This article is part of our Draft Kit series.
Kansas has owned the Big 12 for so long that we can almost take for granted that the Jayhwaks will at least share the regular season title this season. How have they done it? I think Bill Self is one of the best college coaches: he gets his players to share the ball on offense and give effort on defense. It is as simple as that. Last year, he had the gift of two one-and-done freshmen and Cliff Alexander may be another.
Of course, writing in a champion is much easier after the season and there should be some solid challengers. Texas brings back its entire team and adds the RotoWire Big 12 preseason Freshman of the Year (see below). Oklahoma could be strong (if a certain transfer is deemed eligible) and Iowa State has formidable talent, including forward Georges Niang. Nevertheless, I wouldn't bet against rock, chalk, Jayhawk!
Juwan Staten, guard, West Virginia Mountaineers - To state that Staten should be one of the first guards picked in any fantasy leagues seems obvious. The 6-foot-1 senior averaged 18.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.8 assists in 37.3 minutes. He hit 48.6 percent of his field goals, so he wasn't a random chucker. Staten popped for 35 points (including 18 made free throws in 21 attempts) in a win over Kansas State and didn't waste many opportunities on 3-pointers (just 15 attempts from beyond the arc). His value might change if he extends his range on his jumper.
Le'Bryan Nash, guard/forward, Oklahoma State Cowboys - For three years, we have been saying that this is the year that Nash breaks out. This is the year. With Marcus Smart and Markel Brown gone, Nash will have the white, hot spotlight on him for the first time since he was a freshman. Even as a third banana, the 6-7 swingman averaged 13.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 29.9 minutes. I'd expect his shot attempts to rise precipitously from his career-low 9.6 field goals last year and his value should increase correspondingly.
Buddy Hield, guard, Oklahoma Sooners - If anyone is going to challenge Staten for the Big 12 scoring throne, it will be the 6-4 Hield. Like Staten, Hield made an enormous jump in offensive output in 2013-14. He averaged 16.5 points and was not shy about taking 3-pointers (7.1 threes attempted per game). The junior hit six 3-pointers in a January win over Iowa State (he finished with 22 points) and put 30 points up against the Cyclones in a loss in February. Before the Sooners were taken out by North Dakota State in the Round of 64 in the tournament, Hield had a seven-game streak of at least three 3-pointers.
Myles Turner, forward, Texas Longhorns - Very little was expected of the Longhorns last year, but coach Rick Barnes held his team together and forged a competitive squad. As noted above, the team returns all of its players and adds Turner - a top 10 recruit - to the mix. The 6-11, 240 lb forward will provide efficient low post offense that the was not the forte of the other Texas bigs. He also averaged 6.8 blocks as a high school senior, so Turner will likely add to the team's stringent defense.
TaShawn Thomas, forward, Oklahoma Sooners - This is a bit of a risky pick because Thomas has not been granted eligibility for the 2014-15 season by the NCAA after transferring from Houston. The senior may still have to sit out the season, but I am going to take a flyer on a guy who averaged 15.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.7 blocks with Houston last season. It is hard to say whether the NCAA is delaying its decision is a good or bad thing. If Thomas does play, he should anchor the Sooner front line with Ryan Spangler.
Pair of Sleepers
Johnathan Motley, forward, Baylor Bears - The Bears have been a reliable source of frontcourt prowess over the past few years. This year, Rico Gathers appears to be the main guy to get from the big Bears, but they may look for the 6-9 Motley to contribute immediately after taking a redshirt last season. The 230 lb forward averaged 17.3 points and 10.9 boards as a high school senior in Houston, so he may be able to step into Cory Jefferson's spot.
Hunter Mickelson, forward, Kansas Jayhawks - When looking for a new school, Mickelson simply subtracted the "Ar" from Arkansas and moved west. He may not start for the Jayhawks, but the 6-10 forward should be a defensive presence at the end of games. Mickelson swatted away 1.2 shots for Arkansas in 2012-13 in just 16.6 minutes. He could also factor into the Jayhawk offense and grab his share of offensive rebounds.