By: Garrett Giles
Four teams in the Big XII of ten will start the season in the top 25 college basketball rankings when the season starts Friday. New faces will grace this power conference as old, talented players have moved on which will make the Big XII open to anyone to win.
The Kansas Jayhawks look to defend their Big XII championship status when the season starts this weekend. The Jayhawks will start the season ranked third in the country when they play Indiana on Friday Nov. 11 in the Armed Forces Classic. Kansas will be without forward Perry Ellis, the third leading scorer (16.9 points per game) and eleventh in rebounds (5.8 boards per game) in the Big XII last year, as he now plays in the NBA. Veterans like Frank Mason III, and Devonte’ Graham will be looked at to step up to fulfill the Jayhawks’ hopes of winning their thirteenth consecutive outright Big XII title. They finished the 2015-2015 season 33-5 overall and 15-3 in conference. They also lost to the eventual national champions (Villinova Wildcats) in the Elite Eight 64-59.
Villanova wasn’t too friendly to the Oklahoma Sooners who faced off against the Wildcats in last years Final Four. Lead by the 2016 Naismith winner Buddy Hield, the Sooners lost 95-51. Buddy Hield, however, did lead the Big XII in scoring (25 points per game) as the Sooners finished third in the Big XII. Hield currently plays for the New Orleans Pelicans as a rookie. Guard Isaiah Cousins (another leading scorer) and forward Ryan Spangler (second in rebounds in the Big XII last year) graduated, so the Sooners will be looking to other players to move Lon Kruger’s team through the Big XII season. Senior guard Jordan Woodard, junior Khadeem Lattin, and junior guard Darrion Strong will be the people Kruger will be going to this season as the Sooners tip off the season against Northwestern State on Nov. 13. Lattin and Woodard are the only returning players from last season that made the top 20 in any category in the Big XII last year (Lattin 13th in rebounds, Woodard 10th in scoring.) The Sooners will start the season unranked with concerns after losing their top rebounders and scorers to graduation and the NBA Draft. They finished 29-8 overall last year and 12-6 in conference last year.
The Mountaineers of West Virginia finished second in the Big XII with a record 26-9 overall and 13-5 in conference play. They were just one game better than the Buddy Hield lead Oklahoma Sooners. The had the best scoring defense, the best rebounding (first in offensive boards and second rebounding margin), the highest number of steals, the second best scoring margin, and the highest turnover margin at +3.6. The Mountaineers are without their top 10 Big XII scorers Jaysean Paige and Devin Williams. Williams was also the leading rebounder in the Big XII with 9.5 boards a game. They also lost the fifth ranked rebounder in the Big XII Jonathan Holton would averaged 7.6 boards per game. Players like Jevon Carter, Daxter Miles Jr., and Tarik Phillips will be looked at to push the Mountaineers back to the top. The Mountaineers finished the season last year with an upset in the NCAAA Tournament. As the three-seed, they fell to the fourteenth-seeded S.F. Austin Jacks in the first round 70-56. They will look to make a deeper run this year despite losing key components to a strong team from a year ago.
Baylor, Texas, Texas Tech, and Iowa State also made the tournament last year. Baylor got stiffed by the twelfth-seeded Yale Bulldogs 79-75 and Texas lost a heartbreaker to eleventh-seeded Northern Iowa Panthers who made a half-court heave to win the game 75-72 with 2.7 seconds on the clock. Texas Tech was blanked by the Butler Bulldogs 71-61 in the dreaded eight versus nine match-up. The only team to advance further into the tournament was fourth-seeded Iowa State who advanced to the Elite Eight and lost to Virginia 84-71. The Texas Tech Red Raiders made their first appearance in the tournament since 2007 even though they finished seventh in the Big XII with a 19-13 record overall. Texas is starting the season ranked twenty-first in the country despite losing the fifth ranked scorer in the Big XII (Isaiah Taylor with 15 points per game) and two two twenty rebounders in the Big XII (Prince Ibeh and Connor Lammert.)
Baylor and Iowa State are the only two teams with potential depth to make it back to the tournament this year. Baylor had three top twenty scorers in the Big XII but only one is returning. Junior guard Al Freeman will the force behind Baylor’s offense this year with guys like Rico Garthers, and Taurean Prince moving on. The twenty-fourth ranked Iowa State Cyclones still have Monte Morris, Nazareth Mitrou-Long, and Matt Long but lose plenty in rebounding and scoring by losing last years’ players like Georges Niang, Abdel Nader, and Jameel McKay. Both of these teams tied for fifth in the Big XII with a 10-8 conference record. The push in the tournament for Iowa State was made mostly by guys like Niang who was the number two scorer in the Big XII with 20.5 points per game and the eighth ranked rebounder with 6.2 rebounds per game.
Kansas State, Oklahoma State, and TCU finished last in the pack in the Big XII last year. These teams finished with a combined record of 10-44 last season in conference play. Kansas State failed to make it to the tournament for the second straight year after finishing 17-16 on the season. Oklahoma State missed the tournament for the first time since 2012 after finishing 12-20 on the season. The Cowboys had the worst offense in the Big XII as they finished nearly last in all categories in offensive statistics. TCU hasn’t been to the tournament since 1998 with no sign in improving in years to come. They often traded places with Oklahoma State in team statistics in the final two spots on the list.