November 4, 2022
Big 12 Conference preview
Iowa State tops the preseason rankings in a very talented Big 12 Conference
The Big 12 of the past seemed like a simple projection: Put Baylor at the top. That is no longer the case. The rest of the conference has caught up.
Last season, Baylor did end the regular season atop the conference and secured a share of its 12th consecutive Big 12 regular-season championship. However, the Bears would not see the postseason success they hoped for.
A tight loss in the Big 12 Tournament championship game left the Texas Longhorns reigning supreme. Then Baylor suffered a disappointing loss to South Dakota in the NCAA Tournament round of 32 before stars NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo set sail to the WNBA. Now Baylor finds itself as an underdog, sitting fourth in the Big 12 preseason poll.
Looking back at last year’s NCAA Tournament, the growth in the conference from top to bottom is clear. Six teams from the conference made the tournament, and all made it out of the first round. The Longhorns were the last Big 12 team standing, losing to Stanford in the Elite Eight.
This year is looking to be a dogfight to be crowned the Big 12 champion. While the roster makeup for some teams is different due to transfer or injury, the top of the pack remains much the same. The conference has the potential to bust some brackets come March and provide some incredible matchups in the build-up to the tournament. Let’s break down each team’s roster and outlook for this season.
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- 2021-22 record: 28-7, lost in Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament
- Picked 4th in the Big 12 preseason poll, 18th in the AP poll
- Departures: NaLyssa Smith, Queen Egbo, Jordan Lewis
- Additions: Aijha Blackwell (transfer from Missouri), Dre’Una Edwards (transfer from Kentucky), Jana Van Gytenbeek (transfer from Stanford)
Beware of doubting the Bears. They absolutely lost a ton this offseason, but head coach Nicki Collen and her staff went fishing into the transfer portal and caught some potentially major contributors.
Aijha Blackwell projects to be the gem that will shine the most for Collen’s system. Collen told The Next in May that she had had her eye on Blackwell for a long time, dating back to Collen’s time as head coach of the Atlanta Dream.
“I see her ability to really be a special small forward with the ability to be athletic enough to guard people and switch, good enough off the bounce to attack people, to be able to post the smaller guards, to drive by bigger forwards,” Collen said.
That athletic ability will need to show on the boards for Baylor. With Smith and Egbo leaving, the Bears have to make up for 19.9 rebounds a game. Despite standing at just 5’11, Blackwell showed her rebounding prowess last year, averaging 13.0 per game.
Another player Collen will look to in the paint will be senior Caitlyn Bickle. Bickle averaged 7.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last year, but with the openings on the depth chart, it is safe to assume there will be an increase in production.
Baylor finds itself in unfamiliar territory: Not only is it not the favorite in the Big 12, but it is ranked fourth in the Big 12 preseason poll and 18th in the AP poll. The bulletin board material has piled up for Baylor, and I would not be surprised if Baylor outshines those expectations.
- 2021-22 record: 28-7, lost in the Sweet 16
- Picked 1st in the Big 12 preseason poll, 8th in the AP poll
- Departures: Aubrey Joens (transferred to Oklahoma)
- Additions: Stephanie Soares (transfer from The Master’s University)
The preseason poll favorites are up next. If you believe that Iowa State is the front-runner in the Big 12 because star guard/forward Ashley Joens is back, well, I find it hard to blame you.
Joens returns after averaging 20.3 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game and winning the Cheryl Miller Award, which is given to the nation’s best small forward. It was her second time winning the award. Joens was also named a preseason AP All-American this season.
Joens will be surrounded by a lot of familiar faces, including double-digit scorers Lexi Donarski and Emily Ryan on the perimeter.
So what is different about this year?
The biggest question mark on last season’s roster was the lack of a dominant big. Head coach Bill Fennelly went deep into the transfer portal for his answer.
Stephanie Soares, a transfer from The Master’s University, is looking to be the 6’6 solution for the Cyclones. Soares is a two-time NAIA Player of the Year, a three-time First Team All-American and a former five-star recruit, according to ESPN.
Soares averaged 20.5 points and 12.2 rebounds per game in her final season as a Mustang before representing her home country of Brazil in the 2022 FIBA South American Women’s Championship. If Soares can maintain a similar level of production as she moves to the Big 12, it will be hard to find a weakness in this Cyclone team.
- 2021-22 record: 20-8, lost in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament
- Picked 5th in the Big 12 preseason poll
- Departures: Aniya Thomas
- Additions: Wyvette Mayberry (transfer from Tulsa), Breeley Oakley (transfer from Howard)
Kansas boasts one of the more experienced rosters in the league. It returns nine players who are at least juniors and bring in two more from the portal.
The Jayhawks grew significantly over the course of last season and will carry that growth over into the 2022-23 season. This is a roster that understands the grind of a Big 12 schedule and seems bound to pick off one of the top four teams.
One player who could have a spike in production is Taiyanna Jackson. The 6’6 senior averaged 8.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season and was selected to the Big 12 All-Defensive Team.
Jackson showed her abilities on both sides of the ball, but it will be interesting to see if she can become one of the premier centers in the conference. If she can do that, Kansas becomes a much larger threat.
- 2021-22 record: 20-13, lost in the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament
- Picked 5th in the Big 12 preseason poll
- Departures: Jada Moore
- Additions: Heavenly Greer (transfer from Oklahoma), Gabby Gregory (transfer from Oklahoma), Gisela Sanchez (transfer from Arizona), Sarah Shematsi (transfer from LSU)
Forget everything you know about Kansas State from last year. That team had star center Ayoka Lee. Due to a season-ending knee injury, this one does not.
The offense ran through Lee in an inside-out fashion. The defense was anchored by her deterrence of opposing drives to the rim. To say the Wildcats will miss her is an understatement.
But the Wildcats do have plenty of talent left on the roster. They now must look to the perimeter for their main source of production, particularly the sophomore trio of Serena Sundell, Brylee Glenn and Jaelyn Glenn. All three were named the Big 12 Freshman of the Week at some point last season, and Sundell was unanimously selected to the Big 12 All-Freshman Team.
As the focus of the team shifts to the guards, the shot selection should change. Last season saw the Wildcats only take 5.5 3-point attempts per game. With Sundell as the likely focal point, expect to see a much different type of basketball in Manhattan.
It will likely take some time, but if the Wildcats can adjust to the new style of play, Sundell and the rest of the guards will benefit greatly.
- 2021-22 record: 25-9, loss in the Round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament
- Picked 3rd in the Big 12 preseason poll, 15th in the AP poll
- Departures: Nydia Lampkin
- Additions: Aubrey Joens (transfer from Iowa State)
The first year of the Jennie Baranczyk era in Norman was a resounding success. The Sooners returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018 but suffered a brutal loss at home to Notre Dame.
Oklahoma is far and away the most “new-era” basketball team you will find. Pace and space is the name of the game for a Baranczyk team. The system helped Oklahoma average the third-most points per game in the country. That identity will only be reinforced this season.
It helps on the offensive end when you have two super seniors as good as forward Madi Williams and guard Taylor Robertson.
Williams is a unique player who has been asked to do literally everything during her time in crimson and cream. The one piece missing from her game was the ability to consistently knock down threes, but Williams increased her volume from 36 attempts in the 2020-21 season to 132 last season. The light is only getting greener for Williams.
Arguably the greenest light in the entire nation is for Robertson. Think of any Big 12 3-point record, and chances are Robertson possesses it. Add junior guard Aubrey Joens into the 3-point mix, and defenders are going to be forced into very difficult rotations on the perimeter.
While the Sooners did not make a big splash in the transfer portal, they get redshirt senior Ana Llanusa back from a season-ending injury. Llanusa was averaging 17.3 points per game prior to her injury and will provide additional perimeter defense for OU.
The Sooners still have a major deficiency in size and depth down low. It will be completely on the shooters to stay hot on the outside. When the Sooners are going, very few in the Big 12 or the nation can keep up.
- 2021-22 record: 9-20
- Picked 9th in the Big 12 preseason poll
- Departures: Lauren Fields, Ruthie Udoumoh, Kennedi Jackson, Micah Dennis
- Additions: Lior Garzon (transfer from Villanova), Terryn Milton (transfer from UT Arlington), Anna Gret Asi (transfer from Arizona), Trinitee Jackson (transfer from Arkansas State)
Year 1 of the Jacie Hoyt era begins for Oklahoma State. Her biggest accomplishment so far in Stillwater is bringing Lior Garzon to the Big 12.
Garzon averaged 13.1 points per game last year for Villanova and will be a vital cog in the Cowgirls’ machine this season. She was also named to the Cheryl Miller Award watch list.
Hoyt was also able to add some size in Trinitee Jackson. The 6’3 forward earned third-team All-Sun Belt Conference honors last season at Arkansas State. Jackson averaged 11.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while shooting 51.4% from the field.
This season will be one to establish Hoyt’s style and begin making her mark on the program.
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- 2021-22 record: 6-22
- Picked 10th in the Big 12 preseason poll
- Departures: Lauren Heard
- Additions: Bella Cravens (transfer from Nebraska), Tomi Taiwo (transfer from Iowa), Bre’Yon White (transfer from Oklahoma), Emily Fisher (transfer from America), Lucy Ibeh (transfer from Central Arkansas)
This season, the “T” in TCU stands for transfers. Five additions from the portal will usher in a new era of TCU basketball following the graduation of the leading scorer in program history, Lauren Heard. Head coach Reagan Pebley will be forced to try to piece together the roster and establish life after Heard.
Another rebuilding season seems bound to be the case for the Horned Frogs. With that comes plenty of opportunities for players to step up and take charge of the team.
- 2021-22 record: 29-7, lost in the Elite Eight
- Picked 2nd in the Big 12 preseason poll, 3rd in the AP poll
- Departures: Lauren Ebo
- Additions: Shaylee Gonzalez (transfer from BYU), Sonya Morris (transfer from DePaul), Taylor Jones (transfer from Oregon State), Khadija Faye (transfer from Texas Tech)
Last year, the Longhorns continuously pieced things together over the course of the season, and when the postseason hit, they were ready.
Now mesh those experiences with the incoming transfers, and you have my pick to win the Big 12. Whatever you want, Texas has it:
Scoring? Enter transfers Shaylee Gonzales and Sonya Morris. Both are 1,000-point scorers over their college careers and will add more layers to the Longhorn offense this year.
Size? The other two transfers, Taylor Jones and Khadija Faye, are both 6’4.
Defense? This is a Vic Schaefer team. If the Longhorns are going to do anything at all, it is put effort into defense.
It all comes together at the point guard position with Rori Harmon. The then-freshman took the Big 12 Conference by storm last season and solidified herself as a threat on both ends of the court. If Harmon is able to take the next step, we will be looking at a potential All-American season for her and a deep postseason run for Texas.
- 2021-22 record: 11-19
- Picked 7th in the Big 12 preseason poll
- Departures: Khadija Faye
- Additions: Ashley Chevalier (transfer from Texas), Katie Ferrell (transfer from UT Arlington), Jasmine Shavers (transfer from Mississippi State)
Youth will star on this Texas Tech team. Head coach Krista Gerlich will be on the lookout for the program’s building blocks of the future.
One transfer with a unique story is Jasmine Shavers. The redshirt freshman transferred from Mississippi State, enrolled in the spring and redshirted. The Texas native was a four-star prospect and the No. 55-ranked prospect in the 2021 recruiting class.
Shavers should absolutely have the opportunity to earn valuable playing time early in her career at Texas Tech. Should she perform, she could establish herself as a program pillar.
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- 2021-22 record: 15-15
- Picked 8th in the Big 12 preseason poll
- Departures: Esmery Martinez, Kari Niblack, KK Deans
- Additions: Danni Nichols (transfer from Western Illinois), Kylee Blacksten (transfer from Colorado), Kyah Watson (transfer from South Dakota)
Similar to Oklahoma State, a first-year head coach will be looking to make their mark. At West Virginia, it is Dawn Plitzuweit.
Plitzuweit comes from South Dakota, where she had much success. The name might sound familiar to some in the Big 12, as her South Dakota team knocked Baylor out of the NCAA Tournament.
South Dakota become known for controlled, fundamentally sound, high-quality play under Plitzuweit. Expect that to continue as she gets comfortable in Morgantown. Though on paper this roster does not have the same talent as some of the Big 12 giants, that won’t deter Plitzuweit from trying to pull off an upset or two this season.
Written by Tyler DeLuca
Tyler DeLuca has been contributing to The Next team since May 2022. Tyler currently is the Big 12 beat writer for The Next. Tyler's work is also featured on Twitter with The Committee, hosting the "Art of the Paint" podcast and on Gameday U Hoops throughout the college season.
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