New-look Kansas still team to beat in the Big 12 in 2018-19

The Big 12 is once against Kansas' league. But there are enough contenders to make this a fascinating conference.

Here are five questions for the Big 12:

1. How will Kansas use Dedric Lawson?

Per one source close to the program, the Jayhawks intend to run "everything" through the smooth, 6-foot-10 combo forward who put together this stat line in his final year at Memphis (2016-17): 19.2 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 3.3 APG, 2.1 BPG, 1.3 SPG.

Don't let his size fool you. At Kansas, Lawson could become the focus of the offense as a hybrid point forward. Four years ago, Fred Hoiberg successfully used Royce White, a 6-foot-8 forward and first-round pick, in a similar role for Iowa State. But Lawson's team is filled with playmakers. Lagerald Vick returns after withdrawing from the NBA draft, and the Jayhawks have a top-five recruiting class.

In a basketball era that prizes spacing, Kansas will have a floor general capable of pressuring teams to find lineups that can handle its versatility and ability to hurt opponents anywhere on the court.

2. What will Oklahoma look like without Trae Young?

Young was the most exciting player in the country last season, becoming the first player in NCAA history to lead the country in scoring and assists before he entered the NBA draft. His presence made Oklahoma the center of college basketball's universe.

Graduate transfers Miles Reynolds, who averaged 13.3 points at Pacific, and Aaron Calixte, who averaged 16.9 at Maine, will attempt to replace some of Young's production. But also gone are Khadeem Lattin and Kameron McGusty, who transferred to Miami.

Last season was fun for Sooners fans. In 2018-19, however, they'll be closer to the team that won 11 games before Young's arrival than the Oklahoma squad we saw last season.

3. Can Kansas State win the Big 12 title?

K-State is a legitimate contender for the Big 12 crown. The Wildcats must go through Kansas, which hasn't lost a Big 12 title in more than a decade, but they did not suffer a bad loss during their run to the Elite Eight last season and return critical pieces, including Dean Wade (16.2 PPG, 44 percent from the 3-point line), who missed the postseason because of a foot injury.

The Wildcats finished 21st in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com, and they'll continue to play elite defense this season.

4. How much pressure will Shaka Smart face this season?

Under Smart, Texas has sent a pair of big men, Mohamed Bamba and Jarrett Allen, to the NBA. He has reached the NCAA tournament in two of his three seasons, but the Longhorns haven't finished in the top three of the Big 12.

In 2016, he signed an extension through 2023, so any talk of a hot seat this season would be foolish and dismiss some of the unavoidable challenges he has had, such as Bamba's injuries last season and Andrew Jones' leukemia diagnosis. Kerwin Roach II (12.3 PPG) suffered a knee injury earlier this month that required surgery. He's expected to make a full recovery so he's ready for next season, but that's another unfortunate challenge for the Longhorns.

Smart, who signed a top-10 recruiting class, has a chance to compete for a spot in the top tier of a league that has lost stars Trae Young and Jevon Carter, among others. With Roach and this young talent, Texas is due for a rise in the conference standings. Smart will face pressure to get the most out of this group.

5. Was last season a fluke for Texas Tech?

Not with Chris Beard on the sideline. First-round pick Zhaire Smith and top scorer Keenan Evans are gone, but Beard is quietly putting together a respectable crew that should stabilize the program a year after its Elite Eight run.

Khavon Moore (No. 43 in the 2018 class) is a promising four-star wing. Matt Mooney, a grad transfer from South Dakota, averaged 18.7 points for the Coyotes last season. Tariq Owens arrives from St. John's, where he averaged 8.4 points and 2.8 blocks last season. Plus, Jarrett Culver (11.2 PPG, 38 percent from the 3-point line) is back.

Beard has never finished outside the top 60 of KenPom.com's defensive efficiency rankings, either. Texas Tech might be a sleeper in the Big 12 race.

Five players to watch

1. Quentin Grimes, Kansas

Bill Self has heaped praise on Grimes, the 6-foot-4 shooting guard ranked eighth in the 2018 class, this offseason. He could be the star of the country's best backcourt. He's the reason Self might possess his most talented roster since the 2008 national title run.

2. Lindell Wigginton, Iowa State

He flirted with the NBA after finishing with 16.7 PPG and connecting on 40 percent of his 3-point attempts as a freshman. Now he's back to elevate his stock and an Iowa State squad pushing for progress under Steve Prohm.

3. Barry Brown, Kansas State

He averaged 15.7 points during Kansas State's run to the Elite Eight last season. According to those close to him, he has been working all summer to prove he can be more consistent after he went 2-for-11 from the 3-point line in the NCAA tournament.

4. Sagaba Konate, West Virginia

Konate told ESPN this summer that NBA executives likened him to Clint Capela, the versatile big man for the Houston Rockets who just signed a five-year, $90 million deal. He's the key to West Virginia's hopes in the post-Jevon Carter era.

Konate (10.8 PPG, 7.6 RPG, 3.2 BPG) will once again prove he's a force for the Mountaineers.

5. Jaylen Fisher, TCU

How important was Fisher? TCU finished 8-8 in its final 16 games without him. But Fisher, who suffered a season-ending injury in Big 12 play, is healthy again. He averaged 12.3 points and 5.4 assists, making 44 percent of his 3-point attempts last season.