The Big 12 was easily the best conference in the country last season, sending seven of its 10 members to the NCAA Tournament and posting the No. 1 conference RPI for the third straight year.
But heartland hoops is undergoing a transplant this year. Eleven of the top 15 players from last year's All-Big 12 teams are gone. That includes three- and four-year starters like Perry Ellis, Georges Niang and Buddy Hield, to name a few.
Regardless of who is coming or going in the Big 12, one certainty remains: Kansas is going to win the league title. Kansas has won the Big 12 regular-season crown an amazing 12 straight seasons. They have been the best team in the best conference in the country for more than a decade - one of the most impressive streaks in all of sports. No one can stop this juggernaut. And the Jayhawks won't be stopped this year.
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Here are Doc's Sports 2016-17 Big 12 Conference college basketball predictions (with odds to win the conference title in parentheses):
The Favorite: Kansas (-250)
What's not to love? The Jayhawks lost a lot of talent, including a pair of veteran stalwarts in Perry Ellis and Wayne Selden. But they welcome back a pair of three-year starters in the backcourt, including one of the most fearless point guards in the country in senior Frank Mason. Devonte Graham and big man Landen Lucas are fellow returning starters. And what Kansas will lack in overall experience they will make up for with pure young talent. Freshman forward Josh Jackson was the No. 1 recruit in the country and a one-and-done player. Two other McDonald's All-Americans, Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot, give the Jayhawks one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. The key rotational player to watch will be swing guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk. He's one of the best shooters on a team that doesn't have a lot of pure strokes. Kansas has four of its top six scorers back from a 33-win team. They've won 25 or more games for 11 straight years. They have a load of talent and they are virtually a shoo-in to win the Big 12 yet again.
The Challenger: West Virginia (+250)
The Mountaineers were picked second in the media poll, and they finished in second place last year, so I suppose that makes them the top challenger. But Bob Huggins has to replace his two best players and three of his top six scorers. There are some talented juniors, namely Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles, ready to seize the reins. But while the Mountaineers will continue their abrasive, relentless full-court harassment, they won't be as strong or as stout in the post as they have been the past several seasons. WVU doesn't shoot or take care of the ball particularly well. I also don't know that they have a guy on the roster that can take over a game. This team is still going to be a brutally-tough opponent. But I think their ceiling is a lot lower than most people believe.
The Dark Horse: Iowa State (+800)
We can pretend - again - that Iowa State is a contender in the Big 12. (Bill Self, who can't vote for his own team, gave his preseason first-place vote to Iowa State.). But we all know the truth: the Cyclones will be both entertaining and maddening and they will never win anything of substance with their frenetic style of play. The Cyclones have one of the best and most experienced backcourts in the country. They have four guys with at least three years of starting experience handling the ball, including the back-from-injury Naz Long and potential NBA draft pick Monte Morris. But Iowa State doesn't have a single scholarship player that stands above 6-8. How the hell does that happen? Iowa State is going to be incredibly difficult to slow down and impossible to stop. But at some point they will need to defend the post and rebound. And a transfer (Darrell Bowie) and a freshman (Cam Lard) are the only bodies they have to do that. That's not going to be enough.
The X-Factor: Baylor (+800)
Scott Drew has built one of the most consistent programs in the Big 12. The Bears have won 22 or more games in five straight seasons. There have been a lot of talented players passing through Waco, including last year's graduates Taurean Prince and Rico Gathers. But Drew has consistently managed to restock the cupboard. John Motley could take a major step forward and has NBA potential. And transfer point guard Manu Lecomte (Miami) will be a much better floor general than departed Lester Medford ever was. This team's potential is completely dependent on how well Drew develops his young players. Baylor only has one senior, Ish Wainright, and he's more of a bit player. They don't have seniors but they also aren't relying on freshmen. So it is all about how well the guys in their second and third years in the program produce.
The Disappointment: Oklahoma (+500)
My first choice for disappointing Big 12 team was going to be Texas. But I did a double take once I saw these odds on the Sooners. This is ridiculous. Lon Kruger is a brilliant and underrated coach. But he lost a trio of three-year starting seniors from his team, including national player of the year Buddy Hield. There are nine freshmen and sophomores on this squad, and the lone junior expected to see much time is raw Khadeem Lattin. Lattin is a headliner on a lot of "Potential Breakout Players" lists. But, like this team, I think he's getting way too much love. Senior point guard Jordan Woodard is as steady as they come. But everything is going to be a lot harder for everyone in this program now that Hield and his 25 points per game are gone.
Texas (+800) - I think there is an assumption that just because Shaka Smart and his Havoc approach was so dynamic and successful at VCU, Smart is bound to transfer that level of prosperity over to Texas. But just look at the two VCU coaches before Smart: Jeff Capel and Anthony Grant. Both moved on to major programs (Oklahoma and Alabama, respectively) and eventually flopped. I'm not saying the same fate awaits Smart, whose energy is infectious. But I am saying that the Longhorns aren't going to be as good as people think overnight. Texas's young guards - Eric Davis, Tevin Mack and Kerwin Roach - showed brief flashes of brilliance. But they have a long way to go. As will freshman All-American Jarrett Allen. Texas is going to be erratic this season. And has potential for next year. But I think people are overvaluing this program and expect too much too quickly.
Oklahoma State (+1800) - The Cowboys finally cut the cord with underachieving Travis Ford. New coach Bad Underwood parlayed his success at Stephen F. Austin (89-14 mark in three years) into this gig. And I think that he can step in and have some success with this group. Oklahoma State has two of the best guards in the conference in Phil Forte and Jawun Evans. They are really small if they play both at the same time. But the pair could combine for 30 points per game this season. The Cowboys' major issue is that they lack size. No one on the roster is taller than 6-9, which is ridiculous. OSU is going to get blasted in the post. But they will try to make up for it with a variety of athletic wings like Tavarius Shine, Leyton Hammonds and Jeff Carroll. The Cowboys are too small to be a threat to win the Big 12. But they will be much better - albeit with all the same guys - than the team that went just 3-15 in league play last year.
Kansas State (+5000) - Bruce Weber coached a team that improved its win total for just the second time in seven years. And if he can't get the Wildcats back to the NCAA Tournament sooner rather than later he will likely find himself relegated back to coaching mid-major basketball. Weber is in the second season of a significant rebuild in Manhattan. Nine of the 12 players on this year's roster are freshmen or sophomores. Weber wouldn't be in such a predicament if he didn't squander the talent he inherited when he took over this job. But K-State does have 70 percent of their scoring, rebounding, assists and minutes played back this season. They also have a stacked frontcourt in a league with a dearth of proven big men. This team is improving and should be solid out of the gate. And if Weber can keep the core together they should be ready to make a move next season.
Texas Tech (+3000) - Tubby Smith rebuilt this sagging Texas Tech program. But then he bolted for Memphis this offseason, leaving behind a pretty full cupboard for new coach Chris Beard. The last time we saw Beard, his Arkansas-Little Rock club was pulling a massive upset over Purdue in The Big Dance. Now he will guide an upperclassmen-laden team in the toughest league in the country. The Red Raiders lost their two best guards, including underrated Toddrick Gotcher. They will need to replace Gotcher's attitude as much as his production. And I think a key player to watch for this team is lightning-quick transfer Shadell Millinghaus, formerly of Southern Miss. He should pair with returning point guard Keenan Evans to give the Red Raiders a decent starting backcourt, though depth is a major issue. Depth in the post is not a problem - size is. Texas Tech doesn't have any regulars taller than 6-9, and they have only two players on the roster taller than 6-8.
TCU (+10000) - I said in my preview last season that 2015 would likely be a step backward before a potential step forward for the Horned Frogs this year. The first half of my prediction was right as TCU slid to just 12-21 one season after posting just their third winning record in 13 years. And if they are going to fulfill the second half of my premonition, it will be with new head coach Jamie Dixon leading the way. Dixon will have plenty of experience to work with as TCU has four of five starters back, including a trio of three-year starters. For the first time in years it looks like TCU will be able to field a team full of Big 12-caliber athletes. Chris Washburn (6-8), Karviar Shepherd (6-11) and Vladimir Brodziansky (6-11) give the Frogs a solid post presence. So the key for this group will be how its guards develop. Malique Trent broke out to average 11.6 points per game last year. And Texas A&M transfer Alex Robinson and freshman Jaylen Fisher gives Dixon some hope. But they still need one player to step forward and prove himself as a go-to guy.
Projected Big 12 Standings
2. Iowa State
3. West Virginia
5. Kansas State
7. Oklahoma State
8. 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 10 straight winning nonconference seasons and 10 straight winning regular seasons. Robert's $100-per-Unit clients have banked $16,800 last year alone and $28,900 over the past three seasons. Robert has raked in a remarkable $68,200 in the last 10 years with his nonconference picks (November and December) 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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