Draft decisions bolster two of Kansas' top challengers in the Big 12

Jevon Carter announced Monday he’s returning to West Virginia. (AP)

Kansas remains the clear favorite to win a record 14th straight Big 12 title, but the field of contenders suddenly looks a little stronger.

Two of the Big 12’s other upper-echelon programs received good news Monday when their best guards both withdrew from the NBA draft.

Jevon Carter, West Virginia’s leading scorer and top perimeter defender last season, announced that he intends to return to Morgantown for his senior season. Carter averaged 13.5 points and 2.6 steals per game last season, leading the Mountaineers to a 28-win season that ended with a narrow loss to eventual national runner-up Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.

Only minutes after West Virginia confirmed Carter’s decision, Texas guard Andrew Jones also revealed that he too will delay his NBA dreams and return for his sophomore season. Jones might have been a second-round pick had he stayed in the draft after averaging 11.4 points and 3.5 assists as a freshman last season.

Monday’s news solidifies West Virginia as the top challenger to Kansas in the Big 12 next season. With three starters and several key reserves back from last season, the Mountaineers should begin in the top 15 in the polls.

Carter will initiate the offense, provide outside shooting and anchor Press Virginia. Guard Daxter Miles and forward Esa Ahmad are both breakout candidates. And West Virginia replenishes its depth with a five-man recruiting class highlighted by four-star center Derek Culver.

Texas is more of a wildcard on the heels of last year’s disappointing 22-loss season derailed by a lack of outside shooting or point guard play. The Longhorns have ample talent to make a leap in the Big 12 standings, but the question is how far they’ll be able to climb.

The arrival of a decorated recruiting class highlighted by five-star center Mohamed Bamba and prized point guard Matt Coleman is the biggest reason for optimism. Bamba will replace potential first-round pick Jarrett Allen and anchor the Texas defense with his shot-blocking prowess, while Coleman will provide the point guard play the Longhorns lacked a year ago.

If Coleman moves into the starting lineup as expected, it will free up Jones to look to score rather than having to handle point guard duties as well. Jones had to handle the ball more than expected last year and struggled making decisions, tallying twice as many turnovers as assists.

It’s difficult to imagine Texas going from worst-to-first in the Big 12 next season, but the Longhorns should be in the mix with TCU, Oklahoma and Baylor to finish in the league’s upper half.

Kansas is still the favorite like always. But should the Jayhawks stumble for once, there are plenty of other teams poised to take advantage.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!