By my lights, the Big 12 was the strongest conference in the nation last season. But I'll admit it sure didn't look that way when it mattered most. Iowa State and Baylor were bounced out of the round of 64 by UAB and Georgia State, respectively. Kansas lost in the round of 32 to Wichita State and (get your "Mountain West East" jokes ready) for a third consecutive season no Big 12 team made it as far as the Elite Eight.
Meaning the theme for the conference in 2015-16 is (or should be) "This time we'll finish the job." The Big 12 is going to be very strong once again, with 10 of the 15 members of last season's all-conference teams returning for 2015-16. Here's my admittedly early but still fearless forecast on how next season should play out ...
Ranking the Cyclones No. 1 here doesn't necessarily mean Kansas is saying goodbye to its streak of Big 12 titles. Since 2005, four of the Jayhawks' 11 championships have been shared -- and it won't surprise me one bit if Iowa State grabs at least a piece of its first regular-season league title since 2000-01.
Everyone is returning for Fred Hoiberg except Bryce Dejean-Jones and Dustin Hogue. That includes first-team All-Big 12 selection Georges Niang, who will have had an entire offseason to reflect on his 4-of-15 showing in ISU's round of 64 loss to UAB. Monte Morris, Jameel McKay and Naz Long also will be back and Marquette transfer Deonte Burton will be eligible as of December, meaning the Cyclones should once again rank near the top of the Big 12 in terms of points scored per possession.
Indeed the only question mark here pertains, as always, to Hoiberg's status. The Iowa State coach will continue to be mentioned for NBA openings, I suppose, until he actually accepts one.