With the newest season of college basketball less than 100 days away, predictions for the season are beginning to surface. Several teams are in the midst of overseas tournaments giving us a first look at the newcomers. In the next week or two campuses will be flooded with returning students and then the first preseason exhibitions will be only a few short months away. With the season rapidly approaching, there is a better sense of how each conference will play out. First, it is time to take a look at one of the best conferences from 2015-16, the Big 12.
Kansas Will Win the Regular Season Title…Again
Kansas has won at least a share of the regular season Big 12 title every year since 2006. There is no indication that this trend will stop. The team has a plethora of returning and incoming talent. Bill Self also continues to develop players into better versions of themselves.
Notable returnees include Devonte’ Graham, Frank Mason and Carlton Bragg Jr. Graham and Mason combine to be the best returning guard tandem in the Big 12 and one of the best in the country. Both are highly skilled on the offensive end of the floor, but their defensive statistics will be what separates them as the best 2-way pair and will make the Jayhawks a lock for the regular season title.
While Graham averaged 11.3 PPG and 3.7 APG, his Defsnsive Box Plus/Miinus of 3.7 shows his positive contributions on the other end of the floor. 2.2 of his 5.1 win shares were defensive, meaning he was nearly as important on defense as on offense. Frank Mason had eerily similar numbers with 12.9 PPG and 4.6 APG along with 4.3 RPG. He also posted a positive Defensive Box Plus/Minus of 3.7 indicating a heavy contribution both ways.
Carlton Bragg Jr. played only 8.9 MPG but his stats show yet another bright spot for Self and crew. Even playing as little as he did, he was able to post a 4.7 Defensive Box Plus/Minus. His per 40 offensive averages are astounding at 17.0 PPG, 11.1 RPG and 1.7 steals per contest. When Bragg plays this year, and he will after the departure of Perry Ellis, he will be able to contribute.
Finally, bolstering this load of talent is a recruiting class that includes the top rated player in the country, Josh Jackson. Jackson is an explosive athlete that is still fine tuning his shooting ability. With all of the other offensive options he should have plenty of help to grow from the raw talent that he is into something more. Also joining the mix will be big man recruit Udoka Azubuke. There is plenty of depth to shore up any possible flaws that may arise on this team. They will have no problem winning at least a share of their twelfth straight Big 12 regular season title.
TCU Will Make the 2017 NCAA Tournament
Jamie Dixon is the main reason that there will be life for the Horned Frogs in basketball. He took the Panthers to 11 NCAA Tournaments in 13 seasons with one Elite Eight and two Sweet Sixteen appearances. Dixon chose to return to his alma mater where he played from 1984-87.
Dixon will undoubtedly make the team better immediately, but there is more reason to think that this team will not repeat its 2-16 Big 12 record. The only losses for TCU were Devonta Abron to graduation and Chauncey Collins, who signed with an agent.
Though the loss of their top scorer will hurt, most of the key pieces remain and will develop under Dixon. Dixon oversaw the development of many players while at Pitt including Lavance Fields and Dejuan Blair. Malique Trent was already a multi-faceted threat but Dixon could develop him into a bona fide star. Additionally Dixon signed 4-star point guard Jaylen Fisher.
With Dixon at the helm, majority of the team returning and the key addition of Fisher, TCU should make the tournament. They will likely be a bubble team or perhaps a nine or ten seed at best, but they should squeeze their way through the year and sneak in despite the program’s poor recent history.
Oklahoma, Texas Will Experience Rebuilding Year
Oklahoma’s roster will be a immensely different in 2016-17. They lose three of their stars in Ryan Spangler, Isaiah Cousins and 1st Team All American, Buddy Hield. The trio combined for 47.8 of the team’s 79.7 points per game. Additionally they were three of the top four leaders in assists and rebounds.
That leaves a significant amount of production with Jordan Woodard as the only remaining key piece. He and Khadeem Lattin are the only players returning that saw over 13 minutes per game. With Woodard being the only returning star, teams will easily be able to concentrate on him, diluting his numbers. He is an efficient shooter now, but his efficiency will not get any better when he has the opposing team’s best defender on him. That is, unless Oklahoma’s recruiting class outdoes expectations. Lon Kruger’s teams do not normally hit the ground running. He specializes in player development over time as seen in the past year.
The Texas Longhorns will experience much of the same situation in Shaka Smart’s second year. The Longhorns lose their top three scorers, two to graduation and Isaiah Taylor to an early entry in the NBA. Additionally the top three rebounders on the team will need replacements. Kerwin Roach Jr. did have an eye-opening dunk against Kansas, but with him as the remaining leader in points and rebounds at 7.5 PPG and 2.9 RPG this team will take a year to develop an identity.
Luckily Smart seems to have a knack for developing players over time. Players like Brionte Weber and Eric Maynor were not highly touted recruits, but each came into their own at VCU during Smart’s tenure. The Longhorns do have one of the best recruiting classes in the country. However, the one-and-done roster turnover is not Smart’s forte. Thus, he and Texas will have a bit of trouble adapting to the new atmosphere and essentially take the year to figure themselves out in the wake of their losses.