It's tourney time!
Here's our effort to take your mind off of your bracket with a few angst-filled days ahead during the NCAA tournament. In today's roundtable we single out potential Cinderella teams, potential overseeded (i.e. overrated) teams and potential underseeded (underrated) teams.
Who could be the Cinderella of the Big 12?
Brandon Chatmon: My vote goes for West Virginia. I have a feeling the Mountaineers are going to get productive and efficient play at the quarterback position from Skyler Howard or William Crest and I think they will answer various questions at receiver, offensive line and defensive line. I love the talent on Dana Holgorsen’s roster and expect WVU to learn from its late-season stumbles a year ago.
Jake Trotter: Who could reprise the role of TCU as Big 12 Cinderella? I think it’s Texas Tech. The Red Raiders are coming off a dreadful 4-8 season in which they fielded a turnover machine of an offense and one of the worst statistical defenses in Big 12 history. But the Red Raiders are not devoid of talent. Patrick Mahomes was one of the most exciting players in the league late last year as a true freshman quarterback. DeAndre Washington is coming off a 1,000-yard season. Jakeem Grant leads a bevy of playmaking receivers. And All-Big 12 performer Le'Raven Clark heads an underrated offensive line. The big question is whether Tech can play better defense. But new coordinator David Gibbs ought to give the Red Raiders an immediate jolt with his ability to coach turnovers. Pete Robertson can get after the quarterback and linebacker newcomer Mike Mitchell should instantly improve the run defense. I’m not saying the Red Raiders are going to win the Big 12. But if you’re looking for Cinderella-like potential, they’re the pick.
Max Olson: Can I say Oklahoma State? I mean, I know it's looking like the Pokes will have top-25 expectations in 2015. But this is still a team that went 1-5 against the Big 12's best teams last season, and got outscored by an average margin of 26 points in those losses. The OU win was epic, but I still think OSU is a sleeper from a national standpoint and poised for a comeback season that'll surprise.
Who could be "overseeded" heading into the preseason?
Chatmon: Oklahoma. I had high expectations for the Sooners last season and got burned for believing Trevor Knight would take things to another level as a sophomore and the defense would be among the Big 12’s best. Now the Sooners will have to make me a believer in September and October before I will expect anything higher than a mid-Big 12 finish.
Trotter: I think Texas has the chance to be very good very soon. But the Longhorns have many questions before I would consider them a top-25 team. And yet, if history is any indication, Texas will likely open in the preseason top 25. The Longhorns still have no definitive answer at quarterback. And they will be replacing their best running back (Malcolm Brown, their two best receivers (John Harris and Jaxon Shipley), their two best defensive linemen (Malcom Brown and Cedric Reed), their leading tackler (Jordan Hicks) and their best defensive back (Quandre Diggs). Texas has some good, young players on campus and on the way this summer. But they’re not top-25 material. At least not yet.
Olson: Kansas State is probably still going to get some benefit of the doubt entering this season -- Bill Snyder magic and all that good stuff -- but the senior leaders they've lost aren't going to be easy to replace. I'm sure a bunch of walk-ons and two-stars will rise up and make me look silly for saying this, but I'm just not convinced K-State is going to be a Big 12 title contender this year.
Who could be "underseeded" heading into the preseason?
Chatmon: Kansas State will exceed expectations. Bill Snyder’s program is likely to enter the season projected to be among the bottom half of the conference but I’m expecting a finish in the top half of the conference even though uncertainty reigns at quarterback, running back and receiver. The Wildcats won’t get much respect heading into the season but they’ll prove everyone wrong yet again.
Trotter: Seemingly every year Kansas State is picked low in the standings. And every year, Bill Snyder & Co. figure out a way to outperform expectations. Sure, the Wildcats have their work cut out in 2015. The bulk of production from last year’s Big 12 contending club is gone, including All-American Tyler Lockett, quarterback Jake Waters and leading tackler Jonathan Truman. But the K-State system is bigger than one player or even one team. It would hardly surprise me if the Wildcats outperformed their preseason seed yet again.
Olson: Takeaways make any defense look a lot better, and I think Texas Tech is going to find a way to get a lot more under new DC David Gibbs. With so much offensive firepower returning along with two confident guys at quarterback in Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb, I think Tech is getting closer to having what it needs to play with the best in this league. Folks will be wary of expecting much from the Red Raiders, but I think they're moving in the right direction.