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Ranking the Top 25 Returning Big 12 Basketball Players: No. 5-1

NCAA Basketball: Kansas at Texas Tech

Selecting the Big 12 Conference’s Top 25 returning players for the 2019-20 basketball season was a difficult task. 

Today we continue our Top 25, beginning with Nos. 6-10 as we run up to heading to Kansas City for Big 12 Media Day at the Sprint Center. At some point during the five days these stories run, you’re going to hate me. That’s cool. That’s part of the job. Hit me up on Twitter at @PostinsPostcard if you agree or disagree. Or both. I’m happy to reply when I can.

Before we begin, here is some context for the selections. 

First, any player considered must have played in the Big 12 last season. So, if you’re looking for our Freshman, Transfer or Rising Player stories, we ran those earlier this offseason. Those players won’t be included here. 

Second, I watched about 75 percent of last season’s Big 12 league games, attended the Big 12 Tournament in person and watched about 25 percent of last season’s non-conference games. I won’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve done my best to see every possible returning player several times, either on TV or in person. 

Third, I am not “projecting” performance for the coming season. That will probably end up being the most disagreeable thing about this Top 25. I can’t project how players have improved over the summer or how they may fit in the configuration of their respective teams this coming season. There are too many factors at play. So the rankings are based on their performance last season. I felt that was the fairest way to accomplish this task, much like our Top 25 player rankings for football and baseball. I will, however, provide a small sentence or two about how each player could fit into their team’s season. But it wasn’t a consideration for the rankings. 

 

In case you missed it, here is the link to our story on Nos. 21-25

In case you missed it, here is the link to our story on Nos. 16-20.

In case you missed it, here is the link to our story on Nos. 11-15.

In case you missed it, here is the link to our story on Nos. 6-10.

So which players are Nos. 1-5? Let’s get started. 

No. 5 — F Derek Culver, West Virginia

An All-Big 12 Second Team pick and an All-Big 12 Freshman, Culver played in 26 games and nearly averaged a double-double for the season — 11.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. He made an impact on West Virginia right out of the gate, even though head coach Bob Huggins wanted to start him slowly. He had 10 double-doubles, tied for second with TCU’s Alex Robinson and behind only Kansas forward Dedric Lawson. He was the top rebounder in Big 12 games (10.9 per game) and was the top offensive rebounder (3.8 per game). He even proved to be a good passer, averaging nearly 2 assists per game. It was hard not to walk away impressed with him, but his athleticism carried him quite a bit last year, which isn’t uncommon with freshmen. Even though West Virginia didn’t finish above .500, it’s hard to pick a more impactful freshman from last season’s crop (Texas’ Jaxson Hayes was the Big 12 Freshman of the Year last year). 

Entering this season: I was surprised to see Culver as only a preseason honorable mention in the Big 12 coaches’ voting. With improvement in his back-to-the-basket game and interior defense, there’s no question Culver can be among the elite players in the Big 12 this season.  

No. 4 — G Davide Moretti, Texas Tech

Moretti was an All-Big 12 Third-Team selection and showed vast improvement overall with more opportunity, stepping into the void left by Keenan Evans and Zhaire Smith last season. Moretti improved his scoring by 8 points per game (3.5 to 11.5), his overall shooting percentage by 17 percent (38.2 to 55.5) and his 3-point percentage by 14 percent (31.7 to 45.9). For the season Moretti was the Big 12’s top free-throw shooter (92.4 percent), 3-point shooter (45.9 percent) and in the Top 10 for 3-pointers made per game (nearly 2 per game). In Big 12 games those numbers went up — points (13.5 ppg), field goal percentage (53.5), free-throw percentage (93.1), 3-point field goal percentage (53.5) and he even added steals (1.3 per game, tied for sixth in the Big 12) as he bought completely into head coach Chris Beard’s defensive system. He maintained that play in the NCAA Tournament run. Moretti showed a more complete game in his sophomore season and took advantage of the opportunity afforded him, something the Red Raiders absolutely needed. 

Entering this season: Again, a surprise to see Moretti as only a preseason honorable mention in the Big 12 coaches’ voting. He’s the league’s top weapon from distance and that won’t change in 2019-20. What will change is the supporting cast around him, and that could impact his production offensively.  

 

No. 3 — F Tristan Clark, Baylor

Clark only played 15 games and missed the bulk of Big 12 action due to an injury, which is why you won’t find him in the Big 12 season-ending notes or on last year’s All-Big 12 team. But you only needed to see him play once to know that had he been healthy last year he would have pushed Kansas’ Dedric Lawson to be the best forward in the Big 12. His 14.3 points per last season was second on the team, even though he missed more than half of Baylor’s games. His 72 percent shooting from the floor would have been among the best in the Big 12. He shot a solid 66.7 percent from the free-throw line. He also grabbed 6.2 rebounds per game. He had a polished back-to-the-basket game and combined with the ability to drive square up to the basket. Baylor missed him inside, and credit to the Bears for making it work without him. He’s high on this list because he has the most complete game of any Big 12 forward, including excelling in Baylor’s tricky 1-3-1 defensive scheme. 

Entering this season: The coaches named Clark a preseason All-Big 12 selection. They would know best. He could be the league’s overall Player of the Year if he stays healthy. The Bears would love to see him get his free-throw percentage over that 70 percent mark. 

No. 2 — G Devon Dotson, Kansas

Dotson flirted with the NBA Draft after the season, but I think that was more to get a grade on where the NBA saw him as a player and where he needed to improved. If you watched Kansas last season Dotson probably improved more than any other freshman on that team from start to finish, especially since head coach Bill Self asked him to start from Day 1. He went from deferential facilitator to assertive scorer and passer by season’s end. An All-Big 12 Third Team selection and an All-Big 12 Freshman pick, Dotson was also selected to the Big 12 Tournament team. For the entire season Dotson averaged 12.3 points per game, good for 12th in the Big 12. He was in the Top 12 in field goal percentage (48.2), the Top 6 in assists per game (3.5), Top 6 in free-throw percentage (78.2) and Top 6 in steals per game (1.4). He was also No. 9 in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.6). His assists per game saw an uptick in Big 12 action (3.8) and he had one double-double, a 25-point, 10-rebound game in an overtime over TCU. By season’s end he had a solid shooting hash (48.2/36.3/78.2) and complete command of the Kansas offense.

Entering this season: I’m going to guess NBA scouts told Dotson to improve his 3-point shooting and dribble-drive to the basket. Self probably wants to see him finish more around the rim and improve a bit defensively. But entering the season I think he’s the best pure point guard in the Big 12.  

No. 1 — G Desmond Bane, TCU

Bane helped fuel TCU’s run to the NIT semifinal game, where it lost to Texas. Along the way the guard earned All-Big 12 Second Team honors and a selection as the Big 12 Player of the Week. Bane is the Big 12’s top returning scorer from last year (15.2 ppg) and was No. 14 overall with 5.7 rebounds per game. In fact, Bane is the only Top 10 scorer from last season returning this season. Last season he also had the league’s top shooting percentage for a perimeter player (50.2), was fifth from the 3-point line (42.5 percent) and 10th in 3-pointers made per game (1.8). He was also in the Top 10 in defensive rebounds per game (4.4) and he played more minutes per game than any Big 12 player (35.5). His 34 points against Texas in the regular-season finale was the second-highest output of the season for any Big 12 player (Baylor’s Makai Mason had 40 against, oddly enough, TCU). The crazy thing is many of his numbers got better in Big 12 games, including points per game (16.1), 3-point percentage (45.7), 3-pointers per game (2.1) and minutes played (37.0). He was even among the league’s leaders in steals for Big 12 play (1.2 per game). As TCU lost players to injury and transfer, they became more reliant on Bane and he delivered time after time. 

Entering this season: This season has the potential to be a rough one in Fort Worth. Bane is clearly their No. 1 option and the league’s coaches agree, naming him to the All-Big 12 preseason team. Bane does everything well and emerged late last season as the league’s most complete player.

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