Selecting the Big 12 Conference’s Top 25 returning players for the 2020-21 basketball season was a difficult task.
Today we start our Top 25, beginning with Nos. 21-25 as we run up to the start of the season. At some point during this series, 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. They 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 (what there WAS of it) 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 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.
So which players are Nos. 21-25? Let’s get started.
No. 25 — F Kalib Boone, Oklahoma State
By season’s end Boone was the Cowboys’ most reliable inside player. As a true freshman he blocked at least one shot in 18 of hits 31 games while he averaged 4.7 points and 3.0 rebounds for the season. He also shot 54.9 percent from the field. But his numbers got better in Big 12 action (5.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 59 percent shooting), so as he gained more trust from head coach Mike Boynton Jr., he validated it with improving play. Now, Boone was a Top 100 recruit going into the season, so Cowboys fans expected him to play. But what was unexpected was how much more reliable he became inside, as opposed to holdover center Yor Anei, who has showed improvement at the end of the 2018-19 season before being stuck in neutral last season.
Entering this season: Boone should be a starter entering the season, not that Anei has transferred to SMU. My expectation is that he’ll average close to 10 points per game and remain a steady rebounder.
No. 24 — G De’Vion Harmon, Oklahoma
The Sooners used Harmon right away, as he played 31 games and started 22. Most expected the Sooners to use him early and often, considering he was a Top 50 recruit. But you still have to be effective, and Harmon was, as he averaged 7.4 points, 2.0 assists, 1.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals on 34 percent shooting from the 3-point arc. He came out of the gate fast, as his collegiate debut came with a 23-point performance on Nov. 5, the most points by an OU freshman in a season opener since Alvan Adams (34) in 1972.
Entering this season: Harmon should be the No. 3 scoring option for the Sooners and should start the season as the team’s primary ball handler.
No. 23 — G Jase Febres, Texas
He’s a streaky 3-point shooter, but when he’s on, he’s hard to deal with. The Longhorns rotate four guards, but Febres was a full-time starter last year, playing 23 games before seeing his season end with an injury. But by that point he was third on the team in scoring (9.3 ppg), shot 37.4 percent from the 3-point line and hit double figures 11 times. His numbers remained steady from his sophomore season in 2018-19, but what doesn’t register on the stat sheet is that his defense improved, which is part of the reason he earned a starting job night in and night out.
Entering this season: He may toggle between being a starter and a backup, depending upon how the Longhorns decide to deploy an extremely talented roster that now includes a Top 10 recruit that is almost certain to start.
No. 22 — G Christian Braun, Kansas
An All-Big 12 Freshman selection last season, Braun didn’t see significant playing time until Big 12 action, and as the season went on, he validated head coach Bill Self’s trust. Braun averaged 6.3 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in Big 12 action, and he proved to be a more capable defender than I think most expected. He led Kansas in steals three times. Braun got more playing time when the Jayhawks were trying to sort some things out on their bench and Braun’s play helped solidify things.
Entering this season: He may not be a starter to begin the season — the Jayhawks pulled in a recruiting class that could feature a starter or two — but Braun will be part of the rotation and I expect him to play starter’s minutes. He’ll likely make more of an impact on defense and on the glass, where his 6-foot-6 frame will be helpful.
No. 21 — G Ochai Agbaji, Kansas
So back-to-back Jayhawks here, and Agbaji returns for his junior season after averaging nearly 10 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per game. His 3-point shooting improved a bit from his freshman year and his free-throw shooting held steady. He moved into the starting lineup full-time and saw his minutes per game double. Overall, Agbaji’s game improved to the point where the Jayhawks could rely on him to give them quality minutes night-in and night-out. He was clearly the fourth option on last year’s team, and he filled that role capably.
Entering this season: The Jayhawks are hoping his game can take a jump, especially on defense and in his assist-to-turnover ratio, which was barely over 1.0 last season.
Next: Nos. 16-20