A Month Into the Season: Six Big 12 Revelations

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 10th, 2014

Nearly a month into the season, the Big 12 has enjoyed a standout non-conference campaign with several wins over Power Five opponents. For the most part, the conference’s best teams are living up to their hype, while the middle-tier teams are showing signs of  fulfilling their potential as well. While all eyes are on the title race between Kansas and Texas, here are six other storylines you might be missing.

Bryce Dejean-Jones has turned into a hyper-efficient shooter under Fred Hoiberg (sorry, UNLV fans). (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

Bryce Dejean-Jones has turned into a hyper-efficient scorer under Fred Hoiberg (sorry, UNLV fans). (AP/Charlie Neibergall)

  1. Bryce Dejean-Jones could be Fred Hoiberg’s best transfer yet. The Mayor has taken many a flawed transfer and turned him into an All-Big 12 selection. On its own this isn’t exactly a revelation, but you probably didn’t expect Bryce Dejean-Jones to be such a white-hot scorer. Through seven games, he’s shooting 56.8 percent from the floor, 41.7 percent from the three-point line and 89.7 percent from the free throw stripe. He’s also pitching in on the glass, corralling 6.9 rebounds per game. As if that isn’t scary enough for the rest of the Big 12, Dejean-Jones is the second option in the Cyclones’ offense, as Georges Niang hasn’t had any trouble picking up where he left off after getting hurt in last season’s NCAA Tournament. Dejean-Jones’ latest excellent performance came against UMKC on Tuesday night, as he put up 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including a 2-of-4 effort from beyond the arc.
  2. We need to be patient with Myles Turner. It’s tempting to look at Texas freshman Myles Turner’s numbers on the year (11.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game) and conclude that he’s coming along just fine, but if you dig deeper into his games against high-major competition, he hasn’t been nearly that good — averaging just 5.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in games against Iowa, Cal, UConn and Kentucky. This is by no means a knock on the heralded freshman, who was a late bloomer on the recruiting circuit, but it’s become clear that when it comes to legitimate competition, Turner is going to need some time to develop into the rangy, efficient scorer who can lift Texas over Kansas in the Big 12 standings. He’s still in the process of realizing how good he can be, and with Texas’ surplus of big men on the roster, Rick Barnes is still figuring out how to best utilize his young phenom. On the plus side, you’ll be treated to a show if you have the means to watch any of the Longhorns’ next three games (vs. Texas State, Lipscomb and Long Beach State), as Turner hasn’t had any trouble showing off his tools and production against inferior competition. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big 12 M5: 11.24.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 24th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. In an early but big game for Bob Huggins and West Virginia, the Mountaineers impressed by beating defending national champions Connecticut, 78-68, in the finals of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Sunday night. The victory was keyed by a 17-4 run midway through the first half, and big games from Juwan Staten (21 points) and the Mountaineer defense, which forced 19 Husky turnovers, were especially crucial. Without a slate full of formidable non-con opponents, the win was very important for WVU from a resume standpoint. West Virginia can breathe easy for now, as they should have little trouble passing their next two tests, which come against VMI and the College Of Charleston.
  2. Amid the fallout for Kansas from last week’s shellacking at the hands of Kentucky was a minor injury, as it was revealed that freshman Devonte’ Graham sprained his shoulder in the loss. The injury isn’t said to be serious and it sounds like Graham will be ready for this week’s Orlando Classic, but with point guard play continuing to be a question, any development that brings more uncertainty to the picture isn’t good. If Mason shows any lingering symptoms, it will be interesting to see what the Jayhawks can get from Frank Mason.
  3. Oklahoma State big man Michael Cobbins was welcomed back to the team with open arms and showed that he was ready to go with a very solid performance against Milwaukee Friday night. Cobbins was sidelined for the Cowboys’ first three games of the season due to an NCAA ruling, but chipped in 15 points to go along with six rebounds, three blocks and a steal in an 82-68 win in his season debut against the Panthers. Oklahoma State now has everyone available as they gear up for a semifinal match-up tonight against Oregon State in the MGM Grand Main Event in Las Vegas. They’ll play either Auburn or Tulsa in the final or consolation round on Wednesday.
  4. Obvious as it is, we’ve talked several times about how important it is for Kansas State to avoid the kind of non-con gaffes that sent them scrambling into February to secure an NCAA Tournament bid. As it turns out, Bruce Weber‘s team didn’t listen to us, as it took a 69-60 road loss to Long Beach State on Friday night. Beating Purdue in today’s opening round of the Maui Invitational now becomes more meaningful than it was before, not so much because it would restore confidence in the Wildcats, but because it would set up a likely second-round match-up with No. 2 Arizona, where a win would do wonders for their tournament resume.
  5. Just in time for Feast Week, Iowa State will get a pair of reinforcements back tonight as Abdel Nader and Matt Thomas are now eligible to play in games. Both Nader and Thomas sat out the Cyclones’ first two games after separate run-ins with the law resulted in alcohol-related citations. We will have a full breakdown on what to expect from Iowa State in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic this week, but at the very least, Nader and Thomas can bring some offense to the Cyclone bench, which has scored just nine points so far this season.
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Wooden Award Watch List Features Plenty of Big 12 Talent

Posted by Chris Stone on November 18th, 2014

The 2014-15 Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 watch list released on Monday features 10 players from the Big 12. League favorite Kansas leads the conference with four selections — a number matched only by the top-ranked (and tonight’s opponent in the Champions Classic) Kentucky Wildcats. Five other Big 12 schools are also represented on the list, including Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Texas and West Virginia. The conference most recently won the award when Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin took home the honor at the end of the 2008-09 season.

Juwan Staten is one of ten Big 12 players on the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 watch list.

Juwan Staten is one of 10 Big 12 players on the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 watch list.

This year’s watch list features three Big 12 freshmen, all of whom were top 10 recruits according to Rivals. Kansas’ Cliff Alexander began the season by playing 12 minutes in a 69-59 victory over UC Santa Barbara last Friday, scoring nine points and grabbing four rebounds behind the more experienced frontcourt players, Perry Ellis and Jamari Traylor. The second Kansas freshman on the list, Kelly Oubre Jr., played only four minutes in Friday’s contest. Oubre has struggled to find his place in Bill Self’s rotation, playing behind sophomore Brannen Greene and freshman Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk and having a minimal impact against UCSB. While Oubre struggled, Texas center Myles Turner opened the season with a bang against North Dakota State, scoring 15 points and pulling down six rebounds in 20 minutes of playing time in the 85-50 victory. He followed up that performance with a 10-point, seven-rebound, six-block game in an 85-53 win over Alcorn State on Sunday night.

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Big 12 Predictions: Player and Newcomer of the Year

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2014

It’s been a fun run-up to the season here at the Big 12 microsite, with plenty of discussion on the strength and depth of the conference and whether any team is poised to knock Kansas from its perch at the top of the standings. We finish things off with the group’s selections for Big 12 Player of the Year and Newcomer of the Year.

Player Of The Year

The new and improved Georges Niang will be the Big 12's best player. (Nirmalendu Majumdar)

The new and improved Georges Niang will be the Big 12’s best player, according to three of our four experts. (Nirmalendu Majumdar/AP)

  • Kory Carpenter: Georges Niang, Iowa State - I wanted to go with Juwan Staten here, but I think he’ll have to be even better than he was last season for the media to give him the award again. Niang averaged 16.7 PPG/4.5 RPG/3.6 APG last season and looks to have gotten into great shape this offseason while recovering from foot surgery. He lost about 25 pounds and re-tooled his diet. That, along with the wide-open attack of Iowa State, should lead to plenty of buckets for the svelter forward this season.
  • Brian Goodman: Niang – A Cyclone will take home the hardware for the second straight year as Niang will pace Fred Hoiberg’s balanced attack. Though he may get more attention from opposing defenses with Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane now gone, he has a great ball-handler in Monte’ Morris who will be able to get him touches in spite of that. Niang will take care of the rest from there. I also look for the junior to deliver better rebounding numbers due to his improved conditioning. 

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Big 12 Preseason Predictions: Standings and First Team Picks

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 13th, 2014

With tip-off mere hours away, we enlisted the Big 12 microsite’s contributors — Kory Carpenter (@Kory_Carpenter), Brian Goodman (@BSGoodman), Nate Kotisso (@natekotisso) and Chris Stone (@cstonehoops) — to stake their claims on how the Big 12 will shake out.

Predicted Finish

The unique thing that has separated the Big 12 from other power conferences over the years is the fact that it hasn’t taken more than three seconds to pencil in a winner. The bulk of the work comes in identifying which team is going to finish behind Kansas, and from there, predicting which of those is going to be in the running for NCAA Tournament bids and in which order. Moving toward the bottom of the standings, we always hold out some hope that Texas Tech and TCU can field a roster capable of making us think twice about putting them in the cellar, but their time hasn’t come just yet. Here are our Preseason Big 12 Predicted Standings.

Standings

Insights

  • No Surprise Here, Kansas is the Team to Beat: Between Bill Self’s track record and yet another top-notch collection of talent arriving in Lawrence, it’s a fool’s errand to bet against the Jayhawks now. It may take some time for Kansas to rise to its ultimate potential, but until proven otherwise, it is the unanimous alpha dog in Big 12 basketball. We’ll leave the bold picks to other outlets.

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Introducing the RTC Preseason All-America Teams

Posted by Walker Carey on November 13th, 2014

With the season tipping off on Friday night, there’s no better time to roll out our preseason All-America Teams. More than anything, these three groups of outstanding players are here to foster and encourage discussion over the next four months. Our crack panel of seven national columnists provided ballots over the last week or so, and this is where we ended up.

First Team All-Americans

FirstTeam

  • Marcus Paige, North Carolina – Paige enters his junior season at North Carolina following a sophomore campaign when the guard take his game to new heights. After a fairly productive freshman season (8.2 PPG), the 6’1″ point guard took home the ACC’s Most Improved Player Award by upping that average to 17.5 PPG as he led the Tar Heels to the NCAA Tournament. Paige’s season was good enough for him to be the first North Carolina point guard to be named first-team All-ACC as a sophomore since Tar Heels’ legend Phil Ford in 1976. Expectations are high in Chapel Hill again this season, and with Paige running the show, it is easy to understand why. Factoid: In an informal poll of college coaches taken by CBSSports.com in August, Paige was named as one of the players the pollsters would most like to have on their team this season. Once coach said of the Tar Heel, “he really doesn’t get enough credit for what he did for North Carolina last season. Won’t surprise me if he’s National Player of the Year.”
  • Juwan Staten, West Virginia – Not many guards can fill up the stat sheet like Staten. The highly productive senior returns for the Mountaineers following a season when he become the first player in West Virginia history to score 500 points (598), grab 150 rebounds (186), and dish out 150 assists (193) in a season. With the offseason transfers of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, Staten will almost definitely see those numbers rise during his final collegiate season in Morgantown. After a two-year hiatus from the NCAA Tournament, Staten appears primed to lead what one expert is calling an underrated Mountaineers squad back to the Big Dance. Factoid: Following Staten’s first season at West Virginia, Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins gave his guard the assignment of watching tape from two of the great point guards Huggins coached at Cincinnati – Nick Van Exel and Steve Logan.
  • Montrezl Harrell, Louisville – It was a bit of a surprise in April when Harrell announced that he would return to Louisville for his junior season rather than enter the NBA Draft. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is undoubtedly pleased with his big man’s decision, as Louisville is set to begin its first season in the arduous ACC. With Russ Smith and Luke Hancock gone, Harrell seems to be the best bet to pick up the slack in Pitino’s up-tempo offense. The junior forward has reportedly added what he and his coach call a more consistent 14-to-16 foot jump shot to his offensive repertoire. While that development unquestionably has Louisville fans giddy, it should worry the Cards’ new conference foes. Factoid: Harrell originally committed to Virginia Tech out of high school, but he reopened his recruitment following Seth Greenberg’s abrupt dismissal. A few weeks later, Harrell signed with Louisville and the rest, as they say, is history.
  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke – The Chicago prep superstar-to-Duke pipeline continues as Okafor is set to begin his freshman season in Durham. The consensus number one high school player in the Class of 2014 enters his college career with a tremendous amount of hype. He has been described as “one of the most skilled and poised back to the basket centers to come along in some time.” Duke brought in a star-studded recruiting class to help offset the early departures of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, and there is no question that Okafor is the jewel of that class. If the big man turns in the type of season that many expect from him, there is no telling what the ceiling for the Blue Devils could be. Factoid: Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has already acknowledged that he expects Okafor to be a one-and-done: “We won’t have him long. We’ll have him this year and then he’ll be one of the top NBA picks.”
  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin – Kaminsky entered the 2013-14 season as a relative unknown after averaging just 4.2 points in 10.3 minutes per game as a sophomore. He did not remain an unknown for long, though, as the junior emerged as one of the top big men in the Big Ten, taking home consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. While his regular season was outstanding, what really turned Kaminsky into a household name was his 28-point, 11 rebound effort against Arizona to send Wisconsin to the Final Four. The Badgers return four starters from that Final Four squad, but none are more important than the seven-foot senior. Factoid: Kaminsky was lightly-recruited coming out of Benet Academy in Lisle, Illinois. In fact, he was a Plan B for the Badgers after one of their top frontcourt targets, Nnanna Egwu, committed to Illinois.

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Big 12 M5: 11.07.14 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 7th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Good news for Iowa State fans: The Cyclones look to finally be healthy heading into their exhibition tonight against Viterbo University tonight in Hilton Coliseum. From a sprained ankle to mono, as Des Moines Register writer writer Randy Peterson points out, the Cycones have been far from 100% the last few weeks. That changed this weekend for the 14th ranked team in the country. They defeated Minnesota 103-78 last week in a closed scrimmage on Sunday and open the regular season next Friday against Oakland.
  2. Bill Self took some time for a Twitter Q&A on Thursday. Nothing earth-shattering was shared by the Kansas coach, but hey, it’s still the off-season and anything is better than nothing. In case you were wondering, Self said Brady Morningstar was the best perimeter defender he has had at Kansas, Mario Chalmers is the one player he would want taking a last-second shot, and he likes bacon in his grilled cheese sandwiches. He also wants to play at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Good luck getting Coach K to schedule an actual opponent at home, Bill.
  3. In recent years there has always seemed to be a “sexy pick” to finally knock Kansas off the top of the Big 12 standings. Kansas State and Oklahoma State were picked by some the last few years. Not surprisingly, Texas is this year’s pick. Burntorangenation.com previewed the Longhorns this season and asked some good questions surrounding the Texas players. They have a solid core coming back and added one of the best recruits in the country in Myles Turner as well. I don’t think they will have the firepower to dethrone the Jayhawks, but make sure you tune into both (possibly three) meetings, you won’t be disappointed.
  4. From the Not-So-Shocking department, Charleston Daily Mail writer Mike Casazza has a good piece on West Virginia and senior guard Juwan Staten, and how the former will have to rely heavily on the latter if the Mountaineers want to make a serious run at the Big 12 title. The conference pre-season player of the year led the league in points and assists last season and will be shadowed in every game this season. Someone will have to step up if the Mountaineers are to be successful in 2014-15.
  5. Pre-season No. 1 Kentucky and No. 5 Kansas face off again in the Champions Classic in a few weeks, and a Kentucky blogger wrote about what he believes are the three best games in the Kansas/Kentucky rivalry. Not surprisingly, all three games were won by the Wildcats. Kansas fans would probably point to the 150-90 shellacking they gave Kentucky in Allen Fieldhouse in 1989. This year’s game, played in Indianapolis along with Duke and Michigan State, should be another great one. Does Kansas have the talent to keep up with Kentucky? I don’t know, especially this early in the year. But the Champions Classic has been great every year, and this year should be no different.
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Big 12 M5: 11.05.14 Edition

Posted by KoryCarpenter on November 5th, 2014

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  1. To say TCU struggled last season would be an understatement. The Horned Frogs didn’t win a single game in the Big 12, finishing 0-18 in the round-robin format. A year later, they are picked to finish in last place again. As a result, head coach Trent Johnson doesn’t want his players talking about last year’s performance, and I don’t blame him. Senior guard Kyan Anderson is taking a little different approach, says Fort Worth Star-Telegram writer Carlos Mendez. If TCU is healthy this year, which was rarely the case last season, they will surely pick up a few wins in Big 12 play. “Why am I so happy? Why am I so excited?” Johnson asked reporters at media day. “No. 1 is, for the first time since I’ve been at TCU, we’ve had nine practices and I have a full complement of players — 13 guys on scholarship and three walk-ons, and we’re healthy.”
  2. It was just an exhibition against an overmatched Washburn team, but Kansas freshman forward Cliff Alexander gave us a glimpse last night of what he is capable of doing this season. Big 12 front lines should be afraid, as Alexander finished with 14 points and nine rebounds in just 17 minutes of action. It seemed like a flashback to his high school days where he was able to bully smaller players down low. That won’t be the case in most games against quality competition this season, but smaller frontcourts could be in for very long nights against the beefy freshman. “They were so dominant,” Washburn head coach Bob Chipman told the Lawrence Journal-World‘s Matt Tait. Again, the opponent was just a Division-II school, but Alexander playing well early could be huge for Kansas.
  3. Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg has been involved in numerous NBA coaching rumors since returning to the college game a few years ago. It’s widely assumed that he will one day leave Ames for an NBA head coaching job, but when that might happen is anyone’s guess. But as FoxSports.com‘s Reid Forgrave writes, Hoiberg’s relationship with Iowa State and the city of Ames is perhaps more unique than any coach in the country. Forgrave tells a great story of Hoiberg’s family life,  NBA career, and the heart problem that cut his playing days short in this fine article.
  4. West Virginia will definitely look different than last season, thanks to a few transfers that left plenty of question marks in their wakes. The Mountaineers still have Bob Huggins, however, and that’s a pretty good place to start. Seven new players will make their debuts with this year’s team, but senior guard Juwan Staten seems optimistic. “They’re coming along very fast, in my opinion,” Staten told Matt Hauswirth of West Virginia Illustrated. With the losses of Eron Harris and Terry Henderson, the Mountaineers will need at least a few of these newcomers to seamlessly integrate into the team dynamic if they want to compete for a Big 12 title and an NCAA Tournament berth.
  5. Sure, Oklahoma State lost 1st round pick (and flopper extraordinaire) Marcus Smart from last year’s team, but head coach Travis Ford welcomes back senior forward Michael Cobbins, who missed the entire Big 12 season after tearing his Achilles against Robert Morris on December 30. Le’Bryan Nash admitted to the Oklahoman‘s John Helsley that last year’s team definitely missed Cobbins’ defensive presence during the second half of the year. The Cowboys were 12-1 before Cobbins was injured but finished the season with a disappointing 10-11 stretch. If you argued that Cobbins was more valuable to the success of this team than Smart, I wouldn’t disagree.
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AP Preseason All-America Team Snubs Big 12 Talent

Posted by Chris Stone on November 4th, 2014

On Monday, the Associated Press released its 2014-15 preseason All-America team. The leading vote getter was North Carolina junior guard Marcus Paige, who appeared on 58 of the 68 ballots after averaging 17.5 points and 4.2 assists per game for the Tar Heels last season. He is joined in the backcourt by Wichita State junior Fred VanVleet. The leading vote getter in the frontcourt was Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell, a 6’8″, 240-pounder who figures to be a force inside for the Cardinals this season. Harrell is joined up front by Wisconsin senior big man Frank Kaminsky and Duke’s highly touted freshman, Jahlil Okafor. Okafor is only the third freshman to make the preseason All-America team in the past five years, joining North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins in receiving the honor.

Georges Niang (AP)

Georges Niang (AP)

Noticeably absent from this preseason’s AP team were any players from the Big 12, which is a bit of a surprise given the projected strength of the league as a whole. The Big 12 has four teams ranked in the AP Top 25 preseason poll, including Kansas (#5), Texas (#10), Iowa State (#14) and Oklahoma (#19). The conference also has four other teams — Kansas State, Oklahoma State, West Virginia and Baylor — that received votes in that poll. With so many quality squads playing in the conference this year, there are certainly some players who could find their way on to one of the AP All-American teams by the end of the season.

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Big 12 Season Preview: West Virginia Mountaineers

Posted by Kory Carpenter on October 31st, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Big 12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: West Virginia.

West Virginia

West Virginia rebounded in its second Big 12 season last year, finishing 9-9 in conference play and above .500 overall at 17-16. Both were improvements from its inagural Big 12 campaign, in which it finished 13-19 (6-12) in 2012-13. The Mountaineers ended the season with an opening round NIT loss to Georgetown and are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. They should make the Big Dance if their upward trend continues, but they have a few pieces to replace if that is to happen. They still have one of the best coaches in the Big 12 in Bob Huggins, who has won 739 games and made two Final Four appearances in a long Division I career that began at Akron in 1984. The Mountaineers also have a soft non-conference schedule this year, so racking up early wins should not be a problem. Only three of West Virginia’s 11 non-conference opponents are from Power 5 conferences, and they might be favored in all 11 of those contests. But like I said, there are definitely holes to fills thanks to a few transfers.

Bob Huggins will need to work some magic after some big losses this offseason.

Bob Huggins will need to work some magic after some big losses this offseason.

Strengths: Juwan Staten. The 6’1″ senior guard led last year’s team with 18.1 PPG and shot 48.5 percent from the field. He had a number of big games, including 23 points and seven assists on 8-of-13 shooting in the season-ending loss against Georgetown. You certainly couldn’t say that loss was on him. Staten will be joined in the backcourt by fellow senior Gary Browne, who has been consistently average at West Virginia (6.5, 5.6, and 5.9 PPG in three seasons) but will help form one of the most experienced backcourts in the nation this season. Then you have sophomore forward Devin Williams, who averaged 8.4 PPG and 7.2 RPG in his first college season — the 6’9″ forward should make a considerable leap and average double-figure points for the Mountaineers.

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Big 12 M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 21st, 2014

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  1. Kansas State‘s frontcourt depth will suffer a minor hit after it was announced that Jack Karapetyan has withdrawn from school and will look to transfer. The California native played in just six games before losing his season to a foot injury last year. Fortunately for him, the injury came early enough in the season that he qualified for a medical hardship waiver, which means he will have all of his eligibility at his new school. The Wildcats don’t figure to miss him, though, as they have plenty of bodies up front.
  2. If there’s one team in need of a fresh start this season, it’s Oklahoma State. Though the Cowboys rallied to make the NCAA Tournament, they finished far below expectations and are ready for a clean slate. The team is looking to Le’Bryan Nash to fill the leadership void left by the departures of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. Nash came to Stillwater three years ago and developed a reputation for hunting shots as he struggled to accept a complimentary role. Now that he is Oklahoma State’s returning scorer, however, he will need to step up and build on a very solid junior year.
  3. A chance to play for a coach who is so well-regarded that he is approached by NBA teams on an annual basis, a rabid fan base that packs its home court every night, and the opportunity to be tested in arguably the country’s toughest conference. What’s not to like about Iowa State basketball? That’s a question we have for 6’10” Indian Hills Community College prospect Malik Dime, who verbally committed to Washington over the Cyclones on Monday. If you are going to turn down The Mayor, you better have a good reason, and according to the linked article, a couple of Washington connections were the difference.
  4. Current Southern Methodist coach and former Kansas head coach Larry Brown recalled some fond memories of coaching in Allen Fieldhouse in advance of the building’s 60th anniversary, which will be celebrated with a gala next week. Brown was only in Lawrence for five seasons, but he left a lasting legacy as the conductor of the 1988 national championship team following a prolonged stretch of mediocrity in the twilight of his predecessor’s (Ted Owens) career.
  5. As if it were even possible, West Virginia projects to lean more heavily on Juwan Staten than it did last year. Only 20 players in the country played a higher percentage of available minutes than Staten in 2014 so it’s tough imagine a bigger workload coming his way in 2015. If you ask us, the key to the Mountaineers’ season isn’t Staten’s performance, since he is more or less a known quantity, but rather the improvement of West Virginia’s abysmal defense.
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Five Takeaways From the Preseason Big 12 Coaches Poll

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 9th, 2014

We’re a little over a month away from the first games of the 2014-15 season, and that means the typical roll-out of preseason coaches polls, all-conference teams and all of the other fun stuff that comes with the countdown. This morning, the Big 12 Conference released its annual preseason coaches poll. You can find the complete rankings here, but here are the five biggest takeaways from the release.

  1. Kansas picked to lead the pack (again), though narrowly: Death, taxes, the sun shining in the east, Adam Sandler making terrible movies, and the Jayhawks winning the Big 12. Sometimes, there’s just no need to complicate life’s certainties. Kansas’ roster isn’t without questions, but whose isn’t? Until someone knocks the Jayhawks off the mountain, any predictions in favor of other teams are simply bold picks. The Longhorns are right behind the Jayhawks with three first-place votes to Kansas’ six in this poll, and have one of the best combinations of talent and depth in the country, but don’t count on the Jayhawks to give up their crown this season.
  2. Sooners on the rise: Oklahoma checks in after Texas and was one of the bigger overachievers in college basketball last season. Lon Kruger returns nearly everyone from a young roster that racked up 23 wins, a second-place finish in the Big 12, and an NCAA Tournament bid. While the team’s defense will need to improve, the offensive firepower should still be there, and the squad can catch a huge break if Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas is ruled eligible. Combine all of that with Kruger’s track record and there are plenty of reasons to believe the Sooners will build on last year’s success.

    Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)

    Andrew Wiggins is a pro, but Bill Self has reloaded Kansas once again. (KUSports.com)

  3. Is the Big 12 selling Fred Hoiberg short?: Before the 2012 and 2013 seasons, the league’s coaches penciled Iowa State in the bottom half of the standings, and both times, Fred Hoiberg exceeded expectations. Last year, the coaches appeared to finally smarten up, as they tabbed the Cyclones to finish fourth, but Iowa State still outperformed those projections, finishing third in the league and winning the Big 12 Tournament. The departures of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim appear to have given the coaches pause this season in sliding the Cyclones down to fifth, but we’ve seen The Mayor rebuild too many times to believe he can’t muster a top-four finish, possibly top three if things break right for his club. Look for Bryce Dejean-Jones, Georges Niang and Monte Morris to do some big things in 2014-15.
  4. What to make of the perceptions of Kansas State and Baylor: Both the Wildcats and Bears face significant roster turnover from last season’s NCAA Tournament teams, but Bruce Weber’s team was tabbed fourth and Scott Drew’s team sixth. It appears as though the league’s coaches are looking for Wildcats guard Marcus Foster to make a big leap as a sophomore and for Baylor to continue its every-other-year pattern, because I just don’t see what else can explain the 17-point difference in the preseason vote tally.
  5. At 7th and 8th place, Bob Huggins and Travis Ford face big seasons: West Virginia’s transition to the Big 12 has been a rocky one. The Mountaineers are just 49-49 over the last three seasons, and while it’s tough to picture Bob Huggins’ seat getting too hot in Morgantown, it’s time for him to produce. Juwan Staten could be the best player in the Big 12, but his amazing talent will be wasted if West Virginia doesn’t hear its name called on Selection Sunday. Meanwhile, in Stillwater, Travis Ford looks to pick up the pieces from one of the most disappointing seasons by a Power Five conference school in recent memory. To his credit, he’s made some inroads on the recruiting circuit, but it’s hard to see freshmen like Joe Burton and Mitch Solomon being good enough complements to Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte for the Cowboys to make a run.
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