University of Kansas

Kansas picked to win Big 12 title again; Jayhawks fifth in preseason coaches poll

Kansas coach Bill Self
Kansas coach Bill Self skeyser@kcstar.com

The Big 12 men’s basketball coaches bowed to precedent Thursday, predicting Kansas to win a 12th straight conference title. The national perception was nearly as favorable — the Jayhawks were ranked fifth in the USA Today preseason coaches poll, also released on Thursday morning.

In the annual Big 12 preseason coaches poll, the Jayhawks claimed nine of 10 first-place votes, finishing ahead of Oklahoma and Iowa State, respectively. Coaches are not allowed to vote for their own team, and Kansas coach Bill Self’s vote went to the Cyclones, who are entering their first season under new coach Steve Prohm.

The Jayhawks secured 81 total points and are the preseason choice to win the conference for the 14th time in the 20-year history of the Big 12. Self said he picked Iowa State because he believed they had the league’s best roster last year — and they return senior forward Georges Niang and junior guard Monte Morris, among others.

“I think they would have gotten more first-place votes from other coaches if Fred (Hoiberg) had still been the coach,” Self said. “And Steve is going to do a great job with their team, but there’s the unknown of a coach. It’s like if you lose a point guard, there’s the unknown of a point guard.

“It’s the unknown of how they’ll mesh with Steve’s style, but I think they’ll be great. I think they can go to the Final Four. I think (Oklahoma) can go to the Final Four. I think if we played well, we’d have a shot.”

K-State, meanwhile, is projected to finish eighth in the conference race. Rebuilding under fourth-year coach Bruce Weber, the Wildcats were only ahead of TCU and Texas Tech.

The Big 12 was also well-represented in the national coaches poll, with five teams among the top 25. Kansas was slotted in at No. 5, while Iowa State (seventh) and Oklahoma (eighth) were also in the top 10. No. 21 Baylor and No. 23 West Virginia were the other Big 12 teams in the rankings.

Wichita State, which returns senior guards Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, is ranked 12th in the first coaches poll.

The top five of the coaches poll is filled with blueblood programs; Kentucky and North Carolina were co-No. 1s. The Tar Heels had 12 first-place votes, while Kentucky had 11, but the teams each wound up with 749 total points.

Big Ten favorite Maryland (No. 3) and defending NCAA champion Duke (No. 4) rounded out the top four.

The Jayhawks — and the four other teams in the top five — all received at least one first-place vote. Kansas, winners of at least a share of 11 straight Big 12 titles, return a large nucleus from last year’s team, which finished 27-9 and 13-5 in the Big 12 before losing to Wichita State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

“It kind of seems unreal to be unanimous (to win the Big 12) when you’ve got preseason seventh and eighth ranked teams in the country (in the conference),” Self said. “But that’s fine. It’s probably based more on what teams have done in the past than what the potential of this team is. But I think we’ll be in the game. But certainly, the league is awesome.”

Here is the rest of the Big 12 poll (first-place votes and total points in parentheses)

1. Kansas (9; 81)

2. Oklahoma (70)

3. Iowa State (1; 68)

4. Texas (51)

5. Baylor (49)

6. West Virginia (47)

7. Oklahoma State (33)

8. K-State (18)

9. TCU (18)

10. Texas Tech (15)

Rustin Dodd: 816-234-4937, @rustindodd

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