric freshman Kerwin Roach for PT. Yancy is a strong 2-guard who is poised to see his minutes increase from a season ago.

The two newcomers in the backcourt are aforementioned Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis, both top-50, 4-star prospects. Roach is a hell of an athlete and can shoot the ball from anywhere while Davis is a scoring machine from the off-guard spot. Both guards come in a little undersized at 160 lb. and 165 lb., respectively (they are both 6’3’’), but time in the D1 weight room can fix that pretty quickly. Shaka’s third top-50 frosh is Tevin Mack, a lanky small forward who’s also described as a pure scorer and possesses the ability to shoot from anywhere. Mack will most likely earn the most time out of the three newbies based on position scarcity, but all three will contribute in their own way to the Horns’ success.

In fact, the slew of guards at Shaka’s disposal may turn out to be just what the coach wants and could feed in perfectly to his frantic “Havoc” style of play. Smart’s Havoc style helped vault VCU to be a top defensive team each of the past 5 years (also Briante Weber had something to do with that) and he’s hoping it will do the same in Austin. One thing that is different about Smart’s Texas team this year versus his VCU teams of yore is the presence of actual, true post players. Texas’s frontcourt, like its backcourt, is loaded with bodies that are ready for major minutes. In the frontcourt is former blob Cameron Ridley, 6’9’’ Connor Lammert, 6’10’’ Prince Ibeh, Maryland transfer Shaquille Cleare, and we’ll throw in 6’6’’ swingman Jordan Barnett into the mix as well. Wow. Ridley and Lammert will be the favorites to start the season for the Horns, and you might even see Shaka move Lammert to the 3 and throw in Cleare or Ibeh in his stead at 4. More likely is Jordan Barnett gets the nod at the 3 or the Horns go three guards in some combination to better facilitate the havoc (there’s no way Lammert is Shaka’s type of player).

It’ll be interesting to see how Shaka’s style of play translates with the bigs Texas has to offer, but I think he will pull it off. Texas is the 5th best team in this conference on paper, but with their depth I wouldn’t be surprised to see them “shaka” the conference and sneak into the top 3.

6. West Virginia
Key Losses: Juwan Staten
Key Returners: Devin Williams, Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles, Jonathan Holton
Key Newcomers: Esa Ahmad, Teyvon Martin

Lineup:
C Devin Williams, Jr.; (11.6/8.1/1.3/0.8/0.3)
F Jonathan Holton, Sr.; (7.5/5.9/1.2/1.2/0.8)
G Daxter Miles, So.; (7.3/2.3/1.0/1.1/0.1/)
G Jevon Carter, So.; (8.1/2.3/1.8/1.9/0.1)
G Jaysean Paige, Sr.; (5.6/1.9/0.6/1.1/0.1)

Reserves: Esa Ahmad, Teyvon Martin,Tarik Phillip, Elijah Macon, Nathan Adrian
Postseason Prediction: 7 Seed
Outlook:
The state mostly known for its coal mining and mountain range has a pretty awesome song written about it by John Denver (Take Me Home, Country Roads) and also boasts a pretty good basketball team in the heart of Morgantown. The Mountaineers lose their best player, Juwan Staten, to graduation but return basically everyone else to form a deep team capable of playing spoiler to the expected powers of the league. Bob Huggins is a tremendous coach; nearly every year he appears to get more out of his team than most would expect and he’s righted the ship in Morgantown after a two-year tourney drought.

WV will be led by big man Devin Williams in 2015-16; the postman was a force on the boards last season turning in an OR% of 10.9 and a DR% of 30.0 (4th best in the nation), and was a master at drawing fouls (7.2 FD/40 good for 10th in the nation). Williams even shot the ball from the line fairly well for a center at a 70.2% clip. His influence will be large (ha, both his body and his game) for the Mountaineers. Joining Williams for a second consecutive year in the frontcourt is 6’7’’ senior Jonathan Holton. Holton, like Williams was a beast on the glass for WV (13.7 OR%; 34th nationally) and was arguably their best defender leading the team in blocks while finishing second in steals. Holton was an effective player last season and will be even more this year so now that he has a season with Huggins under his belt.

The starting backcourt will feature two sophomores in Daxter Miles and Jevon Carter, while the starting point guard slot will be manned by either junior Tarik Phillip or senior Jaysean Paige. Carter and Miles both turned in solid seasons in their freshman campaigns; Miles was the more effective shooter at 46% inside the arc and 35.7% from the outside, while Carter boasted the 9th best STL % in the nation (4.7). Expect both guards to improve on their shooting and discipline; they could be x-factors for WV making a run at a top 5 seed. Out of the two PG options, Paige is most likely to get the starting nod. The senior was good not great in his 13 mpg for the Mountaineers in 2014-15, but Huggins will need to rely on him exponentially more with Staten gone.

Of course it’s possible (may even likely) that WV starts Carter at the point and instead brings Phillip and Paige off the pine in lieu of their stud swingman recruit Esa Ahmad. Ahmad, a 4-star recruit and an ESPN top-50 member, has great size and strength and will be a deadly scoring weapon for a Mountaineers squad that struggled most of the year at finding the bottom of the net on their shot attempts (like going through the basket and hitting the bottom of the net, not air balling the shot and grazing the bottom of the net – they probably did that plenty). Ahmad will contribute immediately for WV, as will fellow newcomer Teyvon Martin. Martin, a JUCO transfer led all JUCO players in scoring last season and promises to provide a spark either off the bench or in a starting role for Huggins and Co.

A trio of 6’9’’ bodies, Elijah Macon, Brandon Watkins, and Nathan Adrian will provide depth for the Mountaineers’ formidable frontcourt.

WV will be a dangerous team in 2015-16 and though they will likely finish in the 5-6 range in the Big 12, they could steal another 5 seed in this year’s Dance.

7. Oklahoma State
Key Losses: Le’Bryan Nash, Anthony Hickey, Michael Cobbins
Key Returners: Phil Forte
Key Newcomers: Jawun Evans, Davon Dillard

Lineup:
C Anthony Allen, Sr.; (1.7/2.4/0.2/0.1/0.8)
F Chris Olivier, Sr.; (w/ EIU) (13.0/5.3/1.0/0.5/1.4)
G Jeff Newberry, Sr.; (6.7/2.3/1.4/0.9/0.4)
G Phil Forte, Sr.; (15.0/2.1/1.7/1.9/0.1)
G Jawun Evans, Fr.

Reserves: Tavarius Shine, Davon Dillard, Igor Ibaka, Leyton Hammonds, Jeffrey Carroll
Postseason Prediction: NIT
Outlook:
The Cowboys overachieved last season to reach the tournament for the third consecutive year and probably saved Travis Ford’s job by doing so. This year they face a similar preseason outlook – star player from a year ago is gone and a cast of role players lead the way. Last year, however, Oklahoma State had Le’Bryan Nash to help cope with the Marcus Smart departure; this year, they don’t really have a failsafe for Nash’s absence. Gone with Nash is also point guard Anthony Hickey and big man Michael Cobbins (two substantial losses). With these three away, the Cowboys will look to Phil Forte to be the vocal leader and first scoring option.

While Forte is certainly a fine player, shooting 37.3% from deep on 177 attempts and getting to the line like a man possessed (154 attempts where he shot 83.8%), it’s hard to believe Forte being able to sustain such production given his limited size athleticism. Forte works best catching and shooting or taking advantage of out-of-control defenders on close-outs, but without Nash, greater focus will be on Forte and a lot opportunities he saw last year may be stifled. Forte may have a savior in stud freshman Jawun Evans. Evans is the #6 PG and 33rd player overall in ESPN’s prospect rankings. Evans is a true point guard, possessing the ability to penetrate and dish at a high level. If Evans develops quickly and forces defenses to focus on his drives, Forte will benefit from a plethora of open looks. Joining Evans is fellow rookie Davon Dillard, a high-flying, high energy 3-man. Dillard promises to help fill the void on the wing left by Nash.

Also returning from last year’s squad is guard Jeff Newberry, and swingmen Tavarius Shine, Leyton Hammonds, and Jeffrey Carroll. Newberry started for the Boys last season and turned in an okay shooting season with a .460/.329/.818 slash while providing solid perimeter defense. Newberry’s role will expand this season in his senior campaign and Ford hopes he can burden a bigger load on the offensive end. Shine, Hammonds, and Carroll provided spurts of competence in limited roles last year and Shine especially will look to make a major leap in performance this coming season.

The Cowboys are thin down low. They return 7’1’’ Anthony Allen, sophomore Mitchell Solomon, and add JUCO transfer and Serge Ibaka’s little bro Igor Ibaka. Allen and Solomon didn’t play much last season, but when they did they proved their worth on the glass and on defense protecting the basket. Ibaka is an intriguing transfer not just because of his familiar name but also because of his basketball potential. Igor is an athletic specimen and looks as if he was cut from marble and spent his freshman year in JUCO where he averaged 14 and 10. Ibaka will help bolster the weak Cowboy front line and maybe help the OSU make a surprising push in the conference. Eastern Illinois’s Chris Olivier, a solid rebounder and finisher, also will provide depth in the post after transferring in to Stillwater.

The Cowboys likely won’t make a 4th straight trip to the tourney this season, but if newcomers Evans, Ibaka, and Dillard overachieve, they could make things interesting. Also interesting will be how long Travis Ford can hang on to his job, especially with another losing conference season looming in his near future.

8. Texas Tech
Key Losses: Robert Turner
Key Returners: Devaugntah Williams, Toddrick Gotcher, Norense Odiase
Key Newcomers: Shawntrez Davis, Devon Thomas

Lineup:
F Norense Odiase, So.; (7.0/4.7/0.8/0.3/0.6)
F Zach Smith, So.; (6.2/4.9/1.4/0.6/1.5)
G/F Toddrick Gotcher, Sr.; (7.3/2.7/1.5/0.8/0.4)
G Devaugntah Williams, Sr.; (10.5/2.9/1.6/0.9/0.1)
G Keenan Evans, So.; (5.8/2.0/1.4/0.8/0.3)

Reserves: Shawntrez Davis, Isaiah Manderson, Devon Thomas, Justin Gray

Postseason Prediction: None

Outlook:
The Red Raiders were a car explosion last season sporting one of the worst offenses in the country. The good news about last season is majority of their players were very young and/or inexperienced. With a full season under the watchful eye of Tubby Smith under their belts, the young Raider core promises to be an improved group from 2014-15. Does this mean Texas Tech will be dancing for the first time since 2007? Hard no. But, they will be better than last year, and that’s a step in the right direction.

The Raiders lose only one significant player from last year, point guard Robert Turner. Everyone else, including leading scorer Devaugntah Williams, is back. Williams was easily Texas Tech’s most efficient player last year connecting on 39.1% of his threes while leading the team in scoring. He will once again be counted on to be the go-to guy for the Raiders in 2015-16.

Returning to the squad with Williams is big man Norense Odiase and swingman Toddrick Gotcher. Odiase shot over 50% from the field last season (granted most of those shots were put backs), but connected on only 48.2% of his free throw attempts (and he took 110). The forward was, however, a ferocious rebounder, posting an OR% of 12.6 (82nd in the country). Odiase was a freshman last season, so he’s just scratching the surface on his potential; the Raiders could see a nice increase in production out of him this season. Gotcher will be a senior and will also be the Raiders’ second highest 3-point threat. Gotcher connected on 37.5% of his threes last season after shooting just 32.9% as a sophomore and 15% as a freshman.

Three other players, all freshmen in 2014-15, will contribute minutes to the Raider machine as well this year – Zach Smith, Keenan Evans, and Isaiah Manderson. The forward, Smith, was an excellent shot blocker a season ago while playing major minutes and starting for Tech. His percentages (.504/.263/.619) should improve in his sophomore campaign. Evans will challenge for the open starting point guard slot; he posted decent passing numbers a season ago but struggled with turnovers often. Like Smith, Evans should see a jump in his shooting slashes (.406/.302/.716) this season with an added year of experience. Manderson is a 6’10’’ center that rebounded like crap on the offensive side of the ball but held his own with a 17.9 DR% on the other end. He will see substantial playing time in the thin Tech frontcourt.

Texas Tech brings in a fairly solid recruiting class, led by 4-star forward Shawntrez Davis. Davis is a bit raw but possesses great athletic ability making him an asset on the boards and on defense. The other three newcomers are all guards: Jordan Jackson, C.J. Williamson, Jr., and Devon Thomas. Williamson and Thomas are both point guards who could challenge Evans for a starting spot. Williamson has excellent size at 6’6’’ and Thomas is a JUCO transfer who averaged 16, 6, and 4 last season.

So the Red Raiders probably don’t make the tournament this year, especially when they are forced to play in the hell storm that is the Big 12, but Tubby is starting to gain momentum and all hope is not lost in Lubbock.

9. Kansas State
Key Losses: Marcus Foster, Nigel Johnson, Nino Williams, Thomas Gipson
Key Returners: Wesley Iwundu, Justin Edwards
Key Newcomers: Dante Hales-Williams, Kamau Stokes, Isaiah Maurice, Barry Brown

Lineup:
C Stephen Hurt, Sr.; (4.2/2.8/0.4/0.2/0.2)
F Isaiah Maurice, Fr.
F Wesley Iwundu, Jr.; (5.8/3.5/2.0/0.7/0.6)
G Justin Edwards, Sr.; (6.3/3.3/1.7/1.2/0.3)
G Kamau Stokes, Fr.

Reserves: Dante Hales-Williams, Barry Brown, Dean Wade, Ron Freeman
Postseason Prediction: None
Outlook:
Kansas State comes limping into 2015-16 after a tornado of graduation and transfers came through Manhattan and wiped out nearly all of their scoring and experience (tornadoes tend to be quite common in the state of Kansas). Bruce Weber’s team looks almost nothing like that of prior year with 5 major contributors jumping ship – Marcus Foster, Nigel Johnson, Nino Williams, Thomas Gipson, and Jevon Thomas. So who is back? And who leads the Wildcats this year?

The two main candidates are junior Wesley Iwundu (the loan returning starter) and senior Justin Edwards. The pair join center Stephen Hurt as the three returners who saw any fathom of significant minutes a season ago. Iwundu doesn’t offer much to write home about in the realm of scoring or shooting (.416/.316/.595), but the athletic swingman is a strong contributor on the defensive side of the ball, capable of disrupting passing lanes and coming up with key blocks. Edwards has the most potential to take a leap in production this season; the senior, formerly of Maine, hasn’t shown much promise from deep in his career (28% career 3P%), but he has shown the ability to get to the rim and connect from inside the arc. At Maine, Edwards was arguably their best player as a freshman, so the potential for a breakout and assuming a leadership role is there.

Stephen Hurt is a super weak center who is about as effective at protecting the rim as I imagine Boo from Mario would be. Hurt also doesn’t rebound particularly well for his 6’11’’ frame and I giggle at the prospect of him going toe-to-toe with the likes of Baylor’s Gathers in the paint. Though he is fairly harmless as a big man, the Wildcats have no choice but to count on him this season to provide some form of production from the center spot while he’s on the floor.

The good news for K-State is Bruce Weber is a pretty effective recruiter. This year Weber brings in an army of recruits highlighted by Dante Hales-Williams, Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, and Isaiah Maurice. Williams is easily the highest touted of the group; he is a 4-star center capable of protecting the rim, grabbing boards, and finishing inside. If Hurt plays soft look for Williams to step in and assume his starting role early to mid season. Stokes is a speedy point guard with a good shooting touch and a high motor. Though he’s a bit small, Stokes more than makes up for it with his energy and floor vision. The freshman will most likely be counted on to start right away for the Wildcats. Brown is a super-athletic 2-guard and Maurice is a highly skilled offensive power forward. Both are poised to receive major minutes in their rookie campaigns. Other freshman that will may be forced into PT for the depleted Cats are forwards Dean Wade and Ron Freeman, and guard Corlbe Ervin.

The outlook for this season for the Cats is pretty bleak. After an impressive decade or so run of basketball competence, it appears the purple clad program from Manhattan is finally in a rebuilding stage. Weber is the right man at the helm due to his recruiting presence and it possible he revives this program sooner rather than later, but it will not be this year. Expect an 8th-10th-place finish for K-State this season.

10. TCU

Key Losses: Kyan Anderson, Trey Zeigler, Amric Fields
Key Returners: Kenrich Williams, Chris Washburn, Karviar Shepherd
Key Newcomers: Lyrik Shreiner, Malique Trent, Jalon Miller

Lineup:
C Karviar Shepherd, Jr.; (6.1/5.7/0.8/0.5/0.8)
F Chris Wasburn, Jr.; (7.1/5.8/1.3/1.4/1.4)
F Kenrich Williams, Jr.; (8.6/6.7/1.4/0.9/1.0)
G Malique Trent, So.; JUCO Transfer
G Chauncey Collins,So.; (3.5/0.8/0.9/0.2/0.0)

Reserves: Lyrik Shreiner, Brandon Parrish, Hudson Price, Jalon Miller
Postseason Prediction: None
Outlook:
A couple comments on TCU’s 2014-15 basketball season: 1. The Horned Frogs started the season 13-0, uncharacteristic for a historically bad program. But lets calm down. Only one of those opponents was actually any good (Ole Miss) and even they only earned an 11 seed in the Dance. 2. So with this blazing start, hopes were high (and TCU was naturally overrated), they proceeded to get pounded in the Big 12, finishing conference play 4-14. But if you look closer, a lot of those games were actually pretty close including 4 losses by less than 5 points (2 of which were in OT). 3. TCU’s free throw percentage was a joke. They shot a combined 61.5% and only two players (!!) shot over 70%. 4. Finally, if you ever watched a TCU game last year, you noticed that TCU played in a gym that was orange and seemed to be very out of place. The Horned Frogs were forced to play there while their actual arena was being renovated. The gym was a 20-minute drive from their real arena, it held 4,759 fans, and it was mainly used for high school basketball games – so home court advantage didn’t really exist for the Frogs.

Okay, now that that’s out the way, on to the preview. The Frogs lose 3 of their top 4 leading scorers in Kyan Anderson (team leader), Trey Zeigler, and Amric Fields. A trio of juniors, Kenrich Williams, Chris Washburn, and Karviar Shepherd, form the frontcourt that will lead the team this season. Williams will be counted on to be the leading scorer for the Frogs; his game mainly revolves around drives to the basket, pull-ups, and offensive put-backs (11.4 OR%). Washburn’s game is similar to Williams’s, though he possesses less range. Shepherd, the man down low, feeds primarily off post-ups. All three players rebounded well last season, all three blocked shots effectively, and all three couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn (49.7%, 48.4%, 43.5% from 2 respectively).

The backcourt will be the real problem for the Frogs this year, specifically ball-handling and three-point shooting. TCU didn’t shoot a lot of threes last year, which is probably due to their inability to hit them (32.7% as a team). This season could be even worse with the departure of Anderson, who attempted nearly half of the Frogs’ threes last year and served as the primary ball handler. TCU’s backcourt will be made up of some combination of returning reserves Chauncey Collins, Brandon Parrish, and Hudson Price, and newcomers Lyrik Shreiner and Malique Trent. Parrish and Price are more 3-men than 2-guards, but both have three-point, which will be valuable due to the scarcity of such ability on the TCU roster. Collins will get the first crack at point guard duties; the 6’0’’ guard had a decent freshmen season distributing the ball but struggled in the shooting department. Shreiner and Trent look to make immediate impacts. Trent, a JUCO transfer, will likely start alongside Collins to begin the year; he averaged 16 a game for his JUCO squad and was rated the top JUCO combo guard by 247Sports. TCU has one more freshman coming in, swingman Jalon Miller, who promises to contribute immediately as well. Miller is a powerful forward and an aggressive rim attacker. He should provide key minutes off the bench when Williams and Washburn need blows.

TCU likely finishes near to last in the conference this year. Trent Johnson is doing a nice job trying to revitalize the program, but still appears to be a few years away from making TCU a tourney team again.