Big 12 Conference basketball play begins in earnest next week as once again nine teams attempt to take down one.
That one would be the Kansas Jayhawks, who have practically retired the championship trophy.
KU is seeking to break the record for most consecutive conference championships. The Jayhawks are working on a streak of 13, matching the number of those great John Wooden UCLA teams that started with Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and later continued with Bill Walton.
Never in Bill Self’s tenure at Kansas, though, have the Jayhawks looked more vulnerable. But I think I said the same thing last year.
It would probably be a fool’s bet to go against the Jayhawks. Despite some trials and tribulations, they always seem to find a way to get it done.
But there’s going to be great parity this year. Perhaps the determining factor will be NCAA decisions regarding two big men for the Jayhawks, Billy Preston and Silvio De Sousa. Self thought a ruling on their status would be made any day now, perhaps even today.
If both are eligible, the Jayhawks’ fortunes would change dramatically. Even if just one of them gets the nod, that will certainly help, though I think Self would much rather have Preston since he’s been practicing all year.
I don’t think there’s any team that can be overlooked as there’s going to be some good teams in the second division. This is one of those years where it won’t be a surprise if the last-place team knocks off the first-place team.
With that being said, here’s how I see the order of finish:
1. Kansas — A lack of depth, a heavy reliance on 3-point shooting and lack of inside players sends up red flags everywhere. But how can you pick against the Jayhawks given their pedigree?
2. West Virginia — First of all, the Mountaineers will be tough to beat in Morgantown. The other nine schools have to travel halfway across the country to play in one of the most hostile environments around. Bob Huggins’ teams are never the most talented, but are the toughest mentally and physically.
3. Oklahoma — Who would ever have guessed that freshman Trae Young would be this good? Now you see why Self was so devastated to finish second in the recruitment of this phenomenal Steph Curry clone. OU will go into every game with the best player on the floor who is capable of lifting others to greatness.
4. TCU — Jamie Dixon has revitalized the Horned Frogs. They are the only undefeated team in the conference at this point, but their bench leaves something to be desired.
5. Baylor — The Bears have a lot of height and length, but don’t shoot it as well as year’s past. Their zone defense always causes opponents problems.
6. Texas — This is where it starts to get murky. The Longhorns have a quality big man and some nice young talent, but probably are a year away.
7. Kansas State — The narrow loss to Arizona State is looking better and better. But once the Wildcats get into conference play I have to wonder if they’ll be able to score enough points. They’re banking a lot of the Big 3 of Dean Wade, Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown.
8. Texas Tech — Way out in Lubbock, the Red Raiders are kind of a mystery team. They are 10-1, but when was the last time they were ever in the hunt?
9. Iowa State — Big graduation hits have left this team rather thin on talent. The Cyclones have had a great run, but this could be a rebuilding year.
10. Oklahoma State — Brad Underwood is now coaching at Illinois and maybe he had an inkling of what could happen this year. But the Cowboys are 9-2 and they knocked off nationally ranked Florida State. If they wind up being the worst team in the conference, that tells you about the parity.