Because the countdown continues to the beginning of the 2020-21 ladies’s faculty basketball season on Nov. 25, ESPN.com’s panel of specialists is making its predictions for all the nation’s high conferences. We start with the Massive 12, by which the Baylor Lady Bears stay the reigning nationwide champion and look to proceed their dominance over the remainder of the league. The Iowa State Cyclones and Texas Longhorns, underneath new coach Vic Schaefer, look to finish Baylor’s run of 10 consecutive Massive 12 regular-season titles.
Massive 12 2020-21 superlatives
Participant of the 12 months
Mechelle Voepel: NaLyssa Smith, Baylor
Graham Hays: Ashley Joens, Iowa State
Charlie Creme: Ashley Joens, Iowa State
Newcomer of the 12 months
Voepel: DiJonai Carrington, Baylor
Hays: DiJonai Carrington, Baylor
Creme: DiJonai Carrington, Baylor
Massive 12 2020-21 author roundtable
What are affordable expectations for Vic Schaefer in his first season at Texas?
Hays: Mississippi State had a 13-17 report in its first season underneath Schaefer, which was truly one fewer win than the season earlier than he arrived and included losses towards Hampton, UC Santa Barbara and Winthrop. It wasn’t till his second season that the Bulldogs gained 20-plus video games — and the season after that that they had a successful SEC report. Schaefer will construct issues in Austin in line with his imaginative and prescient, even when implementing that comes with short-term rising pains.
A deep run within the NCAA match this season in all probability is not an affordable expectation. That mentioned, the collective expertise in Austin exceeds what he inherited in Starkville. Sufficient stays from a staff that gained 19 video games final season to supply a base for achievement, however there may be additionally sufficient turnover to open up the depth chart to competitors with out stepping on toes.
Problem Iowa State as the most effective non-Baylor staff within the Massive 12 and win an NCAA match recreation. If that is the place Schaefer begins, the bigger undertaking will already be in glorious form.
Creme: Schaefer grew this system rapidly at Mississippi State. He’ll do it even quicker at Texas. This season, nonetheless, may have some ups and downs. The Longhorns carried out inconsistently in Karen Aston’s final couple of years and Schaefer will not have the ability to change that in a single day, however sufficient expertise stays to profoundly exceed what he did in his first season with the Bulldogs in 2011-12.
In junior ahead/heart Charli Collier and sophomore guard Celeste Taylor, he has gamers who have been as soon as highschool McDonald’s All People. That form of basis did not exist in Starkville when he arrived. With Schaefer’s potential to get probably the most out of all of his gamers, Texas ought to end second or third within the Massive 12. I am going to even take take Graham’s evaluation one step additional and say the Longhorns will end forward of Iowa State in second place within the Massive 12. Texas isn’t prepared to finish with Baylor for the highest spot and may not be for a number of years. However that’s the reason Schaefer was dropped at Austin. Ultimately, it ought to occur.
Voepel: Schaefer himself says he did not come to Texas to be good. He got here to be nice. This system final went to the Remaining 4 in 2003, and that must be the aim quickly. In 2017, Mississippi State made its first Remaining 4 look in Dallas — which is host to the Remaining 4 once more in 2023. So there may very well be some symmetry there.
However as for this season, Schaefer will need to first set up that the Longhorns can play the form of energetic, athletic protection that can frustrate different groups, after which construct from there.
It was exhausting to know what to make of Texas final season. The Longhorns beat Tennessee and Stanford in nonconference play however misplaced within the Massive 12 to the league’s worst staff, Kansas, on the street by 15 factors. Three starters are gone from that staff, together with Joyner Holmes and Sug Sutton, each of whom performed within the WNBA this season. So Texas misplaced some good expertise, however there may be nonetheless a lot remaining in Austin. It appears like the fitting time to show the web page for this system, and a top-three end could be a really sturdy approach to begin the Schaefer period.
The transition again into the Massive 12, the place he was a longtime assistant to Gary Blair at Texas A&M, will not be tough for Schaefer. Coaches like Baylor’s Kim Mulkey, Iowa State’s Invoice Fennelly and Oklahoma‘s Sherri Coale, whom Schaefer went towards whereas with the Aggies, are nonetheless within the league. Quite a lot of it will really feel acquainted to him.
The place does this season rank amongst Kim Mulkey’s reloading initiatives?
Hays: When it comes to Mulkey’s challenges since Baylor gained its first championship, I might rank this season as second solely to 2014-15. That was the season after Odyssey Sims departed, ending an period by which Sims and Brittney Griner went 108-5 collectively and Baylor went 167-20 with at the least one among them round. Baylor went 33-4 in 2014-15 with then-sophomore Nina Davis as its lone double-digit scorer, and that is still the most effective entries on Mulkey’s résumé.
It is not that the present Baylor roster lacks expertise, however there are solely 4 gamers remaining who have been main elements of the rotation en path to the 2018-19 nationwide title that Baylor continues to be technically defending. Te’a Cooper, Lauren Cox and Juicy Landrum have been useful past statistical measure (and accounted for 41% of Baylor’s factors and 49% of its assists). Asking DiDi Richards to transition to level guard, acclimating a 3rd vital grad switch in as a few years in DiJonai Carrington and dealing in freshmen Sarah Andrews and Hannah Gusters makes for lots of shifting elements.
Richards is out indefinitely with no specified time to return to basketball actions after struggling a spinal-cord harm with out radiographic abnormality in follow final week.
Creme: I second Graham’s evaluation that 2014-15 was a much bigger job. Heading into that season, I projected Baylor as a No. 3 seed and the No. 12 general staff on my board. This season’s staff, regardless of the losses of Cox, Cooper and Landrum, nonetheless is slotted as a preseason No. 1 seed. Few anticipated Nina Davis to be as extremely productive as she was that season as a sophomore, however there are expectations for juniors NaLyssa Smith and Queen Egbo this time.
The important thing might be Richards’ transition to level guard. She is succesful and has been in this system for 3 years, not like the graduate transfers who’ve taken up that function the previous two seasons. That is the place the truncated season and restricted nonconference competitors may damage Baylor greater than a number of the different high nationwide title contenders. If this finally turns into Mulkey’s hardest rebuilding job, it is perhaps extra due to circumstance than personnel.
Voepel: Baylor’s business-as-usual success in 2014-15 was a intestine punch to the remainder of the Massive 12, which had been ready for some form of drop-off from the Woman Bears after the top of the Griner-Sims period. Did not occur. However the Massive 12’s veteran coaches additionally form of needed to anticipate that. Return to the 2006-07 season, after Baylor misplaced three starters that had been on the 2005 championship staff, led by future WNBA standout Sophia Younger. Even then, Baylor gained 26 video games and completed third within the league.
And in 2009-10, after Baylor had misplaced 4 starters from the earlier yr and was relying on the gifted freshman Griner, the Woman Bears completed sixth within the Massive 12, but reached the Remaining 4.
Persistently reloading regardless of the personnel losses is absolutely exhausting, however Baylor is one among only a handful of packages that has made it look comparatively simple for the previous 15-plus years. That should not obscure the problem of the job Mulkey has in entrance of her. Cox, even with the harm points she handled final season, was nonetheless the league’s greatest participant, and all through her Baylor profession made everybody else on the ground higher. Landrum was a reliable guard who knew her function, and Cooper made probably the most of her one season at Baylor.
Richards had a ton on her plate earlier than her harm in follow Oct. 24; now it is unsure when she’ll return. Contemplating the harm concerned her spinal wire, one assumes Baylor might be very conservative and cautious about when she comes again. Level guard turns into much more of a query, which places extra weight on the shoulders of Baylor’s junior posts Smith and Egbo to paved the way.
Who’s the most effective ‘large’ within the Massive 12?
Hays: It is a throwback to see a convention with so many good publish gamers. If pressured to choose just one, I am going to go together with Kansas State‘s Ayoka Lee. That call is simpler in case you take eligibility into consideration, on condition that she has three seasons nonetheless to play (or probably even 4 if she makes use of the additional yr lately granted to all winter-sports athletes).
Kansas State in all probability was headed to the WNIT a season in the past after going 4-1 down the stretch, together with wins at Texas and towards Iowa State. Lee was instrumental in each outcomes and picked up each her uncooked scoring and offensive effectivity in convention play — regardless of Kansas State taking part in a comparatively modest nonconference schedule. It is that offensive potential, together with the rebounding and protection that each one the Massive 12 bigs have, that catches the attention.
Creme: Each Lee and Oklahoma State‘s Natasha Mack generated unbelievable manufacturing for gamers getting their first style of Division I basketball. Each averaged double-doubles and carried a significant load for his or her respective groups. So it comes right down to these two for me. Maybe that measuring stick is a bit unfair to Egbo, who received far fewer alternatives to supply due to the standard of gamers round her. As extra of a focus of Baylor’s offense, Egbo might considerably elevate.
However my vote goes to Mack due to her work on protection. Her 17.6 PPG and 12.5 RPG — and the 26-point, 13-rebound recreation towards Oregon and 19 and 16 towards Texas A&M — have been spectacular sufficient. However Mack, the 2019 nationwide junior faculty participant of the yr, additionally completed third within the nation with 3.6 blocks per recreation, led the Cowgirls with 50 steals and was named to the Massive 12 all-defensive staff.
With Vivian Grey leaving Oklahoma State for Texas Tech, much more is perhaps requested of Mack in 2020-21. How she handles that added stress in her senior season may decide whether or not she additionally will get the nod as the most effective “large” within the Massive 12 come March.
Voepel: Whereas Baylor’s Smith and Iowa State guard/ahead Ashley Joens appear more likely to battle for Massive 12 participant of the yr honors, the competitors for greatest ahead/heart may very well be simply as intriguing. For true “large” — as in a predominantly low-block menace — I lean towards Okay-State’s Lee, one of many high freshmen within the nation final season. However I additionally need to point out Texas’ Collier, a 6-foot-5 publish participant who has 3-point taking pictures potential (28 of 79 treys final season). We have not seen the most effective of her but, and it will likely be attention-grabbing to see how she develops in Schaefer’s system.
What is the largest preseason Bracketology query within the Massive 12?
Creme: Solely 4 Massive 12 groups have been possible headed to final season’s NCAA match. Solely three — Baylor, Iowa State and Texas — seem like locks this season. Can the center of the convention enhance sufficient in 2020-21 to get 5, six and even seven groups within the discipline?
Enchancment is the operative phrase. The Massive 12 simply wasn’t excellent in 2019-20. Not solely was the league projected to get solely 4 groups into the match, however Iowa State and Texas have been seeds within the No. 9 and No. 10 vary. If that’s to be higher in 2021, the important thing may lie in two packages: Kansas State and West Virginia. Final season, the Wildcats, at the least partially as a result of harm, dug themselves too nice a gap from which to climb, and the Mountaineers pale badly within the season’s closing 5 weeks. Each ought to be higher this season.
West Virginia has three of its high 4 scorers again and coach Mike Carey added extra depth, together with former Tennessee participant of the yr and Mississippi State switch Jayla Hemingway. Kansas State has Lee to construct round and vital expertise within the backcourt, led by Rachel Ranke (again from harm) and Sydney Goodson (Texas Tech switch). Proper now each undertaking as bubble groups. Constructing an NCAA match résumé — and this goes for each staff within the Massive 12, together with different match hopefuls Oklahoma, Texas Tech and TCU — goes to be much more depending on successful within the league with solely six or seven accessible nonconference video games.
The Massive 12 is high heavy with Baylor, and the convention has lacked stability for a very long time. But when we get to March and there are a bunch of Massive 12 groups with 9-9 convention data, that may damage, not assist. Having 10-12 wins goes to be a should.