Lutz Blog

Bob Lutz: Surprise, surprise, KU picked to win Big 12 hoops title

To say the Kansas Jayhawks have dominated Big 12 basketball is an afront to the word “dominate.”

Habitually, now, the conference’s coaches pick KU to win the championship and it’s no different this year as the Jayhawks received six of the 10 first-place votes.

Only six of 10, mind you.

Texas got three votes and Oklahoma one. Kansas State didn’t get any votes to win the conference championship, but the Wildcats are picked to finish fourth, followed by Iowa State, Baylor, West Virginia, Oklahoma State, TCU and Texas Tech.

Maybe we’ll have a race. Maybe, even, Texas, OU or even K-State can overtake Kansas. Just don’t bank on it.

The Jayhawks have one of the most intriguing teams in the country with the return of Perry Ellis, Wayne Selden, Frank Mason, Jamari Traylor and Conner Frankamp. But there are a lot of highly-touted newcomers, including likely one-and-done freshmen Cliff Alexander (6-feet-8, 240 pounds) and small forward Kelly Oubre (6-7, 200).

The big talk so far in the preseason, though, has been about the play of freshman point guard Devonte’ Graham, who originally signed with Appalachian State as a senior at Broughton High in Raleigh, N.C., but decided to spend a prep year at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., the same prep school that produced Nadiir Tharpe, the point guard Graham has a chance of replacing at Kansas.

It’ll also be interesting to see how 17-year-old Ukrainian Sviatoslav Mykhailuk fits into the KU mix. That last name is pronounced MYEEK-a-luke, by the way.

KU has lost Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the NBA. Those are major losses, of course, especially to how Kansas plays defense. The Jayhawks weren’t always a great defensive team last season and Wiggins and Embiid were arguably the two best defenders on the team.

Kansas undoubtedly has enough to win an 11th consecutive Big 12 championship.

But you better take Texas seriously.

It’s been a while since you could say that about the Longhorns, but they were a surprising 24-11 last season and made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Arizona State.

Texas has a bunch of players back and has added 6-11 center Myles Turner, regarded by most recruiting observers as the No. 2 high school prospect in the country last season. Turner will join 6-9 beast Cameron Ridley and 6-8 Jonathan Holmes on what should be a formidable frontline.

Meanwhile, point guard Isaiah Taylor made a fantastic freshman debut last season. But Texas needs shooters and that’s where junior Demarcus Holland, sophomore Martez Walker and freshman Jordan Barnett come into play.

Lon Kruger has Oklahoma on the rise, but are the Sooners in the same ballpark with Kansas?

Too soon to tell, but you have to like the OU veteran backcourt of Buddy Hield (Sunrise Academy), Jordan Woodard and Isaiah Cousins.

The Sooners have lost Cameron Clark and Tyler Neal from their frontline, which likely will be manned by 6-8 junior Ryan Spangler and 6-8 senior D.J. Bennett. Freshman Khadeem Lattin (6-9, 201) could also be in the mix.

The Sooners are awaiting a transfer waiver approval from the NCAA on Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas, a 6-8, 240-pound forward who averaged 15.4 points and 9.1 rebounds for the Cougars last season. Thomas, obviously, would be a huge addition.

And what about Kansas State?

The Wildcats were an up-and-down 20-13 last season, but did make it to the NCAA Tournament with a 10-8 Big 12 record. Any conversation about K-State starts with 6-2 sophomore Marcus Foster, who should be one of the best players in the country. He’s dynamic.

Senior Thomas Gipson is a proven frontliner. Otherwise, though, K-State has a lot of question marks. Perhaps Bruce Weber and his coaching staff will answer them, but the questions are there.

How much improvement can sophomores Wesley Iwundu, Jevon Thomas and Nigel Johnson show?

Will twin 6-11 towers Brandon Bolden (Georgetown transfer) and Stephen Hurt, who started his college basketball career at Lipscomb, provide the kind of inside help the Wildcats missed last season? They’ll need to contribute big, especially since 6-9 junior D.J. Johnson is likely to miss the first month or so of the regular season with a foot injury.

Can Maine transfer Justin Edwards, a 6-4 junior, provide much-needed perimeter shooting? He averaged 16.7 points per game two seasons ago at Maine.

What can highly-touted freshmen Malek Harris (6-8, 215), Tre Harris (6-5, 195) offer?

I wouldn’t count Kansas State out. But I also wouldn’t pick against Kansas. Why would anyone at this point?