Since the Big 12’s inception in 1996, one of the biggest criticisms of the league has been its depth. Or rather, its lack thereof when it comes to basketball.
Only five times has a team other than Kansas either won or shared a regular-season league title. And before last spring, the Jayhawks accounted for five of the conference’s nine Final Four berths, including three of the previous four.
But now — finally — the Big 12 isn’t all about Kansas anymore.
Texas Tech’s march to the NCAA title game brought some much-needed attention to the rest of the league. It also came a month after the Red Raiders and co-champion Kansas State ended the Jayhawks’ history-making run of 14 straight Big 12 titles.
“Our league has always been one of the best in the country,” KU coach Bill Self says. “I’m glad people are finally starting to recognize that.”
Bolstered by the return of 7'0" center Udoka Azubuike, who missed the second half of last season with an injury, the Jayhawks are favored to return to their perch atop the conference standings in 2019-20.
But it won’t be easy.
Baylor could have one of its best teams of the Scott Drew era thanks to an elite backcourt that is at least four deep. A handful of talented transfers should have Texas Tech in the championship hunt despite the loss of four starters. Oklahoma State could end up being one of college basketball’s biggest surprises.
“There aren’t many leagues where the separation between the first-place team and the last-place team is actually kind of thin,” Drew says. “But that’s the case in the Big 12. In our league, there’s no such thing as an upset.”
If center Udoka Azubuike stays healthy and sophomores Devon Dotson and Ochai Agbaji mature, the Jayhawks could be cutting down the nets in April. The late addition of sharpshooting Iowa transfer Isaiah Moss was key.
Led by guards Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell, the Bears’ backcourt will be as deep as it’s ever been under Scott Drew. If forward Tristan Clark (knee) returns to form, Baylor could win its first-ever Big 12 title.
3. TEXAS TECH
Four starters are gone from a squad that came within seconds of winning the NCAA title, but Davide Moretti and transfers Chris Clarke (Virginia Tech) and TJ Holyfield (Stephen F. Austin) should keep the Raiders in the hunt for the league crown.
The Longhorns lose their top three scorers, including NBA Lottery pick Jaxson Hayes, but the backcourt of Matt Coleman, Courtney Ramey and Jase Febres should be salty. More production from forward Jericho Sims is vital for a successful season.
5. OKLAHOMA STATE
All of the key pieces return from a young squad that won at Baylor and nearly defeated Texas Tech at the end of last season. An NCAA berth should be the expectation for a team that plays as hard as anyone in the league.
6. IOWA STATE
Four of the Cyclones’ top five scorers either graduated or entered the NBA Draft, but there are still reasons for optimism in Ames. Prentiss Nixon averaged 16.1 points per game two years ago at Colorado State; guard Tyrese Haliburton could become an NBA prospect as a sophomore; and Penn State transfer Rasir Bolton, a 6-2 guard, should make an immediate impact.
7. WEST VIRGINIA
The Mountaineers could boast one of the Big 12’s most imposing frontcourts if freshman Oscar Tshiebwe adapts quickly alongside sophomore Derek Culver. But much like last season, perimeter depth and shooting could be an issue.
8. KANSAS STATE
After an Elite Eight run in 2018 and a co-Big 12 championship last season, the Wildcats will take a step back. But they’ll still contend for an NCAA Tournament bid thanks to Bruce Weber’s coaching and the return of Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra.
A plethora of new faces makes Oklahoma one of the league’s biggest question marks, but Lon Kruger could have one of the top 3-point shooting teams in the league with Brady Manek and Wichita State transfer Austin Reaves leading the way.
Desmond Bane returns, but that’s about it for the Horned Frogs, who were decimated by graduation, early NBA departures and transfers. Jamie Dixon’s flirtation with UCLA has made things awkward in Fort Worth.
Most Outstanding Player: Udoka Azubuike, Kansas
Best Defensive Player: Marcus Garrett, Kansas
Most Underrated Player: Mark Vital, Baylor
Newcomer of the Year: Jahmius Ramsey, Texas Tech
Udoka Azubuike, Sr., C, Kansas
Jared Butler, So., G, Baylor
Derek Culver, So., F, West Virginia
Devon Dotson, So., G, Kansas
Tyrese Haliburton, So., G, Iowa State
Desmond Bane, Sr., G, TCU
Tristan Clark, Jr., F, Baylor
Chris Clarke, Sr., F, Texas Tech
Davide Moretti, Jr., G, Texas Tech
Xavier Sneed, Sr., G, Kansas State
Ochai Agbaji, So., G, Kansas
Rasir Bolton, So., G, Iowa State
Kristian Doolittle, Sr., F, Oklahoma
Isaac Likekele, So., G, Oklahoma State
Courtney Ramey, So., G, Texas