Originally Published: July 24, 2012

Five offseason storylines

Jason King
ESPN.com

1. Eight straight Big 12 titles -- and counting -- for Kansas: The Jayhawks' mind-blowing streak of consecutive regular-season conference crowns is one of the most impressive in college basketball history. Not since UCLA won 13 straight from 1967-79 has a school from a major conference claimed this many league championships in a row. Bill Self's squad will be favored once again, although it certainly won't be a shoo-in for another trophy. The Jayhawks return starters Jeff Withey, Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford, but the roster also features eight freshmen, many of whom will have to contribute.

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesBaylor's backcourt should be solid this season with Brady Heslip, left, and Pierre Jackson returning.

2. Can Baylor challenge the Jayhawks? Perhaps. The Bears tout one of the deepest backcourts in the nation. Point guard Pierre Jackson is a Big 12 Player of the Year candidate and Brady Heslip may be the top 3-point shooter in America. A.J. Walton, Gary Franklin and Deuce Bello all played significant minutes last season. The biggest question mark for Baylor involves its youth down low, where the Bears lost starters Quincy Acy, Perry Jones III and Quincy Miller. Cory Jefferson, who averaged 10.5 minutes off the bench last season, will have to step up along with freshmen Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers. Austin, a 7-footer, is expected to be a top-five pick in next summer's NBA draft.

3. Two new additions: West Virginia and TCU have replaced SEC defects Missouri and Texas A&M. Neither school, however, will be a factor in the Big 12 race. The Mountaineers lost their two leading scorers (Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant) and will depend heavily on transfers Aaric Murray and Juwan Staten. TCU will be playing its first season under coach Trent Johnson, who spent the past four years at LSU. Johnson will have a difficult time keeping this team out of the Big 12 cellar.

4. What's next for Texas? The Longhorns are one of the biggest enigmas heading into the 2012-13 season. Rick Barnes' squad would have been a sure bet for a 15th straight NCAA tournament appearance had leading scorer J'Covan Brown opted to return for his senior season. Instead, Texas is looking for someone to replace Brown's 20.1 points per game. Freshman Cameron Ridley is one of the highest-rated players in the Class of 2012, and Barnes expects returning starters Myck Kabongo (point guard) and Sheldon McClellan (winger) to make significant leaps.

5. Kansas State welcomes Bruce Weber: The former Illinois coach inherited an excellent situation when he was hired in March to replace Frank Martin. The Wildcats return nearly every key piece of last season's 22-win team. Weber has proved in the past that he can win with other people's players. In 2005, he led an Illini squad recruited largely by Self to the NCAA title game. It may be far-fetched to think he can take this season's K-State team that far, but there is plenty of reason for optimism in Manhattan.

Best-case/worst-case scenarios

Eamonn Brennan
ESPN.com

Baylor

Best-case scenario: Whatever your final appraisal on the Perry Jones III era is -- relatively successful but ultimately disappointing is what I'd probably go with -- said era is decidedly over. Jones left for the NBA draft, as did freshman forward Quincy Miller. Senior forward Quincy Acy is gone too. And guess what? The Bears will be every bit as talented in the frontcourt. That's thanks to the arrival of 7-foot center Isaiah Austin, the No. 3-ranked player in the Class of 2012, and power forward Ricardo Gathers, the No. 10-ranked power forward. Meanwhile, Baylor brings back guards Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip as well as touted 2011 recruit Deuce Bello and former transfer Gary Franklin. Based on the sheer talent Scott Drew has managed to bring to this once-downtrodden program, Baylor should be targeting the Big 12 title -- not to mention a deep NCAA tournament run.

Worst-case scenario: ESPN's recruiting scouts call Austin the most talented player in the class. Part of this assessment has to do with his ability to handle the ball on the perimeter, not to mention knock down 3s and block shots. This is all well and good, but one can't help but think that appraisal sounds dangerously similar to Jones, who could have dominated college post defenders but maddeningly elected to play midrange offense more often than not. In other words, sure, the Bears are crazy-talented again, but will they be structured? Will Austin float, a la Jones? If not, will Gathers pick up that interior slack? How do these disparate pieces fit, and if the learning curve is large, will Drew be able to put it all together in time for a conference title run? Despite its talent, Baylor has lacked that certain cohesive je ne sais quoi in recent seasons. The worst-case is a repeat.

Iowa State

Best-case scenario: After resurrecting the career of once-troubled forward Royce White and ending Iowa State's seven-year NCAA tournament drought, what can the Mayor conjure in his third season? It doesn't need to be a huge step back. Continuing the transfer trend in Ames, former Michigan State point guard Korie Lucious and former Utah swingman Will Clyburn will take up the reins in 2012-13. A host of last season's contributors (Melvin Ejim, Chris Babb, Tyrus McGee, Anthony Booker, Percy Gibson) are back, and if No. 14-ranked power forward Georges Niang -- touted for his versatility and range out to the 3-point line -- can replace some of what made White so dangerous, this team could look very similar to last season's breakout crew.

Worst-case scenario: Then again, hoping that Niang can replicate even some measure of White's performance is setting an awfully high bar for a freshman ranked No. 56 overall in the incoming class. White was key to everything this team did on offense; it's a big ask. Meanwhile, this team's two main 3-point sharpshooters (Chris Allen, Scott Christopherson) have graduated. It wouldn't be surprising to see Iowa State take a step back this season and flirt more tenuously with the NCAA tournament bubble than it ever had to last season.

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Tyler Kaufman/US PresswireTCU not only has a new conference, but a new coach as well in Trent Johnson of LSU.

Kansas

Best-case scenario: A Big 12 regular-season title and a deep NCAA tournament run. KU's best-case scenarios are always easily calculated, because Bill Self so often achieves them. The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the past eight regular-season conference titles. Projecting them to do anything less than that seems like folly -- irrespective of personnel.

Worst-case scenario: With that said, the 2012-13 season will be a personnel challenge, even by Self's frequently reloaded standards. Thanks to the partial qualifier status of 2011 freshmen Ben McLemore and Jamari Traylor, Self essentially has eight freshmen on his bench this season. Three of the 2012 additions -- power forward Perry Ellis, small forward Andrew White and power forward Landon Lucas -- will hunt for minutes in a lineup whose most experienced players are shot-blocking center Jeff Withey and strong guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford. Thomas Robinson is gone. Tyshawn Taylor is gone. Conner Teahan is gone. Those departures leave a lot of question marks: how Self will plot his rotation, how quickly he'll feature McLemore, Ellis, Naadir Tharpe and others and whether those players have enough to maintain the Big 12 dominance. At this point, we really don't know.

Kansas State

Best-case scenario: The best-case is pretty straightforward. New coach Bruce Weber, one of the nation's best man-to-man defensive coaches, takes over Frank Martin's big, physical, ugly defensive team -- which returns basically everyone, save Jamar Samuels -- and the combination is a match made in heaven. After years of struggling with barely committed Illinois defenders, Weber relishes the ethos of this bunch, and the Wildcats become of the nation's least-relished matchups in turn.

Worst-case scenario: This team and Weber were as close to a perfect match as K-State fans could possibly hope. But there may be a bit of worst-case in that too. Weber's teams have struggled to score in the past, and the Cats were turnover prone and inaccurate from the field in 2011-12, relying on dominant offensive rebounding for the majority of their attack. Perhaps the worst-case is that this dynamic repeats itself and Kansas State is merely decent as a result.

Oklahoma

Best-case scenario: Considering the crater this program found itself in after an NCAA investigation and the departure of coach Jeff Capel, a 15-16 finish in Lon Kruger's first season must be seen as something of a success. At the very least, he knows how to get the most out of his guys. The entire rotation is back in 2012, joined by at least one recruit (shooting guard Buddy Hield) who could earn minutes right away. But until Kruger has time to develop his young guys and replenish the recruiting ranks, it will be difficult to expect much more than what we saw last season.

Worst-case scenario: When you're rebuilding, you just want to (A) get (or keep) fans excited, (B) develop young players and (C) make positive, program-wide steps toward a more promising future. Whatever the won-loss record in 2012-13, a failure to do those things would count as the worst-case scenario. The bar is not high, at least not right now.

Oklahoma State

Best-case scenario: On their face, LeBryan Nash's freshman-season stats -- 13.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists per game -- look promising enough. But Nash posted a rather putrid offensive rating (89.2) in accumulating them, which means, during his 29 percent of possessions, he was just as often hurting his team as helping it. That has to change in 2012-13. If it does, Nash, who was a top-10 recruit in the Class of 2011, has a chance to not only live up to his hype but also to lead a young, talented team joined by the No. 1 shooting guard prospect in the Class of 2012, Texas native Marcus Smart. With Nash, Smart, Markel Brown, Brian Williams and Michael Cobbins, this team has a chance to make a collective leap, one that could end with a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Worst-case scenario: Every player is different. Development from freshman to sophomore year is hardly guaranteed. If Nash merely repeats, or only marginally improves on, his freshman season -- if he is still using a lot of touches to inefficient effect -- then a team this young and talented can turn from promising to combustible in a hurry.

TCU

Best-case scenario: TCU is not a traditional basketball powerhouse. (That is an understatement.) Given that context, Jim Christian's team did have a fairly praiseworthy 2011-12, finishing 18-15 and notching wins over Virginia, UNLV and New Mexico along the way. The Horned Frogs weren't doormats, at least. It will be much tougher sledding in the Big 12 for new coach Trent Johnson, but there's at least a chance TCU won't be the ugly hoops stepchild in its first season in the new conference.

Worst-case scenario: Unfortunately, the newly minted Big 12 Horned Frogs lost their most efficient player (J.R. Cadot) and their most-used (Hank Thorns) from a lineup that was only sporadically competitive in the Mountain West. This will be a tough transition, but that's to be expected.

Texas

Best-case scenario: The 2012-13 Longhorns will be talented. This we know. After steady improvement as a freshman, point guard Myck Kabongo will be back, as will Sheldon McClellan, Julien Lewis, Jonathan Holmes and Jaylen Bond -- all sophomores-to-be. Meanwhile, Rick Barnes did what Rick Barnes does, landing a six-commit 2012 class that includes four players ranked in the top 100: centers Cameron Ridley and Prince Ibeh, power forward Connor Lammert and point guard Javan Felix. This group will give the Longhorns more options in the low block than they have had in years, and the emerging leadership of Kabongo could be just what these talented underclassmen need.

Worst-case scenario: Ridley is seen as something of a raw player, if not an outright project, an athletic rebounder who needs to polish his play on the low block. Ibeh is indisputably a project. With scoring force J'Covan Brown gone, it remains to be seen where Texas -- other than Kabongo, who is more of a facilitator anyway -- will get the lion's share of its offense and whether all these young players will need a year to get their feet wet.

Texas Tech

Best-case scenario: Billy Gillispie's first season in Lubbock was an outright disaster, an 8-23 campaign that included just one win in 18 Big 12 tries. The good news? Gillispie has, count 'em, nine new players on the way in 2012-13, including four junior college transfers, and a menagerie of sophomores coming back. It's hard to know what to expect, but a five- or six-win improvement seems like the right target.

Worst-case scenario: You saw it last season. Anything better than eight wins will an improvement.

West Virginia

Best-case scenario: West Virginia's first year in the Big 12 will be an adjustment not only in the travel department but also on the court. Star forward Kevin Jones and senior point guard Truck Bryant are gone, the only incoming recruits are of the three-star variety, and the majority of the minutes will fall to a group that coach Bob Huggins described in March (and I'm paraphrasing) as not being altogether clued in. Still, Jabarie Hinds and Gary Browne earned vital starting experience last season, forward Deniz Kilicli is a man on the block and will be joined by La Salle transfer Aaric Murray, and if the team makes major strides this offseason, a Huggins-crafted finish near the middle of the Big 12 table is certainly in play.

Worst-case scenario: More likely, this ends up becoming a transition year in more ways than one, as Huggins moves away from the Jones-centered attack of recent seasons to a new batch of players yet to earn their stripes. Even with Jones, this team finished 19-14 last season. It could very well drop to the .500 level without him.

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