Not so long ago, the Big 12 had a reputation for strong regular seasons ahead of underwhelming March Madness results.
Consider that narrative officially busted.
Baylor's national championship last April continued a recent hot stretch for the conference. Texas Tech was in the title game in 2019, coming within a shot of beating Virginia before losing in overtime. Kansas made the Final Four in 2018, while also providing a great “what if” in 2020, projecting as the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament before COVID canceled the season (Baylor was going to be a No. 1 seed as well).
So can the Big 12 keep up its late-season heater in 2021-22? No results are guaranteed given the randomness of a one-and-done tournament, but the league still appears top-heavy enough with its top three programs to at least give itself a puncher's chance.
KU should be considered the preseason favorite after Bill Self reloaded his roster while also securing the return of four starters. First-year Texas coach Chris Beard's roster features a nice mix of experience and talented transfers, while Baylor's Scott Drew will look to upperclassmen like Matthew Mayer, Adam Flagler and Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua to take on greater roles.
The conference's next tier should be competitive too. Texas Tech first-year coach Mark Adams received a boost with the return of guard Terrence Shannon Jr., while West Virginia brings back potential all-league performers in Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil. Oklahoma State's Mike Boynton boasts the most experienced roster, and Oklahoma should be a wild card in Porter Moser's first season.
Transfer point guard Remy Martin — a two-time All-Pac-12 first-teamer at Arizona State — provides KU a playmaking piece it desperately needed last season. Don't overlook the strides that returners like Jalen Wilson, Christian Braun and David McCormack are likely to make.
Coach Chris Beard will have a lot of rotation options in his first season, combining high-ceiling transfers like Marcus Carr and Timmy Allen with reliable seniors like Andrew Jones and Courtney Ramey.
How do you replace the best backcourt in school history? Coach Scott Drew appears to have the answer. Returners Matthew Mayer and Adam Flagler project as two of the league's best players, while Arizona transfer James Akinjo is comfortable in a leading role.
4. Texas Tech
Will Mark Adams' success as a defensive guru continue when he slides into the head coach's chair? The return of Terrence Shannon Jr. and Kevin McCullar make the Red Raiders an intriguing sleeper option, though the floor could still be low with Adams remaining unproven.
5. West Virginia
Miles McBride leaving for the pros understandably drops West Virginia here, but Bob Huggins still should like his backcourt. Taz Sherman and Sean McNeil are dependable scorers, while forward Gabe Osabuohien returns as the league's best defender.
6. Oklahoma State
How much does continuity matter? Oklahoma State will be a great test subject in 2021-22, bringing back a league-best 81 percent of its returning minutes according to BartTorvik.com.
Oklahoma made one of the top offseason hires in Loyola-Chicago's Porter Moser, and he immediately worked to reshape his roster through the transfer portal. Tanner Groves — the reigning Big Sky Player of the Year at Eastern Washington — should be a focal frontcourt piece. Duke transfer Jordan Goldwire provides defensive stability in the backcourt.
The shortened 2020-21 season was statistically the worst in coach Jamie Dixon's five-year tenure at TCU. The team's best hope for a breakthrough could be the addition of Texas A&M transfer forward Emanuel Miller, who thrived inside a season ago as both a scorer and rebounder.
9. Kansas State
Coach Bruce Weber's teams have struggled on offense recently, falling outside the top 175 in adjusted offensive efficiency in consecutive seasons. Guard Nijel Pack had an excellent freshman season as a spot-up shooter, but he'll need more help.
10. Iowa State
New coach T.J. Otzelberger's offseason roster additions make a quicker-than-expected turnaround possible. A transfer to watch: Tristan Enaruna, a 6'8" guard from KU with a 7-foot wingspan and pro potential if he develops offensively.
Player of the Year: Marcus Carr, Texas
Best Defensive Player: Gabe Osabuohien, West Virginia
Most Underrated Player: Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua, Baylor
Newcomer of the Year: Remy Martin, Kansas
All-Big 12 First Team
Ochai Agbaji, Sr., G, Kansas
Marcus Carr, Sr., G, Texas
Matthew Mayer, Sr., G/F, Baylor
David McCormack, Sr., F, Kansas
Terrence Shannon Jr., Jr., G, Texas Tech
All-Big 12 Second Team
Timmy Allen, Sr., F, Texas
Adam Flagler, Jr., G, Baylor
Remy Martin, Sr., G, Kansas
Courtney Ramey, Sr., G, Texas
Jalen Wilson, So., F, Kansas
All-Big 12 Third Team
James Akinjo, Sr., G, Baylor
Dylan Disu, Jr., F, Texas
Andrew Jones, Sr., G, Texas
Emanuel Miller, So., F, FCU
Kevin Obanor, Sr., F, Texas Tech