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Big 12 preview: KU is the chalk again

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Oklahoma State appeared to be the odds-on favorite in the Big 12 title chase when Marcus Smart decided to return to Stillwater in April.

That changed when Bill Self put the finishing touches on a Kansas recruiting class that includes the nation's No. 1 prospect. Andrew Wiggins' arrival in Lawrence definitely will add some intrigue to what was shaping up as a one-horse race.

"They certainly had a good year last year and with Smart coming back you would naturally expect a progression there," Texas coach Rick Barnes said, referring to the Cowboys. "But you can't count out Kansas, with the caliber of player they have in Wiggins."

The 6-8 Canadian created a lot of buzz when he picked Kansas as his temporary stop on the way to the NBA.

"You can believe the hype. He's that good a player," Barnes said. "He is a terrific, terrific talent and a very special player."

Self already had loaded up on Top-50 prospects as he prepared to reload a Jayhawks team that lost all five starters. In Wiggins, Self says he has a player who can do things no young player he has coached has been capable of.

In an attempt to put the brakes on Wiggins-mania, Self quickly adds, "The bottom line is he's still just 18 years old. He's still going to be a freshman. He's going to go through ups and down just like everybody else. But hopefully, by midseason, he's totally comfortable and he's able to just play."

If Wiggins' learning curve is as quick as Smart's was a season ago, Kansas will have a chance to add to its string of nine straight Big 12 titles.

Of course, he'll need help to make that happen.

Smart should have plenty of it as the Cowboys return every key contributor from last season. Senior guard Markel Brown and junior forward Le'Bryan Nash also flirted with the idea of leaving but eventually decided to stick around.

Their decisions were as weighty as their teammate's as Smart was being projected as a possible top-five pick. He knows he left millions of dollars on the table but he also knows the money will be there next season.

Smart became just the third player in conference history to win both the player of the year and freshman of the year awards.

"Marcus Smart is as good a player as there is in the country, in my opinion," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said. "He does so many things that impact winning."

1. Kansas

Good News: Talented freshman class gives Jayhawks a chance to reload on the run.

Bad News: Kansas can't afford to give those freshmen an adjustment period.

Our Call: Could be a split decision with Cowboys, but Wiggins provides the edge.

2. Oklahoma State

Good News: Have the league's best player to go along with a talented supporting cast.

Bad News: Lack of dominant inside player is a concern against elite opponents.

Our Call: Marcus Smart's decision to return to Oklahoma State puts KU's title run in jeopardy.

3. Baylor

Good News: Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson give Bears plenty of muscle up front.

Bad News: Pierre Jackson's departure leaves a big hole in the backcourt.

Our Call: Baylor has enough pieces to contend but there's a history of underachieving.

4. Iowa State

Good News: Marshall transfer DeAndre Kane gives ISU a much-needed proven scorer.

Bad News: Cyclones will be relying on freshmen to fill other holes in the backcourt.

Our Call: Kane, Melvin Ejim and Georges Niang push Cyclones back to NCAA Tourney.

5. Kansas State

Good News: Shane Southwell and Will Spradling provide Wildcats with veteran leadership.

Bad News: Angel Rodriguez's unexpected departure leaves giant question mark at the point.

Our Call: Without Rodriguez, Wildcats appear headed for middle-of-the-pack finish.

6. Texas

Good News: Young talent gained valuable experience in getting thrown into fire last season.

Bad News: Failure to land elite recruit leaves outsiders wondering about Texas' future.

Our Call: Unless Longhorns make dramatic improvement, Rick Barnes' seat to get hotter.

7. Oklahoma

Good News: Buddy Hield, Je'lon Hornbeak and Isaiah Cousins bring starting experience.

Bad News: Outside of Kansas, no team in the league lost as much firepower.

Our Call: Lon Kruger made NCAA Tournament in second season, but he won't in his third.

8. West Virginia

Good News: Mountaineers filled pressing need up front by bringing in six big men.

Bad News: Lack of proven scorers needed to be competitive in the Big 12.

Our Call: Things aren't going to get easier for team that struggled in its Big 12 initiation.

9. Texas Tech

Good News: Jaye Crockett was one of college basketball's best sixth men last season.

Bad News: Red Raiders lost best young player when Josh Gray bailed for junior college.

Our Call: Tubby Smith's streak of never having a losing season definitely in jeopardy.

10. TCU

Good News: Getting several key players off injury list provides some hope.

Bad News: TCU fielded one of college basketball's worst offenses a season ago.

Our Call: Still a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the Big 12.

For more college basketball previews and sports information, visit www.lindyssports.com. Like them on Facebook and follow on Twitter at @Lindyssportsmag.

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