The Big 12 landed five of of its 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament last year, with Baylor and Texas getting all the way to the Elite Eight. Big 12 women’s basketball looks to be just as deep this year, and Baylor is again the team to beat, despite the loss of coach Kim Mulkey to LSU.
Iowa State is the most likely candidate to challenge the impressive Lady Bears. The Cyclones return plenty of talent, including big-time player Ashley Joens. With ultra-veteran coach Bill Fennelly at the helm, it is never wise to overlook Iowa State.
Although Baylor and Iowa State appear to be the cream of the crop in the Big 12, don’t count West Virginia, Texas, and Oklahoma out. All of these programs have the talent and depth to make a run at any point this season.
Big 12 Women’s Basketball Preview 2021-22
Favorites: Baylor, Iowa State, West Virginia
Head coach: Nicki Collen (1st season)
2020-21 record: 28-3 (17-1 in Big 12)
Conference finish: 1st
Baylor has an outstanding 2020-21 campaign, advancing to the Elite Eight before falling to perennial-power UConn by a single bucket. First-year head coach Nicki Collen will hope to continue the success at Baylor following the departure of 21-year veteran Kim Mulkey, who surprisingly left to coach at LSU in April.
The Lady Bears return reigning Big 12 and WBCA National Player of the Year NaLyssa Smith, along with standout Queen Egbo, but they need to develop talented depth after the transfer of Moon Ursin (LSU and now Tulane) and the losses of DiDi Richards and DiJonai Carrington to the WNBA.
However, with the additions of transfers Jordan Lewis (Alabama), Ja’Mee Asberry (Oklahoma State), and Kamaria McDaniel (Penn State), Baylor should have plenty of firepower on offense and should be considered favorites in Big 12 women’s basketball once again.
Head coach: Bill Fennelly (27th season)
2020-21 record: 17-11 (12-6 in Big 12)
Conference finish: 4th
If coaching experience is a measure of potential success, Iowa State is in good hands. Head coach Bill Fennelly enters his 27th season at the helm for the Cyclones, and he will hope to improve on last year’s outcome that included a fourth-place Big 12 finish and an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Along with incredible coaching experience, Iowa State also returns four of its top five scorers, led by 6-foot-1 senior Ashley Joens (24.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg). However, the losses of veteran Kristin Scott (graduation) and riser Kylie Feuerbach (transferred to Iowa) will definitely take a toll on the team. The Cyclones have the coaching and talent to challenge Baylor this season, and don’t be surprised if the Cyclones are hanging around the top of the Big 12 come tournament time.
Head coach: Mike Carey (21st season)
2020-21 record: 22-7 (13-5 in Big 12)
Conference finish: 2nd
The departure of star point guard Kysre Gondrezick, who was taken No. 4 overall by the Indiana Fever in the WNBA Draft, leaves a massive void for coach Mike Carey and crew to fill heading into the 2021-22 season. However, the cupboard is far from bare for the Mountaineers, who finished second in the Big 12 last year and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Four of West Virginia’s top-five scorers return, led by 6-foot-2 junior forward Esmery Martinez, who averaged 13.6 points and 11.6 rebounds per game last year. Add transfer Ari Gray (Xavier) into the mix, and Coach Carey has the pieces in place to give Baylor a run for its money this season. Expect to see West Virginia near the top of Big 12 women’s basketball again, especially with such an experienced coaching staff returning.
Contenders: Texas, Oklahoma
Head coach: Vic Schaefer (2nd season)
2020-21 record: 21-10 (11-7 in Big 12)
Conference finish: 5th
Charli Collier is gone. The 6-foot-5, superbly talented center was taken No. 1 overall by the Dallas Wings in the WNBA Draft, and such a talent will definitely be missed by the Longhorns. Nonetheless, head coach Vic Schaefer’s squad, which snuck its way into the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament last season before it was crushed by South Carolina, could be a dark horse in the Big 12 this year.
With a career head coaching record of 322-182 (0.639), Vic Schaefer knows how to win, and with veteran guards Joanne Allen-Taylor and Audrey Warren returning, you can bet he’ll find a way to make Texas competitive.
Head coach: Jennie Baranczyk (1st season)
2020-21 record: 12-12 (9-9 in Big 12)
Conference finish: 6th
New head coach Jennie Baranczyk has some big shoes to fill after the retirement of 25-year veteran coach Sherri Coale. After posting a record of 192–95 at Drake over the past nine seasons, Coach Baranczyk is no stranger to winning, and she hopes to leave Oklahoma’s mediocre 2020-2021 season in the rear-view mirror.
Offense should not be hard to generate as the Sooners return their top three scorers in Madi Williams (20 ppg), Gabby Gregory (16.6 ppg), and Taylor Robertson (16.1 ppg, 43 percent from three). However, Baranczyk has to get her team defending and rebounding with more intensity to improve on last year’s result.
Stuck in Purgatory: Oklahoma State, TCU
Head coach: Jim Littell (11th season)
2020-21 record: 19-9 (13-5 in Big 12)
Conference finish: 3rd
After finishing third in the Big 12 last year and advancing to the second round of the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to eventual-national champion Stanford, head coach Jim Littell and the Cowgirls will look to keep the momentum moving in the right direction. However, after the loss of prolific scorer and rebounder Natasha Mack to the WNBA and the transfer of standout Ja’Mee Asberry to Baylor, Oklahoma State is in rebuilding mode to start the year.
The addition of transfer guard N’Yah Boyd (North Texas) will add a burst of offense to go along with talented returners Lauren Fields and Taylen Collins, but the Cowgirls have a lot to prove to be considered among the Big 12 women’s basketball elite.
Head coach: Raegan Pebley (8th season)
2020-21 record: 10-15 (4-14 in Big 12)
Conference finish: 8th
After posting six-consecutive winning seasons in her first six years as TCU’s head coach, Raegan Pebley hopes to rebound from her first losing season in 2020-2021. The Horned Frogs return their top five scorers and add talented transfer Okako Adika (Butler) to the mix this year, giving them the experience and depth to take a step forward. Veteran guard Lauren Heard (21.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg. 4.8 apg, 2.6 spg) can do just about everything on the court, but TCU needs other playmakers to step up to compete in such a talent-rich conference.
Basement: Kansas State, Texas Tech, Kansas
Head coach: Jeff Mittie (8th season)
2020-21 record: 9-18 (3-15 in Big 12)
Conference finish: 9th
Kansas State had their first losing season last year under veteran head coach Jeff Mittie, and the Wildcats are hoping to turn it around in 2021-2022. It’ll be tough sledding, but luckily star center Ayoka Lee returns to lead Kansas State again. However, she will need more help from her teammates to get the Wildcats out of the Big 12 basement.
Lee is a special player (19.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg), but the lack of consistency around her will be a challenge, especially after the transfer of talented guard Christianna Carr to Syracuse in the offseason.
Head coach: Krista Gerlich (2nd season)
2020-21 record: 10-15 (5-13 in Big 12)
Conference finish: 7th
The Red Raiders return leading scorer and rebounder Vivian Gray (19.8 ppg, 8.2 rpg), but the transfers of Lexi Gordon (Duke), Chrislyn Carr (Syracuse), and Andrayah Adams (North Dakota) leave second-year head coach Krista Gerlich looking for consistent depth as she tries to rebuild her alma mater.
Texas Tech will be in an uphill battle as it tries to find solid contributors, but the acquisition of transfer Bre’Amber Scott (Mississippi State/Little Rock) adds much-needed experience and talent. All things considered, the Red Raiders will likely struggle to break into the top half of the Big 12 again this year as they search for an identity.
Head coach: Brandon Schneider (7th season)
2020-21 record: 7-18 (3-15 in Big 12)
Conference finish: 10th
Brandon Schneider is yet to lead Kansas to a winning conference record in his six years as head coach. Unfortunately for Jayhawks fans, 2021-22 is likely to follow a similar pattern.
Talented junior guard Holly Kersgieter returns, but Kansas finished last season with nine-consecutive losses, and without any significant improvements to the roster, the Jayhawks will struggle again in such a talent-laden conference.
2021-22 Big 12 Women’s Basketball Players to Watch
NaLyssa Smith – Forward – Senior – Baylor
The All-American senior forward from Converse, Texas, is a force on the court for Baylor, and she is back to lead the talent-laden Lady Bears once again.
Smith earned Big 12 and WBCA Player of the Year honors last season after leading Baylor in scoring (18 ppg) and rebounding (8.9 rpg). At 6-foot-4, Smith has the size and physicality to impose her will on defenders. She is not a perimeter threat, but her ability to score around the basket and draw fouls make her a nightmare for opponents, especially when she is making her free throws (122-of-154 for 79.2 percent last year).
Expect Smith to continue to wreak havoc on the rest of the Big 12 as she hopes for an even more impressive encore performance.
Esmery Martinez – Forward – Junior – West Virginia
The junior from the Dominican Republic returns after earning First-Team Big 12 honors for her performance last year. Martinez’s effort and focus on the glass make her an elite rebounder (11.6 rpg), and after improving her scoring last year (13.6 ppg), the 6-foot-2 forward is becoming a scary matchup for opponents.
If Martinez can continue to improve on the offensive end, especially by drawing fouls and knocking down her free throws (75.4 percent from the line last year), she has the potential to challenge NaLyssa Smith for Big 12 Player of the Year honors and to lead her team to even greater heights this season.
Ashley Joens – Guard/Forward – Senior – Iowa State
All Ashley Joens did last year was average 24.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per contest while shooting 88.3 percent (181-of-205) from the free-throw line and 35.4 percent from three-point range. For her efforts, the 6-foot-1 guard/forward was a unanimous selection to the All-Big 12 First Team and was named a Second-Team All-American by Sports Illustrated.
Joens is an impressive scorer who is capable of going off for 25 or 30 on any given night. She can score inside and outside, and her ability to draw fouls going to the basket while shooting such a high percentage from the line make her nearly impossible to guard.