Looking Forward: Here’s what the Big 12 has in store for the 2016-17 season

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)
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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 for all of the major programs. 

In other words, by now, we have a pretty good feel for what college basketball is going to look like during the 2016-17 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. 

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

  1. Will the league expand?: Potential realignment won’t be of consequence to this upcoming season in the Big 12, but the conference appears to be seriously considering adding two programs to the league that has been at 10 since 2012. Of course, the move would be made with football in mind, but it would have vast ramifications on the basketball side of the conference. The Big 12 has been the nation’s best conference in recent years, due in part to the true double round-robin schedule they play with really only one program (TCU) failing to be NCAA-tournament caliber. If the Big 12 does expand, it’ll likely lose its signature schedule, but the schools being mentioned (Cincinnati, Memphis, UConn) would certainly make the league even tougher.
  2. Kansas’ pursuit of 13: It’s one of the most amazing streaks in American sport, really, as Kansas has won 12-straight Big 12 championships. It’s a total anachronism when you look across the rest of the college basketball landscape. The Jayhawks lost significant pieces from last year’s team, but that’s never stopped Bill Self from being the best in the conference before. Kansas will again be the favorite to win the Big 12 as one of the most consistent programs in the sport’s history.
  3. A new talent pool: Of the 15 players named to all-conference teams last season in the Big 12, just four will return to the league next season. Iowa State’s Monte Morris, Kansas’ Frank Mason, Kansas State’s Wesley Iwundu and Baylor’s Jonathan Motley are all exceedingly good players, but they don’t have the star power that the league lost with the likes of Buddy Hield, Georges Niang and Perry Ellis all moving on. It will be a very new-look conference this season.
  4. The challengers: Kansas will be the no-doubt favorite in the Big 12, but typically there is an obvious threat or two to their throne every year. That may not be the case this season. Beyond the Jayhawks, the rest of the league is retooling after a season after 70 percent of its membership made the NCAA tournament. Every team in the league seems to have major questions entering this summer.
Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
Josh Jackson (AP Photo/Matt Marton)

NOTABLE NEWCOMERS

  • Josh Jackson, Kansas: The country’s consensus No. 1 recruit pledged to the Jayhawks this spring, giving Self yet another NBA-caliber player to his arsenal. Jackson will be compared to 2014 No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins given his size, athleticism and position, but he won’t be asked to carry the load Wiggins was during his one season in Lawrence.
  • Udoka Azubuike, Kansas: The Jayhawks have a strong track record under self of impact big men, and Azubuike would appear to be next in line. The 6-foot-11 center is expected to make an immediate impact at Kansas, unlike recent freshmen forwards like Cliff Alexander, Cheick Diallo and Carlton Bragg, who languished on the bench during their first collegiate seasons.
  • Andrew Jones, Texas: The 6-foot-4 McDonald’s All-American will help ease the transition for Shaka Smart as his roster undergoes a dramatic turnover. The Longhorns will need him to contribute in a big way right away.
  • Austin Grandstaff, Oklahoma: One of the top 2015 recruits in the country, Grandstaff left Ohio State after the first semester last season and enrolled at Oklahoma. He won’t (who could) fill the shoes of Buddy Hield, but he’ll give the Sooners a deadly shooter with size and athleticism.

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • Isaiah Taylor, Texas: Everyone expected the Texas point guard to test the NBA waters, but few truly expected him to leave Austin behind. He’s not an expected first-round pick and very well could go undrafted. It would have been his show at Texas this season, but instead Shaka Smart will have to find another player to build around.
  • Devin Williams, West Virginia: Another player who could go undrafted, Williams was a huge part of the Mountaineers’ identity last year, but instead of returning for his senior season, he’ll move on to professional basketball.
Arkansas Little Rock head coach Chris Beard reacts after his team draws a foul against Iowa State during the first half of a second-round men's college basketball game Saturday, March 19, 2016, in the NCAA Tournament in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Chris Beard (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

COACHING CHANGES

Chris Beard, Texas Tech: After a one-week stint as UNLV’s head coach, Beard jumped to fill Tubby Smith’s vacated spot in Lubbock, where he spent years as an assistant previously. His track record as a head coach isn’t extensive as a head coach after just one year in Little Rock (where he won an NCAA tournament game last year), but Texas Tech is a place he wants to be, which is half the battle such a Big 12 outpost.

Brad Underwood, Oklahoma State: All Underwood did at Stephen F. Austin was win and win big. He could have jumped to a bigger job earlier, but waited and got the gig in Stillwater and the Big 12, where he played his collegiate career for Kansas State. Travis Ford left the program in less than a healthy state, but Underwood will have the T.Boone Pickens resources to rebuild quickly.

Jamie Dixon, TCU: Dixon accomplished so much at Pitt, but the fanbase there had grown restless after seasons of seeming stagnation, paving the way for Dixon to return to his alma mater. The Horned Frogs are investing heavily in basketball since their move to the Big 12, and Dixon very well could be the key to unlocking what could be a powerful program in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex, which is teeming with talent.

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-CONFERENCE PREDICTIONS

Frank Mason (Kansas): Player of the Year
Monte Morris (Iowa State)
Christian James (Oklahoma)
Josh Jackson (Kansas)
Johnathan Motley (Baylor)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS, IN TWEETS

  1. Kansas: All the Jayhawks do is win the Big 12. No reason to think this year will be any different.
  2. West Virginia: Losing Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams hurts, but Bob Huggins has developed a deep bench and effective style in Morgantown.
  3. Oklahoma: Lon Kruger has a lot of spots to fill, but there’s still plenty of talent in Norman to keep things rolling even with the loss of a talented senior class.
  4. Iowa State: Losing All-American Georges Niang along with starters Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader will be hard to overcome, but getting Monte Morris back for his senior season raises expectations in Ames.
  5. Texas: The Longhorns have major holes to fill in Year 2 of the Shaka Smart era, but freshman Andrew Jones will help ease the transition.
  6. Baylor: Johnathan Motley will move from role player to focal point this year for Baylor, which has to replace three all-league players.
  7. TCU: Jamie Dixon will have some talent to work with in his first year back in Fort Worth, including incoming top recruit Jaylen Fisher.
  8. Texas Tech: Beard will have his work cut out for him trying to follow-up an improbable NCAA tournament berth for the Red Raiders and Tubby Smith.
  9. Kansas State: In what could very well be a make or break year for Bruce Weber, the Wildcats will be counting on Wesley Iwundu to be huge.
  10. Oklahoma State: This season will be a total rebuild under first-year coach Brad Underwood, not only from a talent perspective but winning over an apathetic fan base.