Senior-led Texas schools chasing Kansas in Big 12 race
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — There was a feeling of familiarity at the Sprint Center on Tuesday.
Down one hall walked the TCU trio of Vladimir Brodziansky, Ahmed Hamdy and Kenrich Williams, while the Baylor trio of Manu Lecomte, Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. and Nuni Omet stood down the other. Texas Tech seniors Keenan Evans, Justin Gray and Niem Stevenson huddled together nearby.
Three schools from Texas, all led by seniors who have been through the Big 12 grind.
“I think it has a chance to be a special year in Texas, and for Texas Tech especially, because of all the seniors,” said Red Raiders coach Chris Beard, who is embarking on his second year in the league.
More familiarity: All those Texas schools are still chasing Kansas.
The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the regular-season league title 13 consecutive years, and are the favorites once again. They received all but one vote in preseason polling of coaches, and that was only because Kansas boss Bill Self couldn’t vote for his own team. He gave his nod to another senior-laden bunch from West Virginia.
The Jayhawks lost national player of the year Frank Mason III to graduation, NBA lottery pick Josh Jackson after one season in Lawrence and big man Landen Lucas, who developed into one of the premier post defenders in the game. But they also return plenty of experience, including senior guards Devonte Graham and Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, giving them a unique combination of talent and promise.
“It’s nice for the coaches to vote and stuff like that, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really mean much and we still got to go out and play,” Graham said. “I like our personality. We’ve got a lot of outgoing guys that laugh and stuff off the court. But they also know how to work hard.”
There are other schools returning a bevy of seniors, including the Mountaineers, whose backcourt of Jevon Carter and Daxter Miles Jr. could be among the best in the nation. But there are also teams that are going to be in major rebuilding mode this season.
That includes Iowa State, which won the Big 12 tournament the last time it was in the Sprint Center.
The Cyclones were led by senior guards Monte Morris and Naz Mitrou-Long, and had a bruiser in the paint in Deonte Burton. But all of them are gone, leaving a massive void on coach Steve Prohm’s roster.
“All those seniors are off and doing extremely well from our last two years, and now we’re moving onto Year 3 with a brand new group,” he said. “We’ve got some young guys, but we still have some old guys, some fifth-year transfers that will have to bring them along.”
Here are some other takeaways from the Big 12′s gathering in Kansas City:
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby announced the women’s tournament, which will be played in Oklahoma City the next two years, will return to Kansas City in 2020 and run alongside the men’s tournament. The contract is only for one year so that it is co-terminus with the men’s agreement.
“The venue will be Municipal Auditorium, as it was before,” Bowlsby said, pointing out $5 million in recent upgrades to the historic downtown arena. “We feel like there’s some synergy between the men’s and women’s tournament, the men’s and women’s crowds.”
Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Kansas State have all been picked to finish near the bottom of the Big 12. And while Prohm dismissed any preseason prognostication, the Cowboys and Wildcats have both chosen to use the slight as inspiration heading into the season.
“We can use a little bit of it,” Wildcats coach Bruce Weber said. “We talked about it in the summer, when stuff started to come out. But have to be prepared and come to work and take care of business.”
The youngest team in the Big 12 last season was Oklahoma, and there’s an argument to be made that’s still the case. Lon Kruger’s bunch will be led by junior guard Rashard Odomes, sophomore star Kameron McGusty and Trae Young, a five-star recruit who chose to stay home in Norman.
OLD FACES, NEW PLACES
Kansas guard Malik Newman will begin playing after a redshirt season following his transfer from Mississippi State. Texas Tech’s Tommy Hamilton IV will be eligible after his arrival from DePaul, while Texas will get former Tulane standout Dylan Osetkowski on the floor.
TCU has been picked to finish better in the Big 12 in the preseason than the Horned Frogs’ football team, which is now ranked fourth nationally. And that’s led to some good-natured ribbing.
“I guess Gary (Patterson) is getting the last laugh,” TCU coach Jamie Dixon said of his football counterpart. “We’re all proud of what they’re doing.”
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