Big 12 Basketball: Preview and Predictions for 2013-14 Season
Although you wouldn't know it from the offseason buzz, there are actually more than two players in Big 12 basketball for 2013-14. Yes, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart (at left) and Kansas' Andrew Wiggins are both leading candidates for All-America honors, but there's more going on in this league than those two stars and their two high-profile teams.
One of the most dangerous sleeper teams in the country is defending NIT champion Baylor. If the Bears can get any production at all out of a backcourt held together with duct tape, Isaiah Austin and a terrific bunch of forwards will be good enough to win plenty of games.
Read on for more on Scott Drew's squad and the rest of the Big 12's 10 teams, presented in order of projected finish. You'll also find predictions for some of the league's award winners (including Player of the Year), along with a pick for who will be crowned Big 12 tournament champ.
10. Texas Tech
Top Newcomers: Coach Tubby Smith
Key Losses: G Josh Gray
Outlook: Smith won't have nearly the caliber of athletes in Lubbock that he did last year at Minnesota, but he does have almost all of 2012-13's roster back.
Even with more experience, though, Jaye Crockett and the rest of a squad devoid of star power won't do much better than last year's 11-20 finish.
Top Newcomers: C Karviar Shepherd, F Aaron Durley, F Hudson Price
Key Losses: F Adrick McKinney, F Devonta Abron
Outlook: Freshmen Shepherd (a homegrown 4-star) and Price (son of former NBA All-Star Mark) will provide a badly needed infusion of talent.
Still, with PG Kyan Anderson the only returnee worth noticing, there aren't enough ballplayers here to carry the Horned Frogs too far out of the cellar.
Top Newcomers: C Ryan Spangler, F D.J. Bennett, G Jordan Woodard
Key Losses: C Romero Osby, G Steven Pledger, F Amath M'Baye, G Sam Grooms
Outlook: The trio of graduated seniors (plus NBA early-entrant M'Baye) took virtually all of the Sooners' offense with it.
Gonzaga transfer Spangler and sophomore guard Buddy Hield will be able to cobble together a few points, but without a top-tier defense, this offense won't score enough to keep OU relevant.
7. West Virginia
Top Newcomers: F Devin Williams, F Elijah Macon
Key Losses: F Deniz Kilicli, F Aaric Murray
Outlook: Star freshman Williams is a serious post scoring threat, raising the Mountaineers' total number of scorers to one.
Typical Bob Huggins defense will keep this team from being a complete train wreck, but until PG Juwan Staten gets more weapons to pass to, the Mountaineers will continue to play sub-.500 ball.
Top Newcomers: G Kendal Yancy-Harris
Key Losses: G Myck Kabongo, G Sheldon McClellan, F Julien Lewis
Outlook: Center Cameron Ridley and a physical frontcourt will get plenty of rebounds, but many will be on Texas' own missed free throws (no returning forward shot over 60 percent from the stripe).
With no outside shooters to speak of, the Longhorns' best source of offense may turn out to be second-chance points (and third-chance, and…).
5. Kansas State
Top Newcomers: G Marcus Foster, G Jevon Thomas
Key Losses: G Rodney McGruder, G Angel Rodriguez, C Jordan Henriquez
Outlook: Replacing the steady backcourt of McGruder and Rodriguez will be a major hurdle for a team that already struggled on offense when they were still here.
The combination of burly Thomas Gipson inside and jump-shooters Shane Southwell and Will Spradling outside has real possibilities, but the Wildcats don't have the individual playmakers to be much more than a bubble team.
4. Iowa State
Top Newcomers: G DeAndre Kane, G Matt Thomas
Key Losses: G Will Clyburn, G Tyrus McGee, G Korie Lucious
Outlook: Fred Hoiberg's transfer carousel keeps spinning with the explosive Kane, who arrives from Marshall to lead the Cyclones' high-octane offense (featuring scorers such as Georges Niang and top freshman Thomas).
The only interior muscle, though, comes from 6'6" Melvin Ejim (who will miss much of the non-conference schedule with a knee injury), and that fact will likely relegate ISU to another opening-weekend exit in March Madness.
Top Newcomers: F Ishmail Wainwright, G Kenny Chery, G Allerik Freeman
Key Losses: G Pierre Jackson, G A.J. Walton, G L.J. Rose
Outlook: The mass exodus at point guard leaves juco transfer Chery in a sink-or-swim situation, but he's got all sorts of help up front.
Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers are all outstanding rebounders with scoring punch, and freshman Wainwright will add ball-handling and more athleticism to the frontcourt.
2. Oklahoma State
Top Newcomers: C Gary Gaskins, G Stevie Clark
Key Losses: C Philip Jurick
Outlook: Regardless of what juco transfer Gaskins is able to do in place of the graduated Jurick, the Cowboys will again be a guard-driven team this season.
Versatile PG Marcus Smart is a Wooden Award favorite, and he's got a host of scorers around him (led by senior Markel Brown).
Top Newcomers: F Andrew Wiggins, G Wayne Selden, C Joel Embiid
Key Losses: G Ben McLemore, C Jeff Withey, G Elijah Johnson
Outlook: For a team replacing its entire starting five—indeed, for any team—Kansas is absolutely loaded.
Top-rated recruit Wiggins leads the best freshman class outside of Kentucky (including the physical Selden and the shot-swatting Embiid) while returnees Perry Ellis and Naadir Tharpe will provide the experience to make the Jayhawks Final Four contenders yet again.
Freshman of the Year: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
The best recruits in the Big 12 are pretty much all at Kansas this season, and the best of the lot is Andrew Wiggins.
Classmate Wayne Selden can score, and big Joel Embiid can play defense, but Wiggins can do pretty much everything at a high level.
The 6'7" SF is ranked No. 1 in the recruiting class (and widely projected as the No. 1 pick in next June's NBA draft) precisely because of his combination of a deep skill set and extraordinary athletic ability.
As the de facto heir to Ben McLemore as KU's top offensive option, he's a favorite for the conference scoring title, too.
Coach of the Year: Bill Self, Kansas
Although he faces an extreme case this year with all five starters gone, Bill Self has been replacing NBA draft picks every year since he arrived in Lawrence.
It's easy to forget that fact when he keeps his Jayhawks at the top of the standings year after year.
Andrew Wiggins is the kind of special talent who should ensure another conference crown for KU, even with a serious challenge waiting from superstar Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State.
This year's Jayhawks will be faster and higher-scoring than last year's, though whether they'll be able to transcend Self's rocky postseason history is another question.
Player of the Year: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Marcus Smart is the only player in the country who can reasonably state that he could've been a top-five NBA draft pick last summer.
Despite his obvious pro credentials, the 6'4", 225-pound dynamo is back on campus, and he's going to annihilate every other point guard in the Big 12.
Even in his first collegiate season, Smart turned in the country's most impressive all-purpose stat line: 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.0 steals per game.
Nobody in this conference can come within 10 yards of his talent at the PG spot, and even Andrew Wiggins (himself a prospective No. 1 draft pick) won't dominate in all phases of the game to the degree that Smart will.
Tournament Champion: Kansas
In all probability, the Big 12 title game will be a case study in individual vs. team basketball.
Oklahoma State has the most dominant player in the country in Marcus Smart, but Kansas has five very good starters (including a potential All-American of its own in Andrew Wiggins).
Smart is an impossible matchup for undersized Naadir Tharpe at the point, but the Cowboys have no way to slow down Perry Ellis and the Jayhawks' other low-post weapons.
Although Smart's already proven that he's capable of leading an upset of a terrific Kansas team on its home floor, the odds are still with the more balanced squad, and that's KU by a wide margin.