Preseason All-Big 12 Honors Blend Phenoms, Transfers and Experienced ContributorsPosted by Brian Goodman on October 3rd, 2013
Brian Goodman is an RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.
The sweet smell of college basketball strengthened Thursday afternoon as the Big 12 coaches released their preseason all-conference team, Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and Freshman of the Year selections. Let’s break down the conference’s picks:
Preseason Player of the Year: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Smart, who surprisingly returned to the Cowboys after averaging 15.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in his freshman campaign, is the incumbent Big 12 Player of the Year, so it’s hard to be too surprised at his unanimous selection from the Big 12 coaches. Others may argue that blue-chip Jayhawk freshman Andrew Wiggins would be a more worthy pick given his higher ceiling, but we have to look at recent history for context, and that history shows that Big 12 coaches just haven’t been crazy about adding pressure to hyped incoming freshmen. For instance, neither Kevin Durant nor Michael Beasley, both of whom faced their own lofty expectations coming into the conference, were named as the Preseason POY in 2006 and 2007, respectively. On the other hand, the fact that both Durant and Beasley ended up fitting the bill as not only Big 12 but National POY candidates suggests that perhaps the voting body should be more open to the idea. In the end, it’s hard to fault the coaches for going with a guy who’s done it all before in Marcus Smart, but we’re excited to see how the season plays out.
Preseason Newcomer Of The Year: Tarik Black, Kansas: As a transfer, Black makes a ton of sense here when you consider Bill Self’s successful history with big men. Granted, Black is already in exceptional shape and will only have one year to work with Self and famed strength and conditioning coach Andrea Hudy, but he figures to provide plenty of muscle (at 6’9″/260 lbs.) and experience (he started 60 of 102 games at Memphis) on an otherwise young Kansas lineup.
Preseason Freshman Of The Year: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: By now, you’ve probably heard all the talking points: Wiggins is perhaps a generational superstar who is as physically talented as he is level-headed and modest, and we as college basketball fans should be thankful for the one-and-done rule enabling him to pass through this season. We don’t disagree, and this accolade is just the latest for the 6’8″ Canadian small forward. We may not necessarily see eye-popping stats, given some questions that scouts have raised about his still-developing aggressiveness and Bill Self’s preference for balance on the offensive end. However, we do expect to see some memorable plays on both ends and are looking forward to what should be a big-time year. How will he adjust to playing in the national spotlight?
Preseason All-Big 12 Team
- Isaiah Austin – Baylor: The bespectacled, lanky and rangy seven-footer is a unique talent who should be more comfortable as a sophomore than he was as a freshman in Scott Drew’s system. Austin posted an offensive rating of 103.2 in 2012-13, using 23.2% of his team’s possessions. After he averaged 13.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game to lead Baylor to the NIT championship, Bears fans breathed a sigh of relief when Austin announced his return, as it provides some continuity with Pierre Jackson’s departure and a small handful of defections via transfer. We’d be surprised to see Baylor finish any higher than third in the conference, but we agree with the Big 12 coaches that it’s a safe bet that Austin will produce again this season.
- Cory Jefferson – Baylor: Austin’s frontcourt mate finished the 2012-13 season incredibly strong, with 16.9 points and 7.3 rebounds over his last 10 games (scoring 20+ points in each of his last four), and Big 12 coaches think he’s capable of matching, if not topping, that production in the 2013-14 campaign. The senior turned down the opportunity to declare for the NBA Draft, a sign that he may be ready to embrace a bigger leadership role this year. If Jefferson develops a greater sense of aggressiveness in the paint to complement his soft shooting touch, the rest of the league should be on notice.
- Melvin Ejim, Iowa State: There may not be a senior in the Big 12 who will be leaned on more heavily than Fred Hoiberg will lean on Ejim. Bubu Palo’s dismissal from the team in August leaves Ejim as the lone senior on a Cyclone team filled with transfers. Can Ejim be the steadying force that Hoiberg needs? Given his bouts with inconsistency last season, it’s tough to answer that question with a resounding “yes,” but it’s hard to ignore the positive signs, too. Ejim led the Big 12 in rebounding last season with 9.3 boards per game, and no player in the conference tallied more double-doubles (15). Those numbers led Ejim to a spot on the Big 12’s all-conference third team, so this is a notable jump up the ladder. That being said, it will be hard to see the Cyclones having a successful year without Ejim stepping up, so he’s definitely someone to keep an eye on.
- Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: I discussed his potential above, so I won’t spend much more time here, but despite not having played a game at the college level, his absence from the preseason all-conference team would have raised some serious questions about the Big 12 coaches, to say the least. Critics may point to Bill Self’s spotty experience with one-and-done candidates in Xavier Henry, Josh Selby and even Ben McLemore (to an extent) as a reason why Wiggins’ results may fall short of expectations, but it’s tough to see that happening this time around.
- Markel Brown, Oklahoma State: In his freshman campaign, Brown was viewed by fans and pundits as little more than a one-dimensional high-flyer. He still has that tremendous athletic ability, but his development under Travis Ford has been something to behold. Every season, Brown has improved his shooting from outside the three-point line, inside the three-point line and from the charity stripe, all while absorbing more possessions and a higher percentage of shots within his team’s offense. Did I mention he’s also lowered his personal turnover rate every year he’s been in Stillwater? Some pundits point to Brown as a player whose improvement was the direct result of Marcus Smart’s presence, and there may be some truth to that, but he’s incredibly talented and proven on his own merits as well. Look for Brown to live up to expectations as the Cowboys fight the Jayhawks tooth and nail for the top spot in the Big 12.
- Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Come April, will Smart regret not leaving school last season? Barring an injury or fatigue brought on by carrying a heavy load last season and a busy summer in international play, I say it’s doubtful. Smart has the potential to not only be the Big 12’s best player, but to also take National POY honors this season. While they don’t play the same position, the battles between Wiggins and Smart should be among the most entertaining fare we see all season. The full round-robin schedule of the Big 12 guarantees two tilts between Oklahoma State and Kansas, and a potential third showdown could loom in Kansas City with Big 12 POY honors on the line. That wouldn’t be too much to ask, would it?