Can Houston or anyone catch Hunter Dickinson and No. 1 Kansas?

Bill Self and Kansas acquired 7-footer Hunter Dickinson from Michigan last offseason, which only increased their standing in the Big 12.

Bill Self and Kansas acquired 7-footer Hunter Dickinson from Michigan last offseason, which only increased their standing in the Big 12. (AP/Charles Rex Arbogast)

The 2023-24 college basketball season is just seven days away. Check back every day this week as we break down the biggest conferences, teams and more leading up to the season.

The Big 12 looks a lot different this fall and more changes are coming next year.

However, one thing remains the same heading into the 2023-24 season: Bill Self’s Kansas team starts the year at the top of the conference.

While there are many teams in what has proven to be the best conference in the country in recent years that can challenge the Jayhawks for the conference title in March, including recent top team Houston, Self’s squad won’t make it easy.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Big 12 heading into the college basketball season this fall.

Big 12 team rankings

No. 1 Kansas

No. 7 Houston

No. 18 Texas

No. 20 Baylor

Others receiving votes: TCU (24), Kansas State (13).

Kansas is back at No. 1 after landing Hunter Dickinson

Kansas entered the preseason poll earlier this month as the clear No. 1 seed, overtaking Duke and the rest of the field. It’s the third time the Jayhawks have opened as the No. 1 seed under Self, and that makes sense.

He brings back Kevin McCullar Jr. and DaJuan Harris Jr. this season, and four-star recruit Elmarko Jackson should be a good fit in his system.

Most importantly, Self Hunter Dickenson ended up in the transfer portal. Dickenson was easily the most sought-after player in the portal this past offseason after averaging 18.5 points and nine rebounds per game last season at Michigan. The 7-footer was also named a preseason All-American and will bolster Kansas’ presence on the team alongside KJ Adams, who is having a breakout season of his own.

“He’s the best offensive player I’ve ever had,” Self said of Dickenson at Big 12 media day. via ESPN. “Not the best defense [center]. He needs to get better: athleticism, ball protection. … ‘How will you use it in certain situations?’ But as for the question, “Can he shoot?” Can he pass? Can he score on the block? He can play [double-teams]?’ There are a lot of things he does that are gifted that we can hopefully take advantage of. Because I think he’s really, really talented.

Perhaps the best thing about this Kansas team, though, is that we can immediately see how good they are. The Jayhawks have a daunting non-conference schedule, starting with a matchup against No. 16 Kentucky in just their third game of the year. They will also face defending champion No. 6 UConn, Missouri and Indiana.

The Jayhawks will also compete in the Maui Invitational, where they will face either UCLA or No. 5 Marquette and may face Syracuse, No. 3 Purdue, No. 9 Tennessee or No. 11 Gonzaga.

Kansas’ season could easily fall apart in mid-December. No. 25 Illinois also beat the Jayhawks in an exhibition Sunday night, so it’s not like they’re unbeatable. With the Big 12 Conference being so good once again, this could be a tough run for one of Self’s best teams for the foreseeable future.

But if they can get through this early phase correctly and enter Big 12 play on the right note, this Kansas team will be in a great position to not only secure a spot at the top of the NCAA Tournament, but also to make a deep run to try and win himself a second championship in three years.

Kelvin Sampson is ready to prove his program can compete in the world

Kelvin Sampson is ready to prove his program can compete in the Big 12’s “dog park.” (Andy Hancock/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

Welcome to the Big 12, Kelvin Sampson

Although they haven’t played a game yet, Houston coach Kelvin Sampson is already feeling the difference that comes with playing in the Big 12. That, he said at Big 12 media day, became very clear when he went to meet his first conference coaches.

It felt like he was on a trip to the dog park.

“You’ll see two dogs running past each other, sort of from the side, or a little dog starts yapping at the big one and they start sizing each other up,” Sampson said. via The Associated Press. “I assessed them all. You used to be able to look at a few of these little dogs and say, ‘I can get that one.’ I can get that, I can get that.’

“I haven’t seen anyone like that at this conference… They’re all German Shepherds, man. Where is the Shih Tzu? Where are the Chihuahuas? Or that’s a Rottweiler. Oh my god, that’s a pit bull. That’s one tough dog park man.”

The Big 12 has consistently been the best conference in college basketball in recent years. For Sampson and the Cougars, it will be a much different scene than the American Athletic Conference.

But if anyone can catch Kansas, it’s probably going to be Houston.

The Cougars have made it to at least the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament three times in a row, including their Final Four run in 2021, and they have averaged just under 30 wins per season over the past six seasons. They bring back six players from last year’s team that made it to the Sweet 16, including guard Jamal Shead, J’wan Roberts and Terrance Arceneaux. Sampson also brought in Temple transfer Damian Dunn and Baylor transfer LJ Cryer.

There are plenty of other teams in the league that can challenge Kansas in the Big 12. Texas and Baylor are both capable of making a run, and TCU, Kansas State, Iowa State, Texas Tech, BYU and even West Virginia – despite their struggles following the departure of former head coach Bob Huggins – are all tournament-quality teams.

But if Sampson’s team wants to finally overcome the crisis and bring him a title – and perhaps, more importantly, prove they belong in a top league – now is the time to do it. With four more teams headed to the conference next summer, it will only get more difficult.

Notable early games

All times ET | * Neutral site game

November 6th

No. 21 USC at Kansas State | 10 p.m. | TNT*

November 7th

Auburn at No. 20 Baylor | 9 p.m. | ESPN*

November 10th

No. 17 San Diego State at BYU | TBD | ESPN+

UCF ranked 13th Miami | 7 p.m. | ACC Network

14th November

No. 1 Kansas at No. 16 Kentucky | 9:30 p.m. | ESPN*

November 19th

No. 18 Texas at Louisville | 3:30 p.m. | ESPN*

22nd of November

Texas Tech at No. 22 Villanova | 2:30 p.m. | Still open *

No. 20 Baylor at Oregon State | 7 p.m. | ESPN*

November 23rd

Oklahoma at Iowa | 3 p.m. | FS1 *

Iowa State at VCU | 5:30 p.m. | ESPN2*

BYU at Arizona State | 11:59 p.m. | ESPN2*

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