NEW YORK — The rules of basketball stipulate that, at the end of every game, one team has to score more points than the other team. There are no ties, which means, by definition, someone had to win on Tuesday night in the Garden, even if No. 3 Kansas and No. 4 Duke spent 40 minutes playing like neither of them were capable of such a monumental feat.
When the final buzzer sounded, Duke had gotten the job done. Tre Jones scored the final six points for the Blue Devils, finishing with 15 on the night to go along with six boards, six assists and three steals in a 68-66 win in the opening game of the 2019 Champions Classic.
But it was far from a vintage Duke performance.
The Blue Devils shot 35.9 percent from the floor. They were 8-for-24 from three and 14-for-23 from the line. They turned the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions — 16 times in total. For a team that is just a year removed from the Zion and R.J. show, for a program that has become synonymous with the one-and-done era and NBA-ready talent, those are not the kind of performances that we’ve come to expect.
Especially when they result in wins over top five teams.
But that’s who this Duke team is going to be.
They are going to have to win ugly. They are going to win with their defense. This is what happens when the best player on your roster is Tre Jones. It’s what happens when you build a roster around a freshmen class that doesn’t have one of those elite freshmen.
“Zion and R.J., those freshmen weren’t freshmen,” Duke associate head coach Jon Scheyer said. “Wendell [Carter] and Marvin [Bagley III], they weren’t freshmen. Our freshmen are freshmen.”
The point that Scheyer is so eloquently making is that Duke doesn’t have a lottery level talent on their roster. “Even if one of these dudes ends up getting picked 14th, the point remains true,” one NBA front office member told NBC Sports, and if Tuesday night was any indication, that should work just fine.
It’s because of Jones.
“The difference maker for us was Tre,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “We have a lot of young guys and a lot of new guys but we’ve really tried to play good defense in our first 30 practices and it paid off tonight. We played really good defense and it starts off with that kid and the poise he had.”
This Duke team has embraced his identity. What Jones lacks in an NBA-ready jumper he makes up for with toughness, both mentally and on the defensive end of the floor. What he lacks in physical tools he makes up for in heart and intangibles. He’s one of those guys that you call a winner, one of those players that that others gravitate towards. The result is a roster that has fully embraced what he personifies.
“We are a hard, tough team,” Duke’s standout freshman Cassius Stanley said after the game. “It’s going to be ugly, coach said that, but it’s going to look good at the end. [Tonight] proved it to me.”
Stanley is a fitting player to point out here. He was the least-heralded member of Duke’s 2019 recruiting class, but an argument could be made that he had the biggest impact on Tuesday night. Stanley scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half, including a pair of thunderous dunks that killed the momentum Kansas had built early in the half. He wasn’t expected to start. He didn’t really start come on strong in practice until recently. But here he was, on the biggest stage college basketball has to offer this side of the postseason, dunking his way into going viral.
“Cassius would verbally come to me [during the game] saying different things, telling me to lead, telling me he’s following whatever I do,” Jones said.
Stanley wasn’t alone.
Matthew Hurt and Vernon Carey Jr. both had moments, finishing with 11 points apiece. Carey his a huge three when Duke was down by nine points early in the second half and Hurt hit a bigger three late in the period. Kansas was up 55-51 at the time, and after Jack White had intercepted a pass Ochai Agbaji made when it looked like the Jayhawks were going to get a layup on a 2-on-1 break, Hurt buried the three at the other end. He capped off a five-point swing.
But we knew they were capable of those things.
What I did not know they were capable of was this: Holding All-American center Udoka Azubuike to just eight points and nine boards on 3-for-4 shooting, an admirable job on one of the most dominant players in the sport. As a team, Duke forced Kansas into 27 turnovers, an astonishingly high number for a team that returns as much experience in their backcourt as anyone at the top of the polls. Every Kansas starter had at least three turnovers. Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji had five turnovers apiece. At one point late in the first half, Kansas had 18 turnovers and 17 field goals attempted.
This is how Duke is going to have to win this season.
This is what happens when the best player on the roster, the guy that sets the tone for everything they do during a game, is Jones.
“As a freshman last year, I was looking at older guys, trying to see what it really was like. Knowing that they’re going through the same thing, I know I always have to have a strong face. Doing the right thing so they know what to do.”
“We just have to stay locked in to what our strengths are,” Stanley said. “Defense, veteran leadership.
“This was no surprise.”
VIDEO: Duke freshman Cassius Stanley skies for two straight dunks in Champions Classic
Duke and Kansas didn’t play the prettiest first half of basketball in Madison Square Garden.
Thankfully, the second half is picking up in the annual Champions Classic thanks in-part to back-to-back fast-break dunks from Blue Devils freshman guard Cassius Stanley.
The four-star prospect skied for two easy dunks from nearly the same spot — the second of which came off a disgusting bounce pass from Duke point guard Tre Jones. Stanley’s 46-inch vertical has been talked about quite a bit this preseason since he broke Zion Williamson’s Duke vertical leap record.
The No. 3 Blue Devils are currently in a tight battle with No. 4 Kansas as they continue in the first game of the Champions Classic.
As the NBA game gets smaller and quicker and more spread out, the college game can still be beaten with big guys.
Just two years ago, in between Villanova’s two national titles, was a championship game played between a Gonzaga team built around their big guys and a North Carolina team built around their big guys.
Hell, I think you can make the argument that Kansas center Udoka Azubuike is one of the five most valuable players in college basketball, even if his potential as a pro is limited.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the best frontcourts in college hoops.
1. KANSAS (Udoka Azubuike, Mitch Lightfoot, Silvio De Sousa, David McCormack, Jalen Wilson, Tristan Enaruna)
The Jayhawks have perhaps the best traditional big men in college hoops in Udoka Azubuike, who shot 77 percent from the floor in his last (and only) healthy season, but it’s unclear just exactly how this frontcourt will work as a whole. Silvio De Sousa is probably the most talented of this group with David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot the most experienced. None of those three, though, have shown the ability to step out on the perimeter to help create the space that will be critical for Azubuike to operate. Lightfoot is actually largely expected to redshirt. That leaves freshmen Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna, a couple of four-star recruits.
What Bill Self does with this situation could very well determine Kansas’ ceiling. Frankly, it won’t be at all surprising if we see Self try doses of Marcus Garrett, Isaiah Moss and Ochai Agbaji at the four to alleviate the spacing concerns.
2. DUKE (Vernon Carey, Matthew Hurt, Javin DeLaurier, Jack White)
Coach K’s use of his frontcourt last year was one of the more scrutinized tactical decisions, with Zion Williamson, a singular force in the sport, splitting his time between power forward and center, when more time at the five probably would have unlocked a little more firepower for the Blue Devils. That won’t be the case this year with Duke’s roster flipping over, but how its frontcourt performs will go a long way in determining if it can get where last year’s team didn’t – the Final Four.
Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt are both five-star recruits and potential one-and-done lottery picks as top-15 prospects. The pair should, well, pair well with Carey at the five and Hurt stretching the floor at the four. Javin DeLaurier got a lot of run for the Blue Devils last year, and will help provide experience and depth up front.
Just how good Penny Hardaway’s frontcourt is will go a long way in determining if the Tigers are as good as their recruiting class.
It starts with James Wiseman, the 7-foot-1 top-rated freshman and potential top-NBA draft pick come June. If he’s All-American good, then that sets Memphis up for success more than anything else. There’s that pesky ankle injury that’s kept him sidelined in the preseason, which is concerning but not cause for a full panic now.
It’s not the only thing, though. Precious Achiuwa was the other five-star Hardaway collected in his No. 1 recruiting class, which also included Isaiah Maurice, D.J. Jeffries and Malcolm Dandridge.
4. GONZAGA (Killian Tillie, Filip Petrusev, Drew Timme, Pavel Zakharov)
Killian Tillie is one of the more intriguing forwards in the country. People have been raving about his talent for years, but he’s been stuck behind great college players and future pros while also dealing with injuries. He even had knee surgery this offseason that has his immediate availability currently in question. If he’s healthy, the deck has been cleared in Spokane for him to be featured.
Six-foot-11 Filip Petrusev played in 32 games last year for the ‘Zags but wasn’t a huge piece of the rotation. He did have a big summer playing for Serbia at the FIBA U19s, putting up nearly 20 points a game and shooting 66 percent from the floor. He and Tillie could make for a dynamic duo.
Coach Mark Few also has some highly-rated freshmen he can mix in with Drew Timme and Pavel Zakharov, but they did get dinged when Oumar Ballo was forced to redshirt..
5. WASHINGTON (Jaden McDaniels, Isaiah Stewart, Naz Carter, Hamier Wright, Sam Timmins)
Memphis’ recruiting deservedly got a lot of love this summer, but Mike Hopkins got the job done, too. Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels are both top-10 recruits that will immediately make the Huskies’ frontcourt formidable. Both are 6-foot-9, but Stewart weighs in at 245 pounds and McDaniels 185. Nahziah Carter averaged 8.1 points and 2.4 rebounds while Hameir right played nearly 18 minutes per game. Sam Timmins played sparingly, but shot 62 percent.
6. LOUISVILLE (Jordan Nwora, Steve Enoch, Malik Wiliams, Aidan Igiehon, Jaelyn Withers)
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound Nwora blossomed into an All-American candidate last year, averaging 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while shooting 37.4 percent from the floor. He’s an ACC player of the year frontrunner, and the cornerstone to both the Cardinals’ frontcourt and their Final Four aspirations.
Steve Enoch was effective both inside and out last season while Malik Williams is a top-level shotblocker. Aidan Igiehon is a four-star, top-75 recruit while Jaelyn Withers is a top-150 prospect from 2019.
7. MISSISSIPPI STATE (Reggie Perry, Abdul Ado, Elias King, Robert Woodard II, Prince Oduro, KeyShawn Feazell, E.J. Datcher, Quinten Post)
Reggie Perry is a first-team all-SEC pick after he averaged 9.7 points and 7.2 rebounds last season while Abdul Ado is back after shooting 61.4 percent from the floor and blocking 1.8 shots per game last season. Robert Woodard played 17 minutes per game last year while Prince Oduro is eligible after a promising freshman season for Siena.
Bruno Fernando is gone, but Jalen Smith was nearly as productive as him last season as a freshman. The 6-foot-10 Smith blocked 12.5 percent of opponent shots while on the floor while shooting 56.2 percent from 2-point range. He shot just 26.8 percent from distance, but hoisted 71 attempts, at least an indication he could potentially be a floor-spacer. The Terps are also adding twins Makhi and Makhel Mitchell, the former a top-75 recruit and the later a three-star prospect. Chol Marial is a 7-foot-2 freshman that could contribute if he gets healthy.
9. BAYLOR (Tristan Clark, Mark Vital, Freddie Gillispie, Flo Thamba)
Tristan Clark was on his way to first-team all-Big 12 honors last year before his knee injury that sidelined him for the rest of the season in January. He’s back this year, and he’ll anchor one of the best frontcourts in the country. Mark Vital, Freddie Gillispie and Flo Thamba all were contributors last season, and should be more effective with Clark by their side this season.
10. MICHIGAN STATE (Xavier Tillman, Marcus Bingham, Thomas Kithier, Malik Hall, Joey Hauser*)
Nick Ward and Kenny Goins are gone, but Xavier Tillman returns after a productive sophomore campaign that has him blossom on both ends of the floor, albeit not his 3-point shooting. Marcus Bingham and Thomas Kithier will be in line for more minutes after being seldomly used as freshmen while Malik Hall is a top-75 recruit.
The wildcard here is Joey Hauser. The Marquette transfer has already seen his request for an immediate-eligibility waiver denied by the NCAA, but Michigan State has appealed. If the NCAA reverses course, the Spartans’ frontcourt will suddenly look much more formidable.
The Florida frontcourt got a massive boost when the 6-foot-10 Kerry Blackshear decided to grad-transfer over this past offseason. Blackshear averaged 14.9 points and 7.5 rebounds for the Hokies last season while also shooting 50.8 percent from the field. He’ll join Keyontae Johnson, who put up 8 and 6 last year, and Gorjok Gak, a 6-foot-11 center who missed last season with injury.
12. VIRGINIA (Jay Huff, Mamadi Diakite, Braxton Key)
The national champs lost a lot from last year’s team, but their frontcourt remains somewhat intact, although De’Andre Hunter is a major loss, no doubt. Getting Mamdi Diakite, Braxton Key and Jay Huff all to return is a help, though.
Diakite averaged 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in 22 minutes per game while blocking more than 10 percent of opponent shots while he was on the floor. Braxton Key and Jay Huff were smaller contributors last year, but still important ones. They’ll help Tony Bennett bridge the gap to the post-title era.
Luke Maye and Cameron Johnson are both gone, but Garrison Brooks is back from his junior season and five-star center Armando Bacot comes into the fold. So, too, is William & Mary graduate transfer Justin Pierce, a third-team all-CAA honoree who averaged 14.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game last season as a junior.
14. UTAH STATE (Neemias Queta, Justin Bean, Diogo Brito, Kuba Karwowski, Roche Grootfaam)
Neemias Queta, a 7-foot sophomore, averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game in his rookie campaign while shooting 61.4 percent, putting him among the country’s most productive centers. Justin Bean saw more time late in the season and was productive against MWC competition. Diogo Brito is a floor-spacer when he’s at the four. Kuba Karnowski and Roche Grootfaam are a pair of junior college transfers that could contribute.
Matt Painter and the Boilermakers have made a habit of having one of the nation’s best frontcourts, and that won’t be any different this year. Matt Haarms will anchor the group after the 7-foot-3 center averaged 9.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting 63.2 percent from the floor. Two freshmen that saw time last year – 6-foot-9 forwards Aaron Wheeler and Trevion Williams – will step into bigger roles up front, too.
Big 12 Season Preview: Power Rankings, Preseason Awards and a return to glory for the Kansas Jayhawks
Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2019-20 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Big 12 Conference.
It finally happened.
For the first time since President George W. Bush’s first term, Kansas did not win the Big 12 regular season title.
It was a remarkable run of 14 years, but it came to an end thanks to a roster that just wasn’t up to the task after an injury to Udoka Azubuike when combined with the ascendancy of Texas Tech and Kansas State. Those Red Raiders now look to be potentially a perennial threat to the Jayhawks after Chris Beard got them to within seconds of a national championship last April despite roster losses from the previous year that looked too large to overcome.
Despite last year’s results, Kansas is again the heavy favorite heading into this season after retooling the roster. Other 2019 contenders suffered major losses, but there is enough talent and experience across the league to think the Jayhawks will have to truly earn the start of a second streak.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. KANSAS REMAINS KING
The Jayhawks’ 14-year streak of winning at least a share of the Big 12 title came to an end last spring, but don’t get it twisted. The Jayhawks remain the class of this conference. They struck gold with Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson electing to return alongside Silvio De Sousa, whose impermissible benefits suspension was reduced by the NCAA to make him eligible this season. Other contributors return while Iowa sharpshooter Isaiah Moss grad-transferred in. Kansas is not only the Big 12 favorite, but a leading national title contender.
Of course, the on-court exploits is just half the story this year for Kansas. The NCAA leveled an aggressive notice of allegations on the program stemming from the FBI’s investigation into the sport, and the Jayhawks, along with Bill Self, will be facing plenty of questions – and perhaps developments from – the situation all year. There may not be, however, a program more adept at successfully dealing with controversy than Kansas.
Unless it involves Snoop Dogg. Then they’re not great at it. So just avoid Snoop for the foreseeable future, fellas.
2. TEXAS TECH ISN’T GOING ANYWHERE
We all came to appreciate just how great Texas Tech was last year, but it’s worth revisiting how they got there. Remember back to the spring of 2018. That’s when Chris Beard and Keenan Evans being a badass and Zhaire Smith turning into a top-20 NBA draft pick as the Red Raiders made the Elite Eight. Those two then left, along with Zach Smith and Justin Gray. Those are massive losses to endure, and, yet, somehow, Texas Tech got even better. Seconds away from a national title better. Pretty insane.
So despite another spring of heavy losses, including top-10 pick Jarrett Culver, the prevailing wisdom is not only will Beard’s team be a Big 12 contender again, they’re a preseason top-10 team. Doubt them at your own peril after what they pulled off last year. Graduate transfers Chris Clarke and TJ Holyfield are probably going to be the keys to how far Texas Tech can go in replicating last year’s success.
3. BAYLOR IS A TITLE CONTENDER
Scott Drew really has done an amazing job in Waco. It’s been fascinating to watch his career progression, from being the butt of national jokes to now being nationally recognized for being a legitimately skilled coach. The Bears used to be a team that would load up on huge talent, but have been a grittier group as of late.
Now it seems like Drew has a nice mixture of both, even if it doesn’t feature the NBA draft lottery talent of yesteryear. Tristan Clark returns after a knee injury cost him the second half of last season after he had been on a tear. Much of the nucleus from last year’s team also returns while transfers MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell are also going to contribute.
The Bears are going to be good.
4. THE BEST NBA PROSPECT IN THE LEAGUE LIVES IN AMES
Iowa State was the Big 12’s most talented team last year, and it saw two players (Talen Horton-Tucker and Marial Shayok) go in the second round of the NBA draft and a third (Lindell Wigginton) land an Exhibit 10 contract. The Cyclones’ best NBA prospect, however, returned to school for his sophomore season without so much as even testing the NBA waters.
Tyrese Haliburton is the envy of plenty NBA decision makers as a lengthy 6-foot-5 guard with high shooting percentages and an even higher basketball IQ. He was relegated to a supporting role last year on a loaded Cyclone roster, but he’ll take on a huge amount of responsibility this season. If he can show that he can shoulder it – and more of a scoring load – he could find himself in the lottery conversation.
5. TEXAS IS NOTHING IF NOT INTERESTING
I think there’s only one of two ways this goes for Texas this season. Either the Longhorns are really good, and Shaka Smart is lauded for finally having his breakthrough season in Austin despite not having the lottery picks he’s had in the past, or the Longhorns aren’t great and the only discussion anyone wants to have about them is regarding Smart’s job security.
If Texas is so-so or even just merely good, that’s probably not enough to quell the questions given the level of expectations – and piles of cash – that were heaped on Smart when he arrived from VCU. So, either win big or face a lot of questions. Either way, it’ll interesting to track from the outside.
PRESEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: UDOKA AZUBUIKE, Kansas
This will be the fourth season on campus for the 7-foot-1, 270-pound, but we’ve only seen one healthy season from him. That year was pretty dang impressive, though, as Azubuike averaged 13 points, seven rebounds and 1.7 blocks while shooting 77 percent from the floor (insert eye and flame emoji here). He missed most of last season with a bum wrist, but eschewed going pro to return to Lawrence, where he’s likely a preseason All-American. He’s a old-school, back-to-the-basket big, which while out of vogue, is incredible difficult to stop when it comes in such a large and skilled package like Azubuike. He’s a singular force in the league – and maybe the country.
THE REST OF THE BIG 12 FIRST TEAM
TYRESE HALIBURTON, Iowa State: An NBA draftnik darling, Haliburton had a strong freshman season, but will step into a much bigger role as a sophomore.
DEREK CULVER, West Virginia: West Virginia won’t have a ton of talent this year, but Culver is the exception.
DEVON DOTSON, Kansas: After a bumpy start, Dotson blossomed late last season and should be even better this season.
CHRIS CLARKE, Texas Tech: Clarke put up nice numbers at Virginia Tech, but this is a bet that Chris Beard can wring even more out of him.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW
DESMOND BANE, TCU
OSCAR TSHIEBWE, West Virginia
TRISTAN CLARK, Baylor
DAVIDE MORETTI, Texas Tech
BRADY MANEK, Oklahoma
BREAKOUT STAR: Lindy Waters, Oklahoma State
At 6-foot-6 and 210 pounds with athleticism and a pure jumper, Lindy Waters is the type of player coaches across the country covet. He’s steadily improved all three years he’s been in Stillwater, and now looks poised to potentially be the type of star that could propel Oklahoma State into the surprise team in the league. A double-digit scorer with length that shot 45 percent from 3-point range last year, Waters has a lot of tools to be great.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Shaka Smart, Texas
After years of turning down big jobs, Shaka Smart finally left VCU in 2015 to take one of the plummest jobs in the country. Texas has big money and a big brand, but modest expectations. Smart’s arrival was supposed to awaken the Longhorns after years of malaise under Rick Barnes. Instead, Barnes has made Tennessee a national contender while Smart and Texas have languished in mediocrity. It, simply, just hasn’t worked out very well.
That’s not to say it’s been a catastrophe – it hasn’t been – but two NCAA tournament appearances, zero tournament wins and one last-place finish just doesn’t match the expectations of what Texas could and should be. This year’s team is probably going to be just fine, but, again, is that the goal? Texas doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry to move on from Smart – or his $10 million buyout – but if it’s another so-so year, does Smart look for the exit on his own, potentially with a lucrative landing spot that’s a better fit?
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …
The Big 12 is again one of the strongest leagues in the country, but probably doesn’t have as many Final Four threats as it’s had in years past.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …
Kansas winning a national title and giving Snoop Dogg – and his acrobatic dancers? – a championship ring.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR
Nov. 5, Kansas vs. Duke
Dec. 8, Iowa State vs. Seton Hall
Dec. 7, Baylor vs. Arizona
Dec. 10, Texas Tech vs. Louisville
Dec. 21, Kansas vs. Villanova
1. KANSAS: Last year would have been perfectly acceptable for most programs across the country, but the Jayhawks ain’t that, are they? So they’re back this season as one of the two or three best teams in the country, and not only will they likely start a new Big 12 streak, but they could get Bill Self that second national title as well.
2. BAYLOR: It’s easy to forget that Tristan Clark was one of the most productive players in the Big 12 last year before his injury, but his return to Waco makes the Bears formidable with much of last year’s core also back and transfers MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell also in the fold.
3. TEXAS TECH: The Red Raiders are essentially trying to do this year what they did last: Replace a huge amount of talent and production without missing a beat. Given they’re projected by most as a top-10 team, there’s a lot of confidence they’ll be able to pull it off. That’s a vote of confidence in Chris Beard that few other coaches – especially with a relatively limited head-coaching track record – are given. Beard, though, is that good.
4. IOWA STATE: The Cyclones lost five of their top seven players from last year’s team, but there’s optimism in Ames with starters Tyrese Haliburton and Michael Jacobson returning, Solomon Young back from injury and the injury sophomore center George Conditt IV stepping into a bigger role. The reason to be real bullish on Iowa State, though, the newcomers who should bolster the roster in a big way. Prentiss Nixon is eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from Colorado State while Rasir Bolton, who averaged 11 ppg as a freshman at Penn State, is immediately eligible and fills a huge scoring need on the perimeter. The Cyclones lost a ton, but probably won’t take a significant step back.
5. OKLAHOMA STATE: Last year was a total and complete train wreck for the Cowboys. Players got kicked off the team, and the team mostly got kicked around the Big 12. Here’s guessing that changes this year. All five starters are back, including the aforementioned Lindy Waters. Isaac Likekele was one of the standouts at the FIBA U19s for Team USA. Yor Anei is one of the best shot blockers in the country. Thomas Dziagwa and Cameron McGriff are proven Big 12 players. That’s a great foundation.
And on top of that, Mike Boynton welcomes a top-25 recruiting class and UMass grad transfer Jonathan Laurent, who shot 46.7 percent from 3-point range last year. They could easily be the surprise contender in the conference this season.
6. TEXAS: There are a lot of nice pieces in Austin, but probably no lottery pick, which is something Shaka Smart has had the benefit of early in his tenure. You could argue this might be Smart’s least-talented team. Again, plenty of solid players, but are there any true gamechangers?
7. OKLAHOMA: Kristian Doolittle and Brady Manek return from last year’s NCAA tournament team while Long Kruger also gets Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves and top-50 recruit De’Vion Harmon, but the rest of the roster looks thin.
Kruger is one of the country’s best coaches, so he could get enough out of this group to get another tourney appearance, but it’ll be tough sledding against the rest of the Big 12. Luckily for them, flirting with .500 in this league keeps you in the Selection Sunday discussion.
8. KANSAS STATE: Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade are gone, ending an era in Manhattan that saw an Elite Eight and a Big 12 title. Those three, particularly Wade, were really the face and heart of the program in its recent run of success. Their losses will be hard to overcome.
The Wildcats do, though, return Xavier Sneed, a bona fide NBA prospect along with Makol Mawein, Carter Diarra and Mike McGuirl. That’s a solid group, but is there enough scoring there? And can they be as excellent defensively as the last two years?
9. TCU: By many accounts, Jamie Dixon would be the coach at UCLA in his native southern California if the Bruins would have ponied up the $8 million it would have cost to buy him out of Fort Worth. That didn’t happen, though, and Dixon remains with his alma mater, albeit with a weaker roster than he’s had the past couple seasons.
The Horned Frogs suffered quite a bit of attrition, but still have Desmond Bane, one of the league’s best shooters, and Kevin Samuel, one of the conference’s promising young big men. RJ Nembhard, who has shown promising flashes, steps into a bigger role and George Mason transfer Jaire Grayer will help, but it’s hard to see this TCU team competing near the upper-half of the conference.
10. WEST VIRGINIA: Bob Huggins didn’t hide his disdain for his team throughout last year’s last-place finish, but the Mountaineers did show some signs of life late in the year after booting a couple players. Still, Huggins called last year’s campaign “miserable” as losses mounted.
West Virginia could be in line for a similar season despite bringing in McDonald’s All-american Oscar Tsheibwe, a center with a 7-foot-5 wingspan that could remind those in Morgantown of Sagaba Konate. It’s usually not a good idea to doubt what Huggins can get out of his teams, but looking at his roster relative to the rest of the Big 12, it looks like another last-place finish is in order.
Kansas landed another piece for the upcoming season on Tuesday night as guard Dajuan Harris pledged to the Jayhawks on Twitter.
Previously a member of the Class of 2020, Harris will reclassify and join Kansas for next season. The 6-foot-1 point guard is coming off of a strong Nike Peach Jam in which he helped MoKan Elite to the event’s title with a big week. A recent Kansas offer right before the July Live Evaluation Period, Harris averaged 7.1 assists per game while playing great defense throughout the event.
The Jayhawks adding Harris to the Class of 2019 means they have five members in the group — headlined by four-star prospects Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna while three-star recruits Christian Braun and Isaac McBride are also involved. While Kansas struggled to land its usual five-star talents in this recruiting class, they’ve rebounded nicely with three commitments this spring to help fill out a veteran roster that is hoping to recapture Big 12 glory.
Kansas has plenty young players to build with the next few seasons as it’ll be interesting to see how this new five-man class shapes up. Wilson and Enaruna are expected to contribute, but the rest of the group, including Harris, is a bit of a wild card in terms of producing right away.
Big 12 offseason reset: The Streak broken, will Kansas get back on top?
The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.
That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.
Today, we are talking Big 12.
KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES
How will Kansas react with The Streak snapped?: You’d have to go back to John Wooden’s UCLA teams to find a program as dominant in a major league as Kansas has been under Bill Self. The Jayhawks won 14-straight Big 12 regular season championships, winning a national title and going to three Final Fours over that time, too. It all came to an end last year, though, as a roster that first failed to live up to expectations and then crumbled with injuries and off-court issues as that 14-year run – known around the conference simple as ‘The Streak’ – was halted by Kansas State and eventual national runner-up Texas Tech.
The Jayhawks, however, have retooled and are going to be the favorite to win the league again. Things change, but they stay the same, too, ya know?
Kansas will have one of the best frontcourts in the country with Udoka Azubuike back from injury and Silvio De Sousa surprising ruled eligible by the NCAA after sitting out last season. Quentin Grimes transferred to Houston, but the other half of the 2018 five-star backcourt is back with Devon Dotson seemingly turning a corner late in the season. Iowa transfer Isaiah Moss provides some athleticism and outside shooting.
That’s a strong foundation for getting back on top of what’s been the best league top-to-bottom in recent years. If Kansas can get contributions from Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji or the freshmen, they could separate themselves from the conference.
Can Texas Tech reload?: The Red Raiders sustained major losses from last year’s national finalist, including a lottery pick in Jarrett Culver along with stalwarts Matt Mooney, Brandone Francis, Tariq Owens, Khavon Moore and Norense Odiase, but we said that after their 2018 Elite 8 appearance and we saw how that turned out, right?
Virginia Tech transfer Chris Clarke, who was suspended by the Hokies last season for off-court issues, is sure to figure in largely in this retooling effort, as does Stephen F. Austin transfer T.J. Holyfield. So the cupboard does have some talent for Chris Beard to work with, and Beard has shown in his three years in Lubbock what he can get out of rosters, especially on the defensive end. We’ve got the Red Raiders ranked in our preseason top-10, so we’re betting Beard has it figured out.
After “miserable” season, will Bob Huggins and West Virginia regain their footing?: ‘Press Virginia’ helped Huggins and the Mountaineers make the transition to the Big 12 after a rocky start, then got them to four-straight NCAA tournaments with three Sweet 16s. It all fell apart last season, with West Virginia stacking losses and Huggins admitting to just how horrible all of that losing was with a team that just could never get going until it was already well too late with a 4-14, last-place Big 12 campaign.
There looked to be some signs of progress late after a number of players were sent packing, with the Mountaineers beating Iowa State at home and then two games in the Big 12 tournament, leading to questions of addition by subtraction. Can that continue on to this season or will things continue to be the kind of slog that wears on Huggins, who wears his emotions on his sleeve?
What will Iowa State be?: Steve Prohm’s team was one of the most difficult to figure out in all the country last year with the Cyclones sometimes looking like the class of the Big 12 and a Final Four contender and then at others looking like a mess. That team, which won the conference tournament but bowed out in the first round of the NCAAs, won’t much resemble this season’s squad with Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb, Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker all gone, the last two to early entry decisions.
Prohm isn’t without talent, though, as Tyrese Haliburton is back with NBA buzz while the frontcourt could be interesting with Michael Jacobson, Solomon Young and George Conditt all proven Big 12 players to varying degrees. Prentiss Nixon, a transfer from Colorado State, is expected to be a major contributor, as is Rasir Bolton, who hopes to get a waiver to play immediately after a standout freshman season at Penn State. The Cyclones have considerable upside, but plenty of questions, too.
Can Texas finally get going?: Shaka Smart arrived in Austin with huge expectations after his game-changing stint at VCU, but after four years, the Longhorns have yet to win an NCAA tournament game in just two appearances. Their best finish in the Big 12 is fourth while they finished dead last once. That’s despite a parade of first-round NBA Draft picks coming through the roster. Texas cares a lot more about what Tom Herman is doing over with the football program, but at what point do the Longhorns get impatient?
Texas’ roster is fine, but it doesn’t look strong enough to compete at the highest level in the Big 12. Given the resources the program has – with a new arena forthcoming – and Smart’s current salary, is that enough?
Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech: The Lubbock native played his way into the lottery with a sensational sophomore season, and he’ll be hard to replace.
Dedric Lawson, Kansas: The Memphis transfer went pro after a productive individual season in Lawrence in which he was the most consistent Jayhawk in a difficult season.
Quentin Grimes, Kansas: There were serious expectations for Grimes in Lawrence, but he never lived up to them. He’s at Houston now after toying with going pro.
Marial Shayok, Nick Weiler-Babb, Lindell Wigginton and Talen Horton-Tucker, Iowa State: The Cyclones knew they were losing NWB and Shayok and presumed Wigginton would go pro, but Horton-Tucker’s decision was one they hadn’t anticipated until late in the winter. If either he or Wigginton had returned, the Cyclones would have been formidable. Instead, they’re a bit of a question mark.
Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade, Kansas State: It’s the end of an era in Manhattan with these three accomplished players moving on.
Jaxson Hayes, Texas: Hayes’ rise to first-round NBA Draft pick was a surprising one, but Texas has been churning out NBA big men under Smart
Kerwin Roach and Dylan Osetkowski, Texas: Two all-league caliber players who Texas will be hard-pressed to replace.
Christian James, Oklahoma: James gave the Sooners much of their scoring punch, and they’ll be in need of scoring on the perimeter.
Alex Robinson and Kouat Noi, TCU: Robinson was an assist machine and a steady hand on the offense while Noi was a major matchup problem. Robinson graduated while the Australia-native Noi is pursuing a pro career overseas after pulling out of the draft.
Devon Dotson, Silvio De Sousa and Udoka Azubuike, Kansas: The Jayhawks have no shortage of talent, and their frontcourt is going to be a major problem for the rest of the leagu.
Tyrese Haliburton, Iowa State: The former- three-star recruit blossomed into an pro prospect last year, and he’ll be given the reins of the Cyclone offense this year.
Davide Moretti, Texas Tech: The Italian guard was a huge part of Texas Tech’s national title-game run last year, and he’ll have the chance to step into a bigger role.
Xavier Sneed and Carter Diarra, Kansas State: Sneed flirted with going pro while Diarra battled injury last year. Both could be primed for huge seasons.
Tristan Clark, Mario Kegler and Mark Vital: Baylor: Clark’s return from a knee injury is huge for the league while Kegler and Vital are major pieces.
Matt Coleman, Jericho Sims and Jason Febres, Texas: Coleman is solid at point while Sims, expected to be a breakout performer last year, played second-fiddle to Jaxson Hayes and Febres is consistent from outside. This doesn’t even take into account Andrew Jones, who continues to work his way back from a battle with leukemia.
Brady Manek, Oklahoma: Trae Young’s one-time sidekick is going to have to run the show for the Sooners.
Desmond Bane, TCU: The guard is one of the country’s best 3-point shooters, converting at 42.5 percent last year.
Lindy Waters and Cameron McGriff, Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have mostly overachieved in Mike Boynton’s two years in charge, and if it’s going to be three, these two will be a huge part of it.
Derek Culver, West Virginia: The second-team all-Big 12 pick was one of the few bright spots last year for West Virginia.
Oscar Tshiebwe, West Virginia: The top-30 recruit could help anchor the defense at the center position for Bob Huggins.
Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague, Baylor: Scott Drew will rely heavily on this transfer pair as the Bears look to return to the NCAA tournament – and maybe push toward the top of the league.
Chris Clarke, TJ Holyfield and Jahmius Ramsey, Texas Tech: Chris Beard restocks with high-level transfers and a top-rated recruit.
De’Vion Harmon and Austin Reaves, Oklahoma: Lon Kruger welcomes in a top recruit and a transfer from Wichita State who fires away from 3.
Will Baker, Kai Jones and Donovan Williams, Texas: Shaka Smart gets reinforcements with a trio of top-75 recruits.
Prentis Nixon, Iowa State: The 6-foot-1 guard filled it up at Colorado State, but will be Iowa State’ defensive stopper on the perimeter.
Isaiah Moss, Jalen Wilson and Tristan Enaruna, Kansas: Moss brings experience and shooting while WIlson and Enaruna are highly-ranked recruits.
P.J. Fuller, TCU: The top-75 recruit will help Jamie Dixon on the perimeter.
Jonathan Laurent, Oklahoma State: Former Minuteman shot 46.7 percent from 3-point range last year.
WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-BIG 12 TEAM
Udoka Azubuike, KANSAS (BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR)
Tyrese Haliburton, IOWA STATE
Devon Dotson, KANSAS
Chris Clarke, TEXAS TECH
Derek Culver, WEST VIRGINIA
WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS
1. KANSAS: The Jayhawks were knocked from their perch last year, but it took quite the sequence of events – along with one of the country’s best teams (Texas Tech) and one of it’s most experienced (Kansas State) – to finally make it happen after 14 years. If Bill Self and Co. can avoid the turmoil, this team should be good enough to reclaim the crown they were so hesitant to give up. Udoka Azubuike is a throwback big whom the league will have few answers for while the backcourt should improve from last season.
2. TEXAS TECH: This time last year, we were wondering how Chris Beard would try to replace Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith well enough to get back to the NCAA tournament. The task is similar this year, but the expectations are raised. What we know is that Beard is going to get this team to defend, and if they can squeeze some offense out, the Red Raiders can follow the same blueprint they’ve ridden to so much success the last two seasons.
3. BAYLOR: The Bears overachieved last year, and with Clark back in the fold plus strong transfer reinforcements, Baylor is going to be a force to be reckoned with this season. Scott Drew has gone from everyone’s favorite joke to make to being a coach you can count on to get the most out of his teams.
4. IOWA STATE: This is probably a best-case scenario for the Cyclones, who will be replacing a lot from last year’s team but have a solid core returning. Steve Prohm’s team could play big this season with two bigs, and that will put considerable pressure on the backcourt of Tyrese Haliburton and Prentiss Nixon to produce. The key could be whether or not Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton gets a transfer waiver. He’s got the scoring skills the Cyclones sorely need.
5. TEXAS: A little bit of shooting would go a long way for the Longhorns, but Texas’ season will likely hinge largely on just getting its returners to take a leap forward. If that doesn’t happen, the Longhorns are probably on the outside looking in on the NCAA tournament and questions about Smart’s job status will get louder – especially with all the success happening out in Lubbock.
6. KANSAS STATE: Bruce Weber has a lot of production to replace, but Xavier Sneed and Carter Diarra are nice building blocks from which to start.
7. OKLAHOMA: Losing Christian James is going to put pressure on Brady Manek to step up offensively while Kristian Doolittle should take a step in his development as well. Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves’ ability to stretch defenses will be huge.
8. TCU: Jamie Dixon seemingly nearly left for his native Southern California and the UCLA job, but instead returns to his alma mater in Fort Worth with the roster not in as strong a position as it has been the last two years. Looks like rebuilding for the Horned Frogs.
9. OKLAHOMA STATE: Mike Boynton has done an admirable job with a tough situation in Stillwater. Isaac Likekele is drawing strong reviews with Team USA’s U19 squad and both Lindy Waters and Cam McGriff are proven Big 12 players, but there are too many question marks here to feel strongly about the Cowboys breaking through.
10. WEST VIRGINIA: It’s not particularly hard to see this ranking prove to be considerably off given what we’ve seen Bob Huggins transform some rosters into, but last year was such a debacle that it’s difficult to peg the Mountaineers making a major move up the standings.