It takes a team
Everyone loves to focus on star power. That’s why players such as Marcus Smart, Andrew Wiggins, Isaiah Austin and Joel Embiid are hailed as the Big 12’s most dominant players.
Still, if the Big 12 standings teach us anything, it’s that you need more than star power to consistently win in the nation’s strongest conference, which currently has six teams in the Top 25. You also need a strong supporting cast. More than anything, you need a complementary player who isn’t afraid to become the lead dog.
The past week was littered with examples.
Naadir Tharpe was the best player on the court for Kansas in victories over Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Sure, Wiggins and Embiid made impacts, too, but it was the junior point guard who averaged 22 points, five assists and four rebounds while making more than 82 percent of his shots.
Across the floor, Phil Forte stole the show at Allen Fieldhouse by coming off the bench and making seven three-pointers on his way to a game-high 23 points.
At Bramlage Coliseum, the best player on the floor wasn’t Thomas Gipson or Marcus Foster. It was Shane Southwell. The senior guard had 20 points, five rebounds and four assists in a blowout victory against West Virginia.
A few other unsung players you should know about:
Oklahoma’s Ryan Spangler is half a rebound shy of averaging a double-double. Cameron Clark receives more accolades, but when Spangler gets going inside, the Sooners are tough to beat.
Iowa State’s Georges Niang is averaging more than 15 points behind the team’s leading scorer, DeAndre Kane.
Cameron Ridley’s first year at Texas went so poorly, it’s hard to remember he was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school. But he is averaging more than 10 points and seven rebounds, and the Longhorns are a threat to return to the NCAA Tournament.
All of them have played important roles for their teams this season. Perhaps they haven’t been as noticeable as some, but they have proven to be essential.
Upset of the week
The most surprising aspect of Texas Tech’s 82-72 victory over Baylor wasn’t that the Red Raiders won, it was how they won.
Under Scott Drew, Baylor always seems to lose a game or two it shouldn’t. And Texas Tech, no matter how down the program is, regularly knocks of someone in Lubbock.
But this was different. Texas Tech led by 21 with less than 12 minutes remaining. The Red Raiders didn’t just beat the Bears, they destroyed them. An unusually large crowd stormed the court in celebration, and first-year coach Tubby Smith kept those good vibes going with a win at TCU over the weekend.
A veteran roster, led by Jaye Crockett and Jordan Tolbert, has Texas Tech playing above expectations. And fans are taking notice. Poor attendance has plagued Texas Tech basketball for years. Smith said he has made appearances at the student union in hopes of boosting attendance. Beating Baylor showed a glimmer of hope about what could be on the way.
“Texas Tech, they have had good attendance years ago,” Smith said. “They have fallen on hard times lately, but with stability and our guys playing better lately, the fans see improvement. They know they are playing hard. That’s the connection.... They were a big help. They were really uplifting.”
Playing for second
Kansas has a one-game lead over K-State in the conference standings, but with its four victories coming against top competition, some are saying the Big 12 race is already over.
It’s an interesting debate. While it will be difficult for other teams to match the Jayhawks’ victories at Oklahoma and Iowa State, the Big 12 season is long. A slip-up could come anywhere. Remember, Kansas lost at TCU last year.
For what it’s worth, Bill Self is taking the cautious approach: “It’s like being ahead in baseball after the second inning. It doesn’t matter right now. We’ve just got to make sure we try to get better every day.”
You don’t hear that every day
“We are disappointed to learn of the district court judge’s decision to reinstate Bubu Palo to our basketball team.“ — Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard in a statement, following a district court judge’s decision to allow Palo back on the Cyclones’ roster after Iowa State told him he was no longer a member of the team in the offseason.
Players of the week
A pair of Jayhawks won weekly honors from the Big 12 on Monday. Naadir Tharpe was named Player of the Week after averaging 22 points in victories over Iowa State and Oklahoma State. Joel Embiid won freshman honors.
Big 12 bracketology
Because it’s never too early to predict who will qualify for the postseason: