It's never too early for some preseason college hoops predictions
So here we sit, a little more than three weeks away from the start of football season and that means it’s time to start looking at preseason basketball predictions.... Wait, what?
As much as that might not be a reality anywhere else in the country, it certainly is the case here in Lawrence, where college basketball is a year-round passion and rankings, whether they’re posted in mid-April, the heart of the summer or the start of October, are taken seriously the minute they’re posted.
That’s why CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein caught the eye of Kansas fans on Monday when he dropped his early look at the Big 12 for the upcoming season, which actually will be here before we know it.
Technically dubbed Power Rankings, Rothstein’s picks did not cause any heart attacks — in other words, he properly picked Kansas to win the Big 12 again — but did create a little buzz at spots 2-10.
I’m actually good with a big chunk of his picks. I like Kansas to win its 13th straight Big 12 regular season title, I like West Virginia to be the Jayhawks’ biggest challenger and I think K-State and TCU will finish closer to the bottom than the top.
It’s the middle of the pack that I’d change up, at least as of Aug. 16, 2016.
So my late-summer Big 12 predictions would look something like this:
- Kansas, 2. West Virginia, 3. Iowa State, 4. Baylor, 5. Oklahoma, 6. Texas, 7. Texas Tech, 8. Oklahoma State, 9. Kansas State, 10. TCU.
Here's a look at Rothstein's order:
Big 12 Power Rankings: Kansas, West Virginia, Iowa State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, TCU.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 15, 2016
Next up, Rothstein Tweeted out some individual awards, including player of the year, which he gave to KU freshman Josh Jackson.
It’s a bold pick given Jackson’s age, but might wind up being one we look back on and say, “Of course.”
Joining Jackson on Rothstein’s first team were:
Big 12 Preseason First-Team: F. Mason (Kansas), M. Morris (ISU), J. Evans (OSU), J. Jackson (Kansas), J. Motley (Baylor.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 15, 2016
Given the departure of so many of last year’s stars, either to graduation or early entry in the NBA Draft (I’m still bumming over Isaiah Taylor’s decision to leave Texas), first-team all-Big 12 honors are a bit wide open going into the 2016-17 season.
I’m in agreement with Jackson, Morris and Evans but think I’d give the slight edge to Devonte’ Graham over Frank Mason, I think Graham will score more and shoot a higher percentage. Plus, Graham’s on-court demeanor tends to stand out a lot more than the stone-faced senior.
After that, I’d give the final spot to either Motley or OU’s Khadeem Lattin, who will have to have a much bigger impact for the Sooners on both ends of the floor than he did with Buddy Hield, Ryan Spangler and Isaiah Cousins in the lineup.
Rothstein lists Oklahoma State as his sleeper team and it’s tough to argue with that given the presence of all-world point guard Jawun Evans and the return of senior guard Phil Forte along with the dawn of the Brad Underwood era.
If there were a team other than OSU that I’d consider for this honor, it’s Shaka Smart’s Texas Longhorns, which I’ve got sixth and Rothstein had seventh. They’re missing some key pieces, particularly at the point, but UT has some terrific athletes and should be much more comfortable playing Smart’s style, which can be a nightmare for opponents. Predicting Texas to crack the Top 3 would be a reach, but it’s definitely easy to make a case for a fourth- or fifth-place finish.
Rothstein’s next few categories featured a few Jayhawks in some less-heralded categories.
Both Udoka Azubuike and Mitch Lightfoot landed on his list of 10 impact freshmen and big man Dwight Coleby landed on his list of five his under-the-radar transfers.
I was surprised to see Lightfoot included on the impact freshmen list — though I wouldn’t be surprised if that prediction came true. It’ll all come down to opportunity, if you ask me — and even though Coleby definitely has some potential to impact this team, I’m not sure this will be the year he does that.
His final category was 5 breakout Big 12 players and I’m a big fan of all of them, but was shocked to see KU sophomore Carlton Bragg left off the list.
Bragg also has yet to appear on DraftExpress.com’s 2017 Mock Draft and, when I inquired about his absence there, I was told that they’d probably add him if he got off to a hot start, otherwise he’ll be on the 2018 Mock Draft as soon as they post it.
5 Big 12 Breakout Players: T. Maston (BU), C. James (OU), E. Macon (WVU), K. Roach (UT), D. Burton (ISU).— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) August 15, 2016
While the idea of Bragg sticking around for his junior season might be music to KU fans’ ears, I’m not sure he’s getting the hype he deserves heading into his sophomore season — at least not nationally.
Just by being out there the amount of time he figures to be on the floor, Bragg stands to be an automatic threat for a double-double on any given night. He easily has the prowess to pour in double figures in scoring and if his added bulk is paired with another level of intensity, he should be able to hit the glass and do some damage on both ends of the floor.
While predicting a double-double average for Bragg is also a bit bold, the numbers say that if his 2015-16 averages of 3.8 points and 2.5 rebounds in 9 minutes a game are projected over his more likely playing time of around 30 minutes a game in 2016-17, Bragg easily could wind up in the 12-point, 8-rebound range.
After all, with names like Mason, Graham, Jackson and Lucas out there on the floor with him, there will be very little pressure on the talented sophomore who, at least according to those you ask around here, sure seems to be headed toward a big time season.