As part of Illustrated SportsIn previewing the 2021-22 men’s college basketball season, we are breaking down each of the seven major conferences (CAA, ACC, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC), plus “the best of the rest.” Everything will be complete with the breakdown of each team by our analyst, plus a projected finish order drawn from SI’s 1-358 master rankings, to be revealed prior to the start of the season. Next is the Big 12.
The Big 12 has been an NCAA men’s tournament powerhouse in recent years, with Baylor’s national championship team last season marking the fourth conference Final Four entrant in the past five tournaments. That impressive stretch could continue in 2022. Kansas should be back on track as a potential final weekend team, and a flood of transfers and the arrival of Chris Beard could turn Texas from a tournament scapegoat to a title contender.
There is also significant depth behind the top two teams. Baylor, Texas Tech and West Virginia could navigate significant exits en route to a top five in the tournament, and both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could hit the field of 68. Sending seven teams to dance is high on the line for what it should be. be a clustered conference for much of the season.
Conference Player of the Year: Marcus Carr, Texas
Carr comes to Austin after three years in Minnesota, where he won first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2020-21. His arrival could spark a Texas offense that has often been held back by the middle point guard game in recent years. Carr is an effective ground general in pick-and-roll situations, and can create his own punch by driving downhill to the rim. The Longhorns have desperately needed a dynamic backcourt presence after underperforming with outstanding centers. [deep breath] Kai Jones, Jaxson Hayes, Jarrett Allen, Mo Bamba, Myles Turner, et al. Carr’s arrival could change the program, leading to a Top 12 Player of the Year award in the process.
Newcomer of the year: Remy Martin, Kansas
Carr would obviously lock in the newcomer of the year if he’s named conference player of the year, but let’s use this space to highlight his competition for both awards. Martin comes to Kansas after four years at Arizona State, and he averaged 19.1 points per game in each of his last two seasons with the Sun Devils. Martin is stronger on the can than his 6’0 “frame suggests, and he’s not afraid to let him fly like a volume shooter past the arc. Kansas is relatively well supplied on the front court with forward David McCormack. In the lead If Martin lights up the scoreboards in the Big 12, he and the Jayhawks will spend much of the season in the national spotlight.
Dark-horse team: Oklahoma State
The Cowboys have a large number of returning contributors from last year’s team despite Cade Cunningham’s departure for the NBA draft, and we got to see a notable jump from junior guard Avery Anderson III. However, the best case for the state of Oklahoma stems from the arrival of two notable transfers. If former Kansas guard Bryce Thompson or former Memphis center Moussa Cisse compete for All-Big 12 status, Mike Boynton’s team could be one of the top four seeds in the tournament once again, at least, if his appeal of a postseason ban is successful.
All-Big 12 First Team
Marcus Carr, Texas
Remy Martin, Kansas
Ochai Agbaji, Kansas
Matthew Mayer, Baylor
Avery Anderson III, State of Oklahoma
YES Expected Arrival Order
Apologies to Texas fans if this feels like a Lucy-with-football situation, but the Longhorns are seriously equipped to win the Big 12 title in the first year of Chris Beard’s tenure. He cleaned up the transfer market before his first season in Austin, adding six players, including Carr and All-Pac-12 forward Timmy Allen of Utah. Texas lost Jones, Jericho Sims and Greg Brown III from last year’s team, but replacing a trio of rimmed runners with greats and more skilled wings should pay dividends.
There will likely be a period of adjustment for the Longhorns given the roster revision, and a couple of losses early in the Big 12 may send Texas fans back to the Shaka Smart era. But patience will finally pay off after a lost half decade at Forty Acres. Beard is both an effective strategist and recruiter. Maybe it starts running as Texas awaits its first Final Four since 2003.
The Jayhawks are indeed co-favorites with Texas for the Big 12 crown, and Bill Self’s show could very well make it to its second Final Four since 2018. This is a talent-laden roster, with Martin leading an impressive crop of contributors. Senior Ochai Agbaji is a flexible wing and stabilizer piece, while McCormack should help to space concerns with his ability to jump past the foul line. Kansas limped for much of the 2020-21 season before a second-round tournament that was crushed by USC. This season it should feature a Kansas team that lives up to the high standards set in Lawrence.
This Baylor team bears little resemblance to last year’s national championship team, with top scorers Jared Butler, MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell exiting the program. There are no real expectations of a repeat, but there is certainly a path to another tournament of some length for Scott Drew’s show. Junior forward Jonathan Tchamwa Tchatchoua continues to improve as an inside presence alongside senior Flo Thamba, and the transfer of Arizona James Akinjo should help fill the backcourt scoring gap. Plus, a strong recruiting class is coming to Waco. We’ll get a better idea of this team’s roof as March approaches.
4. State of Oklahoma
Obviously a key piece is missing from last year’s roster in Stillwater, with Cunningham now in Detroit after being selected with the first pick in the 2021 NBA draft. But it’s unfair to paint the state of Oklahoma as Cade’s show last season. Forward Kalib Boone made a marked jump in his sophomore season, and his sophomore Anderson averaged 12.2 points per game as Cunningham’s running mate on the backcourt. Boynton’s team enters 2021-22 with six rotation players returning from last year’s team, and there should be an infusion of talent thanks to Thompson and Cisse. Don’t discount the Cowboys in the race for the Big 12 crown.
5. Texas Technology
Beard’s move to Texas will likely have a bigger impact in Austin than in Lubbock, where the Red Raiders will benefit from the continuity of the scheme with first-year head coach Mark Adams. Texas Tech’s hellish defense in recent years stems in part from Adams’ scheming, and perhaps Adams injects some rhythm into what was often a clogged offensive offense last season. Hiring an internal candidate should pay dividends for Texas Tech both in 2021-22 and in the future.
Available staff can be a bigger impediment to immediate success than a change of coach. Texas Tech has to replace Mac McClung’s production from last season, and guard Kyler Edwards transferred to Houston after averaging 10.1 points per game in 2020-21. Watch for the transfer of Oral Roberts, Kevin Obanor, who scored 58 points in the first weekend of the tournament last season en route to Sweet 16. If the soft-hitting forward shines at Tech, this could become a team every more dangerous in the 2022 tournament.
6. West Virginia
Miles McBride’s move to the NBA took a toll on West Virginia’s hopes of advancing deeply in the tournament, but this remains a solid roster that should be found on the right side of the bubble. Old Dominion transfer Malik Curry adds a dose of backcourt firepower, joining super senior Taz Sherman. This isn’t your most typical Bob Huggins team; it’s unlikely we’ll see the Mountaineers break the tables with abandon. However, a change in style could prove beneficial given the current roster in 2021-22.
Freshman coach Porter Moser is likely to continue Oklahoma’s tradition as a mainstay of the overall tournament for the next decade, although the Sooners face an uphill climb in 2021-22. Oklahoma lost four seniors from last year’s team along with its top three scorers, and there could be a backcourt scorer gap following Austin Reaves graduation. Perhaps a couple of brothers can overcome the losses. Tanner and Jacob Groves arrive in Norman after shining in eastern Washington, where Tanner won Big Sky’s Player of the Year honors. Duke point guard Jordan Goldwire is also now with Oklahoma, joining the program a year after leading the ACC in robberies. The Sooners have the advantage of a tournament team if they can start running.
The Jamie Dixon era is not exactly the one planned in Fort Worth, as Horned Frogs failed to make the NCAA tournament in four of the past five seasons. Will the tide turn for Dixon & Co. in 2021-22? It doesn’t seem likely. TCU lacks last season’s leading scorer, RJ Nembhard, and inside presence Kevin Samuel this year, and once again there seems to be a serious lack of firepower across the roster. A standout season from Texas A&M transfer Emanuel Miller marks TCU’s best chance to return to prominence in Dixon’s sixth season.
9. State of Kansas
Four returning starters could go a long way in saving Bruce Weber’s job at the Little Apple after the Wildcats posted a 9-20 record last season. Guard Nijel Pack is a sneaky pick for all conference honors as he looks to make a jump in the sophomore season, and we could see another scorer jump from fifth-year student Mike McGuirl. The days when Kansas State hovered near the top of the Big 12 are over for now. Although after a strong close to the 2020-21 season, perhaps the Wildcats can use that momentum to consider him in the tournament.
10. State of Iowa
It’s hard to see Iowa State be any worse than last year’s 2-222 team, though we shouldn’t expect any sort of jump this season as the Cyclones enter the year without their top five scorers from 2020-21. Perhaps, however, we will see minimal growth in the first year under coach TJ Otzelberger. Penn State transfer Izaiah Brockington should carry a significant scoring load, and junior transfer Robert Jones may provide some form of inside presence. We’re talking small steps here with Iowa State, which would consider even a few conference wins to be a step in the right direction.
More college basketball coverage:
• ACC Men’s Basketball Preview, Rankings
• 64 reasons to be excited for the CBB season
• Sources: Four NCAA Cases Make Key Advances
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.