Substantial turnover was inevitable this past offseason. Departures came in bunches, and programs were liable to roster adjustments. With most lineups differing considerably from last season, here is a much-needed conference scouting report as the 2018-19 Big 12 slate draws nearer.
Praise: Kansas is the coherent frontrunner in the conference. With a 14-year monopoly on conference championships, the Jayhawks sit comfortably on a throne of supremacy and consistency. It’s unlikely anything changes this season. Occasionally put on the back burner in terms of national recognition is Kansas’ backcourt. Quentin Grimes, Lagerald Vick, and Devon Dotson succeeded Devonte Graham and company from last season, while presenting a new dynamic at the position.
Critique: At the risk of over-flattering, I’ll provide some nit-picky critique. Their front court, albeit very successful, has its potential weak points. Dedric Lawson and Udoka Azubuike are vulnerable outside the paint. So, while it’s not an immediate issue, there could be logjams in the post utilizing two bigs with skillsets catering to inside play.
Praise: Early season play is cosmetic in the sense that those wins and losses impact the final record, but don’t say much about the team’s ability. So, don’t read too much into their loss to Buffalo. They are still a conference juggernaut, led offensively and defensively by a big-four of Sagaba Konate, Lamont West, Esa Ahmad, and James Bolden, all of which are juniors or seniors.
Critique: Fractured defensively, West Virginia dropped its defensive MO with the departures of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles. Nevertheless, they’re still a stout defensive roster, but their defense can’t carry them to quite as many wins as it had in seasons prior.
Praise: By-and-large one of the elite defensive rosters in the conference, headlined by the backcourt duo of Xavier Sneed and Barry Brown. Collectively, the two average 4.3 steals per game, and 6.6 when you account for backup guard, Kamau Stokes.
Critique: The Wildcats can contend with this caveat, offensive production will pick up. Currently averaging just 19 percent from three, 45 percent from the stripe, and a bush-league 72 total points per game. That isn’t too worrisome three games in, but the stats are of note.
Praise: Despite what’s said in the “Critique” portion, the Sooners have shown signs of a heartbeat in the early going. Christian James is averaging over 25 points per game, and Brady Manek has shown that he provides more than catch-and-shoot three-pointers, averaging 11 boards to go along with 11 points. As previously alluded to with West Virginia, early season play can be somewhat cosmetic, but at face value, the Sooners seem like a tournament contender.
Critique: National relevancy will be elusive in the ensuing seasons, as Trae Young’s departure left Oklahoma in shambles. Despite being career role players, Brady Manek and Christian James capable of collectively helping bridge the scoring gap left behind by Young. Simply put, losing a player of his caliber, one responsible for 32 percent of the team’s scoring and 58 percent of its assists, means the resulting transition won’t be easy.
Praise: Lindy Waters returns to the roster this season, and will carry the bulk of the scoring load after offseason turnover.
Critique: The Cowboys are treading water after an offseason of carnage. They were alluded to during the college hoops trial; more specifically, about an alleged $150,000 payment in the suit of Brian Bowen. As for the roster, their three leading scorers in Jeffery Carroll (15.4 ppg), Kendall Smith (13.1 ppg), and Tavarius Shine (9.7 ppg) all left after the 2017 season. 2018 will be a rebuilding year for the Cowboys.
Praise: King McClure returns this season with lofty expectations as the seasoned veteran, and Devonte Bandoo’s (14.5 ppg) hot start to the season is a reassuring sight in Waco.
Critique: Life without Manu Lecomte and Jo-Lual Acuil will be tough, as the roster lacks any all-conference, alpha type players.
Praise: Guard depth is their strong suit. The surplus sees a returning Lindell Wigginton (13 ppg), Marial Shayok (20 ppg), Talon Horton-Tucker (14.7 ppg), Nick Babb (11.3 ppg), and freshman Tyrese Haliburton (7.7 ppg). This five-headed hydra is a well-oiled machine and a prime reason they can contend in a cutthroat conference.
Critique: Lindell Wigginton is currently facing an uncertain timetable with a foot strain. The consensus is that he will return by conference play.
Praise: The Red Raiders return projected first-round draft pick, Jarrett Culver (16.3 ppg) in hopes that he can play the Keenan Evans role from last season. They should be dancing in March.
Critique: Blatant faults are slim in number, but they’re nowhere near invulnerable.
Praise: Though injured, Jaylen Fisher returns to the roster, as well as Alex Robinson (16 ppg) and Desmond Bane (19.7 ppg). Offensively, this team has yet to find its kryptonite.
Critique: Jaylen Fisher stays nursing a knee injury that sidelined him for sixteen games last season.