Breaking Down the Big 12 Conference

For over a decade, the Big 12 conference has belonged to the Kansas Jayhawks. Teams have come and gone, but the one constant has been KU finishing atop the regular season standings. The feat is impressive when you consider the talent that circulates around the Big 12 Conference on a yearly basis. Unlike most conferences, the Big 12 hangs their hat as crowning “one true champion.” It’s the only conference that each team players each other twice. How will the Big 12 fair in the 2017-18 season? Will Kansas reign again? Will someone find a way to knock them off? Let’s preview the Big 12.

Kansas

Spoiler alert: Kansas will likely not be dethroned this season. The Big 12 has been, and will continue to be Kansas’ Conference. While the Jayhawks do not have the typical powerhouse recruiting class coming in, they do have a lot of experience returning to a team that made an Elite Eight appearance last season. The starting back court is solidified, and is the foundation of success for the Jayhawks. Devonte Graham returns to take on a bigger role than last year, Svi Mykhailiuk and Lagerald Vick also return, and former McDonald’s All-American Malik Newman joins the rotation after sitting out a transfer year.

Up front will be more of a question mark. Bill Self landed Oak Hill’s Billy Preston, and the Jayhawks will have Udoka Azuibuke return after a season-ending hand injury. After that it’s thin for KU. Mitch Lightfoot will rotate in after seeing sporadic action in his freshman season. More likely than not though, you’ll see Self run out a four guard rotation to exploit mismatches and keep his bigs out of foul trouble. It might not be an exciting pick, but you can never bet against Kansas winning the Big 12.

West Virginia

The Mountaineers got a huge boost this off-season when Jevon Carter withdrew his name from the NBA Draft. The reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year will be the focal point of Bob Huggins’s chaotic defense, as well as the primary ball handler for WVU. Carter’s return, as well as West Virginia’s ability to give Kansas fits, gives them a chance to steal the conference.

The Mountaineers also return a slew of key contributors to last season’s team. Esa Ahmad, the team’s second leading scorer also returns, giving the offense a potent one-two punch. Daxter Miles Jr. will be relied upon heavily to raise his level of play as a senior this season. In typical Bob Huggins fashion, West Virginia doesn’t have any major recruiting prospects. Instead, they have a veteran team that will pester the heck out of teams for 40 minutes.

Texas

Texas had some growing pains last season under Shaka Smart. Slowly but surely, Smart is bringing in a team that will fit his system and as result, turn into success for the Longhorns. For starters, UT has a great freshman class. Mo Bamba (4), Matt Coleman (31), Jericho Sims (67) and Royce Hamm (82) are all Top 100 recruits according to ESPN. Bamba is a sure one-and-done and will have fans falling in love with him from day one. Coleman could be the best point guard Texas has seen since D.J. Augustin.

The Longhorns also got promising news when Andrew Jones chose to return to school instead of pursuing a professional career. The team’s third leading scorer from a year ago will give Smart a go to offensive player as his prizes freshman adjust to the college game. With other key contributors such as Kerwin Roach and Eric Davis returning, it could be a good season in Austin this year.

Baylor

Baylor was atop the Big 12 much of last season. Injuries and some misfortune led to a 20 point blowout loss in the Sweet 16. The Bears lost Jonathan Motley to the NBA. Al Freeman graduated and transferred to NC State. Senior leader Ishmail Wainright is also gone. Scott Drew will lean on returnees Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil. Both players were key contributors to the Bears success last season, which did include wins over non-conference teams such as Oregon, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier.

Terry Matson, King McClure and Jake Lindsey all return as well this season, but a majority of the Bears’ success this year will fall on the shoulders of Lecomte and Lual-Acuil.

TCU

TCU was by far the most improved team in the conference last season. Jamie Dixon has the Horned Frogs trending in the right direction, and for the first time in a long time, TCU is relevant in college basketball. The Horned Frogs finished seventh in the conference last season, but ended the 16-17 campaign on an extremely high note. They knocked off the top seeded Jayhawks in the Big 12 Tournament, and then marched their way to an NIT Championship.

Jamie Dixon will return his top six scorers from last season, including leading scorer Vladimir Brodziansky, who averaged 14 points a game last season, including a season-high 28 against Kansas at Phogg Allen. Also joining the mix are two strong freshman recruits. Kevin Samuel (6’10, St. Thomas Episcopal) and R.J. Bemhard (6’4 Keller) will provide great depth to a seasoned team that is riding a lot of momentum from last year.

 

Oklahoma

It was a down year last season for a young Oklahoma team. The Sooners only had two upperclassmen average 20 minutes or more per game last season (Jordan Woodard & Khadeem Lattin). Woodard is gone, but the Sooners spent much of last season without him anyway due to injury. Lattin will return and is far and away the most experienced player for Lon Kruger.

While OU faithful need to believe that this group will learn from its growing pains last season, they can also get excited about the arrival of Trae Young. Young, the five-star recruit ranked #23 overall on ESPN, chose to stay home in Oklahoma over the likes of Kansas and Kentucky. A prolific scorer in high school, Young will be a huge addition to a team looking to take a major step forward from last season.

Texas Tech

For the past two seasons, location has been key to Texas Tech’s outcome. In two years, they are 30-6 in the comfort of their own gym. Away from home however, they are 4-16. While some of those wins are against low-major schools, they did enjoy wins over West Virginia and Baylor at home last season, and took Kansas to the final seconds.

If Chris Beard’s team wants to take a step forward, they will need to find a way to win on the road. If a team is going to do that, it’s this Tech team. TTU’s top two leading scorers return in Keenan Evans and Zach Smith. The duo combined to average 27 points per game last year. Justin Gray and Niem Stevenson also return, giving Texas Tech a solid core of returning contributors. If Texas Tech can learn how to win on the road, I probably like them to finish higher than seventh. Until that is proven though, they stay here.

Iowa State

Iowa State lost a decorated senior class after last season. Monte Morris, Naz Long, Deondre Burton & Matt Thomas were major pieces to the Cyclone’s Big 12 Championship run last year. With so much production gone, it will take multiple players to step up for Steve Prohm next season. Donovan Jackson will move from role player to centerpiece, and will likely take over as floor general. Solomon Young saw an increase in minutes midway through the year last season; he will now have a huge role in protecting the paint and owning the glass.

Lindell Wigginton is the Cyclone’s prize recruit who will be able to contribute from the start next season. Coming from prestige powerhouse Oak Hill Academy, Wigginton is a great slasher and can penetrate the defense so himself or others. Pieces are there, but it would take some Hilton Magic for Iowa State to find themselves in another Big 12 Championship.

Kansas State

It was a middle of the road finish last season for Bruce Weber and Kansas State. Good news is that they only lose two players from last year’s team. Bad news is they are their two most important players, Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson. Iwundu did it all for K-State, including leading them in points and rebounds per contest. Johnson was KSU’s most important player. Games often changed for the worse when he came off the floor. Their absence will be felt this season.

That said, the Wildcats return a good chunk of production in Barry Brown, Kamau Stokes and Dean Wade. All three were starters and played in every contest for Kansas State last season. Adding Xavier Sneed into the starting lineup will give Weber four experienced starters, but the depth is shallow after that. Could hurt K-State in the long grind that is the Big 12 regular season.

Oklahoma State

The Cowboys backcourt is wide open with the departure of Juwan Evans and Phil Forte. Evans led the team in points and assists and Forte has been a staple in the Cowboy lineup for what feels like 10 years now. Replacing those two will not be easy. Jeffrey Carroll returns as the focal point of the offense, but they will not have any one player who can replace what Evans and Forte brought to the team.

Pooley’s Picks – 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase

Pooley’s Picks

2016 PSA Prep School Showcase

Qualifications:  This week we’ll have a little different approach to Pooley’s Picks.  Often, with working at the Hoop Group, I’ll get to travel and see different events.  This past weekend I was able to get down to The Hill School and watch the 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase.  The event was loaded with coaches, talent, and great moments. The following are a selection of the Top 10 things I took away from the showcase.

Picks are in no particular order. Please enjoy the fourth installment of Pooley’s Picks.

Chase Audige: The 6’4″ junior from Hill was very impressive in the win over Isaiah Christopher Academy.  Chase had some electrifying plays, but was also a consistent scorer willing passer.  The wing is quickly going from a high potential kid, to a star.  Look for Chase to continue to develop over the next year and look for Hill to have an extremely successful year under coach Seth Eilberg.

 

 

tyler-jones

Tyler Jones: The 5’11” senior from Peddie had 20 in an overtime win against Canada Top Flight Academy.  The guard can do it all, and has a much improved jump shot with excellent form and rotation.  Tyler earned his MVP late in the game scoring crucial buckets and running the show.  Thus far uncommitted: Tyler may be a guard that could be on a lot of scholarship schools radars as the HS season draws to a close.

Canada Top Flight Academy (Ottawa) at the 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase

Canada Top Flight Academy (Ottawa) at the 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase

International Flavor:  The 2016 PSA Prep Showcase featured a little basketball from our friends to the north.  Canada Top Flight Academy probably didn’t have their best showing but kept Peddie on the ropes into overtime.  2017 Lual Akot impressed, hitting a couple of deep threes and flushing a couple dunks in traffic.  Overall CTA came down and represented well.  Look forward to see what they have to offer as the season continues.

 

 

Walter Whyte: The 6’6″ BU bound guard was tough as he always is.  Carrying St. Luke’s at times, Walter rebounds, scores, handles to ball, and plays defense.  The senior also did what seniors have to do: lead.  Walter was under control and facilitated Coach Gladstone’s game plan all night. An impressive win for St. Luke’s against a talented and well coached Hun School.

 

 

Mohammad Bamba: The 6’11” uncommitted senior is the real deal.  The entire Westtown team is the real deal.  Going up against a very good St. James team Mo looked like the NBA prospect that he is.  He blocked shots, scored, rebounded, and most importantly looked comfortable after coming back from injury.  He really is fun to watch.  Worth the trip to the 2016 PSA Prep Showcase just for him.  Lucky for us there was much more.

 

hill-school

The Venue: The Hill School was the perfect venue for the 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase.  The gym has a throwback feel, with excellent baskets and a redone floor.  Looks a little like a gym out of the movie Hoosiers with one high rise set of bleachers separated from the court by a 3 foot high padded wall.  On top of that the event felt full, but not crowded, and was loud with a good atmosphere during the close games.

 

 

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View from the packed coaches section at the 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase

College Coaches:  The 2016 PSA Prep Showcase was loaded with college coaches.  An entire area of the bleachers was dedicated to the college recruiters and it was close to full for every game.  D1, D2, D3, JUCO, and scouts were all on hand to take a look at some of the top talent.  John Calipari, NCAA defending champ Jay Wright, Buzz Williams, Fran Dunphy, and Phil Martelli, were among the few who evaluated and scouted.

 

 

Hamidou Diallo: The 6’6″ senior is as sought after as anyone.  Up to #11 in the class of 2017, “Hami” got to the rim all night long.  The explosive guard is one of those players who can score in a variety of ways and create energy on the defensive end of the floor.

 

 

Atmosphere: First, the college coaches, next the fans, then the players, this had it all.  There was just an atmosphere of elite basketball and the feel that you get from seeing kids in HS who will be on TV in a few years.  NERR’s National Prep Showcase always signals the start of high school basketball for me.  This event had a similar feel to me: teams early in their season competing at a high level.

 

 

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Noah Collier, 6’7″ at Westtown, a top 2020 at the 2016 PSA Prep School Showcase

The Freshman: Not necessarily something you think of when talking about a Prep Showcase.  However, the freshman that I got to see in limited minutes were excellent.  Westtown’s Noah Collier is a great kid, with a ton of upside, who can play multiple positions.  His ceiling is exceptionally high, and he even knocked down a couple jumpers.  Seth Berger’s son, backup guard TJ Berger, played limited minutes but showed a lot of potential on and off the ball.  Backcourt mate Seyon Kpaan, looked good in some extended minutes.  Niels Lane played more minutes for a freshman on a Hun School team than I’ve seen.  Coach Stone has some confidence in that youngster, who moves well and has a good feel for the game.  Much better 2020 representation than you would think with so many talented upperclassmen.

 

Special Thanks to Hoop Major for the videos and helping me cover the event in this article.  Ian Finnen is a rising star, and is going to be very good at whatever he decides to do.

Special shout out to Terrence Williams and the rest of the PSA Cardinals family for running a great event and being so media friendly.  Look forward to this event in the years moving forward.

 

And of course as always, everybody’s favorite: