Computers like Big 12, but tourney success has been rare
For the past four years, the Big 12 has been the No. 1-ranked conference in all of college basketball — at least according to KenPom.com. But a quick study of NCAA Tournament results from those seasons suggests otherwise.
Only two schools (Oklahoma in 2016 and Kansas in 2016 and ’17) have advanced to the Elite Eight during that span, and Oklahoma is the only one to reach the Final Four.
“Every coach in our league knows our conference is as good as any league in America,” Kansas coach Bill Self says. “But we definitely need to do a better job of validating that in the postseason.”
Only three times in the past 13 years has a Big 12 school advanced to the Final Four, with Kansas accounting for two of the berths. Bolstered by a backcourt featuring Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman, the Jayhawks are confident they can return to college basketball’s biggest stage after losing in the Elite Eight the past two seasons — both times as a No. 1 seed.
West Virginia should be salty again, too, with standout guards Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles back for their senior seasons.
But after that, the chances of an extended postseason run by a Big 12 school seem bleak.
Johnathan Motley’s decision to enter the NBA Draft was a huge blow for Baylor, although the Bears — who achieved their first No. 1 ranking last season — should still be good enough to go dancing. The same may not be true for 2017 NCAA Tournament participants Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Kansas State, who lost almost all of their top players. TCU and Oklahoma should take major steps forward, while the eyes of Texas will be on Shaka Smart, whose Longhorns missed the postseason in 2017.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
The Jayhawks are seeking their 14th straight league title, which would be a Division I record. Devonte’ Graham, Malik Newman, Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk may form the best guard quartet in the nation.
2. West Virginia
Leading scorers Jevon Carter and Esa Ahmad return for squad that will likely be the main threat to Kansas’ Big 12 title streak. West Virginia has finished second in both of the past two seasons.
Second-year coach Jamie Dixon has the Horned Frogs poised to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years. Swingman Kenrich Williams and forward Vladimir Brodziansky give the Horned Frogs an outstanding tandem to lead the way.
The Bears lost their top scorer and rebounder in Johnathan Motley along with vocal leader Ish Wainwright. But guard Manu Lecomte is good enough to rally a squad seeking a fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth.
5. Texas Tech
Four of the top six scorers return from a team that started strong last season before losing seven of its final nine games. The Red Raiders are seeking their second NCAA Tournament berth in 11 years.
There’s nowhere to go but up for the Longhorns after a last-place league finish in 2016-17. The arrival of five-star center Mohamed Bamba has created a buzz in Austin, but improved guard play — especially when it comes to 3-point shooting — will be the biggest key.
One year after reaching the Final Four, Oklahoma went just 11–20 overall in 2016-17 and missed the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners, though, could bounce back thanks to a host of returnees and the addition of McDonald’s All-American guard Trae Young.
8. Kansas State
After a two-year hiatus, the Wildcats returned to the NCAA Tournament in 2017 and actually won a game. But now standouts D.J. Johnson and Wesley Iwundu are gone, which isn’t good for embattled coach Bruce Weber.
9. Oklahoma State
Coach Brad Underwood bolted Stillwater after just one year to take over at Illinois. New coach Mike Boynton inherits one of the league’s top players in Jeffrey Carroll — but not much else.
10. Iowa State
The Cyclones lost four starters who averaged a combined 58.9 points. Highly touted recruit Lindell Wigginton, a point guard, needs to have an immediate impact.
Player of the Year: Devonte’ Graham, Kansas
Best Defensive Player: Jevon Carter, West Virginia
Most Underrated Player: Kamau Stokes, Kansas State
Newcomer of the Year: Mohamed Bamba, Texas
ATHLON SPORTS’ ALL-BIG 12 FIRST TEAM
Mohamed Bamba, Fr. C, Texas
Jeffrey Carroll, Sr. G, Oklahoma State
Jevon Carter, Sr. G, West Virginia
Devonte’ Graham, Sr. G, Kansas
Malik Newman, So., G, Kansas
ATHLON SPORTS’ ALL-BIG 12 SECOND TEAM
Vladimir Brodziansky, Sr., F, TCU
Andrew Jones, So., G, Texas
Manu Lecomte, Sr., G, Baylor
Kenrich Williams , Sr., G, TCU
Trae Young, Fr., G, Oklahoma
ATHLON SPORTS’ ALL-BIG 12 THIRD TEAM
Esa Ahmad, Jr., F, West Virginia
Udoka Azubuike, So., C, Kansas
Keenan Evans, Sr., G, Texas Tech
Billy Preston, Fr., F, Kansas
Zach Smith, Sr., F, Texas Tech