Eric Tanner, NCAAMReview Author
The Jayhawks look to continue their run of dominance in the Big 12
13 college basketball seasons have come and gone since the last time Kansas did not win at least a share of the regular season championship. Other teams have climbed the ladder to take their shot at the Jayhawks, but no one has been able to solidify themselves as perennial contenders for the throne. Here, we will examine if Kansas can make it 14, as well as take a look at a few of the teams poised to take their shot.
Expectations in Lawrence are…wait for it….high. For the 7th time in the Bill Self era, the Jayhawks earned a #1 seed. However, 4 of those trips ended in the Elite 8 for Self, including the last 2. When the horn sounded on their season after a 74-60 loss to Oregon, it also did so on the collegiate careers of Frank Mason and Josh Jackson. With Mason having exhausted his collegiate eligibility (which concluded with being named POY), and Jackson’s status as a one-and-done star, the focus turned to Devonte’ Graham and Svi Mykhailiuk. Both decided that life as a Kansas basketball player wasn’t so bad, and returned to school. Memphis transfers KJ & Dedric Lawson will sit out the 17-18 season, but Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman is eligible after being the nations best practice squad player last season. Newman could be a major force for Kansas after averaging 11 PPG during his freshman season for the Bulldogs. When you add LaGerald Vick and Udoka Azubuike to the mix, there’s no reason to believe the Jayhawks won’t find themselves near the top of the standings at the end of the year…again.
West Virginia Mountaineers
At the top of the list of teams who will challenge Kansas for the top spot in the Big 12 is West Virginia. Their season ended with a 3 point loss to eventual national runner-up Gonzaga. This season, the Mountaineers will be led by their leading scorer Jevon Carter. Carter enters his senior season having averaged 13.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.5 steals per game, in addition to earning 2nd Team Big 12 and All Defensive Team honors as a junior. Coach Bob Huggins also brings back his 2nd leading scorer in Esa Ahmed. Ahmed saved his best for the battles with Kansas, scoring a season team high 27 points in their first meeting and 20 points in their second.
The 28 wins last season were the third most in school history, behind only the 2 WVU Final Four squads (1959, 2010). The Mountaineers 9 losses were by an average of 4.4 points, and did not include any double digit defeats. It also defeated Kansas by 16, and lost by 4 in an OT thriller in Allen Field house. If West Virginia gets a few more balls to bounce their way, they may be playing for more than just the Big 12 title.
The word mess just doesn’t seem to do enough justice in describing the state of Baylor basketball when Scott Drew took over. Once things cleared up, all he has done is lead the program in a complete 180 degree turn. 2 trips to the Elite 8 (2010, 2012) and 2 Sweet 16 appearances (2014, 2017) have changed the way Baylor is viewed on the national scene. The Bears lost All Big 12 1st Teamer Jonathan Motley as expected, but return 3rd Team member Manu Lecomte as well as Jo Lual-Acuil from the All Defensive Team. If someone, or more likely a group of someones, can fill the Motleys’ role, another run to the 2nd weekend isn’t out of the question.
Shaka Smart’s seat is hotter than it should be considering he is entering only his 3rd season, but going 11-22 (4-14) and being winless on the road will get the heat turned up anywhere…especially at Texas. While they did lose Jarrett Allen after one season, Andrew Jones and his 11.4 PPG did stick around. Smart also landed a haul on the recruiting trail, led by big man Mohamed Bamba. Despite recent questions surrounding his eligibility, he has been cleared and will be a force for the Longhorns this yr. Smart and the Longhorns will be seeking to quiet the critics, and return to the NCAA Tournament after the disaster that was last season.
The Big 12 may be arguably the deepest conference in the country. With Iowa State having won 3 of the last 4 Big 12 Tournaments, and TCU’s run to the NIT Title after struggling through a 3-11 stretch midway through last season, there is no easy night anywhere.