Brian Rauf | @brauf33 | 08/13/20
Kansas has typically been atop any Big 12 power ranking over the last decade and a half, but they won’t enter the 2020-21 season as the favorite.
That distinction belongs to a Baylor team bringing mostly everyone back from a group that went 26-4 a year ago. The Bears were dealing with some uncertainty but, with Jared Butler and MaCio Teague both opting to withdrawal from the NBA Draft, Scott Drew’s squad was solidified as the clear favorite in the conference. They might be the preseason #1 team nationally, too.
Those two programs had some classic battles a year ago and will headline the Big 12 race again, but the conference is expected to be the country’s most competitive. Five teams, or half the conference, made an appearance in my post-draft deadline top 25 rankings. All of them have legitimate hopes of winning a Big 12 title, though that goal is certainly more realistic for some.
That group doesn’t even include Oklahoma State, who will be led the nation’s top incoming recruit in Cade Cunningham, or an Oklahoma team that returns many key pieces from last season’s third place team.
How is the crowded Big 12 race projected to shake out in 2020-21? Here’s an updated look at our early Big 12 power rankings:
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— THE FAVORITE —
1. Baylor Bears (2019-20 Finish: 2nd | 26-4, 15-3 Big 12)
Baylor has a very good chance to repeat their domination after spending most of last season ranked #1. Virtually everyone is back with the notable exception of big man Freddie Gillespie, but the program has high hopes for what Tristan Clark and Flo Thamba can in the middle. High Point transfer Adam Flagler should give Baylor even more depth. This could be Scott Drew’s best team yet.
— CONTENDERS TIER —
2. Kansas Jayhawks (2019-20 Finish: 1st | 28-3, 17-1 Big 12)
Despite all the Baylor love, it is important to remember that it was Kansas – not the Bears – that won the Big 12 regular season title and was ranked #1 nationally when the season came to an abrupt end. The combination of Devon Dotson and Udoka Azubuike had a ton to do with that, though, and both are gone.
However, KU’s returning core should keep the Jayhawks at the forefront of the conference race Everyone will be expected to take on larger roles, but Marcus Garrett, Ochai Agbaji, and David McCormack have each shown flashes are star potential (Garrett is already that defensively). With five-star guard Bryce Thompson entering the fold, the Jayhawks will be excellent once again.
3. West Virginia Mountaineers (2019-20 Finish: 6th | 21-10, 9-9 Big 12)
The Mountaineers were excellent last season until the start of February. The wheels fell off then as they went 3-6 over their last nine games, causing many to sour on this group. However, they do return virtually everyone, including star big men Derek Culver and Oscar Tshiebwe, and they did finish in the KenPom top 10.
But which WVU team will we be getting – the one that was excellent for three months, or the one that fell apart over the final month?
I’m expecting the former, especially if guard Miles McBride can become a superstar in his sophomore season as I suspect. If that happens, WVU will be right there with Baylor and Kansas.
— HIGH HOPES TIER —
4. Texas Tech Red Raiders (2019-20 Finish: 5th | 18-13, 9-9 Big 12)
Texas Tech took a step back last season and are losing two key starters in Jahmi’us Ramsey (NBA Draft) and Davide Moretti (Italy). But at this point, we’ve learned not to doubt Chris Beard – especially considering what he does have returning.
Kyler Edwards is another breakout candidate and will move over to his more natural position of point guard following Moretti’s departure and five-star wing Nimari Burnett – the highest-ranked commit in Texas Tech history – will have a big role. They’re a shade behind the top three for now but, if Georgetown transfer Mac McClung is given a waiver to play this coming season, the Red Raiders will be right there with them.
5. Texas Longhorns (2019-20 Finish: 4th | 19-12, 9-9 Big 12)
On paper, Texas should be awesome as they bring literally everyone back from their rotation. But, as we’ve learned throughout Shaka Smart’s tenure at Texas, what we see on paper and what we see on the court are usually two different things – with the on-court product typically being disappointing. I do like Matt Coleman and Andrew Jones in the backcourt, and I think Kai Jones could have a breakout year up front. Their experience could give them a high floor, but I’m not fully believing in their upside yet until I see it.
6. Oklahoma State Cowboys (2019-20 Finish: 8th | 18-14, 7-11 Big 12)
Oklahoma State has high expectations for the first time in a while thanks to a number of talented returners and excellent recruiting class, headlined by the nation’s top overall prospect in Cade Cunningham. Many fans were scared their season would essentially be over before this group even took the court after the NCAA announced a one-year postseason ban for the Cowboys stemming from the FBI investigation, but their roster has remained mostly in tact. Oklahoma State is appealing that ban, too.
From an on-court perspective, the Cowboys are one of those “prove it” teams to me. Cunningham is great and they have solid pieces around him, but a lot of those pieces are new. Their returners were also inconsistent last season, which is why they finished 8th in the conference. I think this group has a really high ceiling if everything clicks properly, but that’s a wild card right now.
— BUBBLE TIER —
7. Oklahoma Sooners (2019-20 Finish: 3rd | 19-12, 9-9 Big 12)
I, admittedly, am not very high on Oklahoma headed into the new year. I think they’re worthy of NCAA Tournament consideration but replacing Kristian Doolittle – who led them in points, rebounds, and steals – is no small task. That’s especially true considering OU’s lack of depth, which also took a hit when Jamal Bieniemy opted to transfer to UTEP.
Austin Reaves, Brady Manek, and De’Vion Harmon are a solid trio, but they don’t have the ceiling the carry the Sooners in the way I think they’re going to have to if Oklahoma is going to make any noise in the Big 12 race.
— LET’S NOT FINISH LAST TIER —
8. TCU Horned Frogs (2019-20 Finish: 7th | 16-16, 7-11 Big 12)
Now we get to the group of teams that are clearly a step below everyone else.
Jamie Dixon has done a good job of establishing a culture at his alma mater and there are some good, young pieces in place. RJ Nembhard, PJ Fuller, and Kevin Samuel have all shown flashes of excellence, but they’re probably a year away from consistently competing given the overall strength at the top of the conference.
9. Iowa State Cyclones (2019-20 Finish: 9th | 12-20, 5-13 Big 12)
Tyrese Haliburton led Iowa State in points, rebounds, assists, and steals before suffering a season-ending wrist injury, and that production is why he’s expected to be a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft. That’s not good for the Cyclones, as they really struggled – as expected – without their star.
Rasir Bolton and Solomon Young are solid pieces, Tre Jackson showed flashes of promise as a freshman, and incoming top 70 recruit Xavier Foster should be an impact player. But the roster depth still isn’t there for this group, and I don’t know how much they’ll be able to improve defensively (147th in KenPom AdjD last year).
10. Kansas State Wildcats (2019-20 Finish: 10th | 11-21, 3-15 Big 12)
K-State was dreadful in 2019-20 and has to replace their three best players. Head coach Bruce Weber has brought in a good amount of talent over the last two years, but those underclassmen will be thrown into the fire in 2020-21 before they’re ready. The Wildcats may see that pay off in 2021-22, but this coming season will be all about growing pains.
Brian Rauf is a college basketball writer for HeatCheckCBB.com. His content has been featured by Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, and FanSided, among other publications. Rauf is also a current USBWA member and Rockin’ 25 voter.