LWOS continues its coverage of the upcoming college basketball season with its 2021-22 Big 12 Basketball Preview. The Big 12 is one of the most fundamentally sound conferences in all of college basketball. Last year, seven of its ten teams made the NCAA Tournament; Baylor also won the whole thing by beating an amazing Gonzaga team. One could even argue that Kansas would have won the 2020 Tournament if COVID hadn’t impacted the entire world. This year, the conference is looking to recreate its magic from the previous years. It can definitely do that with a variety of amazing teams and players.
2021-22 Big 12 Basketball Preview
10: Iowa State Cyclones
T.J. Otzelberger inherits a team that was truly awful under Steve Prohm in the 2020-21 season. The Cyclones’ only two wins were against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Jackson State. They went 0-18 in the conference last year. They also lost their two best players in Coleman-Lands and Bolton. To replace Prohm, Iowa State hired a former assistant in Otzelberger. He’s an interesting hire because of his one bizarre year at UNLV. UNLV won its last 5 games to finish second in the Mountain West, so will the Cyclones be able to recreate some of his magic? He plans on recreating this magic by using his defense and rebounding to create offense for his team. Kalshceur and Brockington seem to be able to help the Cyclones become a defensively minded team. Jones, Conditt, and Foster give Iowa State a decent amount of big men;
Furthermore, the Cyclones have two promising players in Enaruna and Hunter. Enaruna never had time to showcase his talent at Kansas; however, he is looking to become a great player for Iowa State. He is a versatile player, so Otzelberger has many ways to use him. Hunter could help the Cyclones be not in last place. Losing Bolton definitely hurts the Cyclones, but Hunter seems destined to help them. He was a top ten point guard prospect in the country. For some odd reason, he committed to an awful team. However, he is a very talented player for the Cyclones. According to Otzelberger, Hunter has been an amazing defender and playmaker. He could give the Cyclones some life in a gloomy season; he fits perfectly into the Cyclones’ fast style of play.
The Cyclones may not be a great team this year, but they could be a fun team to watch with Hunter, Enaruna, and a decent supporting cast.
9: Kansas State Wildcats
Bruce Weber and the Wildcats are undergoing a rebuild in Manhattan. A team that was once great has fallen apart. Many fans are wanting Weber fired. Now is his chance to prove that he can rebuild a program. Pack seems destined to help Weber reach this goal. He shot 42% from 3 and can attack defenders with his drives when they try to contest the three. Expect Nowell to get playing time as Pack’s backup because Nowell is a proven scoring threat; however, he has issues with team basketball and decision making, something that can plague a rebuilding team. He can get the Wildcats points, but at what cost? McGuirl is the heart of this Wildcats team, and he paired nicely with Pack last year.
While the Wildcats may have been awful, they did challenge Baylor in the Big 12 Tournament last year due to Weber’s secret lineup. Weber ran a lineup with Pack, McGuirl, Miguel, Luke Kasubke, and Bradford. This lineup caused a major improvement in the defense as Kansas State ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency in the last six games. Will that lineup be able to recreate the success of last season? Smith helps add even more defense to the Wildcats, giving Weber a true small ball defensive machine. Massoud has earned rave reviews from Weber over the offseason, so expect him to be a crucial player for the Wildcats this year. He can shoot and has length, something Weber should be able to utilize. The team looks promising, but the Wildcats are too young to make an impact this year.
8: TCU Horned Frogs
Key Newcomers: Shahada Wells (UT-Arlington), Maxwell Evans (Vanderbilt), Emanuel Miller (Texas A&M), Souleymane Doumbia (JUCO), Micah Peavy (Texas Tech), Xavier Cork (Western Carolina), JaKobe Coles (Butler), Damion Baugh (Memphis)
Jamie Dixon decided to revamp his roster with tons of transfers, getting eight transfers who could make an impact for the Horned Frogs. Miles should be a breakout candidate for TCU as he was excellent for the US in the U19 World Cup. He no longer has to share a backcourt with Nembhard, and Dixon made sure to surround him with quality transfers. Coles never was able to fully showcase his talents at Butler as a knee injury took him out of action; however, he seems to have potential. Miller could be absolutely dangerous for the Aggies of Texas A&M, averaging 23 and 11 in his last 3 games during March. He will be a nice compliment to Miles. Peavy or Baugh could emerge as top talents as they never fully got the opportunity with their previous teams.
Doumbia is a JUCO center who set Navarro College’s record for most blocks with 82. He should be a menace in the paint, and a menace on offense because he runs the floor with ease. He should be an immediate starter for this team. If O’Bannon gets relegated to the bench, it adds depth to the Horned Frogs. He was great from three and lockdown on defense. To have that on the bench is frightening. TCU has the talent to be a good team, but recently, the Horned Frogs seem to be stuck in that eighth spot. Are they better than Iowa State? Yes. Are they better than Kansas State? Yes. Are they better than the seventh-best team? That’s to be determined. Maybe TCU’s time is coming sooner than most think, but for now, TCU will find itself at the bottom of the conference.
7: Oklahoma Sooners
Porter Moser seems to be the perfect hire for the Sooners. He created a consistent winning culture at Loyola Chicago and looks to bring that same culture to Oklahoma. He’ll have to do it without the Sooners’ three best players, but he has a good foundation to start. The Sooners will play great man-to-man defense with a precision offense, meaning it’s the exact same style of play the Sooners had under Lon Kruger. Gibson, Harkless, and Hill are the three most important players remaining from the Kruger era. Gibson is the shooter, Harkless is the defender, and Hill is a nightmare if given a mismatch. All three bring unique talents, and it’ll be up to Moser to use those talents. All three can play defense, and when coupled with Goldwire, an amazing defender from Duke, it’ll be difficult to score on the Sooners.
It’ll be difficult for Moser to replicate the scoring of Harmon and Reaves; however, Moser has unlocked his secret weapon, Tanner Groves. During his game against Kansas in March Madness, Groves erupted for 35 points against the Jayhawks, dominating them from three and in the paint. If Moser can unlock his full offensive potential, the Big 12 could be in serious trouble. His brother, Jacob Groves, had 23 points against the Jayhawks and could be a serious wing threat off the bench. Johnson could be used to exploit mismatches, and some Oklahoma analysts believe he could find himself in the starting lineup by the time conference play happens. Chargois and Mawein should provide depth at the four and five as both are scoring threats from all over the court and can play defense. Mawein could especially be lethal. He’s 6’9″ but moves like a guard. He could be an X-factor.
Oklahoma is seventh simply because there are too many questions that are unanswered at the moment. It’ll take a while for the team to adapt to Moser’s style of play. That little learning curve could hurt the Sooners early on in the season. However, this is a very good team that should give Moser an appearance in the 2022 NCAA Tournament. Don’t sleep on the Sooners. They’re a team that can surprise many.
6: West Virginia Mountaineers
Bob Huggins always adapts to a playstyle that best suits his current team. West Virginia used to be known for its physical and toughness, but Huggins crafted a playstyle that was more perimeter-based after Oscar Tshiebwe left the team ten games into the season. This allowed for McBride, McNeil, and Sherman to thrive for the Mountaineers. Sherman shot 36% from three last year while McNeil shot 38% from three. Those two should be trouble for teams. McBride left for the NBA, but Huggins added Curry, who is similar to McBride. He plays with intensity on both sides of the floor, and he also has the ability to score the ball alongside Sherman and McNeil. When given a bigger supporting cast, who knows what will happen.
Huggins has stated that he will play a four-out, one-in offense, meaning Bridges and Osabuohien will have to be key factors for the Mountaineers. Bridges can shoot and defend multiple positions, but he will be given a bigger role on the offense. Will he step up to the occasion? Osabuohien should be able to terrorize defenses as he can guard any position, something that is scary from a player who is only 6’7″. Paulicap and Carrigan will be used as the muscle, setting screens and grabbing rebounds. They will also be expected to make opposing guards miserable with their tenacious defense. West Virginia should be a tournament team. There are just too many question marks surrounding this team at the moment to say that the Mountaineers can be higher than six.
Despite this low ranking, don’t count Bob Huggins out of the Big 12. He always finds a way to make West Virginia a scary team.
5: Oklahoma State Cowboys
Critical Losses: Cade Cunningham
Coming in at 25th in LWOS’ Preseason Rankings, Michael Boynton’s crew returns almost all the key players that guided the Cowboys to a 4th seed in the NCAA Tournament. The only person missing is Big 12 Player of the Year Cunningham. Replacing a guy who was the top pick in the NBA Draft is a difficult challenge; however, Boynton has the experience to recreate some of the magic. When Cunningham was out for three games with an injury, the Cowboys defeated West Virginia at West Virginia, played Baylor closely for 30 minutes until Baylor decided to dominate, and blew out Iowa State by 20. Simply put, this team has plenty of talent. Boone is a skilled big man who is smooth down low, and he should only get better with more development. Adding Cisse gives the Cowboys two elite defenders in the paint.
Cisse may be offensively challenged, but he is a monster when it comes to blocking shots. If that pairing fails because having both Cisse and Boone clogs up the paint, Moncrieffe should be the power forward. He is explosive and can dominate in transition. It is just a matter of him discovering a jumpshot. Similar to Boone, he should be able to improve. If he can develop his game, it’s a scary combination. Likekele, Anderson, Walker, and Williams all were good perimeter defenders and can all be viable scoring options. They all will need to improve their shooting in order to be seen as serious threats. If not, defenders will just clog the paint and deny them from getting to the rim. Watch out for Bryce Thompson as well. He never truly got to showcase his talent at Kansas and could make a statement.
The Cowboys will be slept on throughout the whole season, only adding to their ambition to make a statement in the Big 12. If this team can improve from last year, it’ll be difficult to play them. Time will only tell if this team is legit. Is Oklahoma State a top 25 team, or is everyone overestimating the Cowboys because they think that they still have Cade Cunningham?
#4: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Key Newcomers: Davion Warren (Hampton), Bryson Williams (UTEP), Kevin Obanor (Oral Roberts), Sardaar Calhoun (Florida State), Mylik Wilson (Louisiana), Adonis Arms (Winthrop), Daniel Batcho (Arizona), KJ Allen (JUCO)
Chris Beard is no easy coach to replace because he was excellent for Texas Tech. However, Texas Tech hired close to home, landing Texas Tech assistant coach Mark Adams. The good news is that the amazing defense that propelled the Red Raiders to superstardom remains the same. This means Texas Tech should be fantastic on that aspect of the court. However, the offense will be switched from Beard’s methodical offense to Adams’ high-tempo offense. Adams himself admitted that it should take a decent amount of time to adjust to the revamped offense, meaning Texas Tech may hit a roadblock early in the season. Tech does retain three very good players in Shannon, McCullar, and Santos-Silva, who should help ease the struggle that this team may have. Shannon and McCullar are great wing players, and Santos-Silva is a good center for any team.
After those three, the team added players that fit perfectly into this high octane offense. Wilson can play defense, and if given enough spacing, he should be able to attack the rim. Obanor dominated in Oral Roberts’ spread offense and can be an amazing stretch forward in a pick-and-pop offense. Arms and Williams can dominate in the post while Calhoun and Warren are better wing players. All four should do well for the Red Raiders. There should be roughly ten guys who could be logging serious minutes for Texas Tech. Adams has a team with great depth, but it might be difficult for the Red Raiders to adjust at first. However, this team will definitely contend for the Big 12 title by the end of the season.
#3: Baylor Bears
*Langston Love tore his ACL during a scrimmage and will be out for the whole year; however, his talents will be discussed in this section. He’s a fantastic scorer and if given time to develop, he can be as lethal as Teague or Butler. It’s unfortunate that he won’t get this year to get a feel for college.
One could say that Scott Drew would have two national championships had the COVID-19 Pandemic not have hit. While his team may not be as talented as last year’s team, this version of the Baylor Bears is loaded with fantastic players. The looming question is how Drew replaces Butler, Teague, and Mitchell as the three players were the heart and soul of this Baylor team. Replacing the defense of Mitchell and the scoring of Teague and Butler will be a challenge, but James Akinjo looks to recreate some of the scoring. It’ll be difficult, but he took over for the Wildcats last year and shot 44% from 3. He can help the Bears score even more if he can improve his scoring from midrange. Akinjo will be joined by Flagler. Flagler shot 43% from three, meaning Baylor has two guards that shot over 40% from three.
Cryer could break out because he is an electric scorer but was overshadowed by Teague and Butler. Expect him to be the first man off the bench, and expect him to give the Bears a great bench scoring option. Brown is an athletic wing player for Drew to use in what seems to be a fast-paced Baylor offense. Expect Akinjo to throw Brown plenty of lobs, creating highlight plays for the Bears. JTT (the name is too long to type out) and Thamba should terrorize opposing teams in the paint. Expect a lot of balls to be blocked when those two are on the court. Mayer is the real X-Factor for this team. Mayer and his sweet 1980s mullet are here to elevate the Bears to superstardom. Don’t let the numbers fool you. Mayer has an incredible motor, is a legitimate pick-and-pop threat, and is a defensive menace.
If he plays to his true potential, the Bears are a serious threat in the Big 12. Right now, the Bears are a threat, but they have some questions about the backcourt to answer before being able to challenge the #1 team in the Big 12. However, this team is insanely deep, and once this team works out any potential issues, the Baylor Bears will be a team that can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
#2: Texas Longhorns
Texas somehow got one of the best coaches in college basketball, hiring Chris Beard from Texas Tech. Beard is a fantastic coach and is the leader of a Texas team filled with tons of established talent. The only player who hasn’t had some form of college basketball experience is Tyson. A backcourt of Ramey and Jones would have been enough to make Texas a contender in the Big 12, but Beard nabbed Carr, one of the best scorers in college basketball, from the transfer portal. Those three form a fantastic backcourt for the Longhorns, and Ramey should be able to shoot the ball from three more because Carr will be handling the ball. Ramey is a 37% three-point shooter, and the one glaring issue for Texas is a lack of shooting. With Ramey not handling the ball, expect him to get more shooting opportunities.
Jones is also a 35% three-point shooter, and if he can get back to his 2019-2020 shooting percentage, 38%, it gives the Longhorns even more scoring. For the frontcourt, Beard replaced Jones, Sims, and Brown with Disu, Mitchell, Bishop, and Allen. Disu is a skilled three-point shooter and likes to utilize the pick-and-pop. If a team tries to defend that, he will have no problem rolling to the rim and scoring. He gives Texas even more shooting. Mitchell could make himself a household name with Texas as his role at UMass made him a mid-major phenomenon. He is starting to shoot from outside of the paint, but he is not afraid to terrorize in the paint. Bishop is a great defender and can be used in attacking the basket. He seems perfect for Beard. Finally, Allen is a fantastic defender and his versatility gives Beard plenty of options.
The great thing about this frontcourt is that any of those four guys could realistically start for the Longhorns. However, most predictions have Disu and Mitchell slated to start, but Longhorn fans should not be disappointed with whatever combination Beard put together. Like other teams in the Big 12, Beard has hinted at some offense struggles early on as the new Longhorns adapt to Beard’s offense. For the time being, Beard will rely on team defense to carry his team, and with the talent he has added, that dream seems like reality. By March rolls around the corner, Texas should be a scary team to face. Texas fans have high expectations for this year; the Longhorns can’t disappoint their fans this year.
#1: Kansas Jayhawks
Critical Losses: Marcus Garrett
Bill Self and the Jayhawks were able to avoid the problems that seemed to plague Duke and Kentucky, but they still disappointed in March Madness, getting thrashed by USC in the second round. Garrett was given the keys to the offense, but he never was comfortable in that position. Self now finds himself with two elite point guards that he got from the transfer portal in Martin and Yesufu. Both were the main source of ballhandling at their old teams, but they both have many skills that Self hopes to utilize similar to how he has used other two-guard systems in the past. Yesufu and Martin will relentlessly attack the paint, but they are both able to create offense off of the dribble. These drives should benefit Agbaji and Braun, both fantastic shooters who can also attack the paint.
Agbaji saw an increase in his three-point percentage, and if he gets more opportunities because of his driving, he could reach over 40%. Wilson finds so many ways to score the ball, and with improved spacing, he should see an uptick in scoring. McCormack benefits the most from this change in point guard. Kansas used him as a post-up threat, but with Garrett’s hesitancy to shoot the basketball, teams would clog the lane and make it impossible for McCormack to score. Now with much more respected shooters, McCormack should be able to dominate in the post or in the pick-and-roll. He also found his role as a passer in the paint, meaning Kansas should have improved ball movement. By the end of the season, he was a scary player.
It will be hard to replace the defense of Garrett, but Kansas will find a way to make it work with all the talent they have. There is so much depth and talent on this team that it will make Kansas a contender in the NCAA Tournament. This team has playmaking, scoring, and experience, all necessary tools to make it deep in the tournament. However, Kansas should be careful. There are a lot of hungry teams waiting to make a statement in the conference. Now is not the time for the Jayhawks to get too confident.
Player of the Year: David McCormack
McCormack saw a massive improvement in all aspects of his game last year, and that was with a stagnant offense. If the offense for Kansas lives up to its potential, McCormack should have more options to score, rebound, and distribute the ball. By the end of the season, he was dominating opposing Big 12 teams, so it should be expected that he does the same this year. However, don’t be shocked to see Marcus Carr from Texas steal this award because Beard will give Carr, a proven scorer, the keys to the offense. He could absolutely dominate for the Longhorns.
Freshman of the Year: Tyrese Hunter
Yes, Hunter’s team projects to be dead last in the conference. Yes, Kendall Brown exists. However, Brown will be overshadowed by other talents on Baylor such as James Akinjo, Matthew Mayer, and Adam Flagler. In Iowa State, Hunter will lead Iowa State’s offense and not have much competition for scoring. In a conference that lacks new freshman, Hunter can definitely make himself a popular name in college basketball; however, Iowa State could be absolutely dreadful. Brown could catch lobs and be a threat in transition and win this award. It all depends on how Iowa State performs.
Coach of the Year: Scott Drew
This award is between Drew, Chris Beard, and Bill Self. Beard and Self will lead their respective teams to expectations. If Drew can elevate Baylor past Texas and contend with Kansas for the top spot, he is a lock for Coach of the Year. Baylor has the talent, and everyone knows that Drew is a fantastic coach. Don’t be shocked if Self or Beard wins the award, but Drew seems to be a pretty good pick. A dark horse pick is Mark Adams from Texas Tech. Tech is sneaky good, and if it can reach the top three, Adams could win the award.
All-Big 12 First Team: Marcus Carr, Ochai Agbaji, Mike Miles, Matthew Mayer, David McCormack
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