Conference Preview season is officially underway here at Making the Madness, and we begin with the league that has been and will be the best conference in College Basketball, the Big 12. The league has won the last two National titles and has a great chance to add to that this year. Furthermore, there is unbelievable depth, making this a year where all ten teams have something to be excited about this season. Without further ado, let’s dive into the Big 12.
For a while, Baylor was the best team in the sport last season but injuries contributed to an early exit, luckily for them, they’re back to being a title contender. Much like their title team of 2021, this is the best guard tandem in the sport. Freshman Keyonte George will be the star, his three-level scoring is what makes him the freshman to watch and a future Top-10 pick. Adam Flagler is the cool and calm scorer, who flies under the radar, while LJ Cryer was Baylor’s top scorer last year before a season-ending injury, his return to old form makes this team really dangerous.
Flo Thamba’s return helps solidify the front court, as he’s a great defensive and rim-running five. Jalen Bridges helps bring shooting and floor-spacing at the four. The Bears also have front-court injury question marks with Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua and Langston Love, but if healthy they can provide additional depth, as well as upside pieces for this roster. Dale Bonner will provide some additional experience if needed, while Caleb Lohner adds some size and scoring inside as a versatile forward.
The Bears’ backcourt will be something to be reckoned with this season, the question is whether the rest of the roster fits together enough to win a title. Flo Thamba is a good piece but has a limited upside in what he can do offensively, while Jalen Bridges isn’t a star either, so the health of Love and Every day John will be key. This team will be in a position to get a one-seed on Selection Sunday and as they say, guards win in March, which is exactly why Scott Drew and Baylor have a great chance to win two titles in three years.
PG: LJ Cryer
SG: Adam Flagler
SF: Keyonte George
PF: Jalen Bridges
C: Flo Thamba
Bench: Jonathan Tchamwa-Tchatchoua, Langston Love, Dale Bonner, Caleb Lohner
The reigning National Champions lose a lot from last season’s team but still return and add enough to make them a legitimate title contender. Jalen Wilson is set to be the breakthrough star, his ability to score off the bounce is big. DaJuan Harris is the ultimate glue guy point guard, he’s an elite defender, a great passer and makes few mistakes, and showed offensive improvement. They also add in an experienced piece in Kevin McCullar who will provide more defensive versatility, passing, and scoring for this team.
What will make or break this team is their young core. Gradey Dick projects to be a potential one and done, he’s a good shooter, with offensive upside but will have to be ready on day one. MJ Rice is another high-level freshman, whose scoring and athleticism make him a potential star. The Jayhawks starting spot at the five is up for grabs. Ernest Udeh is the typical physically imposing big, Zach Clemence is a stretch big with a great offensive skill set, while KJ Adams is their premier switch defender. Add in Joe Yesufu and Bobby Pettiford as two quality backup point guard options and this is a deep and talented roster.
The Jayhawks should project to have one of the best defensive teams in the sport, they have elite defenders in McCullar and Harris, with size all around. They also should have plenty of scoring potential on the roster. The make or break for this team comes down to shooting and what they do at the five. The Jayhawks have plenty of question marks, but at the end of the day, Bill Self pretty much always finds a way to get a one or two seed and win the Big 12 title.
PG: DaJuan Harris
SG: Gradey Dick
SF: Kevin McCullar
PF: Jalen Wilson
C: Zach Clemence
Bench: MJ Rice, Ernest Udeh, KJ Adams, Bobby Pettiford, Joe Yesufu
3.TCU Horned Frogs
There might not be a year where TCU will have more hype than what this year will be, as they return basically everyone from a team that nearly made the Sweet 16. Mike Miles was the big returning piece, he’s a three-level scorer and a good passer, who will be a star this season. Damion Baugh provides additional ball-handling and experience to help take pressure off Miles. Eddie Lampkin will man the center spot, the big man was electric down the stretch, as his interior scoring improved, while he’s a great rebounder and force inside.
The Frogs also have plenty of depth and athleticism on the wing. Emmanuel Miller is a good driver and showed an ability to be the top scorer on Miles’ off nights. Micah Peavy provides another good athlete that can make shots but is known more for his athleticsm. Adding Rondel Walker brings in another good piece, who could be in for some shooting upside. Xavier Cork and Jakobe Coles help provide depth in the front court to help this roster.
Many people’s concern with TCU is they aren’t really a good shooting team, that said, I think that can be fixed. This team was playing like a Top-25 team down the stretch and nearly everyone is back. They defended really tough, they’re athletic, and have a legitimate star in Miles. I think they’ll be a Top-25 team as a floor and if they make the necessary internal improvements, Jamie Dixon could have himself a Big 12 title contending team.
PG: Mike Miles
SG: Damion Baugh
SF: Emmanuel Miller
PF: Micah Peavy
C: Eddie Lampkin
Bench: Rondel Walker. Jakob’s Coles, Xavier Cork, PJ Haggerty
Is Texas back? Who knows, but on paper, this Texas team should be in the mix for a Big 12 title and that’s all you can hope for. Marcus Carr returns in hope of being a star this year, his scoring ability will be on display more so than in the past with the addition of Tyrese Hunter taking over at the point. Hunter will provide defense, passing, and good decision-making at the point for the Longhorns at the point. Timmy Allen will also look to be a good scorer in what will be his second year in the program.
The Longhorns also have plenty of depth, Jabari Rice is a good shooter that will hope to be a good fit for this roster. Dillion Mitchell will also hope to be a terrific freshman, although he is more prospect than player at this point. Dylan Disu and Christian Bishop will both factor in at the five, Disu can space the floor, while Bishop fits in a more rim-running, shot-blocking type of role. Rowan Brumbaugh and Arterio Morris also look to factor in the rotation as freshmen.
This team has an abundance of talent, plenty of experienced pieces, and depth, that said, so did last year’s team. The problem Texas had last year was a lack of proper role allocation, plus a lack of team basketball, which could improve this season and make this a league title contender. That said, I have more faith in the teams previously mentioned to figure it out than I do Texas, that said, this is a clear Top-20 team in the sport, much like they were a year ago.
PG: Tyrese Hunter
SG: Marcus Carr
SF: Dillion Mitchell
PF: Timmy Allen
C: Christian Bishop
Bench: Jabari Rice, Dylan Disu, Arterio Morris, Rowan Brumbaugh
5.Texas Tech Red Raiders
Last year was a bit of “new coach, same Texas Tech culture.” The Red Raiders are a team that is going to defend their socks off and grind out wins in whatever way possible. There are changes in faces, Fardaws Aimaq comes in as their new starting center, him being someone that will rebound and score at a high level, although an injury will have his start to the season delayed. De’Vion Harmon will come in and bring some guard scoring and ball-handling. They will join stretch-4, knockdown shooter Kevin Obanor as the for sure starters for this Red Raiders team.
Filling out this starting lineup, Kerwin Walton seems poised to start, he’s a lights-out shooter, who hopes to get a bigger role at Texas Tech. D’Maurian Williams will provide perimeter shooting and ball-handling, which will get him minutes. Jaylon Tyson is a former top recruit that provides elite athleticism and will factor in this rotation in some form. Daniel Batcho will start the season at the center spot before likely giving his spot up mid-season to Aimaq, his size and shot-blocking should be on display. They also have a good freshman class with Richard Isaacs, Lamar Washington, and Robert Jennings all looking to crack the rotation, also look out for Elijah Fisher as a reclassified breakout freshman who has limitless potential.
This roster doesn’t scream Top-10 team in the sport or anything near that, that said, has any Texas Tech roster? Mark Adams is a defensive genius, this defense will defend at an extremely high level and there’s enough offense to make this team good. The offense will look ugly, especially early in the season without Aimaq but the defense can save them. They probably don’t have the offense to contend for a National Championship, but lock them in as one of the top teams in the Big 12 once again.
PG: De’Vion Harmon
SG: D’Maurian Williams
SF: Kerwin Walton
PF: Kevin Obanor
C: Fardaws Aimaq
Bench: Jaylon Tyson, Daniel Batcho, Elijah Fisher, Richard Isaacs, Lamar Washington, Robert Jenning
6.Oklahoma State Cowboys
After a year of being banned from the NCAA Tournament, Mike Boyton’s Cowboys are poised to make the dance this year. The backcourt of Bryce Thompson and Avery Anderson was good a season ago but now looks to take a step forward. Thompson showed he could be a good two-guard, scoring at a high-level and improving as a perimeter shooter, while Avery Anderson made improvements in the role as the go-to guy for the Pokes. That duo will hold down a good backcourt, while Moussa Cisse will hold down the paint defensively, swatting shots and being the best defender in the Big 12.
The Cowboys fill their rotation with solid pieces around those three, Kalib Boone will continue to be a good four-man that can have some pop-off games offensively. Caleb Asberry and John Michael-Wright come into the mix as guards that can help ball-handling and shooting-wise. Tyreek Smith and Woody Newton will help provide depth in the frontcourt for this team.
This Cowboys team was underrated last season, while they would’ve missed the dance, seeing Anderson and Thompson flourish in big roles leaves some cornerstone pieces. The Cowboys still will probably be near .500 in the Big 12 but that will be good enough to get to the NCAA Tournament this season.
PG: Avery Anderson
SG: Caleb Asberry
SF: Bryce Thompson
PF: Kalib Boone
C: Moussa Cisse
Bench: John Michael-Wright, Woody Newton, Tyreek Smith
Porter Moser’s first season at Oklahoma had some highlights but was missing the signature win and the NCAA Tournament appearance. This season, they hope to change that thanks to a returning core and some transfer additions. Grant Sherfield is the most notable addition, he put up big numbers at Nevada as a scorer and passer, though will look to trade stats for team success. Tanner Groves will return hoping to get back to the Tournament, his spacing at the five will help open up the offense.
The Sooners also have a good core around those two, Jalen Hill is an elite defender and capable driver, who is the ultimate glue guy. CJ Noland hopes to break out this season, he’s a good shooter who gets a bigger role this season. Bijan Cortes will play the point when he’s on the court but it’s uncertain if can he take the point guard duties over. Jacob Groves and Sam Goodwin will provide front-court depth, while Joe Bamisile can provide additional scoring and playmaking at the guard spot.
This Oklahoma team has the necessary parts to have a successful season; they have ball-handling, shooting, and defensive pieces, but Porter Moser will have to put it all together. Can he get Sherfield to buy in? Can he get offseason improvements from Noland and Cortes? If that answer is a yes, the ceiling is there for this team to be ranked at some point next season, but more than likely they’ll probably be at least somewhere in the bubble discussion.
PG: Bijan Cortes
SG: Grant Sherfield
SF: CJ Noland
PF: Jalen Hill
C: Tanner Groves
Bench: Joe Bamisile, Milos Uzan, Jacob Groves, Sam Goodwin
8.Iowa State Cyclones
Coming off a 2-22 season, Iowa State was picked last in the Big 12 last season, but TJ Otzelberger and the Cyclones made the Sweet 16 in year one. Now, there’s roster turnover but expectations are high based on last season’s success. Osun Osunniyi will anchor the Cyclones’ elite defense, as he fits in being one of the premier shot-blockers in the sport. His old Bonnie teammate, Jaren Holmes will look to step in and produce offensively being a solid scorer.
The Cyclones have a hodgepodge of pieces elsewhere, Gabe Kalscheur is a shooter that didn’t make many shots last year but could rebound for a big shooting season. Aljaz Kunc and Caleb Grill can provide shooting and systematic experience. Jeremiah Williams will look to come in and play point for the Cyclones. Tre King, Hason Ward, and Robert Jones will all battle for minutes in the frontcourt, while freshman guard Eli King hopes to make an impact in year one.
The thing we saw with TJ Otzelberger’s Cyclones a year ago is that they’re going to guard at an extremely high level and he built a roster to do just that this season. Osunniyi will protect the paint well, the guards will not give in much on that end, which gives this team a floor. The offense may not be good enough for this team to achieve what they did a year ago but expect them to at a minimum be in every game, and be in the NCAA Tournament mix.
PG: Jeremiah Williams
SG: Gabe Kalscheur
SF: Jaren Holmes
PF: Aljaz Kunc
C: Osun Osunniyi
Bench: Caleb Grill, Eli King, Tre King, Hason Ward, Robert Jones
9.West Virginia Mountaineers
Coming off a last-place finish in the Big 12 a season ago, there are plenty of reasons to sleep on West Virginia but that’s exactly where Bob Huggins loves to be. The Mountaineers cleaned up in the transfer portal, welcoming in a new roster. Tre Mitchell will look to rebound after a tough season at Texas, Mitchell will hope to be a force inside scoring and rebounding. Emmitt Matthews will return to West Virginia, knowing the system and bringing wing scoring and defense to the roster. While Erik Stevenson comes in expecting to be their top three-point threat.
Joe Toussaint will be a Huggins point guard, he’s not a scorer but is a good decision-maker and scrappy defender. Jimmy Bell rounds out the transfer core by bringing a rim presence and rebounding up front. Elsewhere Josiah Davis looks like he could be a guard that earns Huggins’ trust from an early age. Kedrian Johnson will provide additional guard help and the lone returning rotation piece from a season ago. Freshmen Mohamed Wague and Josiah Harris will look to compete for minutes right away.
West Virginia wasn’t good a year ago, so losing as many players as they did is probably not a bad thing. That said, there’s always an inherent risk with taking as many transfers as West Virginia did. Expect this team to be scrappy defensively, which will keep them in a lot of games, even when the offense struggles. That said, in a league as deep as the Big 12, someone good will miss the NCAA Tournament and West Virginia seems most likely to be that team.
PG: Joe Toussaint
SG: Erik Stevenson
SF: Emmitt Matthews
PF: Tre Mitchell
C: Jimmy Bell Jr
Bench: Josiah Davis, Kedrian Johnson, Josiah Davis, Mohamed Wague
10.Kansas State Wildcats
Kansas State comes into this season in a bit of a likely rebuilding season but that doesn’t mean the team can’t make the NCAA Tournament. Jerome Tang starts his head coaching career with a decent roster and more help on the way next season. Keyontae Johnson is the big pickup, Johnson was the SEC preseason player of the year in 2020 before having a heart issue, if he returns to anything near that form, the Cats have a star player to build around. Markquis Nowell will start at the point, he is a good scorer and passer, although his short frame can limit him at times on defense. Desi Sills rounds out the backcourt, while he’s not elite at anything, he’s a proven high-major caliber player that fits nicely into the rotation.
Ismael Massoud fills in on the wing being a really good shooter and at his size, he can play some small ball five. The Wildcats round out the starting rotation with David N’Guessan, who while he got little run at Virginia Tech, should fill in nicely at the five. Taj Manning and Dorian Finister will be freshmen who could be good pieces for the team not only this year but in the future. The Wildcats also look for Tykei Greene and Cam Carter to fill in as transfers that can space the floor and provide experience.
Kansas State has upgraded big-time coaching-wise by getting Jerome Tang and the future is bright in Manhattan. This season is more of a stop-gap season before the Wildcats will legitimately think of themselves as a legitimate NCAA Tournament-level team. For them to make the Tournament, Keyontae Johnson would need to be at least close to his old form, Markquis Nowell and Desi Sills would need to take a step forward, while some of their more unproven commodities would need to step up. It’s all doable but unlikely to happen, especially playing in a gauntlet like the Big 12.
PG: Markquis Nowell
SG: Desi Sills
SF: Keyontae Johnson
PF: Ismael Massoud
C: David N’Guessan
Bench: Taj Manning, Tykei Greene, Cam Carter, Dorian Finister
Player of the year: Mike Miles Jr, TCU
Freshman of the year: Keyonte George, Baylor
Newcomer of the year: Kevin McCullar, Kansas
Defensive Player of the year: Moussa Cisse, Oklahoma State
Most Improved Player: Zach Clemence, Kansas
First-Team All-Big 12:
Mike Miles Jr, TCU
Keyonte George, Baylor
Bryce Thompson, Oklahoma State
Jalen Wilson, Kansas
Fardaws Aimaq, Texas Tech