Predicting the 2014-15 Big 12 College Basketball Standings

Kerry MillerCollege Basketball National AnalystJune 13, 2014

Predicting the 2014-15 Big 12 College Basketball Standings

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    The Big 12 emerged as arguably the best college basketball conference for the 2013-14 season and is this week's major conference in our summer series of predicted standings.

    Last week, we ranked the ACC from top to bottom, and now we're listing out the Big 12 from No. 1 through No. 10 to determine which team(s) might actually have a shot at putting an end to Kansas' decade-long reign on the throne.

    In ranking the teams, we looked at outgoing seniors, incoming freshmen, D-I transfers, JUCO transfers, redshirts and projected starting fives. For better or worse, no stone was left unturned.

    While Texas is the sexy pick to contend for first place, the other three schools from the Lone Star State figure to be in the bottom half of the standings.

    Could the team to finally bypass the Jayhawks actually be their in-state rivals? What about Iowa State? And where does Oklahoma fall in that hierarchy?

    It should be another fun season in the Big 12 with at least 50 percent of the conference represented in the NCAA tournament once again.

    We look forward to your civilized disagreements about the order in which these teams will finish.

10. Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    2013-14 Record: 14-18 (6-12 in conference)

    Key Players Leaving: Jaye Crockett, Dejan Kravic, Jamal Williams, Kader Tapsoba, Dusty Hannahs, Jordan Tolbert

    Key Incoming Players: Devaugntah Williams, Justin Jamison

    Projected Starting Five: Robert Turner, Randy Onwuasor, Toddrick Gotcher, Jamison, Aaron Ross

     

    Texas Tech has a winning percentage of 36.5 over the past four seasons, and things don't seem to be getting better any time soon.

    Of the Red Raiders' five leading scorers from last year, two have graduated, and another two have transferred. And it's not as if this was a high-scoring team to begin with.

    If there's a glimmer of hope for Texas Tech, it's coming from Missouri State-West Plainsthe JUCO school from which both key incoming players are arriving.

    Jamison, in particular, will be crucial. He had offers from several other major-conference programs before electing to join Tubby Smith and company in Lubbock. Given the other options on the roster, it seems likely that Jamison will be a starter from the beginning of the season.

    He and Ross (pictured above) will have their hands full with trying to defend the paint in this conference.

9. Texas Christian Horned Frogs

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    2013-14 Record: 9-22 (0-18 in conference)

    Key Players Leaving: Jarvis Ray

    Key Incoming Players: Trey Zeigler

    Projected Starting Five: Kyan Anderson, Zeigler, Brandon Parrish, Amric Fields, Karviar Shepherd

     

    Putting TCU anywhere other than last place is probably the biggest leap of faith we'll make all summer.

    Since joining the Big 12 two years ago, the Horned Frogs have a conference record of 2-34. Not only were they 0-18 last season, but they lost 14 of those games by double digits and never finished within four points of a conference foe.

    But Zeigler might give TCU just enough firepower to finish ahead of Texas Tech.

    Zeigler was certainly nothing special two years ago for Pittsburgh, but he was never given much of a chance to get into a groove. We need to look back at his days at Central Michigan to get a feel for what he can bring to the table.

    During those two seasons playing under his dad for the Chippewas, Zeigler averaged 16 points and six rebounds per game. He doesn't have a great three-point stroke by any means, but the 6'5" guard is a solid finisher at and around the rim.

    He should quickly become a more valuable asset than the departing Ray. Partnering him with Anderson, Fields and Shepherd will make the Horned Frogs a more difficult team to beat.

8. Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    2013-14 Record: 21-13 (8-10 in conference)

    Key Players Leaving: Marcus Smart, Markel Brown, Stevie Clark, Kamari Murphy, Brian Williams

    Key Incoming Players: Jeff Newberry, Joe Burton

    Projected Starting Five: Newberry, Phil Forte III, Burton, Le'Bryan Nash, Michael Cobbins

     

    To say that Oklahoma State's 2013-14 season didn't go according to plan would be an understatement of epic proportions. The Cowboys will have a chance to start over anew, as just about everyone associated with that train wreck of a year is gone.

    Nash and Forte are unquestionably the most important returning players.

    Not only did Forte make 100 three-pointers last season, but he is the only returning player who made more than eight triples. He is to Oklahoma State what Trevor Cooney is to Syracuse.

    Inside the arc, Nash will desperately need to step up his rebounding game this season. Save for Clark, each of the key players leaving was an important presence on the glass. Murphy averaged 9.7 rebounds per 40 minutes. Smart grabbed 7.2 and Brown hauled in 6.0.

    Even if Cobbins is fully recovered from the Achilles injury that prematurely ended his season, Nash will have a lot of work to do in the paint for an undersized team.

    But we already have a good idea of what Forte and Nash are capable of doing. The real key to Oklahoma State's success (or lack thereof) will be the play of Newberry and Burton. If the new guys come in and effortlessly replace Smart and Brown, the Cowboys will be in great shape.

    That would appear to be a pretty lofty expectation, though, as Smart was one of the better players in the country, and Brown wasn't all that far behind him.

7. West Virginia Mountaineers

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    2013-14 Record: 17-16 (9-9 in conference)

    Key Players Leaving: Eron Harris, Terry Henderson, Remi Dibo

    Key Incoming Players: Jonathan Holton, Daxter Miles, Elijah Macon

    Projected Starting Five: Juwan Staten, Gary Browne, Holton, Nathan Adrian, Devin Williams

     

    If Harris and Henderson had remained in Morgantown, WVU would have finished in the top half of the Big 12 standings this season.

    Losing the second- and third-leading scorers from last year's team will certainly make Bob Huggins' job a tougher one.

    However, the Mountaineers do still have Staten for one more year, which is considerably more than a silver lining. Staten was one of the best players in the conference last season, earning All Big-12 First Team honors along with Andrew Wiggins, DeAndre Kane, Melvin Ejim and Marcus Smart.

    With each of those other four players currently waiting to find out where they'll be selected in the NBA draft, it's hardly a stretch to suggest that Staten should be considered the best player in the conference this season.

    Whether West Virginia actually has any success will depend heavily upon his supporting cast.

     Holton hasn't played D-I ball since 2011-12, but he was solid back then for Rhode Island. Adrian and Browne played quite well last season in limited minuteseach received close to 20 minutes per game. Williams was very solid in the paint as a freshman, playing over 23 minutes per game and averaging 14.4 points and 12.4 rebounds per 40 minutes.

    If those former role players can maintain their effectiveness and efficiency while receiving a significant increase in playing time, the Mountaineers could have the talent to win a dozen conference games next season.

6. Baylor Bears

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    2013-14 Record: 26-12 (9-9 in conference)

    Key Players Leaving: Cory Jefferson, Brady Heslip, Gary Franklin, Isaiah Austin

    Key Incoming Players: Deng Deng, Lester Medford, Kobe Eubanks

    Projected Starting Five: Kenny Chery, Royce O'Neale, Taurean Prince, Deng Deng, Rico Gathers

     

    By no small margin, Baylor was the most difficult team to place in these standings.

    The Bears are losing three of the four leading scorers from a team that was one of the best in the country when everyone actually came to play. Their systematic destruction of Creighton to advance to the Sweet 16 was one of the more beautifully painful things to watch in the tournament.

    But despite having to replace three starters, they still seem to be in pretty good shape.

    Chery was an underrated point guard after transferring from JUCO last summer, and Deng Deng is regarded as one of the top JUCO transfers this year. Gathers and Prince both played well as sophomores with limited minutes and would figure to make a seamless transition into the starting rotation.

    The biggest question is whether O'Neale's 46.8 three-point percentage from last season will hold up under higher volume.

    With Heslip, Franklin and Austin gone, the Bears will need O'Neale to become a considerably more frequent shooter. He only attempted 62 three-pointers last year, but he may need to triple that this year.

    If he continues to shoot better than 40 percent, Baylor could be one of the best teams in the conference. But if his percentage plummets as teams key on him as a primary threat then the Bears could be in a world of hurt.

    A sixth-place finish with a .500 conference record feels about right, but they could go four games in either direction without it coming as a surprise.

5. Oklahoma Sooners

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    2013-14 Record: 23-10 (12-6 in conference)

    Key Players Leaving: Cameron Clark, Tyler Neal, Je'lon Hornbeak

    Key Incoming Players: Dante Buford, TaShawn Thomas?

    Projected Starting Five: Jordan Woodard, Isaiah Cousins, Buddy Hield, Buford, Ryan Spangler

     

    TaShawn Thomas' appeal to play this season is easily the biggest X-factor in these projected standings.

    Before transferring away from Houston, Thomas averaged 15.4 PPG, 8.1 RPG and 2.7 BPG. The previous season, he put up 16.9 PPG and 9.8 RPG. Simply put, the man is an animal in the paint.

    If the Sooners had his presence in the post last season, they would have legitimately contended for a national championship. And if they can have him at power forward this year, they'll be one of the three best teams in the Big 12.

    For now, though, we're assuming his appeal will be denied, leaving Oklahoma to replace the departing Clark with a freshman in the form of Buford.

    Buford is ranked No. 72 in the ESPN 100, signifying that he's no slouch. However, there's a pretty thick line between above-average freshman and a player like Thomas—who has already dominated against major-conference opposition.

    Aside from power forward, though, Oklahoma returns four starters from what was one of the most efficient offenses in the nation last season. Hield led the team in scoring with 16.5 PPG, and Spangler nearly averaged a double-double with 9.6 PPG and 9.3 RPG in just 29 minutes per game.

    With or without Thomas, Lon Kruger ought to be able to guide this team back to the NCAA tournament for a third straight year.

4. Kansas State Wildcats

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    2013-14 Record: 20-13 (10-8 in conference)

    Key Players Leaving: Shane Southwell, Will Spradling, Omari Lawrence

    Key Incoming Players: Stephen Hurt, Tre Harris, Brandon Bolden, Justin Edwards

    Projected Starting Five: Marcus Foster, Edwards, Wesley Iwundu, Thomas Gipson, Hurt

     

    By now, everyone knows about Fosterthe unheralded recruit who just barely cracked into 247Sports' Top 247 at No. 225 but ended up being arguably one of the 10 best freshmen in the nation.

    But do they know about Gipsonthe toughest player in the Big 12?

    What about Edwards, who averaged better than 16 points per game two years ago before transferring to Kansas State?

    Hurt is one of the 10 best JUCO transfers this summer, but has his name shown up on many radars?

    Thanks in large part to the Jayhawks and the Shockers soaking up all of the Sunflower State's national attention, the Wildcats don't seem to be getting anywhere near the amount of respect they deserve.

    That could change in a pretty big way if they contend for a Big 12 title.

    In addition to that starting five, Kansas State will have Nino Williams, D.J. Johnson and Nigel Johnson coming off the bench to form one of the better and deeper rotations in the conference.

    The Wildcats' top eight might not quite compete with those at Kansas or Texas, but their bench players would be starters at half the schools in the Big 12.

    We'll see if they can put better bookends on the 2014-15 season. Kansas State lost its final four games last season, as well as three of the first fiveincluding an RPI grenade at home against Northern Colorado. But they were good enough during the other three months of the season to earn a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.

3. Iowa State Cyclones

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    2013-14 Record: 28-8 (11-7 in conference)

    Key Players Leaving: DeAndre Kane, Melvin Ejim, Percy Gibson

    Key Incoming Players: Jameel McKay, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Abdel Nader, Maurice Jones

    Projected Starting Five: Monte Morris, Dejean-Jones, Dustin Hogue, Georges Niang, McKay

     

    To the surprise of absolutely nobody, Fred Hoiberg and Iowa State will be reloading via the transfer market this offseason.

    Dejean-Jones averaged 19.9 points per 40 minutes last season for UNLV, and the graduate-transfer will be immediately eligible to play in Ames. The Cyclones are also getting McKay and Nader into the mix after they sat out the 2013-14 season.

    Perhaps more important than what they're adding, though, is what they're bringing back.

    Hogue is a force in the paint, and Niang would have been regarded as one of the best players in the conference if Kane and Ejim hadn't hogged all of the spotlight. Morris seems poised for a big leap as a sophomore after posting a 4.8 assist-to-turnover ratio as the team's secondary ball-handler.

    Iowa State will also have three-point aficionados Naz Long and Matt Thomas coming off the bench.

    No need to sweat the fact that the Cyclones are losing the Big 12 POY and one of the best point-forwards in the game. They'll adjust to life without Ejim and Kane just fine and will once again contend for a Big 12 title. 

2. Texas Longhorns

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    2013-14 Record: 24-11 (11-7 in conference)

    Key Players Leaving: None

    Key Incoming Players: Myles Turner, Jordan Barnett

    Projected Starting Five: Isaiah Taylor, Javan Felix, Jonathan Holmes, Cameron Ridley, Turner

     

    People were calling for Rick Barnes' head last November as the Longhornsfresh off a 16-18 seasonstruggled to win home games against Mercer and Stephen F. Austin.

    Little did we know that those two schools would go on to be Cinderellas in the tournament, or that Texas would end up winning 20 of its first 25 gamesincluding four consecutive wins over ranked opponents from January into February.

    From that moderately successful team, Barnes is losing no one and merely adding in one of the five best recruits in the country.

    Even before the Longhorns landed Turner, they were already on the fringe of being a Top 25 team. His arrival puts them more on the fringe of the Top 10.

    But will it be enough to knock Kansas from its 10-year perch atop the Big 12?

    It will depend heavily on the play of the backcourt duo.

    Last year, Taylor and Felix were...inefficient.

    The freshman (Taylor) shot 39.1 percent from the field and committed 2.4 turnovers per game. Felix was better as a sophomore than he was as a freshman, but he still shot 35.8 percent from the field. Both players attempted more than 10 field goals per game—combining to miss 13.7 shots on average.

    To be fair, the Longhorns were one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country. Their missed shots might as well have been passes to Holmes and Ridleyand they should only get better on the glass with Turner in the paint.

    Still, how much the guards can improve their decision-making will go a long ways toward deciding the conference title.

1. Kansas Jayhawks

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    2013-14 Record: 25-10 (14-4 in conference)

    Key Players Leaving: Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid, Tarik Black, Naadir Tharpe, Andrew White III

    Key Incoming Players: Cliff Alexander, Kelly Oubre, Devonte Graham, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Hunter Mickelson

    Projected Starting Five: Graham, Wayne Selden, Oubre, Alexander, Perry Ellis

     

    If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Kansas has earned at least a share of every Big 12 title since 2005.

    The Jayhawks will be relying pretty heavily upon highly rated freshmen, but that worked out pretty well for them last season. Oubre and Alexander aren't exactly Wiggins and Embiid, but it's more than reasonable to suggest that both may finish the season among the 10 best freshmen in the country.

    As was the case with Texas, the biggest question marks for Kansas are in the backcourt.

    With Tharpe transferring and Frank Mason emerging as the only player on the roster who might be capable of replacing him in the starting lineup, Bill Self may be forced to rely upon Graham as his primary producer of assists.

    Should neither Mason nor Graham work out, he could make Selden the ball-handler and give Mykhailiuk, Conner Frankamp or Brannen Greene an extended audition at shooting guard. Or he could move Oubre into the backcourt and add Jamari Traylor and Landen Lucas into the frontcourt mix.

    On Twitter, they would call this #FirstWorldProblems. Figuring out Kansas' starting lineup is like deciding whether you want to drive the Porsche, the Ferrari or the Lamborghini to work on a given day.

    It might take most of the nonconference portion of the season to figure out the optimal rotation, but Kansas is well on its way to an 11th consecutive Big 12 title.

     

    Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.