Looking Forward: Catching up on the Big 12’s offseason

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With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Earlier, we took an early look at the ACC. Today, we’re Looking Forward at the Big 12:

READ MORE: The NBCSports.com preseason top 25 | Coaches on the hot seat

MAJOR OFFSEASON STORYLINES

1. Will Fred Hoiberg be in Ames next season?: Fred Hoiberg will stay at Iowa State for the rest of his collegiate coaching career, but just how long he remains in the college ranks has always been a question mark. He’s a former NBA player with front office experience that has always been considered a favorite to take over for Tom Thibodeau in Chicago if — when? — Thibs gets the axe. The Cyclones have the talent to remain relevant if Hoiberg is gone, but his ability to get castoffs from other programs to buy-in and his unique ability to exploit mismatches is what has made Iowa State a true title contender.

2. What kind of success will Shaka Smart have in Austin?: Shaka Smart taking over at Texas is the single-most intriguing new hire in college basketball. Smart turned VCU from a CAA program into a perennial top 25 team, but he did it using a full-court pressing system called ‘HAVOC’ that I do not believe can work at an elite level. Will he adjust the way that he plays with the Longhorns — he has to in the short term as he doesn’t have the personnel to pressure full court for 40 minutes — or will he be able to tap into the myriad of elite-level athletes in the state of Texas and turn this program into the second-coming of Nolan Richardson’s ’40 Minutes of Hell’ Arkansas teams.

3. Kansas looks like the favorite to win their 12th straight Big 12 title: Everything broke right for the Jayhawks this spring. Cliff Alexander declared for the NBA Draft, which is addition by subtraction, while Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis both decided to return to Lawrence for another season. And in addition to landing top 25 recruit Carlton Bragg, the Jayhawks picked up a commitment from top five big man Cheick Diallo, the kind of aggressive and athletic big they have lacked to last two seasons. If Frank Mason can continue to play the way he played as a sophomore and if Svi Myhailiuk can showcase the potential that he has, the Jayhawks will likely once again emerge as the favorite in a top-heavy conference.

READ MORE: Eleven potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16 | Eight intriguing coaching hires

KEY ADDITIONS

  • Cheick Diallo, Kansas: I think Diallo is somewhat limited as a prospect. He’s not overskilled, rather he’s more of a guy that thrives because he plays harder than anyone else. But that’s what Kansas desperately needed along side Perry Ellis and Carlton Bragg. He’ll be what we all wanted Cliff Alexander to be last season.
  • Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: Evans is my favorite point guard in the Class of 2015. He’s a ballhawk defensively that understands how to run an offense, a pure point guard in the sense that he always makes the right decision. He’ll remind Oklahoma State fans of Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis.
  • Eric Davis and Kerwin Roach, Texas: The Longhorns have plenty of bigs to rotate through, but they really needed depth on the perimeter, particularly given the way Shaka Smart likes to play. Keeping them interested in coming to Austin was a priority.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Kansas State’s back court: It was fairly obvious by the middle of the season that Marcus Foster was going to be transferring out of Kansas State. What wasn’t as expected was that Bruce Weber would also be losing Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson, the two veteran point guards on his roster. The Wildcats will be in major rebuilding mode next season.

PRESEASON ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

  • Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (Player of the Year)
  • Georges Niang, Iowa State
  • Rico Gathers, Baylor
  • Perry Ellis, Kansas
  • Isaiah Taylor, Texas

PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEET FORM

1. Kansas: Kansas upgraded Cliff Alexander to Cheick Diallo, added Carlton Bragg and returned everyone other than Kelly Oubre. They’ll be a contender.

2. Iowa State: With Monte’ Morris and Georges Niang back in the fold, the Cyclones will be as deadly as ever offensively. Can they improve defensively?

3. Baylor: Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince will anchor one of the sport’s best front lines. How good they are depends on how they replace Kenny Chery.

4. Oklahoma: Buddy Hield coming back is huge, but a lack of depth and losing Tashawn Thomas keeps the Sooners from being among the Big 12’s top three.

5. Texas: Can a coaching change improve the fortunes of the most disappointing team in the country from last season?

6. West Virginia: Losing Juwan Staten hurts, but WVU should still find a way to be competitive with their depth and the style Bob Huggins has adopted.

7. Oklahoma State: Perimeter of Phil Forte, Jeff Newberry, Tavarius Shine and Jawun Evans will be good. But can the frontcourt compete with league’s best?

8. Kansas State: Nino Williams and Thomas Gipson graduated. Marcus Foster, Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson transferred. What’s left in Manhattan?

9. TCU: The Horned Frogs lose their two leading scorers from a team that went 4-14 in the league last season.

10. Texas Tech: There’s not much to get excited about on the Red Raider roster.