WHO’S THE HEAD OF THE CLASS?
One week remains in the Big 12 basketball season, but the race for Player of the Year is far from over.
That debate is more wide open than ever.
Close to a dozen players can make a case for the award. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis have all led Kansas to an outright conference championship. Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim is the league’s leading scorer. West Virginia’s Juwan Staten ranks near the top of the Big 12 in several statistical categories. And Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart has been strong all year, save a three-game suspension.
Ask the league’s 10 coaches for their thoughts, and you will hear even more names. Ryan Spangler of Oklahoma leads the conference in rebounds, Buddy Hield is Oklahoma’s most dynamic player, DeAndre Kane has done it all for Iowa State and Texas’ Cameron Ridley is nearly impossible to match up against.
There is no telling who will end up with the prize.
“There are so many talented players in this league,” TCU coach Trent Johnson said. “Two or three of them should be in the running for national Player of the Year.”
It may come down to who plays best this week. Even then, voters will have to decide what they value most.
Some will argue the award should go to a member of the conference’s champion. That means Wiggins, Embiid or Ellis. Wiggins is the most likely KU player to receive votes, because he leads the team in scoring. He also has the biggest profile. But Ken Pomeroy ranks Embiid tops in the conference on his subscription-based website, which tracks players and teams based on advanced statistics. Meanwhile, Kansas State coach Bruce Weber and Johnson have both singled out Ellis this season.
That balance could push some voters to look elsewhere. Some will favor the league’s top scorer, which is currently Ejim with 18.9 points. Helping his case are two monster games. He destroyed TCU for 48 points and he had 30 points and 16 rebounds against K-State. But Iowa State will likely need to close strong to boost his candidacy. Voters tend to ignore players from teams that finish in the middle of the conference standings.
That is the main thing holding back Staten, West Virginia’s explosive point guard. Though he is averaging 18 points and 5.9 assists, his team is .500 in conference play.
Voters looking elsewhere could settle on Smart, though Oklahoma State is below .500 in Big 12 play, or Kane. If Oklahoma or Texas win their final two games, their players will gain appeal.
Anything can happen in the final week of the season.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“I guess people think I’m a jerk now, because I got two in a row. It’s something you can’t really do.”
— Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim, after picking up a technical foul against Kansas State.
Excluding Monday’s games
1. Kansas (22-7, 13-3): When the Jayhawks win, they win big. They are less predictable in close games.
2. Oklahoma (21-8, 10-6): The Sooners made K-State and Texas look like Division II teams in Norman.
3. Kansas State (20-9, 10-6): Tie-breakers may help K-State claim the No. 2 seed in Kansas City.
4. Iowa State (22-6, 10-6): The Cyclones need Georges Niang, Kane and Ejim to all play well.
5. Texas (21-8, 10-6): Texas is falling fast, but easy games remain. Don’t be surprised if it wins out.
6. Baylor (19-10, 7-9): One more victory probably puts the Bears in the NCAA Tournament.
7. Oklahoma State (19-10, 7-9): Did the Cowboys save their season against Kansas? Maybe, but there’s still work to do.
8. West Virginia (16-13, 8-8): Mountaineers can finish anywhere from second to ninth.
9. Texas Tech (13-16, 5-11): Texas Tech’s best days may be in the past. It has lost five straight.
10. TCU (9-19, 0-16): Amric Fields is likely done for the year. Bad news for the winless Horned Frogs.