Championship or bust for the Baylor Lady Bears
The Big 12 is filled with storied programs, incredible coaches, and elite talent. That being said, Baylor still vastly outshines every other school heading into the 2020-21 season.
The Lady Bears have won 10 conference championships, which is more than double the next closest team. Even with three players in Lauren Cox, Te’a Cooper, and Juicy Landrum leaving for the WNBA, Baylor is poised to make that number 11.
Forward NaLyssa Smith will not just be leading the team, but possibly the whole country in player of the year votes at the end of the season. Her ability to get points in the paint is rivaled by no player in college basketball.
Hall of Fame head coach Kim Mulkey believes that the Bears have the pandemic strategy for winning, saying, “The two keys to the teams that survived this year are those that have the most depth, and those that have the most experience”. Considering Baylor has the most of both of these aspects in the Big 12, their goals may lay outside simply a conference title.
The other teams will reasonably deep NCAA tourney aspirations are Texas and Iowa State. The Longhorns brought in former Mississippi State head coach Vic Shaefer, who will make an immediate impact on an already talented squad.
While Texas does not have the star power of Baylor, the already injury-riddled Longhorns will need Precious Johnson and Deyona Gaston to be a dangerous dynamic duo if they want to make the Big 12 competitive.
Iowa State was only 10-8 in conference play last year, but returning four starters means the Cyclones have experience on the court as a unit. Ashley Joens was the Big 12 leading scorer as a sophomore and still has not even hit her ceiling. The school also brought in two five-star recruits in the younger Joens sister Aubrey and Lexi Donarski.
West Virginia, Kansas State and Texas Tech all have solid rosters but not immense upside, and one or two of these programs could sneak into the NCAA tourney if they can improve on last year’s performance.
In other college news, the American Athletic Conference has upped the number of league games to 20, meaning each team in the 11-member AAC will play each other twice. This will allow for an accurate picture of which teams are really the best in the conference.
Luckily for fans, the AAC has agreed to a massive 12-year media rights extension with ESPN, meaning there will be at least five televised games this season.
The first AAC games kick-off tonight, with six teams in action in non-conference play.