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Big 12 top-heavy with Baylor, Texas strongest competition

With Texas and Baylor in the top three, the Big 12 is out to stake their claim among college basketball's elite conferences.

NCAA Womens Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oklahoma City Regional-Baylor vs Mississippi State Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

If the Big 12 has it their way, the road to the championship will lead through them.

With four teams in the preseason Top 25, including two in the top four, the Big 12 have grand plans to make their way to the NCAA Championship. Since Texas A&M and Baylor won back-to-back championships in 2011 and 2012, the closest any team has gotten to the Final Four is Baylor, who lost to Mississippi State in the Elite Eight last season.

Let’s start with the highest-ranked team, the Texas Longhorns. With the addition of Big 12 Preseason Freshman of the Year Chasity Patterson, the Longhorns have bolstered a lineup that includes seniors and Preseason All-Big-12 guards Ariel Atkins and Brooke McCarty. And that doesn’t sophomore Joyner Holmes, who will return from injury in December. Junior forward Jatari White will also be a big name to watch as she made the inaugural Katrina McClain Award watch list for the best power forward in Division I.

Baylor, as long as head coach Kim Mulkey is running the show, will always be one of the top teams in the country, and this season is no different. Coming into the season with the #3 ranking, the Lady Bears also bring back six letterwinners, including junior center and leading scorer Kalani Brown.

The Lady Bears have two starters on awards watch lists: Brown (Lisa Leslie Award - best center) and Lauren Cox (Katrina McClain - best power forward). After making the Elite Eight last season, the Lady Bears will be looking to make a further push.

West Virginia, while ranked 13th, is definitely not a team to look over. After posting a 24-11 mark last season, including an upset victory over Baylor to win their first-ever Big 12 championship, the Mountaineers bring back 11 players from that team. Leading the pack is junior guard Tynice Martin, who was named Preseason All-Big 12.

Rounding out the top teams in the Big 12 is #22 Oklahoma. After an 18th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, the Sooners bring back three starters from that 23-10 team. Seniors Maddie Manning and Vionese Pierre-Louis will be expected to provide the bulk of the scoring load for the Sooners.

While conferences like the Pac-12 and SEC had more teams in the top 25, the rankings of Texas and Baylor prove that the Big 12 are taken more seriously as a threat. And this season, they are out to prove it.