The Big 12 Conference is set to dip back into league play on Jan. 2, and the conference looks like it will have one of the best title races in the country. Here are five things to watch as the league race unfolds:
The Player of the Year Race
The Preseason Big 12 Player of the Year was Baylor guard Jared Butler, and he’s certainly a favorite to take the prize in March. But he’ll have plenty of competition, perhaps from his own team in the form of fellow guards MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell. Kansas guard Marcus Garrett should be in the hunt, as might redshirt freshman Jalen Wilson or even guard Ochai Agbaji. It’s a player of the year award, of course, so could it go to true freshman Cade Cunningham at Oklahoma State? Or even fellow true freshman Greg Brown, especially if Texas finds a way to win the conference? Texas Tech’s Terrence Shannon Jr. looks like a player that could influence the race, along with West Virginia’s Miles McBride, Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe (the last of which may be emerging from his slump). There is more than enough talent to see the race for this award going in many different directions.
Yes, Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State is the standard for freshmen in the Big 12. He’s averaging nearly 20 points per game. But he’s not the only great freshman in the conference. There’s Texas forward Greg Brown, who is averaging nearly 13 points and 8 rebounds per game. There’s TCU guard Mike Miles, who has emerged in the past three weeks as one of the Horned Frogs’ most consistent offensive threats. There is redshirt freshman guard Jalen Wilson of Kansas, who has helped move the Jayhawks into the Top 3 in the nation. There’s Kansas State’s Nijel Pack, who at this point is the Wildcats’ best overall player. Plus, there’s a large group of freshmen who could influence the conference this year and next, including LJ Cryer of Baylor, Xavier Foster of Iowa State, Bryce Thompson of Kansas, Trey Phipps of Oklahoma, Rondel Walker and Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe at Oklahoma State, and the duo of Micah Peavy and Nimari Burnett at Texas Tech.
A Fantastic 48 Hours
On Jan. 12 and 13, the Big 12 has a tremendous 48 hours that will heavily influence the early Big 12 race. On Jan. 12 West Virginia is at Baylor, a matchup of Top 10 teams. TCU and Oklahoma have a rematch of their December game, this time in Norman. And, Kansas faces Oklahoma State in Stillwater, which gives freshman Cade Cunningham a chance to tangle with Kansas (and the Cowboys have given the Jayhawks trouble in the recent past). Then, on Jan. 13, Texas hosts Texas Tech and Kansas State hosts Iowa State, the latter of which is a rematch of a game played in December.
It’s going to happen. In fact, it’s already happened a couple of times. Baylor’s Big 12 opener with Texas was postponed due to a COVID pause. Oklahoma’s opening week was wiped out by COVID as well. Several Big 12 programs have had games canceled or rescheduled due to COVID. But with the spike of COVID cases around the country, it’s likely we will see more postponements in the Big 12 schedule. With just a 10-day buffer between the end of the regular season and the Big 12 Tournament, the league may have to make some tough decisions about which games to reschedule and which games to let go, especially if they don’t impact seeding in the Big 12 Tournament.
The Big 12-SEC Challenge
Assuming the Big 12-SEC Challenge is played (several of the Big 12-Big East Battles games were canceled due to COVID), there’s a good chance the Big 12 could take the Challenge for the second time in three years. The marquee matchups include Kansas traveling to Tennessee, Texas traveling to Kentucky, West Virginia hosting Florida and Baylor hosting Auburn. Those games are set to be played Jan. 30.
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