2014 Big 12 Predictions and College Basketball Betting Odds
by Robert Ferringo - 10/29/2014
Spoiler alert: Kansas is going to win the Big 12 again this year.
I'm not exactly going out on a limb with that college basketball prediction. The Jayhawks have won an astounding 10 straight Big 12 Championships and have dominated one of the premier college hoops conferences in the country. They are the definition of a powerhouse program, and it should be another banner year in Lawrence.
That is not to say that the rest of the Big 12 will roll over for KU. Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa State are all loaded with talent and will be Top 20 staples on the national scene. But Phog Allen Fieldhouse forbids anything except titles, and Kansas looks primed to produce yet again.
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Here is Doc's Sports 2014-15 Big 12 Conference college basketball predictions (with odds to win the conference title in parentheses):
The Favorite: Kansas (-250)
They Jayhawks head into this season without the buzz that accompanies the No. 1 recruit in the nation. Last year Andrew Wiggins was crowned one of the top players in the country before his first bounce. But the Jayhawks never seemed to live up to the hype that accompanied their overvalued freshman guard. Wiggins' numbers were good (17.1 points per game). And Kansas won another league title. So it must've been a great year, right? Not really. Their 10 losses were their most this century. And their 25 wins were Kansas' fewest in nearly a decade. I think that this year's team has the chance to be much better despite losing three starters and two of the top three picks in the NBA draft. They have another loaded recruiting class with two Top 5 recruits (Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre). And sophomore Wayne Selden is a guy that I think could have a major breakout. Add in underrated glue guy Perry Ellis and key transfer Hunter Mickelson, and the core of this team is as strong as what we saw in Lawrence last year. The only question is at point guard. Naadir Tharpe, the would-be starter, transferred. But his loss could be addition by subtraction since he had a tendency to get out of control. If Kansas can find someone to lead the offense then the rest of the pieces are in place for another Top 10 season and potential Final Four run.
The Challenger: Texas (+250)
At this time last year Rick Barnes was being given a cigarette and a last meal. But his young Texas team grew up quickly, and Barnes guided them to a brilliant 24-win season and an NCAA Tournament win. The Longhorns welcome back their top nine scorers from last season and add a Top 5 recruit this season so it is safe to say that the expectations have been raised quite a bit. The key to Texas is a powerful post that features rugged Jonathan Holmes and wide-bodied Cameron Ridley. They combined to average 24 points and 16 rebounds last season. Now they will welcome Myles Turner, a 6-foot-11 pro prospect that was rated the No. 2 prospect in the country. That size will give them a huge advantage over the undersized frontcourts that Big 12 contenders like Baylor, Iowa State and Oklahoma posses. Point guard Isaiah Taylor, shooter Javan Felix and spark plug Demarcus Holland all return in their starting roles in the backcourt as well. The bench is short on impact players. But if one or two guys emerge Texas will have a rock-solid eight-man rotation. The fact that the Longhorns can physically dominate most of the opponents on their schedule is why they are a Top 20 team. But if they want to be a Top 10 team or a true national title contender, we need to see them find that next level. Barnes is a master talent collector but a weak in-game strategist. Can he step his game up against the other top head coaches? Taylor and Felix have been good. But eventually Texas is going to run into a team that can match the Longhorns' frontcourt force. When that happens can either guard take over a game in the final four minutes? Those are the questions that will define the Longhorns' season.
The Dark Horse: Oklahoma (+650)
Lon Kruger continues to be one of the most underrated coaches in the country and in just two years has built this Sooners program back into the Big 12's top tier. Kruger's favorite skill for his players is versatility. At UNLV he loved to trot out one big man and then four other players between 6-4 and 6-7 that could handle the ball, shoot, slash to the basket and defend multiple positions. He doesn't quite have that in Norman yet. But junior wings Buddy Hield and Isaiah Cousins, both 6-4, are a nice start. Sophomore point guard Jordan Woodard needs to shrug off any type of second-year slip because he's really the only PG on the team. Gritty forward Ryan Spangler, who had 10 double-doubles last year, is the lone returning post player. And that's where things get dicey for the Sooners. They only have two guys on the roster taller than 6-8, and they are both freshmen. Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas is trying to get a waiver for immediate eligibility. He would have an enormous impact after three extremely efficient and effective years with the Cougars. If Thomas gets denied then I think it throws a cap on just what these Sooners can accomplish. They have a brutal nonconference schedule this year, so if I'm wrong we're going to find out rather quickly. But I'm not wrong.
The X-Factor: Iowa State (+500)
The Cyclones continue their conveyor belt of impact transfers and will again be relying on a host of mercenaries to fill out their roster. The Cyclones lost a pair of dominating wings in Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane. They'll try to replace them with Jameel McKay (JUCO), Bryce Dejean-Jones (UNLV) and Abdel Nader (Northern Illinois). Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg is one of the best in the business. And he's batting about 1.000 with transfers in recent years, so I have no reason to doubt him. But Ejim and Kane were legit and won't be easily replaced. Hoiberg will need the transfers to adjust quickly. But he'll be adding them to a very solid foundation. The sun around which everything orbits is do-it-all forward Georges Niang. Niang is one of the most talented and versatile players in the country and is a matchup nightmare. His foot injury undercut Iowa State's NCAA Tournament run last year. But he appears to be back healthy this year - he actually cut 30 pounds off his previously 240-pound frame - and Hoiberg's four-out, one-in, three-point heavy attack will run through Niang. Sophomore Monte Morris is back to run the point and needs to build on a solid freshman campaign. Wings Naz Long and Matt Thomas are long-range bombers that need to be even more aggressive this season. If one or two of the transfers can blossom into double-digit scorers, along with the returning players, then this Iowa State team should pick up where last year's left off. They play a unique style that's difficult to prepare for, and the Cyclones will once again rely on one of the best home-court advantages in the game. Mix it all together and it should be another entertaining season in Ames.
The Disappointment: Kansas State (+1000)
On the surface it looks like the transition from fiery Frank Martin to wily Bruce Weber has been a smooth one for the Wildcats. Weber has gone 47-21 in his first two years in Manhattan, and the Wildcats have made back-to-back tournaments under his watch. But K-State has bloated its record with absurdly weak nonconference schedules in both of those years (they had the No. 303 rated nonconference slate last year), and they were not nearly as good in 2014 as they were in Weber's first season, when he was working with Martin's players. The Wildcats have shifted from Martin's brutish, thuggish post-oriented game to Weber's perimeter-focused motion offense. But this year they are kind of caught in between with their personnel. Combo guard Marcus Foster was one of the best freshmen in the country last year (15.5 points per game). But now the Wildcats are banking everything on the fact that he won't regress at all. That's a bold gamble. The Wildcats still have some nice frontcourt pieces in Thomas Gipson, transfers Brandon Bolden and Stephen Hurt, and soph Wes Iwundu. But where is the guard talent? And how is this year's team better than the one that went 10-8 in league play and had nonconference losses to Northern Colorado (at home) and Charlotte? These odds suggest that K-State is at least a threat in the Big 12. They are not. They are a mediocre team that is one injury away from the NIT. They won't bottom out. But I'm not expecting much.
Baylor (+1200) - The Bears lost the pillars of one of the better frontcourts in the Midwest last year when Cory Jefferson graduated and Isaiah Austin was forced to retire due to a rare cardiac condition. Baylor also graduated super shooter Brady Heslip, and overall they lost 56 percent of their scoring and 43 percent of their rebounding from last year's squad. The Bears don't have anyone on the roster taller than 6-9 (and only three guys taller than 6-6), so they'll have to make a huge adjustment from a power-and-post team to one that relies on the backcourt and the wings. And they'll have to do it quickly. Scott Drew has some pieces. Royce O'Neal struggled in his Big 12 rookie season but has a nice all-around game. Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince are compliments. But if Baylor is going to stay relevant they'll need Kenny Cherry to be even better - and last year he was damn good - and they will need JUCO transfer Lester Medford to be as good as the last two JUCO's the Bears have welcomed in the backcourt: Cherry and Pierre Jackson. Anything less and Baylor will be fodder this year.
Oklahoma State (+1000) - Travis Ford's tenure at Ok. State has been marked by one underachievement after another. This year's team might be his final chance to make a stand. And that's not a good thing. Forward Le'Bryan Nash is the quintessential poster boy for the Ford regime. Nash entered Stillwater amidst supreme hype and was a potential one-and-done player. Three good-but-not-great seasons later and he's a senior linchpin for this year's team. Nash will be joined in the backcourt by excellent shooter Phil Forte and fearless LSU transfer Anthony Hickey. Forte can stroke it. Hickey isn't a great shooter, but he's just a money player that helped win me a lot of cash in his time at LSU. The problem is that Forte and Hickey are both 5-11. How are they supposed to matchup against their much larger counterparts in Kansas, Iowa State and Oklahoma? The Cowboys' have had a glaring weakness in the post the last few years. It is still there. Michael Cobbins' Achilles injury sunk last year's team. He has worked his way back, but the 4.5-point per game scorer is the best post player on the roster. That's not good. And there aren't a lot of other options to pair him with down low. This is a shaky team. They'll be good for an upset or two. But Ford just hasn't put it together in Stillwater, and this season doesn't offer a ton of promise.
West Virginia (+2000) - It's been an ugly few years for Bob Huggins in Morgantown. The Mountaineers haven't topped 20 wins in three years and are just 30-33 over the past two seasons. WVU actually overachieved last year thanks to the emergence of guards Eron Harris (17.2 PPG) and Terry Henderson (11.7 PPG). But they both transferred out, and now the 2014 season rests on the shoulders of diminutive senior point guard Juwan Staten. Staten is good. But he's not that good. Staten, underwhelming Gary Browne, and YMCA-bruiser Kevin Noreen are the only seniors on the roster. These guys are still just in over their head. I expect Staten to take a step back - he's not a natural shooter and will be the sole focus of opposing defenses - and my prediction is that by the end of the season Huggins' seat will be among the hottest in the country.
Texas Tech (+5000) - Tubby Smith had his first losing season in 23 years of coaching last year. Welcome to Lubbock. Smith is in Year 2 of a significant rebuilding job, and the Red Raiders are still one of the weaker programs in the league. I actually thought they overachieved last year while going 14-18, and their six league wins were their most in six years. But Smith lost three starters and four of his top five scorers from that group and is staring over from scratch. This year is going to be a baptism by fire for Smith's first real recruiting class. He's going to throw these guys into the flame and see who can play and who can't. But that also means things will get ugly, and Smith will continue his new "streak" of losing seasons.
TCU (+2500) - The Horned Frogs are a football school that also offers basketball. They were one of the worst hoops programs in the nation and a non-factor when they were in the Mountain West. So any hope of competing in the Big 12 was laughable at best and masochistic at worst. Naturally, the Horned Frogs are 2-34 in Big 12 games in their two years in the league, including an 0-18 mark last year. This will be the best of the three teams that Trent Johnson has fielded in Fort Worth. But there is a talent chasm that they need to bridge before we talk about these guys making any noise in this league. Senior guard Kyan Anderson is an undiscovered gem. But forward Amric Fields has nagging knee issues. And if he can't go this year it leaves a gaping whole in the frontcourt. A lot of pressure will be on transfers Trey Zeigler and Chris Washburn as well. And heading into the year there are a lot more questions than answers here.
Projected Big 12 Standings:
3. Iowa State
6. Kansas State
7. Oklahoma State
9. West Virginia
10. Texas Tech
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has an unmatched streak of six straight winning college basketball seasons. His $100-per-Unit clients banked $10,890 in profit with his sides and totals last year and he has raked in a remarkable $55,300 in the last eight years with his nonconference picks alone. There is no better moneymaker in the nation and Robert is looking forward to another amazing season. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here.
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