It is finally game week! Wednesday was supposed to be a full day of college basketball with 70 games over the course of the 24 hour day. With cancellations popping up left and right, we don’t know how many games will actually be played. Like everything else this year, we will push through and enjoy what we get. Today will start off a three day preview of three different conferences. If you haven’t already, check out Brandon Johnson’s ACC Preview. He will have two more previews coming out this week. I’ll start with the Big 12; my alma mater’s conference. This league is going to be insane this year with five teams ranked in the top 20 to start the year and all five of those ranked in the top 10 of the Ken Pom ratings. We’ll do a deep dive into each of those teams and a little preview for the rest of the teams because this isn’t a top heavy league. Night in and night out, teams are going to have to fight for victories.
The Top Five (1st Place Coaches Votes)
- Baylor (7)
Baylor is seen by almost everyone around the country as the top team in the Big 12 and the country. They return most of their major pieces from last year including four of their five starters from a team that was poised to be a number one seed in last year’s tournament. The Bears have three guards that will see the majority of the minutes. Jared Butler was a unanimous All Big-12 player last year and should move into discussion on the national level this year. Davion Mitchell really gets this team going on both ends. He was a semi-finalist for Defensive Player of the Year award and led the team in assists a year ago. Macio Teague rounds out this trio of guards, scoring 14 points per game last year. Devante Bandoo is one player that will need to be replaced after graduating. He was on the floor 64% of the time and won the Big 12 sixth man of the year award. Don’t worry though. The Bears have transfer Adam Flagler and Jordan Turner, redshirt freshman, to take over that role. The only starter not returning on this team is Freddie Gillespie, who led the Bears in rebounding, blocks, and had over a steal per game. However, Gillespie was actually a fill in player for Tristan Clark who was injured in 2018. If Clark’s knee is healthy, I expect him to return to his old self and this team to not skip a beat in the front court. Scott Drew tested positive for COVID this week so we’ll see how long it takes to get the Bear’s season started.
2. Kansas (3)
The rest of the Big 12 is happy to see Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike putting on the Jayhawk jerseys for another year. Those two dominated the offensive end with their pick and roll play for the last four years. With his 7’0 270 pound frame, Azubuike was also an enforcer on the other end, making it difficult to score around the basket. On an adjusted efficiency basis, Kansas’ defense was second only to Virginia last year. Losing those two would be a death sentence for this season for most of the teams in the country. But not Kansas. Marcus Garrett returns as the team’s best defensive player. You will likely see him picked high in next year’s draft as NBA scouts love what he can do on that end. In the front court, Bill Self will look to David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot. Is McCormack ready to take on the starter role? With Silvio De Sousa’s departure from the program, the frontcourt could be a weak spot for the Jayhawks this season. A player to watch for on this team is Bryce Thompson; a 6’5 freshman from Tulsa.
3. West Virginia
I talked about West Virginia earlier last week if you want to check out the full Mountaineer breakdown. But this team has me very excited. Like the Bears, West Virginia returns 4 of their 5 starters. Miles McBride will step right in to a starting role and take over as the leader of the WVU offense. The defense is where this team shines, ranking fifteenth in opponents points per game and spending most of the year in the top ten in Ken Pom ratings. The bigs of Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe return will continue to assert their dominance on both ends. Both players almost averaged a double double last year and it should be much of the same. These two look to take over the conference as a few of the other teams in this top five lost most if not all of their front court production. Two players to look out for this year are Emmitt Matthews Jr and Jalen Bridges. Matthews led the team in scoring for the first few months of the season but saw a dry spell last until the end of the year where he broke out in the upset against Baylor. Bridges sat out his freshman season but practiced with the team all year. Bob Huggins said on a few occasions that he may be this team’s best scorer. With this group and a deep bench, the sky is the limit for this year’s team.
Is this the year that Shaka Smart turns this Longhorn program around? They return every scholarship player from last year’s 19-12 team. Add in top ten recruit, Greg Brown, who fills in their need for a post that can stretch the floor. If this team can avoid the injury bug that has attacked them the past few years, this team has a chance to compete for the conference title. Matt Coleman and Courtney Ramsey will start at the guard spots. They combined last season for over 23 points per game. Andrew Jones is one of the best stories in the country as he has bounced back after finding out he had leukemia in his sophomore season. Watch out for Jericho Sims, probably the best raw athlete in the country.
5. Texas Tech
Texas Tech had maybe the most up and down season of any team in the country last year. An 18-13 record saw highs of beating the number one team in the country (Louisville) to lows like getting dominated by an average TCU team on a trip to Fort Worth. Ken Pom was always higher on the Red Raiders than the media was. They ended the season rated 22 which is very high for a projected 10 seed. Much of the same this year as they are rated 6th, ahead of West Virginia and Texas. This team will thrive off the defense once again. The Big 12 is shaping up to once again be the top defensive conference. Davide Moretti and Jahmi’us Ramsey are gone in the backcourt but big time transfer Mac McClung will look to take over as the Red Raider’s star. Highlighted by his incredible dunks, he can play both ends of the floor and will look to showcase his defensive ability in ways that he was unable to at Georgetown. Kyler Edwards will take over at the point guard position. He was best with the ball in his hands and should be able to distribute to all of the weapons this team possesses. Watch out for Nimari Burnett, the highest rated recruit in school history. He was rated number 19 on the ESPN 100. In the AAU circuit, Burnett turned heads, averaging almost 24 points per game while getting 3.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in the Nike EYBL in Atlanta
Best of the Rest
Predicted to finish 7th in the conference, Oklahoma State is my sleeper team to watch. They may struggle to compete this year against the powerhouses in the top 5 but they bring in top recruit Cade Cunningham, who will be electric to watch as a freshman. The recruiting class from the Cowboys does not go one deep as they added four star Rondel Walker and three star Matthew Alexander-Moncrieffe. This team is very young and inexperienced but don’t be shocked if they upset a few of the top teams.
My Player to Watch
I’m gonna go with a little hometown bias on this one. NBA scouts have been showing up in Morgantown to watch Oscar Tshiebwe but they stick around to see Miles McBride. He may hear his name called in the first round as early as next year if all of the early reports are true. He has really improved this offseason and will be looking to improve from his 9.5 points per game in his freshman campaign.