Big 12 Predictions
|Nope, not yet|
The chance to take down Kansas was last year, and an unfortunate Keenan Evans injury derailed Texas Tech’s chance at accomplishing what hasn’t happened in the Big 12 since Perry Ellis got his first AARP card. This year’s Kansas squad will be incredibly strong; they’re likely to start the season ranked in the top three, if not #1. I don’t even know where to start with this roster; it probably says enough that Lagerald Vick went pro, tried to come back, and is going to struggle to find minutes. Quentin Grimes is going to get buckets, the Lawson twins are going to be a handful, and Udoka is going to Udoka all over everybody. There’s a good chance Kansas’ subs could finish in the top half of the conference, and I haven’t even mentioned Devon Dotson who would be the best incoming freshman guard on any other Big 12 team, or David McCormack who I’ve seen in person and I swear he’s 24 years old. Whereas last year featured a 13-5 conference record and a conference title streak that was in serious jeopardy until the last couple of weeks, this year’s team feels a lot more like a 15-3/16-2 result where the streak is never really in doubt. The only things that could stand in their way are Self’s insistence on returning to his beloved two-bigs lineup blowing up in his face or the FBI raiding the Phog.
Some people believe a team like Kansas State will challenge Kansas for the conference title, but I am not as optimistic. It’s my opinion that the distance between 1st and 2nd place in the conference this year is as large as the gap between 2nd and 6th. Much like last year, I think there is a gaggle of teams in the middle who are all relatively close together; you can make a reasonable argument that any of the teams I have listed from 2nd to 6th can be at the head of this group and I’d consider it plausible. (There is even an argument for including Texas Tech in the discussion, though I’m not quite as convinced about them yet as I am the others.) For TCU, there is a Jaylen Fisher-sized asterisk on this prediction, as his predilection for getting injured will significantly shape the ceiling for a TCU team dealing with the loss of Vladmir Brodziansky and Kenrich Williams. Fisher is a very talented guard, but his first two seasons he’s missed games and he’s out for several weeks leading up to the season opener after getting a knee scoped. That’s not exactly reassuring for Horned Frogs fans, but if he can stay on the court the team should be very good offensively. The issue for TCU head coach Jamie Dixon will be how well the team performs defensively; they are not a terrible defensive team, but the success of the last two seasons has been more about their offensive firepower than their ability to slow down their opponent. Desmond Bane, Fisher, and Kouat Noi should hit plenty of shots, and even if Dixon doesn’t make a significant defensive improvement they should still win plenty of games.
I’m going to be honest...I wanted to pick Texas to finish second.
I know. I KNOW. Second place is crazy talk, right? Why am I ankle-deep in a hot tub of burnt orange Kool-Aid? I try to be reasonably level-headed and not one to get swept up chugging the burnt orange Kool-Aid even though my last couple of predictions for Texas have ended up being overly optimistic, and second only to Kansas is a big step up after the last two seasons finishing 10th and 7th in the regular season. It’s lunacy to pick Texas to finish second...or is it? Let’s think it through. I think it’s plausible a healthy Texas squad wins anywhere between 10-13 games in conference, and more than likely they land somewhere in the middle for a 11-7/12-6 conference record. Going back the last five years, second place in the Big 12 Tournament had the following records: 11-7, 12-6, 13-5, 12-6, 12-6. You have to go back to the 2013 conference tournament to find a team in second place with 14+ wins, and that was before the conference was at 10 teams and playing a true round-robin schedule so it’s a bit less of an apples-to-apples comparison. 12 wins is a fairly reasonable benchmark for second place, especially if Kansas runs away with the conference and tallies 15+ wins like they very well could this year.
So why am I not picking Texas second? Because my bar napkin guesses about how the games go has Texas at 11-7. Because anything at or above 12 wins seems like a best-case scenario for this squad. Because after last season I can’t rule out CANCER as a potential season-derailing problem. Because at the end of the day I’m terrified of unbridled optimism and my inner contrarian starts shouting down the inner fanboy, so I’m picking somebody to finish second ahead of Texas, knowing that in my heart of hearts picking Texas second is probably irresponsible.
FUCK IT, THEY’RE FINISHING SECOND.
Big 12 Conference Predictions
|TEXAS, DEAL WITH IT|
You know I love you, baby. This isn’t your fault, I’m just working through some things ever since Jeff Haley left me. I promise I’ll make it up to you, maybe by showing you a city where cattle in a big pen isn’t a primary attraction. I swear it’s a real thing, you’ll love it.
This pick is going against the grain as most people seem to be picking Kansas State to finish second in the conference this year. Their rationale involves one or more of the following points:
- Dean Wade is a badass
- Most of the Elite Eight squad is back
- Dean Wade is a badass
I don’t have any argument against the first and third points, and if anyone is going to push the Wildcats the top of the not-Kansas rankings it’s likely Dean Wade. He’s the primary reason I hesitated putting Kansas State fourth. As for point number two, well...let’s talk about that Elite Eight run. Kansas State beat 8-seed Creighton, 16-seed UMBC, 5-seed Kentucky, and lost to 11-seed Loyola-Chicago. That is not exactly murderer’s row, Kentucky is the only team in those three wins that was a legitimately good team. It’s not Kansas State’s fault, they didn’t pick their draw - though if I had asked Bruce Weber how much he would pay me to guarantee this stretch I’d be writing this preview from my new yacht - and they beat the teams in front of them before losing to Cinderella. In a parallel reality where UMBC doesn’t pull off the mother of all upsets, Kansas State is playing its second game against the top overall seed Virginia. Anyone want to put down money they beat *that* Virginia squad? In that alternate reality, Kansas State is coming off a season where they finished fourth in the Big 12 with a loss in the round of 32. Are many people picking them to be second in the conference then? Maybe a few, but the hype would be substantially less than it is currently. Also, Bruce Weber might be on a mildly warm seat for what feels like the tenth year in a row because Kansas State fans love Bruce Weber about as much as the Magic Mike guys loved Gabriel Iglesias’ character, Tobias. Sure, he played their music and got them drugs, but he also managed to get the guys caught up in a major financial bind and wrecked the ice cream truck in the sequel. Not that I watched either movie. (But seriously, the dancing...so sensual!) I think Kansas State will be a good team and should be in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year, I’m just tapping the brakes on the hype train a little bit.
It almost feels like a sin picking West Virginia 5th, considering they’ve been 3rd, 2nd, 2nd, 5th, hang on they’ve been 5th in the last four years it’s fine, we’re fine everybody. Bob Huggins’ recent run of success has been great fun to watch, and one of the inviolable laws of the Big 12 is that Huggins is going to play approximately 19 guys each season to push his pressure defense to its extremes and give at least two coaches PTSD in the process. Esa Ahmad and James ‘Beetle’ Bolden will hold down the perimeter while Sagaba Konate will block every shot within a country mile, so the defense will be its usual stellar self. Still, Huggins loses his adopted son Jevon Carter to the NBA as well as Daxter Miles, and as much as West Virginia is a team built upon coming at you with waves of players those two stood out in the pantheon of Mountaineers. Their contributions will be missed; Carter was so ridiculously good at defending guards and him being gone means the press gets broken a time or two more per game than it would last year. For a conference with this small a margin for error, that alone could swing a couple of games to the opponent. West Virginia recruited pretty well this year so maybe a freshman like Jordan McCabe comes in, replaces more of Carter’s production than I expect, and pushes West Virginia into the top third of the conference again. I’ve learned not to underestimate Bob Huggins, even at this late stage of his career.
Would you believe at one point I was considering Iowa State for second in this prediction? It speaks to the density of teams clustered between 2nd and 6th, the return of Lindell Wigginton, my general love for the Wide Right Natty Lite crew, and perhaps most importantly of all, the amount of tequila I’ve ingested in writing these things. I think I’m coming around on Steve Prohm, though it’s early enough that I reserve the right to whipsaw back to thinking he’s not going to be good enough for the Cyclones. I don’t know who I reserve that right with, is there some sort of internet rights-reserver for all random jackass opinions bloggers come up with over the course of a year? I should ask Skip Bayless, he seems to have a plethora of opinions that bear little to no relation to what he said in the previous months. I bet he has an email address I could use for this. Anyway, yes, I like Iowa State. I think Wigginton is a stud, I think Solomon Young and Nick Weiler-Babb will do well, and I’m sure Deonte Burton will oh nooooo he’s been gone for awhile. Welp, 6th it is.
Yea, so, I was a year off with my prognosis of Texas Tech struggling. Oops. To Chris Beard’s credit, last year’s Tech squad was firmly in the conference title hunt until Keenan Evans got hurt. That was one of the best Tech teams I’ve seen in the past couple of decades, and Beard appears to be recruiting well to keep the program from flatlining any time soon. Having said that, they do lose five seniors as well as Zhaire Smith at least a year earlier than they planned. Even with the freshmen they bring in as well as transfers like Tariq Owens and Matt Mooney, this feels like a transitional year for Chris Beard. Texas Tech could surprise, but with this many new parts and the loss of one-man band-aid Keenan Evans there is a good case to be made Tech is enough less effective on both ends of the floor that they spend most of conference play firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble.
This is a very interesting time in Norman. Since Lon Kruger led Oklahoma to the Final Four (where they lost by 44 points, #NeverForget) his record has been 29-34 with 9th and 8th place finishes in the Big 12. Last season he struck gold with Trae Young, but the rest of the team showed significant problem areas, and with Young gone to the NBA those problems have only multiplied. Kameron McGusty and Jordan Shepherd transferred out, and Kruger has had to get creative in the off-season. He has one(!) commitment in the freshman class (Jamal Bienemy) and three transfers in Kur Kuath, Aaron Calixte, & Miles Reynolds. They basically had one guy who could create and he’s now in the NBA, and the remaining players from last season seem like decent complementary players who need an all-world player who isn’t on the roster. Maybe Calixte can be a poor man’s Trae Young and cover some of this roster’s deficiencies, but there’s a good chance Oklahoma spends a third straight season in the bottom third of the conference. If this season goes as poorly as I fear it will, Kruger could be facing some heat a year from now. The Big 12 grants no reprieves for any coach, Hall of Fame-worthy or not.
It’s hard to put a bow on Oklahoma State’s season last year; on one hand they swept Kansas, beat West Virginia in Morgantown, and beat Texas Tech at home, on the other hand the rest of conference play went poorly enough they ended up as the 9-seed in the conference tournament. The team showed flashes of great play but were ultimately inconsistent in achieving that level of quality. As Mike Boynton continues to remake this program in his image, this year looks to be a tough one as they replace major contributors in Jeffrey Carroll, Kendall Smith, and Mitchell Solomon as well as the unexpected (to me) transfer of Brandon Averette. Lindy Waters and Thomas Dziagwa will be reliable options, but outside of them things start to get sketchy and Boynton isn’t yet recruiting at a level where they’re reloading. It gets even sketchier if Michael Weathers is unavailable due to his desire to pad his steals stats off-campus. Maybe they surprise a couple of teams this season and nudge their way into the middle of the conference, but I think that’s at least a year away.
I wrote the following in last year’s season preview: “Every year since the Big 12 went to its current group of ten teams, Baylor has finished between third and sixth in the conference standings. There’s no reason to think they’ll be much different this year...”
They finished sixth. Scott Drew is as consistent with his yearly results as he is with his haircut, both attempt to maximize results but aren’t quite able to hit their goals. This year seems to be the most likely year Drew will miss out on his reliably middle-of-the-pack finish though; losing Terry Mason, Jo Lual-Acuil, Manu Lecomte, and even Nuni Omot meant Baylor was probably going to take a step back, but losing Jake Lindsey for the season to hip surgery is a significant problem for a team already extremely reliant on transfers for a talent infusion. It’s possible Baylor leapfrogs Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, but a finish higher than 7th seems implausibly optimistic. I’m sure everyone is broken up thinking about a Baylor athletic program struggling, try to console yourselves as best you can. Maybe rent Magic Mike, I hear it’s fantastic.