Early Big 12 power rankings: West Virginia and Texas need to step up to catch Kansas

Now that college basketball is nuzzling into the middle of its offseason, we're addressing what has happened in the seven major conferences since early April. We started with the American on Monday, then hit the ACC on Tuesday. Now it's time to tackle the Big 12. 

While the ACC received the lion's share of publicity last season when it came to being the "best" conference, the Big 12 rated -- across the board -- as the most accomplished, toughest league by all of the metrics (RPI, Sagarin, KenPom, and so on). In fact, the Big 12, in good part because of its compact, 10-team size, has been the top-rated league in KenPom the past four years. As you'll see below, going for five straight seems a significant challenge. Let's look at what's changed, as we give you a quick catchup on the goings-on in this conference.

Impact players returning

Not an overwhelming pile of well-known names. After a big year in the league, it's going to be very interesting to see which players establish themselves as the stars come January and February. Graham is clearly the best returning player. 

Impact players leaving

There you have it. Almost every program lost at least one undeniably significant player. The theme of 2017-18 could become: Who makes up most for their losses? Kansas loses the national player of the year and one of the three best freshmen in college hoops, yet it again projects as the best team in the conference.

New coaches 

Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State: Boynton served as Brad Underwood's chief assistant at Stephen F. Austin, then continued that role in 2016-17 at OSU. Following taking the Pokes to the NCAA Tournament, Underwood bolted for a much bigger contract at Illinois. Boynton blew away his interview, came on the cheap, and kept the roster relatively stable. He's 35 years old, making him among the youngest coaches in a major conference. He played college at South Carolina

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It's time for Texas to make its move under Shaka Smart. USATSI

Three biggest Big 12 offseason headlines

  1. Bill Self goes all-in on transfer ideology: Self will continue to be a top-10 recruiter in college hoops, but he's tangibly shifting his roster philosophy. The Jayhawks have won the Big 12 regular-season title (either outright or sharing) 13 consecutive times. What Self is doing is clearly working within those confines. But he's "only" made two Final Fours and won a national title despite earning a No. 1 or No. 2 seed nearly annually. Now, perhaps as a way to make another run to the Final Four, Self is stockpiling transfers. Malik Newman, a former five-star recruit (via Mississippi State) will start alongside Graham. Dedric and K.J. Lawson left Memphis for KU, and former Cal player Charlie Moore is also now a Jayhawk. If you want more data and perspective on this, read this from earlier this offseason.
  2. Mo Bamba saga at Texas ends in a good way for Shaka Smart: Coincidentally, this wrapped up Tuesday, when the NCAA announced that Bamba's longstanding relationship with a man named Greer Love falls under an acceptable timeline. Love has donated money and time over the past decade to help children in need in greater Harlem. He knew Bamba before Bamba became a coveted prospect. Bamba's half-brother tried to publicly expose Greer -- and get Bamba disqualified from playing next season in the process. That ploy didn't work. Bamba will be in a UT uniform, where he'll be the front-runner for Freshman of the Year in the Big 12. 
  3. Baylor takes a big hit by losing Johnathan Motley: The loss of Motley to the NBA Draft (he wound up, oddly, not even getting picked; Motley is now playing in Summer League for the Mavericks) means the league loses an All-American candidate. Motley was a top-10 player of statistical value last season and given he was one of the few, true 50/50 stay-or-go decisions, Baylor takes a big hit with his loss. No player's decision was bigger in the Big 12 than his. 
Big 12 offseason power rankings
1
The Jayhawks can't be taken from the pedestal until someone else proves they can dethrone Self's squad. KU has a fine freshman talent coming in (Billy Preston) and Udoka Azubuike will return healthy as a force in the middle. Plus, Malik Newman at shooting guard should provide a fun punch. 
2
Bob Huggins' team is No. 2 thanks to Jevon Carter's choice to come back for his senior season. For all he does on both ends of the floor, Carter qualifies as one of the truly underrated players in the sport. Unfortunately, he carries with him into 2017-18 the lingering memory of this awful sequence against Gonzaga
3
Big, big jump for the Horned Frogs. Why? Jamie Dixon is bringing back most of the roster, and this team did hit 24 wins (won the NIT, remember?) last season. TCU last made the NCAA Tournament in 1998. 
4
Mo Bamba down low, Andrew Jones running the point and hopefully a huge year from Kerwin Roach. Shaka Smart's team was a mess last season but lines up as a top-five Big 12 unit thanks to big recruiting wins and Jones' capability and growth in running the offense. 
5
The Bears weren't supposed to be that good last season, then wound up with a No. 3 seed and an All-America candidate (Motley). Manu Lecomte returns, and the success of next season rests on him. 
6
The Buddy Hield departure hangover was real. OU went 11-20 last season. But Trae Young is here, and he is going to be really good as a combo guard who will run the offense and drop 3s from 26 feet out. Sooners are a sleeper tourney pick. 
7
Chris Beard doesn't have name players, but Tech was hellish to play in the league last season. A lot of guys return, and two solid transfers are eligible. Remember the name Keenan Evans. 
8
Wesley Iwundu and D.J. Johnson are gone, but this is not a team void of options. Dean Wade is a stretch-4 who will make 50-plus 3s. Kamau Stokes and Barry Brown will combine to average more than 30 points. 
9
Steve Prohm has a true rebuild job now that Monte Morris, Deonte Burton and Naz Mitrou-Long are gone. The Cyclones last missed the NCAAs in 2011, Fred Hoiberg's first year. That fate more than likely awaits in 2018. 
10
Jeffrey Carroll is good enough to be one of the five best players in the league next season. Without Jawun Evans, will he prove to be? And how much offense will this team have? If OSU gets to .500 overall, it's a net positive. 


CBS Sports Senior Writer

Matt Norlander is a national award-winning senior writer who has been with CBS Sports since 2010. He's in his ninth season reporting on college basketball for CBS, and also covers the NBA Draft, the Olympics... Full Bio

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