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Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer 22d

Big 12 preview: It's still Kansas' world

Men's College Basketball, Kansas Jayhawks, Baylor Bears, Texas Longhorns, TCU Horned Frogs, West Virginia Mountaineers, Oklahoma Sooners

The tale of the Big 12 this season is familiar.

Since 2005, two years before Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPhone, Kansas has won at least a share of every Big 12 championship. In 2003-04, Bill Self's first season, the Jayhawks finished tied for second. What a letdown.

But the program matched UCLA's record of 13 consecutive conference championships last season, and with Devonte' Graham, Svi Mykhailiuk and Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman anchoring the backcourt, only the foolish would pick against Kansas to extend its streak.

Still, the Big 12 is filled with questions as the season approaches. Can five-star point guard Trae Young elevate Oklahoma back into the title hunt? Will Mohamed Bamba's arrival and Andrew Jones' return help Texas fans forget about last year's embarrassing season? Is the load too big for Jevon Carter to carry at West Virginia? Can TCU reach the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years? Will Barry Brown and Kansas State exceed modest preseason expectations?

Once again, Self's Jayhawks will enter the Big 12 campaign as the team the rest will chase. The league possesses a handful of interesting challengers, but none that should make any Kansas fans expect anything but a new record for most consecutive conference titles.

Number of teams that should make the NCAA tournament
Seven. Well, Kansas should compete for a top seed, per the norm, with the nation's most promising backcourt and the luxury of Allen Fieldhouse's invincibility. Kansas has lost only 10 times under Self at the Phog. The addition of Young, a five-star point guard, should help Oklahoma's top-50 defense secure the offense necessary to reach the NCAA tournament. Bob Huggins lost five key players and more than 35.0 PPG at West Virginia, but he still has Carter. Texas should return. After last season's NIT title, TCU is ready for the NCAA tournament, too. Manu Lecomte will help Baylor earn a berth. And look for Chris Beard and Texas Tech to turn the corner and get in, too.

The player who will own the conference
In September, Graham told ESPN.com he returned to Kansas and rejected a chance to turn pro because he wanted to finish his senior season and bounce back from the "B-minus" season he had in 2016-17.

If 13.4 PPG, 4.1 APG, 1.5 SPG, 38.8 percent from the 3-point line and 79.3 percent from the charity stripe is a B-minus season, then the rest of the Big 12 should fear what's ahead with Graham replacing Wooden Award winner Frank Mason as KU's catalyst.

"Just having the ball in my hands, it being my team was definitely part of the thought process," Graham said about his decision to return.

The freshman you will want to tune in to see every time he plays
Young, a five-star prospect ranked 23rd in the 2018 class by ESPN.com, joins an Oklahoma team that battled in multiple overtime and single-digit games last season but lacked the star the program had enjoyed throughout the Buddy Hield era.

But Young, Hield's buddy who picked Oklahoma over Kansas, will don the cape for Lon Kruger this season. The McDonald's All-American who grew up 10 minutes from campus averaged 41.0 PPG for nearby Norman High School last season.

He also finished with nearly 7.0 APG.

He's a highlight reel and a hometown hero. He can bring the magic back to Oklahoma.

Coach with the toughest job
The departures of Monte Morris and three other starters leave Iowa State without an elite point guard and the nucleus of the program from last season. When Texas recruit Darius McNeill decommitted from the squad in June, Iowa State had just 10 scholarship players.

Steve Prohm can build around four-star prospects Lindell Wigginton and Terrence Lewis. But he's also surrounded by a fan base that has been spoiled by six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, a streak that began with Fred Hoiberg.

The latter might endure a rocky year with the Chicago Bulls. And if Hoiberg finds himself without a job and Prohm struggles, the rumors of a Mayor return -- however far-fetched or fake -- will only add another layer to the most difficult coaching situation in the Big 12 this season.

The team that will surprise you
Jamie Dixon's TCU squad could end the season as Bill Self's greatest threat in the league. The NIT champions finished 12-21 the year before Dixon arrived and 24-15 in his first season, which ended with an 88-56 victory over Georgia Tech in the NIT championship.

This is a team that beat Kansas in the Big 12 tournament. A seven-game losing streak at the end of conference play ruined TCU's NCAA tournament chances. But the Horned Frogs lost four of those games by five points or less.

Vladimir Brodziansky (58.2 percent inside the arc, 30th overall in block rate, per KenPom.com) is a dynamic 6-11 forward who anchors the sleeper of this conference.

The team that will disappoint you
In 2014-15, West Virginia finished 30th in KenPom.com's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, following back-to-back years of missing the top 100. Throughout that season, Huggins had to rely on a collection of new faces in a difficult league.

He'll face a similar predicament this season with a roster that features just four upperclassmen. West Virginia finished sixth and fourth, respectively, in 2015-16 and 2016-17 in adjusted defensive efficiency because the Mountaineers had the veterans, including all-Big 12 defense team member Nathan Adrian, who could handle the physical and intellectual demands of Huggins' pressure attack.

With five key veterans from last season gone, Huggins needs some of the young faces to mature quickly this season to avoid a disappointing finish.

The league title will come down to ...
Kansas bulldozing the conference.

With its potent backcourt and distinct home-court advantage, Kansas could end the Big 12 race with a two- or three-game lead over the rest of the pack. Texas, TCU, West Virginia and Baylor could all find a place in that group behind the Jayhawks by the end of the year.

But this just doesn't feel like a season in which Kansas will enter the final week of Big 12 play in need of a win to seal its Division I-record 14th consecutive conference crown.

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