Two key announcements turned the fortunes for the Big 12. First, sophomore Marcus Smart elected to return to Oklahoma State even though he could have been a top pick. And just as the Cowboys prepared to be the unquestioned Big 12 favorite, Kansas landed the most dynamic freshman since at least Kevin Durant.
If only the news was as good around the rest of the league.
Outside of Kansas, Oklahoma State and probably Baylor, the Big 12 may have trouble putting teams into the NCAA Tournament.
Defending regular season co-champion Kansas State is rebuilding in Year 2 under Bruce Weber. Meanwhile, onetime NCAA Tournament regulars Texas and West Virginia are coming off their worst seasons in quite some time. Neither has quick answers.
A two-team race — and a two-player race between Wiggins and Smart — looks like it will be the storyline in the Big 12.
Big 12 Predicted Order of Finish
ALL-BIG 12 FIRST TEAM
G Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
G Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
G/F Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
F Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
F Cory Jefferson, Baylor
ALL-BIG 12 SECOND TEAM
G Wayne Selden, Kansas
G/F Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
F Perry Ellis, Kansas
F Georges Niang, Iowa State
C Isaiah Austin, Baylor
ALL-BIG 12 THIRD TEAM
G Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
G Shane Southwell, Kansas State
G DeAndre Kane, Iowa State
F Michael Cobbins, Oklahoma State
F Jordan Tolbert, Texas Tech
1. KANSAS (team preview)
NCAA Elite Eight
Can fantastic freshman Andrew Wiggins lead Jayhawks to a 10th straight Big 12 title — and more?
2. OKLAHOMA STATE
NCAA Elite Eight
Marcus Smart is the real deal, but don’t sleep on his supporting cast. The Pokes have a complete roster.
3. BAYLOR (team preview)
NCAA Round of 32
Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson form one of the country’s toughest frontcourts. The Bears need solid point guard play.
4. IOWA STATE (team preview)
NCAA Round of 64
Roster turnover never seems to affect the Cyclones under Fred Hoiberg. DeAndre Kane is the latest impact transfer.
5. KANSAS STATE
The Cats have lots of nice pieces, but no true star. The loss of Angel Rodriguez hurts.
The Sooners lost a lot, but Lon Kruger is too good to let them fall far. This team will find a way to win games.
The Longhorns bottomed out last year, but the prospects for ’13-14 aren’t much better. Welcome to the hot seat, Mr. Barnes.
8. TEXAS TECH
Tubby will make the Red Raiders relevant again — but not this year. There’s simply not enough talent.
9. WEST VIRGINIA
As bad as last season was, this one could be worse for Bob Huggins, who is used to winning a lot of games.
The Horned Frogs are getting better, but they may be a year away from making a move in the Big 12.
Big 12 Awards
Player of the Year:
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Excitement for Wiggins is at a fever pitch. Consider this: Sports Illustrated put Wiggins on the cover amid NFL and college football seasons and baseball playoffs.
Best Defensive Player:
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
He’s the nation’s top point guard and turned the Cowboys’ season with his intangibles. But he’s also a rugged defender who averaged three steals per game. No one else in the Big 12 averaged more than two.
Phil Forte, Oklahoma State
Smart’s high school teammate is a secret weapon of sports on a team that includes Smart, Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown. Forte averaged 91.3 percent shooting from the free throw line.
Newcomer of the Year:
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas (full list of
Wiggins’ decision to go to Kansas turned the Jayhawks into a Final Four contender over night. But he’s not the only new face who will make a major impact at KU. Joining Wiggins is Memphis transfer Tarik Black and the rest of the best freshman class outside of Kentucky.
Bill Self, Kansas (full
Coach on the hot seat:
Rick Barnes, Texas (full