College basketball season is just about here, and to wrap up our conference previews, today we’ll dive into the Big 12. Check out our ACC, Atlantic 10, Big Ten, Big East and SEC previews if you missed any.
Let’s get to some of the most pressing issues that will determine the league’s fate this season.
Can Steve Prohm maintain what Fred Hoiberg built at Iowa State?Iowa State won the Big 12 tournament last season, went 25-8 overall and was, in general, one of the most fun teams to watch in college basketball. Then, the NCAA tournament loss to UAB happened, Hoiberg left to coach the Chicago Bulls and the Cyclones were in need of a fresh voice to take over the program. Enter Steve Prohm, who went 101-40 at Murray State in the past four seasons.
Prohm inherits a veteran-laden Iowa State squad, as he returns Georges Niang, Monte Morris, Jameel McKay and Naz Mitrou-Long. That’s four of Iowa State’s top five scorers from a year ago, and by the looks of things, Prohm seems to be running things pretty similar to the way Hoiberg did.
In KenPom’s adjusted tempo rankings, Iowa State averaged 70 possessions per 40 minutes last season while Murray State averaged 69.4. Both coaches look to push the pace, and both coaches oversaw teams that finished outside of the top 100 in defensive efficiency last year (Iowa State 109th, Murray State 129th).
Ultimately, to take the next step, the Cyclones are going to have to improve on the defensive end of the floor. But the first task of the post-Hoiberg era is simply to maintain what ‘The Mayor’ built up in the first place, and it will be interesting so see what Prohm brings to the table.
Speaking of Iowa State, can anyone dethrone Kansas at the top of the Big 12?
The drive for 12 Big 12 championships in a row. It just sounds poetic, and as of now, the Jayhawks seem primed for another conference title run.
This team is a bit different than Kansas teams in the past few years, as it will rely on veterans Perry Ellis (who was 11 years old the last time Kansas didn't win the Big 12 regular season title, I might add), Frank Mason and Wayne Selden as opposed to a freshman star such as Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid or Kelly Oubre. Depth and experience are the Jayhawks’ strengths in 2015-16, and though Bill Self will shorten up his rotation once March rolls around, he could realistically go 10 or 11 deep without a hitch.
With that said, while Kansas is steady, there are a few challengers that could rain on Rock Chalk’s parade. Iowa State is one of those teams, but Oklahoma might have the most potential of any squad in the conference. They return a core-four of Buddy Hield, Isaiah Cousins, Jordan Woodard and Ryan Spangler that ranks up there with just about anyone.
Hield is a Naismith Award candidate, and he possesses a rare combination of speed off the dribble and speed in his postgame interviews. Seriously, good luck slowing this guy down in any venture.
Don’t sleep on Baylor, either, which won almost 73 percent of its games last season and returns the dominant duo of Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince. Kansas is Kansas, and it’s darn near impossible to pick against them. But they’ll have stiff competition for the Big 12 crown.
Is this the year that Wayne Selden breaks out for Kansas?
If he does, then the rest of the Big 12 can just play for second. Wrap up a conference title for the Jayhawks. It would be over.
After a promising freshman season, Selden’s offense regressed as a sophomore. He shot 38.2 percent from the floor and connected on under 40 percent of his 2s. Kansas was a net minus with Selden on the floor – opponents outscored the Jayhawks by 3.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court in 2014-15. His offensive rating and defensive rating were the worst on the team among regulars.
For reference, as a team, Kansas outscored foes by 9.5 points per 100 possessions on the season.
And yet, his talent is so obvious to the naked eye. He’s a 6-foot-5, 230-pound wing with long arms, good athleticism and a smooth stroke. And some power dunking ability, to boot:
Those attributes translated to the court over the summer when Selden played for Team USA. He scored 19.3 points per game and snared 6.6 boards per game while shooting 44.1 percent from distance. If Selden comes anywhere close to that this season for Kansas, refer to the first paragraph of this soliloquy.
How will Shaka Smart’s defense translate to the Big 12?
There is a new coach on a Texas team that has several new faces on its roster, so good luck trying to determine the rotation before the season stars. This much we know: The Longhorns always have athletes, which is crucial for Smart’s system, and Isaiah Taylor has a chance to have a huge year in Austin after a solid sophomore campaign.
On the surface, Cameron Ridley would seem like a logical candidate to fill the void left by Myles Turner, who now plays for the Indiana Pacers. Ridley was a highly-touted recruit that has had his ups and downs in three years for the Horns, but if nothing else, the 285-pound center is a very efficient offensive player. He shot 55.7 percent from the floor last season, but due to foul trouble and the pace of some free-flowing Big 12 contests, he only played 21.4 minutes per game in 2014-15.
But does he fit Smart’s hyper-aggressive defensive scheme? Probably not, to be frank, but that doesn’t mean he’s not valuable to Texas. Smart is a creative coach, and it will be intriguing to see how he balances his most talented players with guys who fit his scheme the best. He’ll also be facing talented point guards in the Big 12 who could solve his traps with more ease. Then again, he possesses athletes that he might now have at VCU. Nonetheless, it’s going to be fascinating to see how this all unfolds at Texas.
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Is Jawun Evans ready to become an impact point guard for Oklahoma State as a freshman?
Le’Bryan Nash is gone, and that means a ton of pressure is on Phil Forte to lead the Pokes to the NCAA tournament. Evans is a freshman that comes to Stillwater with high expectations, and he might need to exceed those in order for Oklahoma State to make noise this season with everything they lost.
But if he’s as dynamic (or more) than advertised, the Cowboys will have one of the best backcourts in the country. With no Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil Okafor or Frank Kaminsky in college basketball this season, this could be the year of the guard. Forte canned 38 percent of his 3s for Oklahoma State and averaged 15 points per game in 2014-15. If he can bump that up to near 20, and Evans averages in the low teens, don’t sleep on these Cowboys.