Big 12 hoops to have a fresh, new look; KU picked to win again
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Oklahoma's wild ride to the Final Four last spring was fueled by Buddy Hield's shooting, Isaiah Cousins' court vision and Ryan Spangler's power in the post.
All of them are gone this season.
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The turnover isn't limited to the Sooners, either.
Of all the leagues playing major college basketball, perhaps none will have a fresher look this season than the Big 12. The old guard that became household names -- Georges Niang at Iowa State, Devin Williams at West Virginia and Perry Ellis at Kansas -- either graduated or left school early, leaving in their wake dozens of starting jobs at schools across the league.
"Given the number of seniors we had graduate last year, a lot of new roles and minutes are available," Sooners coach Lon Kruger said. "It's not great to be young in any league, the Big 12 especially."
Indeed, looking at the All-Big 12 teams of a year ago is likely to make some fans feel nostalgic, especially when you consider that the entire first team and 11 of the 15 players overall have departed.
That includes Hield, Niang and Ellis, who were joined on the first team by Texas guard Isaiah Taylor and Baylor forward Taurean Prince. Williams and Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. left school after their junior years, while Cousins and Spangler joined the Mountaineers' Jaysean Paige and big man Rico Gathers of Baylor in exhausting their eligibility.
"Every day we find something new about our team," said Sooners senior Jordan Woodard.
Those veteran departures are certain to cause some coaches plenty of heartburn.
They're also welcomed by a couple whose teams return intact.
"You lost a lot of valuable members of teams, some of the greatest players in the history of the Big 12, from Buddy to Georges to Perry," said Kansas State coach Bruce Weber, who managed to weather his own growing pains with a bunch of newcomers last year.
"Those guys, if you look at those teams, they seem to have parts back," Weber said, "but you're not sure about other people. I think that's the case with a lot of teams."
The Sooners still have Woodard and junior Khadeem Lattin. The Bears will rely on juniors Al Freeman and Johnathan Motley along with senior Ishmail Wainwright. And even the Jayhawks have seniors Frank Mason III and Landen Lucas to go with junior Devonte' Graham.
They'll be backed by some of the top freshmen in the country.
Kansas guard Josh Jackson is considered by many the No. 1 recruit, and some analysts predict he'll be chosen first in next year's draft. Texas reeled in five-star prospects Jarrett Allen and Andrew Jones, and new TCU coach Jamie Dixon landed his first premier prospect in guard Jaylen Fisher.
Three new coaches will give the league an even fresher look.
Dixon took over for the fired Trent Johnson after 13 seasons at Pittsburgh that included 11 trips to the NCAA Tournament. Chris Beard parlayed a 30-5 record in his only season at Arkansas-Little Rock into the top job at Texas Tech. And three solid seasons at Stephen F. Austin landed Brad Underwood the job Travis Ford held for eight seasons at Oklahoma State.
All have at least some ties to the Big 12: Dixon played for the Horned Frogs in their Southwest Conference days, Beard was an assistant to Bob Knight and Pat Knight at Texas Tech, and Underwood played at Kansas State and returned there as an assistant under Bob Huggins and Frank Martin.
"I don't consider our job a rebuild," said Beard, who also was a student assistant at Texas under Tom Penders. "We have eight returners and eight newcomers. Our job is to go to the next level."
Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said he was as surprised as anybody when guard Monte Morris returned for his senior season. Morris would likely have been a first-round draft pick, and was voted the league's preseason player of the year.
The Jayhawks were a unanimous pick to win their 13th straight title, which means they also got first-place votes from the three new coaches. That streak would match UCLA for the longest stretch of consecutive conference championships.
"Kansas' dominance, it really comes down to three things: They have a great coach, great players, and they never lose at home," Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. "People have to go into Allen Fieldhouse and win once in a while, because the rest of us lose at home."