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Big 12 Preview: Baylor is still the cream of the crop

The Baylor Bears are still expected to come out on top in the Big 12, but ranked teams in the Iowa State Cyclones, Texas Longhorns and West Virginia Mountaineers will compete.

Baylor v Kansas State
Ayoka Lee of Kansas State goes up for a shot against NaLyssa Smith of Baylor.
Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images

Our conference previews continue with a look at the Big 12:

Rewind: A look at where the Big 12 left off

Led by star player DiDi Richards and Hall of Fame coach Kim Mulkey, the Bears had another dominant campaign in 2020-21. They finished at the top of the conference with a 17-1 record and easily won the Big 12 tournament championship game, 76-50 over No. 2 seed West Virginia. Despite the dominance Baylor demonstrated on the court, the Big 12 was filled with talent last season. Of the ten players who made the All-Big 12 First Team, only one, NaLyssa Smith, was from Baylor.

Jim Littell of Oklahoma State was Coach of the Year. Smith was Player of the Year, Natasha Mack of Oklahoma State was Defensive Player of the Year, DiJonai Carrington of Baylor was Newcomer of the Year, Lexi Donarski of Iowa State was Freshman of the Year and Carrington won the Sixth Player Award.

In the NCAA Tournament, the Big 12 was well-represented. Five teams made it to the Big Dance, and two, Baylor and Texas, made it to the Elite Eight. Baylor came ever so close to winning but lost to UConn by two points.

Team-by-team analysis

Here’s where each team stands entering the 2021-22 season, in order of the preseason standings predicted by the Big 12 head coaches. The Top 25 ranking is from the AP Poll:

1) No. 7 Baylor Bears

Despite losing top talent like DiJonai Carrington and replacing coach Kim Mulkey, the Bears are still the cream of the crop in the Big 12. Nicki Collen is now taking over as coach and while her style of play has still not been established, she will have top talent to work with. With NaLyssa Smith back, Baylor will be the team to beat in the Big 12. We’ll see if anyone is up for the challenge.

2) No. 12 Iowa State Cyclones

With Ashley Jones returning and last year’s freshmen becoming sophomores, there is optimism that Iowa State can take a step forward and become Big 12 title contenders. To do this and top Baylor, it will need a sophomore jump from Lexi Donarski, last year’s Big 12 Freshmen of the Year. The Cyclones have three of their top four scorers returning, so the continuity and development should give them the potential to have a fantastic season.

3) No. 25 Texas Longhorns

The Longhorns had an excellent 2020-21 campaign. No one had them going to the Elite Eight last year, but that’s precisely what they did in coach Vic Schaefer’s first season. With seniors Joanne Allen-Taylor and Audrey Warren returning, this team will balance youth and veteran leadership. Making the AP Top 25, Texas is a team you’re not going to want to mess with this season.

4) No. 19 West Virginia Mountaineers

West Virginia is an exciting team. The AP Poll has them ranked ahead of Texas, and the Coaches Poll has them behind. The Mountaineers’ best player from last year, Kysre Gondrezick, is now in the W, so replacing her will be a challenge. We’ll see if Madisen Smith can take a leap in her senior year and help make up for the loss of offensive production.

5) Oklahoma Sooners

With Jennie Baranczyk taking over at Oklahoma, it’s an exciting time for the Boomer Sooners. Oklahoma finished 9-9 in the conference last season and is expected to be around the same position this season. We’ll see if the coaching change and leadership from Madi Williams will take Oklahoma to the next level in the Big 12.

6) TCU Horned Frogs

TCU struggled in the Big 12 last season with a 4-14 record. So why do coaches have them moving up to sixth in the Big 12? Because of Lauren Heard. She’s back for another year and she’s had consistent growth every season. Last year she started every game and averaged 21 points. If she continues her current projection, she can help lead TCU to a better 2021-22 season.

7) Oklahoma State Cowgirls

Big 12 Coach of the Year Jim Littell will be leading Oklahoma State as it tries to build off last season's success. The Cowgirls finished in the top three last year, but they lost important senior players like Natasha Mack, who will be impossible to replace. They’ll also need to fix their offensive woes. Last season they were in the bottom three on offense in the Big 12. They’ll have to improve if they don’t want to take a dip in the standings this year.

8) Kansas State Wildcats

Kansas State is an up-and-coming team. The Wildcats have two senior guards returning and a star in the making in Ayoka Lee. Coach Jeff Mittie will have a good team in a challenging conference trying to improve from last year’s woeful 3-13 conference record.

9) Texas Tech Lady Raiders

The Lady Raiders finished 5-13 in the Big 12 last year and appear to be near the conference's bottom once again. If anyone can help turn things around at Texas Tech, it’s head coach Krista Gerlich. This is her second season in charge of the Lady Raiders, so it’ll be interesting to see if she can turn the program around.

10) Kansas

Someone has to be ranked last and unfortunately for the Jayhawks it’s them. Last season they were tied with Kansas State for the worst record in the Big 12. Hopefully, junior Holly Kersgieter can help lead the team to a better record. She was included on the preseason All-Big 12 Team.

Preseason nods

As voted on by the Big 12 head coaches:

Player of the Year: Nalyssa Smith (Baylor)

Necomer of the Year: Jordan Lewis (Baylor)

Freshman of the Year: Aaliyah Moore (Texas)

All-Big 12 First Team: NaLyssa Smith (Baylor), Ashley Joens (Iowa State), Ayoka Lee (Kansas State), Madi Williams (Oklahoma), Lauren Heard (TCU), Vivian Gray (Texas Tech), Esmery Martinez (West Virginia), Queen Egbo (Baylor), Joanne Allen-Taylor (Texas), Lexi Donarski, (Iowa State), Holly Kersgieter (Kansas), Taylor Robertson (Oklahoma)

All-Big 12 Honarable Mention: Ja’Mee Asberry (Baylor), Jordan Lewis (Baylor), Emily Ryan (Iowa State), Taylen Collins (Oklahoma State), Rori Harmon (Texas), KK Deans (West Virginia), Kari Niblack (West Virginia)

Key Conference Dates

Jan. 2: Big 12 season start (Baylor at Kansas State, Kansas at TCU, Oklahoma at Texas Tech, Texas at Oklahoma State, and West Virginia at Iowa State)

Must see Big 12 matchups

Jan. 23: Iowa State at Baylor. Two top teams competing early on in the conference season? Sign me up!

Feb. 12: West Virginia at Baylor. Can West Virginia take control of the Big 12? On Feb. 12, we find out.

Feb. 20: Texas at West Virginia. These two teams should be battling for position late into the season. A matchup in late February should be must-see television.

Mar. 5: Oklahoma State at Texas. Final day of play in the Big 12. An Oklahoma State vs Texas matchup should have seeding implications and be an exciting end to the conference season.