Selecting the Big 12 Conference’s Top 25 returning players for the 2020-21 basketball season was a difficult task.
Today we continue our Top 25 with Nos. 11-15 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.
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.
So which players are Nos. 11-15? Let’s get started.
No. 15 — (tie) G RJ Nembhard and C Kevin Samuel, TCU
So, I had a lot of difficulty trying to determine which Horned Frog was better, so for the first time in the short time I’ve done these rankings, I’ve opted for a tie. First, for Nembhard, I’m not sure what I expected from him as a sophomore last season. But what I got was a player who developed into a sure-footed No. 2 option next to Desmond Bane. He finished last season in the Top 20 in scoring with 12.1 points per game, while also averaging 3.7 rebounds and 3.5 assists, the latter of which was eighth in the Big 12. His coming-out party was the overtime win over Iowa State, in which he scored 31 points. His scoring average was nearly an eight-point jump from his freshman year. His defense improve and his shooting was more consistent, especially from the mid-range.
Samuel, meanwhile, is one of the few true ‘centers’ in the conference, a 6-foot-11 tree of a player who has the ability to dominate any game he plays in. As a sophomore last year, Samuel wasn’t dominant, but he was absolutely consistent. He averaged 10.1 points per game and 8.4 rebounds per game, the latter of which was sixth-best in the conference last season. He also averaged 2.7 blocks per game, which led the Big 12 and was No. 11 in the nation. In fact, Samuel shot 65.3 percent from the floor and had 10 more blocked shots than missed shots.
Entering this season: With Bane gone, Nembhard is the top returning perimeter scoring option. More of the same from Samuel, who could end up averaging a double-double this season.
No. 14 — G Austin Reaves, Oklahoma
Reaves 6-foot-5, spent his first season in Norman emerging as one of the best 3-point shooters in the Big 12, while averaging 14.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals per game. He was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention and All-Big 12 Newcomer selection last year. He was sixth in the Big 12 in scoring and 12th in assists. He was also the No. 2 free-throw shooter in the conference (84.8 percent). His defense and intangibles improved as the season went on.
Entering this season: He’s the Sooners’ No. 2 scoring option, their top shooter from the arc and the guard that will likely draw some tough defensive matchups in Big 12 action.
No. 13 — G Andrew Jones, Texas
It’s been a long, long road for Jones, but last year the leukemia survivor reclaimed his past form. He only started 11 of Texas’ 31 games, but he was second in scoring per game (11.5), third in assists per game (1.9) and total steals (23) for Texas while playing 26.6 minutes per game. He also shot 38.3 percent from the 3-point line. He was only All-Big 12 Honorable Mention last year, but the guard talent in this conference was so deep that was an accomplishment in of itself. By midway through the season, it was clear Jones could do everything he could pre-diagnosis. And that was great new for Texas, Big 12 and college basketball fans.
Entering this season: A full year of practice and no recovery restrictions means that Jones, 6-foor-4, could move back into Texas’ starting lineup full-time, or be one of the conference’s best sixth men.
No. 12 — G Mark Vital, Baylor
Watch Vital play one game and I dare you not to fall in love with his game. He’s only 6-foot-5, but he may be the best rebounding guard in college basketball. A full-time starter for the second straight season, Vital averaged 6.2 rebounds per game, along with 6.1 points and 1.8 assists per game. He’s the Bear that will get on the floor for loose balls, defend the opponent’s top guard and work his way into every crevice in the paint to get to a rebound or loose ball. For his effort, he was a Top 10 rebounder in the Big 12 last year. Vital was an All-Big 12 Third Team and Defensive Team member last season.
Entering this season: Vital can toggle between the starting lineup and the bench. Expect him to again be one of the league’s best defenders and rebounders.
No. 11 — F Derek Culver, West Virginia
The 6-foot-10 forward was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention pick last year after averaging 10.4 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, the latter of which was among the Top 5 in the Big 12. For those who were worried that the recruitment of Oscar Tshiebwe would siphon off playing time from Culver, it didn’t. In fact, the pair found a way to co-exist nicely and feed off one another. He also had 54 assists, 24 steals and had six double-doubles. Plus, no player attempted more free throws in the Big 12 last season than Culver.
Entering this season: A player that could be more dominant and one that needs to shoot better at the free throw line than last year’s 51.7 percent.
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