With Wednesday's news, Oklahoma State not only becomes the Big 12 favorite but a Final Four favorite as well.
By BLAIR KERKHOFF
The Kansas City Star
Marcus Smart surprised many in college basketball with his announcement to pass on the NBA Draft and return for his sophomore season.
That means the Cowboys will return four starters and its top five scorers from last season's 24-9 team that finished third in the Big 12 and fell to Oregon in their first game of the NCAA Tournament.
A lineup that includes Smart, Le'Bryan Nash, Markel Brown and Michael Cobbins will be among the nation's strongest.
Smart is a wonderful talent who averaged 15.4 points and 4.2 assists and was chosen Big 12 player of the year by the media and coaches.
Kansas now faces one of the biggest challenges to its nine-year regular-season conference championship streak. The Jayhawks lose their entire starting lineup and five leading scorers from this year's team.
But this situation is familiar.
Kansas lost its starting lineup after the 2008 national championship season, and Oklahoma brought back one of the nation's top players in Blake Griffin.
The Jayhawks wound up winning the conference, helped by meeting a Sooners team that played without Griffin because of a concussion.
During its league title streak, Kansas has been the preseason favorite six times. Texas (2006), Oklahoma (2009) and Kansas State (2011) were the choices, and the Longhorns tied KU for the 2006 title.
Here's a guess at how the 2013-14 preseason poll will look:
1. Oklahoma State: Most returning starters
2. Kansas: A contender until proven otherwise
3. Kansas State: Shane Southwell takes over the Rodney McGruder role
4. Baylor: Not this high if Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin don’t return
5. Iowa State: Georges Niang will be a force
6. Oklahoma: Four lost starters, but backcourt is strength.
7. Texas: McClellan (transfer) and Kabongo (NBA Draft) are gone
8. West Virginia: Huggins is overhauling roster, Eron Harris is solid
9. TCU: Frogs to build around Kyan Anderson
10. Texas Tech: Tubby Smith is fourth coach in four years
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