No surprise: Upperclassmen are expected to rule Big 12 men’s basketball this season.
Kansas senior power forward Perry Ellis is one of four seniors on the preseason All-Big 12 team. He is joined by Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield — the reigning conference player of the year and preseason pick for the same honor — Baylor big man Rico Gathers and Iowa State senior Georges Niang. One junior, Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor, also made the preseason first team.
Kansas freshman forward Cheick Diallo was voted preseason freshman of the year, while Iowa State junior Deonte Burton, a transfer from Marquette, was selected preseason newcomer of the year.
It’s the first time that four members of the previous season’s All-Big 12 team return. One of those players is Ellis, the steady veteran from Wichita who is trying to cap his sterling four-year career. Last season, Ellis was the only Big 12 player to rank in the top seven in scoring, field goal percentage and rebounding. His coach is expecting more of the same this year.
“I expect him to be as good as or better than any player in the league,” KU’s Bill Self said. “I expect him to play to an All-American type level. I think he’s capable of doing that. I thought last year, before he got hurt, there was about a six-game stretch where I think he was playing to an All-American level.”
The injury was a sprained knee, which came just weeks before the Jayhawks entered the NCAA Tournament and fell to Wichita State in the round of 32. Self said Ellis is fully healthy and in the best shape since he’s been at Kansas.
“He’s stronger,” Self said. “I don’t mean from a weight standpoint, but you can just tell the way he carries himself, he’s stronger and more confident. I expect him to have a big year.”
Hield, meanwhile, returns to the Oklahoma backcourt after averaging 17.4 points per game as a junior. Hield and Niang were third-team All-American selections last season. Gathers returns after leading the Big 12 in rebounding last season, while Taylor led Texas in scoring and assists. His quickness and playmaking skills should be an asset to new Texas coach Shaka Smart, who took over for Rick Barnes in the offseason.
Kansas junior point guard Frank Mason also received votes for the All-Big 12 team and earned honorable mention.