- Ky McKeon
Note: Predicted conference standings may not line up exactly with our Top 40 rankings; this is because Top 40 were ranked via consensus voting, while individual conference ranks are up to the specific writer.
Player of the Year: Devonte' Graham, Sr., Kansas
Coach of the Year: Bill Self, Kansas
Newcomer of the Year: Mo Bamba, Fr., Texas
Freshman of the Year: Mo Bamba, Fr., Texas
See full preview here: #3 in our Top 40 countdown
2. West Virginia
See full preview here: #11 in our Top 40 countdown
See full preview here: #32 in our Top 40 countdown
See full preview here: #33 in our Top 40 countdown
See full preview here: #30 in our Top 40 countdown
6. Texas Tech
Key Returners: Keenan Evans, Zach Smith, Justin Gray, Niem Stevenson
Key Losses: Anthony Livingston, Aaron Ross, Devon Thomas
Key Newcomers: Tommy Hamilton, DeShawn Corprew, Brandone Francis, Josh Webster, Hyron Edwards, Davide Moretti, Jarrett Culver, Zhaire Smith, Malik Ondigo
Postseason Projection: 9 - 12 seed
Outlook: Chris Beard’s first season at the helm of the Red Raiders was one of ups and downs. The Raiders played THE WORST non-conference schedule in the entire country and lost their best game on that slate (Auburn) by two points on a neutral floor. With such a weak non-con lineup, Tech had to perform in conference play to have a shot at the Dance. Beard’s squad fought hard, winning games against West Virginia, TCU, and Baylor, but they lost a bunch of much-needed close ones. The Raiders lost five conference games by less than 5 points (one in OT), and another one in double OT spurring their unsightly 6-12 conference record. Texas Tech was by all measures a good team last year, but struggled to win tight games leading to their ultimate denial of an NCAA Tourney bid.
The Raiders have plenty of production returning from last year’s 18-14 squad including likely All-Big 12 performer Keenan Evans. Evans posted the 12th best O-rating in the conference while ranking 5th in usage (a.k.a. Evans was highly efficient on a large volume); his 43.2% three-point percentage ranked 8th in the Big 12 and he drew fouls at the cup at the 4th highest rate. With the relative lack of point guard presence last season, Evans was forced into the lead ball handler role, one he exceled at with his ability to score in isolation and off the bounce. While keeping Evans on the ball wouldn’t be a bad option, Beard would probably like to see his best scorer playing off the wing occasionally, which is where JUCO transfers Josh Webster and Hyron Edwards can be valuable. Both guards are top 30 JUCO prospects; Edwards is more of a scorer while Webster is in the mold of a more traditional point man.
Beard also brings back a couple important supporting pieces in Justin Gray, Zach Smith, and Niem Stevenson, all likely starters in the fall. Gray has formidable size on the wing and excellent athleticism, the combination of which allows him to score on basket cuts and drives to the paint. His biggest asset is his defense where he helps out in both the shot blocking and stealing departments. Here’s Zach Smith:
Like Gray, Smith is an imposing physical specimen with superb versatility and bounciness. Smith showed off his range last year knocking down 39.5% of his three-point attempts while finishing shots inside the arc at a 52.7% clip. He’s the team’s best rebounder and rim protector and could be due for a large jump this season into All-Conference status. Stevenson is a solid perimeter defender with good slashing ability on the offensive end.
There are way too many newcomers on the team to know exactly who will carve out a definitive role in the lineup, but I’ll take my best guess. Tommy Hamilton (DePaul) and Brandone Francis (Florida) are the two D1 transfers to keep an eye on. Hamilton, apparently slimmed down from his days at DePaul, has a legitimate shot at being the starting center on day one depending on the health of Norense Odiase. Hamilton is an excellent shooter and likes to hang around the perimeter on offense versus the post; on defense, he’ll fortify the Raiders’ rebounding but doesn’t offer much in the realm of defending. Odiase showed enormous potential during his freshman year back in 2014-15, grabbing boards and defending at an elite Big 12 rate, but injuries have derailed his past two seasons. Odiase and Hamilton would both pair well with Smith given the latter’s versatility.
With slight apologies to Jarrett Culver, Malik Ondigo, and Italian import Davide Moretti, I think the other two newbies to make a significant impact will be wing Zhaire Smith and power forward DeShawn Corprew. Smith has been getting a lot of buzz as of late; he’s a lithe wing player with an above average jumper and a gifted dunker. Corprew is a former top 100 recruit who spent last year at the JUCO ranks; he should fill a nice backup role for Smith and Gray in the frontcourt.
When Beard came over from Arkansas-Little Rock last year, he brought with him his defensive philosophy – that of the pack line defense, famously used by Tony Bennett at Virginia. The pack line essentially clogs the inside of the arc to not allow easy buckets or penetration inside, instead forcing opponents to beat them with jump shots past the three-point line. If Odiase isn’t healthy, Tech’s interior defense could be a bit thin, but the pack line makes up for that weakness (Beard’s small UALR squad took down the giants of Purdue back in the 2016 NCAA Tournament). With Stevenson, Evans, and Gray, Beard has strong perimeter defenders to contest shots and dig down on opponents in the lane. Tech has the potential to be one of the stronger defensive teams in the conference.
Bottom Line: A common theme in these Big 12 previews is that the middle of the conference is going to be an absolute mess. All ten squads have the talent to make a serious run at the Big Dance. I think Beard figures it out in his second year at the helm and leads the Raiders back to the Field of 68. Look out for Evans to make a name for himself on the national scale.
Key Returners: Kerwin Roach Jr., Andrew Jones, Eric Davis Jr.,
Key Losses: Jarrett Allen, Shaquille Cleare, Kendal Yancy
Key Newcomers: Dylan Osetkowski, Mo Bamba, Jericho Sims, Matt Coleman, Royce Hamm Jr., Jase Febres
Postseason Projection: 10 seed - NIT
Outlook: The Longhorns were definitely one of the most disappointing teams of the 2016-17 season. Coming off a 6-seed in the 2016 Tourney, Shaka Smart appeared to have righted the ship that most fans in Texas felt Rick Barnes was sinking. After a brutal showing in the non-conference slate, Texas stumbled to a 4-14 Big 12 record (good for dead last) and 11-22 overall, the program’s worst showing since 1984. Momentum is building once again in Austin, as the Longhorns look to have a competitive roster on their hands. Jarrett Allen left for the Draft, but Smart returns his three best guards from a season ago and brings in the 6th best recruiting class in the country.
UT’s glaring problem last year was its anemic offense. The Longhorn defense was actually great, ranking 21st in the country per KenPom’s AdjDE rankings, which should come as a shock to nobody considering Smart’s legacy as a top-notch defensive coach. In Smart’s last 6 seasons, his teams have never finished outside of the top 40 in KenPom’s defensive rankings. But the offense, oh boy, was it bad. Shooting was a real issue (Texas ranked 345th in 3P%) as was ball protection (251st in TO Rate); both aspects should improve this year.
Shooting-wise, Texas will hope that rising sophomore Andrew Jones can improve upon a respectable freshman campaign where he led the team in 3PM, shooting 32.8% from downtown. Jones flirted with the NBA Draft last season, but chose to return to campus where he should be the Longhorns’ top perimeter option and one of their leading scorers. Like most UT guards from a season ago, Jones must improve on his consistency and shot selection. Bolstering the squad’s shooting will be 4-star freshman Jase Febres, a knockdown spot-up stroker from the land of plenty. Febres should have no problem carving out a role with his shooting ability, despite the crowdedness in the UT backcourt.
Ball protection should also improve by a significant margin as the Longhorns will finally have a true point guard running the offense. Matt Coleman, an ESPN Top 100 4-star, will likely slot into the starting PG spot on day one, which will allow last year’s de facto point guard, Kerwin Roach, to slide to a more natural off-ball spot. Coleman exhibits exceptional court vision in the open floor and will look to push in transition with his tight handles and lightning speed. Roach looked much more comfortable off the ball during his freshman season than he did as the PG a year ago; his shooting slashes dropped across the board and his turnover numbers spiked. With his athleticism and ability to get to the rim and draw contact, Roach is much better suited on the wing in Shaka’s ball-screen, slashing-heavy offense
Of course, defense is usually a Smart team’s strong point and should be again this season. Smart made the “havoc” style of intense ball pressure famous at VCU but appeared to back off of it a bit at Texas (at least in the early stages of his tenure). An elite shot blocker in the lane has often anchored his defenses over the past few years, and he’ll have one of the best in the country this year in top 5 recruit Mohamed Bamba. I was mystified by Bamba’s length and athleticism at the McDonald’s All-American game back in March. In my opinion, he is the best center in the 2017 class by a comfortable margin. He’s already been showing his dominant potential in a UT uniform over in Australia this offseason, posting gaudy stat lines in limited playing time. On offense, Bamba is going to be able to score in the post, off offensive rebounds with his stupid 9’6” standing reach, and even spotting up for a token jumper. He’s a wealthy man’s Jarrett Allen (side note: I wasn’t a fan of Jarrett Allen).
Newcomer Dylan Osetkowski from Tulane will provide something the Longhorns sorely missed last season – a shooting 4-man. Osetkowski will step right into the starting lineup to form a deadly one-two combo up front alongside Bamba. The Tulane transfer will be able to stretch the defense (ala Connor Lammert of years past) and provide rebounding – Osetkowski was one of the best rebounders in the AAC back in 2015-16.
Returning guard Eric Davis, Jr. will likely step back to the pine with Coleman coming into the starting five. Like Roach and Jones, Davis left a lot to be desired from an efficiency standpoint (he turned in a brutal 85.6 o-rating) but he could be a valuable option off the bench in a lesser role. Sophomore guard Jacob Young is in the same vein as Davis and will also provide depth in the backcourt.
Two Top 100 freshmen, Royce Hamm and Jericho Sims, will combine to form a strong, albeit young, backup frontcourt behind Bamba and Osetkowski. Sims has been turning heads in Australia this offseason with his deliciously powerful dunks, while Hamm has the ability to step out to 15-18 feet and connect consistently. Both players should be contributors this season with the potential for expanded roles down the road.
Bottom Line: Texas looks to be a solid Tournament team. If Smart can get his more inefficient pieces from last season (i.e. Roach, Davis, Jones) to step up to their potential, the Longhorns could compete for a top 4 Big 12 finish. Bamba is going to be a stud, that’s a fact. If Coleman pans out to be one of the better Big 12 point guards, this will be a scary squad in March.
8. Iowa State
Key Returners: Donovan Jackson, Solomon Young, Nick Weiler-Babb
Key Losses: Monte Morris, Deonte Burton, Naz Mitrou-Long, Matt Thomas, Darrell Bowie
Key Newcomers: Lindell Wigginton, Terrance Lewis, Jeff Beverly, Hans Brase, Zoran Talley
Postseason Projection: NIT
Outlook: Before we embark on our Iowa State basketball preview, let’s all pour out whatever drink we have in front of us onto the pavement (or carpet) and wave a tearful goodbye to the Iowa State seniors, particularly Monte Morris, one of 3MW’s favorite players of all time. My colleague Matt Cox gave a wonderful tribute to the college senior back in March – please go read that now.
Welcome back! So yes, Steve Prohm and the Cyclones lose a very large portion of their production from last season with the departures of Morris, Deonte Burton, Naz Long, Matt Thomas, and Darrell Bowie. Not many programs would be able to stay competitive the following year after so much turnover, but the Clones restocked their kitchen with a couple high-ranked recruits and once again played the transfer market brilliantly. My other colleague (there’s three of us) Jim Root and I have a friendly wager this season on the Clones about whether they make the 2018 Tournament. I lean to the “no they don’t” camp, but that doesn’t mean ISU isn’t capable of getting there – a lot will depend on the maturation of de facto leader Donovan Jackson and the incoming youngsters and “experienced hires”.
When Prohm took over for Fred Hoiberg a few years ago, he dialed back the tempo of the Clones’ offense, focusing more on executing in the half-court setting versus all-out transition (though ISU did still get out and run a bit). Like Hoiberg’s squads, Prohm’s two teams have relied on “small ball” lineups featuring a dynamic undersized 4 (Burton last year) and athletic undersized 5. Morris’s ball protection ability was historically great over his career, which propelled the elite efficiency that ISU enjoyed (also everyone on the floor could shoot the shit out of the ball). Size-wise, this year’s team will fall into the same mold as last season, but fully replacing Morris is impossible.
4-star (some places 5-star) point guard Lindell Wigginton will get the assignment of replacing Morris in the Clones lineup. Wigginton is the 37th ranked recruit per ESPN, but following Morris is like following the overachieving second grader that had his creative Dad help him on his book report (apologies for this awful simile). There’s a lot to like about Wigginton; he’s an astronomically explosive scoring guard that can run the 1 or 2 and thrives in transition and in the pick-n-roll game. Wigginton averaged 12 points and 4 assists for Canada’s gold medal U-19 squad this offseason, showing he can compete with the top talent. We shouldn’t expect a completely smooth transition from Morris to Wigginton, as the freshman still needs to improve his shot selection and decision making, but he has the all the makings of a future college basketball star.
The three primary returners on the squad, Donovan Jackson, Solomon Young, and Nick Weiler-Babb will assume much larger responsibilities than what they were privy to a season ago. Jackson is the guy everyone in Ames is hoping can breakout and become the leader of the program. Like Wigginton, Jackson will be able to play either guard spot – he proved in the Nevada NCAA Tourney game that he’s capable of creating his own shot with step-backs and blow-byes (where he finishes nicely with his off hand), and is comfortable in an off-ball role where he can take advantage of his sweet stroke (45.4% on threes last year, 28th in the country). Jackson’s defense will actually be an upgrade over Morris, a small silver-lining if you’re an ISU fan looking for anything good coming out of Morris’s graduation.
Solomon Young came on strong at the end of the year, starting the team’s final 12 games and averaging 6 points, 5 boards, and 1 block in those contests. His best game came against K State where he put up 18 points, 12 boards, and 2 blocks in a key Clones win in Manhattan. Young’s game is a bit reminiscent of Jameel McKay, an active shot blocker with low post scoring chops and a strong knack for rebounding. He should grow considerably in his second year in Ames. Weiler-Babb will have to fend off the newcomers for playing time, but he should be a valuable piece for Prohm on the wing. The 6’5” junior contributes in several areas on the floor and can guard multiple positions on the defensive end.
The Clones haven’t had particularly deep teams in Prohm’s two seasons at the helm. That will change this year with the wealth of capable options ISU has at the 3 and 4 spots. Transfers Jeff Beverly (UTSA), Hans Brase (Princeton), and Zoran Talley (Old Dominion) will each fight for minutes along with the aforementioned Weiler-Babb, redshirt freshman Cameron Lard, and Top 100 prospect Terrence Lewis.
Beverly could land the starting four spot on day one (against Mizzou); he comes in after averaging over 15ppg for UTSA last season. On UTSA, Beverly shot the 9th highest percentage of his team’s shots in the country, meaning he gunned often. While he wasn’t shy about stepping behind the arc, Beverly shot a disastrous 21.3% from downtown; he was much better attacking the rim where he got to the free throw line at one of the highest rates in the nation. Beverly should improve efficiency-wise with the scoring load shared across his much more capable teammates (no offense to UTSA).
Like Beverly, Talley was a big-time gunner at Old Dominion, which featured an anemic offense. Talley came off the bench most of the time for the Monarchs as an “instant offense” type of player and trends more towards a true slashing/playmaking wing style versus Beverly’s 4-man tendencies. Hans Brase was one of the best players in the Ivy League back in 2014-15, but two ACL surgeries have slowed him down quite a bit. While he should be ready for opening day, Brase likely won’t regain his top-speed at ISU. He’ll still be a valuable piece off the pine, a big-time shooter than can slide into the 4 or 5 spot and compete on the glass.
Lewis is going to be a tough matchup on the wing and will compete for a starting spot with Weiler-Babb. The 6’6’’ freshman is a good shooter, but he shines on basket penetration and using his athleticism to play above the rim. Like Wigginton, Lewis has the potential to turn into a college basketball star.
Bottom Line: The Clones will once again be must-see television and should feature a dynamic offensive attack. Prohm has the capability to take this squad back to the Dance, but it will depend on the smooth meshing of new faces and the capacity of a guy like Wigginton or Jackson to become a consistent, go-to scorer.
9. Kansas State
Key Returners: Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown, Dean Wade, Xavier Sneed
Key Losses: Wesley Iwundu, D.J. Johnson
Key Newcomers: Mawdo Sallah, Amaad Wainwright, Nigel Shadd, Mike McGuirl
Postseason Projections: NIT
Outlook: With the recent 2-year contract extension, the K State athletic department appears to have put their faith in Head Coach Bruce Weber (or at least lower his buyout), despite the rumblings of some in Manhattan, Kansas. It’s not that Weber has been a bad coach over last five years, but his tenure has certainly left something to be desired. At his last two coaching jobs, Weber has inherited cushy situations only to under-deliver as he gets “his guys” into his system. At Illinois, Weber inherited an elite Bill Self squad in 2004; at K State, Weber inherited a solid Frank Martin team. Weber’s seat will continue to be hot this year despite the contract extension; he has a talented group of players this season, including three prior year starters, but the loss of Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson may prove to be too much to make it back to the Dance.
The Wildcats play a slower brand of basketball in the half court that focuses on ball movement and pick-n-rolls, and scores via penetration (and subsequent trips to the line) or threes from kick-outs. When they do run, it’s off steals – the Cats ranked 18th in the country last season in forcing turnovers (16th in steal rate) which led to easy transition opportunities at the other end of the floor. Iwundu was a big part of the Cats’ tough defense, but Barry Brown, Xavier Sneed, and Kamau Stokes were the team’s best pilferers. With those three returning, and Sneed stepping into a starting role, Weber should again have a tough perimeter shell to throw at offenses this season.
Brown, Sneed, and Stokes also form the Cats’ primary offensive attack, one that focuses on driving the ball to the bucket to create efficient shot opportunities. Brown likes to pull from everywhere on the floor and is mainly a spot-up jump shooter; he thrives in the corners, shooting 46.8% from those spots compared to just 25.3% from other spots behind the arc. Sneed is in a similar vein as Brown, but chooses his shots more wisely, focusing on rim attacks and threes while eschewing the mid-range. At 6’5” 210 lbs., Sneed has the size to be a dangerous slasher from the wing position. Stokes runs the point for the Cats and represents one of their most valuable asset on both ends of the floor. K State’s efficiency numbers with Stokes on and off the court are stark in comparison:
While he’s had a his fair share of turnover issues, Stokes remains a pillar to the Wildcats’ success this season.
Dean Wade, a 6’10” stretch four, unlocks the true potential of K State’s offense. Per Hoop Lens, the Cats scored 1.13ppp when Wade was on the floor compared to a ghastly 0.91ppp when he sat. Wade’s shooting ability makes him deadly in the pick-n-roll where he scores constantly off flair rolls out past the arc. The junior forward also has the requisite foot speed to surprise his defender and beat him to the cup. Defensively, Wade is able to put up a fight at the rim, but his career rebounding numbers are under where you want your power forward to be. Without D.J. Johnson next to him this year, Wade could get exposed inside, that is unless Mount St. Mary’s grad transfer Mawdo Sallah or freshman Nigel Shadd can hold down the paint. Sallah put up strong rebounding and shot-blocking stats in the NEC, but the Big 12 is a whole different animal.
Weber will likely keep his bench short once again this season, but he’ll be able to reach deeper down the pine than he could a year ago. In the backcourt, freshman Mike McGuirl looks to have a real shot at being a regular contributor right off the bat. McGuirl will be able to play either guard spot; he has a good shooting stroke and above average athleticism. Redshirt freshman Cartier Diarra, JUCO import Amaad Wainwright, and sophomore Brian Patrick will also compete for time in the crowded Cat backcourt. Diarra in particular will likely assume the backup point guard role.
Bottom Line: Kansas State should still be a competitive team in the Big 12 this season despite the losses of some key roster pieces. However, with so many other talented teams vying for position in the middle of the conference, the Cats have a tough road ahead of them as they try to make their second consecutive NCAA Tournament.
10. Oklahoma State
Key Returners: Jeffrey Carroll, Mitchell Solomon, Tavarius Shine, Lindy Waters III
Key Losses: Jawun Evans, Phil Forte, Leyton Hammonds
Key Newcomers: Kendall Smith, Zack Dawson
Postseason Projection: NIT - None
Outlook: Brad Underwood shocked the nation this offseason when he bolted from Stillwater for the “greener pastures” of Champaign leading many to speculate his relationship with OSU AD Mike Holder had soured. While I think that was part of the reason, I also know that Illinois gave Underwood $3 million per year… so… that’s probably part of it too. Regardless, OSU may not be in as bad of shape as many believe them to be. Underwood’s replacement is Mike Boynton, a 35-year old first-time head coach who has served as assistant to Underwood since his Stephen F. Austin days. So far, Boynton has made good headway on the recruiting trail and he’ll likely maintain the fun upbeat style of Underwood teams of years past. The Cowboys lose Jawun Evans, but they still bring back some formidable talent.
Oklahoma State ranked #1 in offensive efficiency last season per KenPom thanks to Evans and Underwood’s brilliant system (which I wrote extensively about last year). Without Evans, it’ll be considerably harder to excel in the transition-focused style that Boynton likely continues. Kendall Smith, a graduate transfer from Cal State Northridge, will pick up the point guard mantle left behind by Evans. Smith was a flat-out stud last season for the Matadors, averaging 16/4/4 while putting up a respectable shooting slash of .490/.345/.776. While Smith isn’t quite the speedster Evans is (nobody really is), he still exceled in transition at CSUN scoring 1.076ppp on a running-focused squad (per Synergy). Smith will provide consistent scoring and reliable ball handling at the point guard position while tutoring the young Brandon Averette, a sophomore guard with loads of potential but one who struggled with turnovers in his freshman season.
The silent key to the Cowpokes’ offense is Mitchell Solomon, a 6’9” center who’s about as steady as they come. Solomon kick starts the offense by catching at the high post or setting a ball screen, utilizing keen decision making ability and spacing to pick apart the defense. Solomon provides a safety net for shooters with his rebounding ability; he ranked 3rd in the country in offensive rebounding percentage which created countless second chance opportunities. On defense, Solomon was the 3rd best shot blocker in the Big 12. He doesn’t render a lot of attention but he’s certainly one of Boynton’s most important assets.
OSU’s deepest position by far is its bevy of wings. Jeffrey Carroll, Tavarius Shine, Lindy Waters, Cameron McGriff, and Davon Dillard will all see time at the 2, 3, and 4 spots. Carroll promises to be one of the best players in the conference this season and perhaps even the country. Last year, Carroll posted the 12th best O-Rating in the nation, scoring 17.5ppg on .589/.443/.810 shooting. Evans's presence allowed Carroll to thrive in a secondary role; now, OSU will be Carroll’s squad to lead. He’s proven he can score in a multitude of ways; the question will be can he maintain his insane efficiency while doing so.
Shine and Waters likely earn the two wing starting spots leading off the year. Shine’s 2016-17 season ended early due to back surgery, but he fared well in 2015-16 as a budding sophomore contributor. Waters, too, was bitten by the injury bug during the latter half of the year, but he played well at the beginning, earning 12 starts in 13 games and scoring in double figures 5 times. Waters offers deadeye shooting from the outside and provides a steady defensive presence on the perimeter.
Dillard was the creator of more than one gravity-defying dunk last season, and he appears to have vast potential to be a well-rounded offensive weapon. His frame and shooting ability allow him to play either the 2 or 3 on offense while defending 3 or 4 positions on the other end. McGriff leans more towards the power forward position with his size and plus rebounding ability.
Sophomore Lucas N’Guessan and freshman Zack Dawson will round out the rotation at the bookend positions. N’Guessan, a 7-foot Dutchman, started ten games last year for OSU but slowly faded out of the rotation as the season progressed. His contribution will be needed this year considering the Cowpokes’ lack of center depth. Dawson is an ESPN Top 100 point guard that will compete with Averette for backup one-guard duties. He’s a premier prospect that appears to have a little Jawun Evans in him. Boynton will have options behind Smith he can comfortably rely upon.
Bottom Line: If Underwood was still the coach of OSU, I think you’d see a lot of publications higher on the Cowboys than they currently are. This team is deep at nearly every position, will have a potential star in Jeffrey Carroll, and will feature two consistent pieces at the center and point guard position. If Boynton can instill the Underwood system successfully in Stillwater, OSU could surprise some people with a dark horse run to the Bubble.