Big 12 2019-20 Preview
For the first time since 2004, in 2019, someone other than Kansas won the Big 12 regular season crown, with Texas Tech and Kansas State splitting the title instead. But 2020 provides a new opportunity for the Jayhawks to regain supremacy in their league, with a few challengers aiming to keep Kansas off the throne for the second season in a row.
Here is how I see the Big 12 breaking down as we’re only days away from the start of the season:
National Competitors: Baylor, Kansas, Texas Tech
The Jayhawks took a year off of their conference dominance, but they are projected to be right back in the thick of things this time around. The ceiling is even higher than that for this team, though. Udoka Azubuike is back from injury, Devon Dotson, Silvio De Sousa and Ochai Agbaji all return for their sophomore seasons, Isaiah Moses is eligible after transferring from Iowa, and the No. 15 ranked class in the country will add depth off the bench. Barring more injury and ineligibility drama, Kansas should be competing for more than just a conference crown.
While Kansas toiled below the elite tier, Texas Tech filled the gap, sharing a piece of the Big 12 regular season title and advancing all the way to the national championship. Head coach Chris Beard will be without Jarrett Culver, Matt Mooney, Tariq Owens and a couple other key members of the 2018-19 squad, but Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards and DeShawn Corprew are back and all expected to take the next step in their games. Two vital transfers – Chris Clarke from Virginia Tech and TJ Holyfield from Stephen F. Austin – become eligible to cushion the blow from losing lots of last season’s production, and you can expect a multi-win bump purely from Beard’s coaching ability. The Red Raiders should be near the top of the conference yet again and in the hunt for another deep NCAA Tournament run.
Baylor experienced a wild 2018-19 campaign. In the non-conference, it lost to Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin and suffered a major blow with Tristan Clark’s season-ending injury. But head coach Scott Drew reorganized his new-look squad, and by March, the team was comfortably in the Field of 68 and even won a game. Now, Clark is healthy, and Mark Vital, Mario Kegler and Jared Butler are ready to welcome him back. Makai Mason and King McClure have moved on, but MaCio Teague transferred from UNC Asheville to help patch a hole in the backcourt. This team is super deep with plenty of flexibility for Drew to work with. The Bears will be in contention for the Big 12 crown and have the pieces to get to the Final Four, if all goes according to plan.
NCAA Tournament Hopefuls: Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, West Virginia
Since constricting to 10 schools, the Big 12 has often been one or two elite teams with a hodge-podge of NCAA-Tournament-to-NIT caliber teams mixed in beneath them in some nondescript order. The 2019-20 iteration doesn’t look too much different from here.
Some teams have more expected of them than others. TCU is the general pick to finish last in the league, but there could be enough on that roster for head coach Jamie Dixon to squeeze them into the tournament. Texas is expected to dance in March, but it wouldn’t be the first time the Longhorns couldn’t live up to expectations. It’s the Big 12: who the hell knows what is going to happen?
More than likely, three or four of these teams will be playing in March. Texas should be one of them, with Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey, Jase Febres headlining another talented lineup. But talent has been the issue for the Longhorns in the past, so time will tell what we will see from the team.
West Virginia should have a better year than last when it hung out in the Big 12’s basement. Lots of transfers and explosions have cleared the roster of presumably dead wood, and some of the positives from last season – Jordan McCabe and Derek Culver, for example – stuck around. A barrage of junior college transfers should help with depth, perhaps allowing head coach Bob Huggins to press more aggressively, like his teams did only a few short years ago. It remains to be seen how well this team will shoot, but its improvements might not be enough to have them dancing, but at the very least they should keep them outside of the conference cellar.
Tyrese Haliburton is back! But Marial Shayok, Lindell Wigginton, Cameron Lard, Talen Horton-Tucker and Nick Weiler-Babb aren’t. Iowa State still has its eyes set on a March Madness bid despite losing so much of last year’s talent, though. Haliburton returns along with Michael Jacobson, plus Solomon Young comes back from injury. Prentiss Nixon and Rasir Bolton transfer in from Colorado State and Penn State, respectively, to add more scoring options for a team that doesn’t currently have one stand-out bucket-getter. On paper, this looks like a bubble team, and it might be a nervy Selection Sunday in Ames.
Kansas State won the other half of the Big 12 regular season crown last season but was prompted bounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Dean Wade, Barry Brown and Kamau Stokes are all gone, making the Wildcats a question mark to even return to the Big Dance. Xavier Sneed, Cartier Diarra and Mike McGuirl are back, plus junior college transfer David Sloan and a few freshmen who figure to come off the bench, but someone will have to step up to replace the offensive production lost in the offseason for this team to go anywhere.
Oklahoma State is trying to get back to the tournament, and with a lot of its production coming back, including Lindy Waters III, Cameron McGriff and Thomas Dziagwa, it could be the year it happens. Head coach Mike Boynton has brought in the No. 24 recruiting class in the country, with four-stars Marcus Watson and Avery Anderson III as its biggest names. Hopes are mounting in Stillwater that this team will be Oklahoma State’s return to prominence, but it could just as easily fall apart and collapse. Keep your eye on the Cowboys, but remain skeptical until proven otherwise.
The Sooners have lived in bubble purgatory for a few years, and you shouldn’t expect anything different in 2020. Christian James is gone, but Kristian Doolittle, Brady Manek and Jamal Bieniemy are back, with plenty of transfers – most notably Austin Reaves from Wichita State – to fill in behind them. We know how dynamic Doolittle and Manek can be, and that should something that helps Norman sleep at night. But we don’t know how the rest of the team will gel, and that has been a huge issue with the most recent Sooners squads: too much reliability on one or two players to score while the rest of the team stands around and watches. Will this time around be any different? It will likely have to be for Oklahoma to play in March.