The NBA Draft’s Early Entry Deadline has come and gone. Just about every elite recruit has decided where they will be playing their college ball next season. The coaching carousel, which ended up spinning a bit faster than initially expected, has come to a close. The transfer market is slowly winding down.
In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2017-18 season. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what has happened — and what will happen — in the Big 12 over the next six months.
1. Kansas, again: In most of the previous 13 years, there was at least an argument to be made about a team that could challenge Kansas and end the Jayhawks’ reign atop the league. You can’t even pretend to believe that’s the case heading into the summer before this season. Yes, West Virginia will be good and Texas is interesting, but the Jayhawks, well, they’re on another level.
Nearly everything went according to plan this offseason for Kansas, which lost Frank Mason and Landen Lucas to graduation and Josh Jackson to the draft but Devonte Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk are both coming back. Those two make for an experienced and skilled core, and when it’s paired with Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman, high-level recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett and a healthy Udoka Azubuike, Kansas’ talent is among the best in the country.
2. What’s Bruce Weber’s status?: When Kansas State got blasted by 30 points in late February by Oklahoma – a Sooners team that won just 11 games on the year – it looked like be curtains for Bruce Weber’s tenure in Manhattan. Rather than fade to black, though, the Wildcats won their next three to nab a spot in the First Four, where they beat Wake Forest.
So what’s next for Weber? The fan base is unsettled, even after the third NCAA tournament in his five years there, and Kansas State has a new athletic director, Gene Taylor. Kamau Stokes, Barry Brown and Dean Wade return after successful seasons, but is there enough talent there to get back to the NCAA tournament? And is that even the bar to clear, both for Wildcat fans and the new AD? Weber may not be on the proverbial hot seat – there’s even talk of an extension for him this summer – but his situation is an interesting one, especially if Kansas State struggles out of the gates.
3. Texas’ reinvention: Yeah, Texas made the NCAA tournament in Shaka Smart’s first season leading the Longhorns, but it’s hard to look at his two seasons there without some disappointment, especially after an 11-22 season in which Texas finished last in the Big 12 last season despite having a potential lottery pick in Jarrett Allen on the roster. The Longhorns were young and had a roster that didn’t really fit, but, still, a 4-14 Big 12 record is unsightly.
This year, though, Smart has a truly intriguing and, more importantly, talented group that would appear to fit together well. Andrew Jones tested the draft waters before coming back to Austin and Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis are a year older and more seasoned. But it’s the newcomers that really make Texas a team to watch. Mo Bamba picked Texas over Duke and Kentucky, giving the Longhorns not only a 7-footer who may be the top 2018 NBA draft pick but also a massively important symbolic recruiting victory. Four-star recruit Matt Coleman gives Smart the point guard he so desperately missed, and Smart secured three other four-star players in the class. Texas probably won’t win the Big 12 this season, but it’s not hard to think this will be the season we all look back on as truly the start of the Smart era.
4. Country roads lead to victories: West Virginia lost a lot, namely Tarik Phillip and Nathan Adrian, but Jevon Carter and Esa Ahmad might be the best one-two punch in the conference outside of the city limits of Lawrence. Bob Huggins is going to get the most out of this group, and that’s likely going to mean a bunch of wins. Kansas is the toast of the league, but the Mountaineers are worth raising a cup for as well, though it should probably be filled with something stronger than champagne.
- Malik Newman, Kansas: Newman underwhelmed in his first collegiate season, averaging 11.3 points and shooting 39.1 percent as a Mississippi State freshman, but he’s a former top-10 recruit that’s spent a year away from competition under the tutelage of Bill Self. He seems to be a prime candidate to turn a fresh start into a dynamic season
- Mohammed Bamba, Texas: As mentioned above, Bamba’s decision to come to Texas is a potential game-changer. He adds some serious star power to the Big 12, a league that’s lacked that some in recent years outside of Kansas’ one-and-done players.
- Billy Preston, Kansas: Preston isn’t thought of as highly as recent top Kansas recruits like Josh Jackson, Kelly Oubre or Andrew Wiggins, but the kid can really play. He won’t be asked to play a starring role, but if he can be an impactful contributor, that’s all Kansas will need
- Trae Young, Oklahoma: The post-Buddy Hield wasn’t kind to Oklahoma last season, but Lon Kruger and the Sooners don’t figure to stay down long, especially with the hometown five-star prospect in the fold.
- Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State: The Cyclones have enjoyed one of the steadiest point guards in recent college basketball history for the last four years with Monte Morris setting the sport’s career assist-to-turnover ratio record, but they’ll now turn the team over to Wigginton, the program’s best-rated recruit in a generation. Wigginton will probably have to be special if Iowa State is to make a seventh-straight NCAA tournament.
- Al Freeman, Baylor: Freeman saw his role slashed last year, so it’s not entirely surprising, but losing an experienced and talented player like Freeman always stings.
- Tevin Mack, Texas: He was Texas’ leading scorer last year, but seemed to find himself at odds with Shaka Smart. Texas has an infusion of talent coming, but losing Mack is losing production, even if it also means dispatching with some headaches
- Carlton Bragg, Kansas: Maybe not so surprising after Bragg averaged 13.8 minutes per game last year, but definitely noteworthy as he’s a former top-25 recruit. Kansas should have plenty of frontcourt talent anyway.
- Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State got one of the most coveted coaches on the market in 2016 when it pulled Brad Underwood from Stephen F. Austin. Then the Cowboys promptly lost him to Illinois reportedly largely over monetary concerns, and turned around and hired his assistant for a $1 million salary this upcoming season. Boynton may turn out to be a wildly successful head coach, but Oklahoma State certainly signaled that it doesn’t prioritize spending on basketball with this whole ordeal.
WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS
Devonte Graham, Kansas (Player of the Year)
Jevon Carter, West Virginia
Andrew Jones, Texas
Esa Ahmad, West Virginia
Mohammed Bamba, Texas
WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS
- Kansas: After 13-straight titles, this doesn’t need much explanation. The Jayhawks are, as always, the team to beat.
- West Virginia: Bob Huggins has turned Press Virginia from gimmick to way of life in Morgantown. The Mountaineers have plenty of turnover, but the talent, and coach, are still in place for a high league finish.
- Texas: The Longhorns looked like a team in the tier below the league’s top squads, but adding Mo Bamba late gives them the appearance of being a cut above. If Andrew Jones can take a big step forward as a sophomore and Matt Coleman can deliver at the point, Texas could be a very dangerous team.
- TCU: Jamie Dixon already had the Horned Frogs looking like a vastly improved group in Year 1, and he’s bringing just about everyone back in his second season. They might be light in high-end talent, but the continuity could go a long way.
- Texas Tech: Chris Beard may have been two overtime losses and two one-possession defeats in February away from getting the Red Raiders into the NCAA tournament last year. He’ll lose Anthony Livingston, but otherwise returns a solid core. Florida transfer Brandone Francis and DePaul transfer Tommy Hamilton IV might be the difference makers for Beard.
- Baylor: Losing Johnathan Motley early to the draft was a major loss for the Bears, but Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil should keep Scott Drew and the Bears competitive.
- Oklahoma: Last year was a rough one for Oklahoma as it looked to rebuild after a Final Four season led by seniors, but it led to valuable experience for its young players. Now, Trae Young enters the fray hoping to take his hometown team back to the top-half of the Big 12.
- Iowa State: The Cyclones graduated four starters and six rotation players overall and will now be rebooting the roster in Year 3 under Steve Prohm. Iowa State is adding three well-regarded prep recruits, highlighted by five-star Lindell Wigginton, along with graduate transfers Hans Brase (Princeton) and Jeff Beverly (UTSA), but a step back seems inevitable.
- Kansas State: The Wildcats return some nice pieces in Kamau Stokes, Dean Wade and Barry Brown, but it’s going to be hard to make up for the losses of Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson.
- Oklahoma State: Jeffrey Carroll is a potential all-league player, but the rest of the roster would suggest that the Cowboys will have their work cut out for them a year removed from making the NCAA tournament after an 0-6 start in the Big 12 under Brad Underwood, who now resides in Champaign, Ill.