For the first time in 15 seasons, the Kansas Jayhawks did not win or share the Big 12 Conference regular-season title. Last season, it was Kansas State and Texas Tech that relieved the Jayhawks of their dominance of the conference’s top spot. 

Entering the 2019-20 season, most college basketball betting previews put Kansas right back on top. The Jayhawks return a wealth of talent as well as a couple of young recruits who should give head coach Bill Self some quality minutes. 

Can anyone challenge the Jayhawks control of the Big 12? Both Kansas State and Texas Tech lost their best players and will be hard-pressed to match what they accomplished last season. Could there be another surprise looming among the rest of the Big 12?

The Clear Favorite
Devon Dotson declared for the NBA draft after last season but decided to return to KU. The 6-foot-2-inch sophomore is off to a great start for the second-ranked Jayhawks averaging 19.7 points, 4.3 assists, and 4.0 rebounds per game. Dotson and 7-footer Udoka Azubuike were both preseason All-Big 12 picks. Azubuike is healthy and putting up 15.1 points and 7.6 rebounds a game thus far this season. 

Is Michigan State a Lock to Win the Big Ten Championship?

With 6-9 Silvio De Sousa back in the lineup as well as David McCormack and Marcus Garrett, the Jayhawks are deep and talented. Self’s team is the clear favorite in the Big 12 and also a favorite to win the NCAA title (+850 according to America’s Bookie). 

The Challenger
Baylor made it to the second round of last year’s NCAA tournament and returns Tristan Clark, who missed most of last season with an injury. The Bears have an emerging star in guard Jared Butler who leads the team in scoring averaging 19.4 points per game. Bears head coach Scott Drew also gets two impact transfers in MaCio Teague, the team’s second-leading scorer (14.9ppg), and Davion Mitchell. 

The Bears are off to a great start winning six of their first seven games this season. The only loss was by three points to Washington (7-1). Baylor is the only other Big 12 team currently ranked in the AP poll checking in at No. 18. The Bears should challenge Kansas for the conference title and make another trip to the NCAA tournament.

The Surprises
After four straight 25-plus-win seasons, West Virginia hobbled its way through a 15-21 season last year. Head coach Bob Huggins lost his top three scorers from last year but, he returns four of five starters. Guard Jermaine Haley is big (6-7), plays great defense, and is the Mountaineers leading scorer thus far this season. Haley averages 12.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

NCAA Basketball Player of the Year Predictions

Like typical West Virginia teams, Haley, Oscar Tshiebwe (12.3 ppg), Derek Culver (11.1 ppg), and Emmitt Matthews Jr. (10.6 ppg) all average in double figures. Most college basketball predictions have West Virginia finishing near the bottom of the standings this season. If Huggins team can stay healthy, that might change.

Another surprise could come from Texas, which won the NIT last year. Head coach Shaka Smart lost his top three scorers, but junior Matt Coleman III (13.8 ppg, 4.9 asg) returns and the momentum from last year’s NIT appears to be real. Texas is 7-1 with a win over a ranked Purdue squad early this season.

About the Author

A native of Western Pennsylvania, Rick, a Generation X-er, who now lives just north of the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. A former high school, college, and professional football player, Rick now spends his time as a high school coach and as a personal quarterback trainer. An all-state high school quarterback, he went on to become an Academic All-American at Division II Indiana University of PA. He later coached at his alma mater helping lead the program to the 1990 NCAA Division II national championship game. Rick has also served as a high school head coach and as an assistant in Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan.

His passion for sports writing started when he was the sports editor for his high school newspaper and continued when he worked as a sportswriter for the Jamestown (New York) Post-Journal in the early 1990s. A true sports fanatic, Rick enjoys all things Pittsburgh: Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. The Immaculate Reception, the 1979 We Are Family Pirates, and the ’91-’92 Penguins are among his favorites. After working as an educator and athletic director for several years, he again took up sports writing and has contributed to several websites and publications, including Coach & Player magazine, X & O Labs, American Football Monthly, and many others.

When not consumed with coaching, watching, thinking about, or writing about football and other seasonal sports, he finds himself working out like he was still in college and reading everything from military history to Brad Thor novels. Rick has also been chasing rock god stardom as a drummer who has played with bands that have opened for the likes of Fuel, Days of the New, and Alien Ant Farm. He continues to play with his church worship group. Most importantly, Rick is married to the love of his life, Lisa, and has two beautiful daughters.

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