Big 12 Conference Reset: Get Caught Up On All The League’s Offseason Wheelings And Dealings

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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. 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.

OFFSEASON STORYLINES

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.

Shaka Smart (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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.

IMPORTANT ADDITIONS

  • 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.
Devonte’ Graham (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

SURPRISING DEPARTURES

  • 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.

COACHING CHANGES

  • 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

Bob Huggins (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

  1. Kansas: After 13-straight titles, this doesn’t need much explanation. The Jayhawks are, as always, the team to beat.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Flagler, No. 6 Baylor rally late, top No. 14 Gonzaga 64-63

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USA Today
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Adam Flagler hit a pair of 3s as No. 6 Baylor scored the final eight points of the game to rally past No. 14 Gonzaga 64-63 Friday night.

Gonzaga’s Rasir Bolton missed a wild, driving layup try at the buzzer.

The Bears (6-2) trailed 63-56 before Flagler hit a 3-pointer with 1:33 left. Flagler’s 3 with just over a minute to play cut Baylor’s deficit to 63-62.

After a Gonzaga shot clock violation, Flagler’s 3-point attempt for the lead was off the mark, but teammate Jalen Bridges was fouled by Drew Timme on the rebound attempt. Bridges hit two free throws with 16 seconds left for the lead.

The Zags (5-3) had a final chance when Bolton caught an inbounds pass near his own foul line with 4.6 seconds remaining. He drove the lane, but his off-balance shot went high off the glass and missed as the buzzer sounded.

Freshman Keyonte George had 18 points and seven rebounds for Baylor. Flagler had 11 points and Langston Love added 10.

Malchi Smith scored 16 points for Gonzaga. Anton Watson added a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Timme had nine points.

Baylor led by as many as 12 in the first half before Gonzaga closed to five at the break.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor: The win was a big rebound for Baylor after its 26-point loss to Marquette earlier in the week. The loss was the Bears’ most lopsided since they fell to Kansas 82-56 in 2007

Carr scores 19, No. 2 Texas beats No. 7 Creighton 72-67

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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas had pressured Creighton’s shooters into a miserable night, only to watch a late flurry of 3-pointers start swishing.

An 11-point Longhorns lead was down to three.

That hardly rattled Marcus Carr and the second-ranked Longhorns, who stepped up with big late shots of their own and steady free-throw shooting to secure another impressive early-season victory, 72-67 over the seventh-ranked Bluejays on Thursday night.

Carr scored 19 points and made two free throws with 10 seconds left as Texas held off Creighton’s furious late-game rally.

Creighton struggled through a wretched 3-point shooting night, but pulled within 62-59 thanks in part to five points in a row by Baylor Scheierman. Carr’s baseline jumper and an easy layup by Tyrese Hunter when Creighton lost him on an inbound pass with 46 seconds left stretched the Longhorns’ lead again.

That didn’t quite close the door on Creighton, which got two more 3-pointers from Scheierman, who had missed his first nine attempts. That forced Texas to finish it from the free-throw line behind Carr and Brock Cunningham. Cunningham’s two free throws with 4 seconds left were his only points of the game.

“There’s going to be a bunch of times one of us has to go down there and knock down a bunch of free throws,” Carr said. “We talk about it all the time.”

The matchup was part of the Big 12-Big East Battle and Texas earned its second win over a top-10 opponent in its new arena. The Longhorns (6-0) beat then-No. 2 Gonzaga on Nov. 16 and have their highest ranking since they were No. 1 during the 2009-2010 season.

“I don’t think we’ve proven anything,” Texas coach Chris Beard said. “We’re just a team that’s trying to get better.”

Hunter scored 15 points for Texas.

Ryan Kalkbrenner had 20 points and 13 rebounds for Creighton (6-2), and Ryan Nembhard scored 17 points. The Bluejays were 4 of 27 on 3-pointers.

Scheierman, a 44% shooter from beyond the arc this season, made three 3s in a row late. His off-balance shot from the right corner over a defender pulled the Bluejays within 68-65 with 11.4 seconds left.

Scheierman finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

“The reality is you are gonna have nights,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “It just happens. We don’t ever want him to stop shooting.”

BIG PICTURE

Creighton: Kalkbrenner was all but unstoppable on a 9-of-10 shooting night for the Bluejays, who kept launching from long range instead of looking for their 7-foot-1 center.

Texas: The Longhorns couldn’t force their usual numbers of turnovers and fast-break points, but were exceptionally clean with the ball on offense. Texas had just three turnovers that Creighton turned into three points.

FORMER TEAMMATES

Texas senior forward Christian Bishop played three seasons at Creighton before transferring prior to last season. He finished with six points and four rebounds in 16 minutes.

“We understood what this game was, not just for our team but for Christian,” Carr said.

TIRED TEAM

McDermott suggested his team maybe just wore out. The Bluejays went 2-1 in the Maui Invitational last week and then played their first game of the season on an opponent’s home court.

“Three games in three days against ranked teams (in Hawaii) and then to come in here,” McDermott said. “That’s a lot to ask of my team.”

UP NEXT

Creighton hosts in-state rival Nebraska on Sunday.

Texas plays No. 16 Illinois in New York City on Dec. 6 in the Jimmy V Classic.

No. 20 Maryland upsets No. 7 Notre Dame at the buzzer, 74-72

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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Diamond Miller scored 31 points, including the game-winner at the buzzer, to lead No. 20 Maryland to a 74-72 victory over seventh-ranked Notre Dame on Thursday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Irish guard Sonia Cintron’s layup had tied the game with 15 seconds left off before Maryland held for the last shot. Miller hit a contested mid-range jumper just before time expired to give the Terrapins a victory over a top-10 opponent. It was the 15th lead change of the game.

Miller also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds to go along with five assists. Shyanne Sellers added 17 points.

Maryland (7-2) picked up its first win over Notre Dame (6-1) since 2007.

Cintron’s double-double led the Irish with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Notre Dame’s leading scorer Olivia Miles got off to a slow start on Thursday due to foul trouble. She scored 12 of her 14 points in the final 15 minutes of the game to go along with seven assists and two steals.

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: The Terrapins picked up their second top-20 win of the season ahead of the upcoming Big Ten opener.

Notre Dame: The Irish have had issues with foul trouble this season, a problem that persisted on Thursday. Miles played just 25 minutes, including the majority of the fourth quarter, due to picking up her fourth foul late in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Maryland: Returns to College Park for the program’s Big Ten opener Sunday against Nebraska.

Notre Dame: Stays home to host No. 3 UConn Sunday.

Virginia’s depth helping its rapid climb in the AP Top 25

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The starting five is the same, but that is where comparisons between the Virginia team that has climbed to No. 3 in the AP Top 25 and last year’s NIT quarterfinalists ends.

Yes, one more year together and a trip to Italy has made the first five significantly better, but part of the credit for that surely goes to another group: the reinforcements. They’ve helped the Cavaliers (6-0) already knock off No. 6 Baylor, No. 16 Illinois and Michigan.

Virginia has scored 70 points or more in its first six game for the first time since the 2003-04 season, and coach Tony Bennett said it was the offense – and not UVA’s signature relentless defense – that saved them in a 70-68 victory this week at Michigan in the ACC/Bg Ten Challenge.

“Our offense kind of kept us in it in the first half,” Bennett said, before the team put it all together, erasing an 11-point halftime deficit to disappoint a raucous Wolverines crowd.

Reece Beekman was the offensive catalyst, scoring 15 of his 18 points before halftime, but four others joined him in double figures, including Jayden Gardner. His foul-line jumper with 39.9 seconds left provided the last of his 11 points, and the winning margin.

Gardner, who led Virginia in scoring last season (15.3 ppg), is averaging 11.5 this year.

“We’ve got a lot of capable scorers and we’re just gonna keep playing together. And we’re playing very unselfish basketball right now,” Gardner said after scoring 24 against Maryland Eastern Shore. He went into the game with 31 points through four games.

“He’s not the most jumping type of guy, but he’s got so much power,” Hawks coach Jason Crafton said of Gardner, an East Carolina transfer with 2,068 career points. “That low center of gravity and the flexibility that he has to be able to get under people and hold his position is elite. When he wants the ball at a certain spot, he can get it there.”

The leader remains guard Kihei Clark, who already has a place in Virginia history, having retrieved a loose ball and fed Mamadi Diakite for a jumper that sent the Cavs’ Elite Eight game against Purdue into overtime on the way to winning the 2019 national championship.

Newcomers Ben Vander Plas, a transfer from Ohio, and freshman Isaac McKneely have given Bennett more options, and more scoring power than a year ago.

As a junior, Vander Plas had 17 points for No. 13 seed Ohio when the Bobcats upset Virginia 62-58 in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament.

He scored seven straight in the second half against the Wolverines, twice scoring inside and then swishing a 3-pointer while trying to slow down bruising big man Hunter Dickinson.

“Ben, yeah. Just his poise and composure in the post, took advantage of some mismatches and he really gave us a great lift,” Bennett said. Vander Plas is the son of a teammate of Bennett’s at Green Bay, and his first name is a tribute to Bennett’s father, Dick.

McKneely scored 15 and made 4 of 6 3-point tries in an 89-42 victory against Monmouth

“He was standing in front of our bench. I’m like, `Listen, we’re not helping off him,”‘ Monmouth coach King Rice said he told his team, pointing at McKneely, a two-time player of the year in West Virginia. “And he kind of looked at me and I said, `Yeah, you, because you make all of them,’ and he started laughing.”

Ryan Dunn also made quite the impression on Rice in his first collegiate appearance, scoring 13 points with six rebounds and three blocks in almost 27 minutes.

“I was in the building when De’Andre Hunter came off the bench and had a breakout game,” Rice said of Hunter, now with the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks. “Dunn reminds me a lot of Hunter, and you can tell he’s young. But when he grows into that body with that skill set, he’ll be giving people problems for a long, long time.”

The Cavaliers open Atlantic Coast Conference play against Florida State, then host top-ranked Houston, which beat them 67-47 last season, a week later.

“A good schedule for sure and it tests you, it kind of shows you, win or lose, you see where you’ve got some holes,” Bennett said.

So far, the Cavaliers have been able to fill them all.

No. 4 Arizona turning heads early in the season

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David Cruz/USA TODAY Sports
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TUCSON, Ariz. — Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd knew there was talent on his roster. He wasn’t exactly sure how good the team would be.

The former longtime Gonzaga assistant had a similar view of last year’s team and that one turned out to be pretty good, running all the way to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16.

This year’s team could end up being even better.

Buoyed by transfers and improved returning players, Arizona has rolled through the early part of its schedule, climbing to No. 4 in this week’s AP Top 25 after winning the Maui Invitational.

“I learned that we’re good,” Lloyd said. “We’re tough. We’re gritty. I think there’s going to be some great things for us to really double down on and some things to show our guys where we went the wrong way.”

Lloyd had a superb first season in the desert, earning coach of the year honors last season with a team that lost three players to the NBA.

The Wildcats (6-0) had to replace three NBA players again this season. Again, they made a seamless transition.

Improvement on the part of the returning players has been a big part of it.

Oumar Ballo, considered a project as a freshman at Gonzaga, has transformed into one of the nation’s best big men. The 7-foot, 260-pound center from Mali has vastly improved his footwork and developed patience in the post, setting himself up for good shots instead of trying to bull his way to the basket.

Ballo is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 76.7% from the field, fourth-best nationally. He was named Maui Invitational MVP after finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds against No. 7 Creighton in the title game.

Not bad for a player who averaged 2.5 points and 6.3 minutes per game two years ago at Gonzaga.

“When he struggled, I still believed in him,” Lloyd said. “I didn’t need for him to be instantly successful for me to reaffirm my belief in him. When he struggled, we continued to love him and work with him and then he continued to hang in there and I think it is a great story.”

Fellow big man Azuolas Tubelis has made a few strides of his own, adding strength and toughness to his athletic, fluid game. The 6-10 forward leads Arizona with 19.3 points per game while grabbing 8.0 rebounds.

Fiery point guard Kerr Kriisa has rounded into a reliable floor leader, averaging 15.3 points and 7.5 assists while shooting 51% from the 3-point arc.

“I don’t pay attention to the antics because they don’t mean anything to me,” Lloyd said. “I know maybe that draws attention to him from other people but when it comes to just pure basketball, I mean he is doing a good job and I think he is really showing something.”

So is Courtney Ramey.

The Texas transfer has given the Wildcats a huge boost in his first season in Tucson, providing hounding defense, leadership and another scoring option. He’s averaging 16 points per game and has hit 10 of 16 from 3-point range so far this season.

Campbell transfer Cedric Henderson Jr. has provided an athletic lift off the bench and 7-foot Estonian Henri Veesaar has given Arizona solid minutes.

The mix of new and old has helped Arizona lead the nation with 97.5 points a game and rank second with 21.8 assists per game. The Wildcats climbed 10 spots in this week’s poll after wins over Cincinnati, No. 24 San Diego State and Creighton.

Arizona opens Pac-12 play Thursday at Utah.

“It was good to get the recognition, but we’re not satisfied,” Ramey said. “Our ultimate goal is to be No. 1 at the end of the season and be the final two teams playing, so I think the regular season matters but it’s not the ultimate goal for us.”

The Wildcats are certainly off to a good start.