Big 12

Kellis Robinett’s weekly Big 12 report: Handicapping the conference award race

Kansas players celebrate a 12th consecutive Big 12 Conference title with a 67-58 win against Texas Tech on Saturday.
Kansas players celebrate a 12th consecutive Big 12 Conference title with a 67-58 win against Texas Tech on Saturday. TNS

Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield is a shoo-in for Big 12 Player of the Year.

Kansas forward Perry Ellis and Iowa State senior Georges Niang are locks to join Hield on the all-conference team next week.

After that, nothing is certain.

Most of the awards are difficult to handicap, as much will depend on the final week of the regular season. After Kansas, there is no telling where West Virginia, Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas will be seeded in the Big 12 Tournament. Any could finish second or sixth. And don’t forget about Iowa State and Texas Tech, which can both finish with winning league records.

For proof, look at what KU coach Bill Self and Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith had to say about each other last week. Leading up to their game in Lawrence, Self called Smith an icon and said he deserved to win conference coach of the year honors for putting the Red Raiders on track to reach the NCAA Tournament in a year they were picked to finish last in the Big 12. Basketball success can be hard to come by in Lubbock, but Smith has his team on pace for a 20-win season.

But after Kansas defeated Texas Tech to secure at least a share of its 12th consecutive league championship, Smith deflected praise back onto Self.

“He deserves coach of the year,” Smith said of Self. “I think he’s done a fantastic job.”

It is a fascinating debate. Kansas is the best team in the Big 12, which has never been stronger. But the Jayhawks were picked to win the league. Texas Tech owns seventh place in the league standings, but it has exceeded expectations. Who is the more deserving coach? A compelling argument could be made both ways.

Some argue Texas coach Shaka Smart, Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger and West Virginia coach Bob Huggins should also be in the conversation, but it’s safe to say Self and Smith are the favorites.

Hield is the runaway favorite to repeat as player of the year. His scoring average of 25.4 points rivals that of past winners Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley. Niang, the league’s second-leading scorer, averages 19.4 points.

Some, including K-State coach Bruce Weber, have lobbied for Ellis to win, because his 16.1 points and 6.1 rebounds helped Kansas win the league championship, while Oklahoma can’t finish better than second. Still, Hield’s numbers will likely carry the day.

Who will join Hield, Ellis and Niang on the first team? The main contenders are Baylor forward Rico Gathers, who nearly averages a double-double, Iowa State point guard Monte Morris, who leads the league in assists, Texas guard Isaiah Taylor, Oklahoma forward Ryan Spangler, West Virginia senior Jaysean Paige and Kansas guards Frank Mason and Wayne Selden.

Those left off will form an impressive second team.

Switching to football

Senior Baylor forward Rico Gathers announced last week that he will not pursue a career in the NBA. Instead, he will try for the NFL.

That decision would come as a shock for most college basketball players, but fans have been urging Gathers to try football for as long as he’s been at Baylor. NFL scouts have even attended his basketball games. The 6-foot-6, 275-pounder hopes to play tight end. Several former basketball players have made the same transition with high levels of success, including Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas.

They all played football in college, though. Gathers hasn’t played organized football since middle school. Still, he thinks his skills as a rebounder will help him as a pass-catcher.

“During my free time, I work on my routes all the time,” Gathers told ESPN. “I have my own football, my own cleats, I run 40s all the time. I think I’m ready.”

Power rankings

1. Kansas (25-4, 13-3): Another year, another Big 12 championship. March will decide how good a year it truly is for KU.

2. Texas (19-10, 10-6): Shaka Smart has the Longhorns peaking at the right time, as opposed to so many previous years.

3. Oklahoma (22-6, 10-6): Sooners blew their shot at a league championship, but can still earn an NCAA No. 1 seed.

4. West Virginia (22-7, 11-5): Mountaineers can clinch at least a share of second with one more victory.

5. Baylor (21-8, 10-6): Bears’ conference tournament seed will depend on final games against Oklahoma and West Virginia.

6. Iowa State (20-9, 9-7): If the Jameel McKay drama is in the past, Cyclones could be dangerous in March.

7. Texas Tech (18-10, 8-8): Finally lost a game. How will Red Raiders respond against West Virginia?

8. Kansas State (15-14, 4-12): Wildcats need two more wins to feel good about NIT chances.

9. Oklahoma State (12-17, 3-13): Worst Cowboys basketball team in recent memory.

10. TCU (11-18, 2-14): Will the Horned Frogs win again?

Kellis Robinett: @kellisrobinett