Three Big 12 Storylines to Follow this Season

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 11th, 2016

Whether you’ve noticed or not, college basketball is almost here. The league schedules have been released, public practices like Kansas’ Late Night in the Phog and Iowa State’s Hilton Madness have either come and gone or are on the horizon, blurbs are emerging of players losing weight or adding muscle, and coaches are talking about how they want to play faster and take pages from NBA teams’ playbooks. Even though college football, the NFL and baseball’s playoffs tend to dominate the national sports conversation this time of year, it’s nevertheless a good opportunity to start looking at the hoops season ahead (and let’s be honest, any time is a good time to talk hoops around here). We’ll have much, much more to come over the next month as the season draws near, but in the interest of keeping things simple at the opening tip, here are three storylines that will define one of the nation’s top conferences in 2016-17.

Bill Self's Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

Bill Self’s Jayhawks are well-positioned for yet another conference title in 2017. (John Rieger/USA TODAY Sports)

  1. Kansas goes for #13 – The Jayhawks lost one of the Big 12’s elder statesmen in Perry Ellis as well as two other mainstays in Wayne Selden and Jamari Traylor, but Bill Self‘s team is going to be loaded once again. Frank Mason and Devonte’ Graham are back as the two-headed monster in the backcourt, Landen Lucas will hold own the center spot after running away with the job last season and Svi Mykhailiuk returns to provide an X-factor opposing coaches will have to respect, even if he only sees 10-15 minutes per game. Oh, and the potential #1 overall pick in next June’s draft in Josh Jackson will slide easily into Selden’s old spot, bringing versatility, rebounding and that #motor to the wing that Self loves so much. This team isn’t without questions — particularly how effective Carlton Bragg will be as a sophomore — but while there’s usually a token competitor who contrarians pick to upend the Jayhawks in the Big 12, the reality is that there’s no good reason to bet against Kansas matching both Gonzaga and the John Wooden-era UCLA teams with 13 consecutive regular season conference titles.
  2. Point guard talent everywhere – Last season, the Big 12 played a pivotal role in the national storyline of veterans rather than one-and-done stars leading the country’s top teams. Ellis, Buddy Hield and Georges Niang capped off three of the most memorable four-year runs in league history, but they’re all gone now. The question of which players will define the league this year is certainly worth exploring, but there’s an easy answer — the floor generals. Yes, Kansas’ Jackson will be under the microscope from Day One in Lawrence, but he’s only one player in a league loaded with talent, and most of that talent lives in the conference’s backcourts, as was affirmed by last week’s preseason all-conference selections from the league office. In addition to Mason and Graham at Kansas, Iowa State’s Monte’ Morris will be a popular preseason conference Player of the Year pick and may be on track for an All-American season. Oklahoma State sophomore Jawun Evans will be a subject of draft discussion if he bounces back from a shoulder injury that cut short a promising freshman campaign; Jordan Woodard will add stability to Oklahoma’s transition to life after Buddy, and Kerwin Roach brings explosiveness and athleticism to Texas that Shaka Smart absolutely loves, and that’s just for starters. Elsewhere around the conference, Manu Lecomte aims to be the next in a long line of success stories at Baylor and Jaylen Fisher gives TCU an instant injection of talent, even if he’s ultimately more of a guy to dream on in the long run.
  3. New coaches look to rebuild teams in their image. The Big 12 prides itself on its top-to-bottom depth, having sent 70 percent of its membership to the Big Dance in each of the last three seasons. It might be a bit of a surprise, then, to see that half of the league’s teams (Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Texas) will be led by coaches in either their first or second seasons on the job. Some cupboards were left fairly well-stocked by their predecessors while others were more barren, so there’s a curve when it comes to measuring success both in the short-term and the long-term, but how well the newer coaches fare in turning over their rosters will ultimately determine whether the Big 12 will remain the nation’s deepest conference.
Brian Goodman (987 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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