One day away from the start of the 2020-21 NCAA Basketball season, here are the Heartland College Sports Big 12 men’s basketball power rankings entering the season.
1. Baylor Bears
The Bears are just loaded. Jared Butler is a National Player of the Year candidate. MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell are All-Big 12 First Team material. Mark Vital is the most ‘vital’ player in the conference. Adam Flagler is a former conference player of the year and he’s going to be the FIFTH guard. That’s how deep they are. They need a bit of help in the frontcourt with the departure of Freddie Gillespie, but they have the tools to figure it out. The Bears have what they need to win their first national championship. But they’ll do it without forward Tristan Clark, who retired last week. And they’ll have to do it without their expected season openers at the Empire Classic. On Monday the Bears announced they weren’t going after head coach Scott Drew tested positive for COVID-19.
2. Kansas Jayhawks
The departures of Udoka Azubuike and Devon Dotson will test the program a bit. But Marcus Garrett is one of the most well-rounded players in the conference and the returning national Defensive Player of the Year. The Jayhawks returns significant experience and talent on the perimeter, had the chance to sit on a good portion of last year’s recruiting class and get forward Mitch Lightfoot back after his redshirt season. The big question is whether David McCormack can assume Azubuike’s mantle inside. And with the departure of Silvio De Sousa, failure is not an option. If the frontcourt comes together, their matchups with Baylor this season have the potential to be legendary.
On paper, Baylor and Kansas seem a cut above everyone else. It doesn’t mean there isn’t a team that can’t catch either of them. But, from here, there isn’t much difference between No. 3 and No. 7.
3. West Virginia Mountaineers
This is not your father’s ‘Press Virginia.’ But it’s impressive and, right now, I think they’re the best team after Baylor and Kansas. The frontcourt of Oscar Tshiebwe and Derek Culver will be hard to deal with, plus the Mountaineers have depth behind them. Miles McBride will be an offensive force, especially if he doesn’t have to play the point as often (and the Mountaineers may have a solution for that now). They’re deep, talented and have totally bought into Bob Huggins’ system.
4. Texas Longhorns
This is it for Texas. This HAS to be it. The Longhorns return the most experienced roster in the Big 12. Their four-guard rotation can keep up with any team in the league. Jericho Sims is now a full-fledged inside threat and Kai Jones is an impressive backup. Plus, they brought in a Top 10 recruit that can play right away. All the pieces are there. If Shaka Smart can put it all together, the Longhorns can challenge anyone. If he can’t, well …
5. Texas Tech Red Raiders
What’s helpful in looking at Tech is knowing that three of their offseason transfers can play this season (plus the transfer that had to sit out LAST season). The transfers address depth issues in
both the frontcourt and backcourt, and all four should get significant time. Kyler Edwards is the top returning player, but Terrence Shannon Jr. is an athletic beast and the Red Raiders have a pair of true freshman who should vie for playing time early. This should work a bit better than last year’s chemistry experiment.
6. Oklahoma Sooners
The Sooners have the transfer waiver for Omani Gibson and are waiting on the decision on the transfer waiver for Elijah Harkless. If the Sooners get the waiver on Harkless, that helps them tremendously. The pair averaged a combined 24 points at their former schools, and that would be an immediate boost to OU’s Big 3 — Brady Manek, Austin Reaves and De’Vion Harmon. Without Harkless, this might be the Sooners’ ceiling. With Harkless, expect them to rise.
7. Oklahoma State Cowboys
Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 recruit in the country, is going to overshadow a program that Mike Boynton Jr. is turning back into a Big 12 contender. Guard Isaac Likekele is back for perhaps his final season before he heads for the NBA. The majority of the roster is loaded with young players that Boynton and his staff can develop while the Cowboys wait out their one-year postseason ban (assuming their appeal isn’t answered). If the pieces come together, the Cowboys will be tough to deal with every game and could rise up this board.
From here, I feel there’s a bit of a drop between the pack chasing Baylor and Kansas, and the teams below.
8. Iowa State Cyclones
Another team that absorbed the loss of a lot of talent due to graduation and transfer, the Cyclones will try to build around guard Rasir Bolton and forward Solomon Young. The Cyclones have three transfers that could impress right away, along with a solid recruiting class that could be pressed into service. Head coach Steve Prohm is trying to avoid a third losing season in four years. It will be tough.
9. TCU Horned Frogs
TCU did well to get back to .500 a year ago, and now the Horned Frogs’ leading scorer, Desmond Bane, is in the NBA. The Horned Frogs have two experienced scorers back in guard RJ Nembhard and forward Kevin Samuel. They have two intriguing transfers that can play and developed some nice recruits a year ago. But life without Bane isn’t going to be pretty early on.
10. Kansas State Wildcats
The Wildcats are in full rebuild mode at this point. The Wildcats took in a ton of new players due to graduation and transfer, and Mike McGuirl is now the team’s most experienced player. Not a single returnee averaged double figures in points last season. Now, there is some intriguing young talent, including Dajuan Gordon, Antonio Gordon and Montavious Murphy. But the Wildcats may be playing catch-up all year.
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