2019 Big 12 Predictions: Kansas Should Regain Control of League
The Big 12 is the best college basketball conference in the country. Period.
That's not just my opinion. According to advanced metrics, the league has rated as No. 1 in the sport for six years running. The Big 12 has put seven teams into the Big Dance four of the past six seasons and last year produced the preseason No. 1 (Kansas) and the national runner-up (Texas Tech).
When I look at the Big 12 this year, I don't see it being able to match last year's depth and ability. But then again, I thought that last year as well.
The Jayhawks should be the lead story in the Big 12 this season, on the court and off. Last year they had one of the most incredible streaks in sports snapped when they failed to win their 15th straight regular season title. Heading into this year, they are the clear favorites to start a new streak, given the attrition that has racked the league.
Here are Doc's Sports 2019-20 Big 12 Conference college basketball predictions:
The Favorite: Kansas
There is odd karma floating around The Phog. For the first time in 15 years they don't head into the regular season as the defending Big 12 champs . They also enter the season under the shroud of an NCAA investigation into major recruiting violations. There have been all kinds of off-court distractions the past three months, and the Jayhawks are trying to recover from last year's late-season collapse: going 16-10 in their last 26 games, failing to win the league regular-season or tournament titles, and then failing to make it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. A healthy bounce-back season from Udoka Azubuike would make a major difference. Stud sophomore Devon Dotson is Kansas' next made-for-the-NBA guard. Beyond that, there are a lot of unknowns. Bill Self is going to figure it out, though. As it's easy to answer questions when you're doing it with a roster full of five-star talent.
The Challenger: Baylor
I easily could've selected Baylor as a potential disappointment team in the Big 12 this year. They overachieved last year to finish fourth in the league and nab an NCAA Tournament bid. Do-everything guard Makai Mason graduated. And Mario Kegler's decision to leave the team this fall is a major blow to their title hopes. Despite that, seven of last year's top 10 players are back, including anchor Tristan Clark in the post. Scott Drew is one of the most underrated coaches in college basketball. He constantly squeezes more out of his Baylor teams than their talent suggests. I don't know why this year would be any different.
The Dark Horse: Texas
If Scott Drew is one of the nation's most underrated coaches, Shaka Smart is one of the most overrated. Smart is just five games over .500 in four years in Austin, making just two NCAA Tournament fields and failing to win a game in either. So take the Longhorns' spot here with a grain of salt. Smart has plenty of potential this season, especially in the backcourt. If guard Andrew Jones can make a full return from leukemia - and early accounts suggest he looks great - then that won't just be one of the best stories in college hoops this year, it will make Texas a factor in the league race. He will pair with Matt Coleman, Jase Febres and Courtney Ramey to give the Horns a backcourt that can play with anyone. If a frontcourt producer (or two) step forward, then these guys are in business.
The X-Factor: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys have no shot at winning the Big 12. However, if you are looking for a potential ATS moneymaker, then look no further. All five starters are back from last year's squad, including a trio of senior starters. The Cowboys were a Top 50 3-point shooting team last year and added the A-10's top 3-point shooter, grad transfer Jonathan Laurent. What OSU lacks in size and athleticism, they make up for with experience and scrappiness. They will be good for a couple of upsets and should play a role in this year's race.
The Disappointment: Texas Tech
I know it is tough to bet against Chris Beard, who has proven himself a master at reloading immediately in the face of massive personnel changes. However, I refuse to believe that he can lose more than 80 percent of his scoring and rebounding for the second year in a row and still field a Top 20 team. Davide Moretti is the only starter back from last year's Final Four team. Transfers Chris Clarke and T.J. Holyfield bring some pop, and Tech's recruiting class was one of the best in the league. But I think that it will take a while for this group to gel. And they won't be able to replicate the chemistry and intangibles of last year's squad.
West Virginia - Last season was an absolute nightmare for Bob Huggins. And you can imagine how well he handled just his third losing season in 37 years of coaching. Huggins has four starters back from last year's team. Three of those starters were freshmen last year, so you should expect improvement. Huggins also added some JUCO transfers and a Top 100 frosh, Oscar Tshiebwe. I know I won't be in a hurry to bet against a rebound season from Huggy Bear.
Kansas State - The Wildcats won a share of the Big 12 regular-season title last year and made the school's third-straight NCAA Tournament. They also bid adieu to a stellar senior class as Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade moved on. It will be impossible to replicate their experience. Xavier Sneed, a three-year starter, and Cartier Diarra, will take over the leadership role. Expect a step back from this squad.
Oklahoma - There has been a significant amount of turnover in Norman over the past 20 months. Five key pieces from last year's squad have moved on, and this year's group is short on both depth and experience. Larry Bird-clone (in appearance, not ability) Brady Manek will work in the post with forward Kristian Doolittle to give the Sooners a nice one-two punch. Guard Jamal Bieniemy and transfer Austin Reaves are decent pieces. But beyond that is nothing but question marks. The ceiling for this group is pretty low.
Iowa State - I don't know if any team in the Big 12 lost as much talent as Iowa State. Their three top scorers, and five of their top seven, are gone. Coach Steve Prohm will lean on Tyrese Haliburton and Michael Jacobson to ease the transition. But I don't see any way that the Cyclones don't take a significant step back this year. Prohm will continue to play Iowa State's trademark wide-open offensive game. However, this year's roster has less firepower than the past few squads to come out of Ames, and I think the Cyclones will be a disappointment this season.
TCU - The Horned Frogs were one of the last teams left out of the NCAA Tournament last year. They will be hard-pressed to avoid that same fate this year, though. Look, Jamie Dixon has done the impossible in making TCU a relevant and successful basketball program. They have more 20-win seasons in the last three seasons (three) than in the previous 15 years combined (two). They lost more than they gained this offseason, and this is a clear rebuilding year.
Projected Big 12 Standings
4. Oklahoma State
5. West Virginia
6. Texas Tech
8. Iowa State
9. Kansas State
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 unrivaled run of 12 of 13 winning nonconference seasons. Robert's $100-per-Unit clients have banked a remarkable $63,050 in the last 13 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.
Get all of this Weeks College Basketball Picks
Get all of this Weeks guaranteed Expert College Basketball Picks