Big 12 POY Race is Anyone’s GuessPosted by Big 12 Microwriters on March 1st, 2014
With three games to go, the Big 12 race is over. Since Kansas clinched at least a share of the crown for the tenth straight year with a win over Oklahoma on Monday, the conversation in the conference has shifted to other things. Those topics chiefly include tournament positioning and what Bill Self thinks of Wichita State, but there’s another fascinating storyline to parse through as the regular season wraps up, and that is the Big 12 Player Of The Year race. There are several legitimate candidates running the gambit from a one-and-done sensation to a fifth-year senior to a guy who hadn’t even started playing basketball when that fifth-year senior began his college career. Our Big 12 microsite writers took some time to run down this season’s top candidates.
Andrew Wiggins (Taylor Erickson)
While there’s certainly no shortage of worthy Big 12 Player of the Year candidates, I believe the honor should go to Andrew Wiggins of Kansas. While Wiggins hasn’t put up the type of scoring numbers that others like Melvin Ejim of Iowa State and Juwan Staten of West Virginia have, he has been the best player on the team that holds a three game lead in the conference standings with three games to play. Some will be quick to claim that the freshman from Canada has failed to live up the expectations bestowed upon him before the season began, but those expectations were also unrealistic. Consider the fact that Wiggins has failed to score at least 14 points in a conference game just three times, and in some ways, his individual statistics are a victim of Kansas’ depth and ability to score from so many different positions on the floor, whether it be down low with Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis, or in the backcourt with guards like Wayne Selden and Naadir Tharpe. As good as Wiggins has been on the offensive end, his impact on the defensive end of the floor for Kansas may be even greater given the significant difference in the amount of points per possession Bill Self’s squad surrenders with him in the lineup. You can go ahead and make a case for several other players in this league and there’s a plethora of good ones, but for me, I’ll take Andrew Wiggins every time.
DeAndre Kane (Brian Goodman)
Fred Hoiberg loves his transfers, and Kane has to be the best one he’s brought to Ames since Royce White. Granted, that’s only two seasons, but the point remains that there’s a legit case for Kane as the conference’s best player. He’ll enter today’s meeting against Kansas State with averages of 16.3 points and 5.9 assists per game; Those are great numbers for a point guard, but it’s his work on the glass for someone his size that really makes him a special college player. Kane’s 6.7 rebounds per game are more than taller players like Andrew Wiggins, Thomas Gipson, Le’Bryan Nash, Isaiah Austin and Perry Ellis. There are just so many ways that he can impact a game that it makes it extremely difficult for opposing coaches to scout him. His attacking style can make his team vulnerable, as Iowa State is 3-3 when Kane turns the ball over five or more times, but it’s worth it to the Cyclones. Kane may not join the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Marcus Smart on Draft night, but that’s irrelevant. It’s tough to imagine where the Cyclones would be without its latest newcomer.
Melvin Ejim (BG)
Preseason All-Big 12 teams generally aren’t to be taken with more than a grain of salt, but the league’s coaches were definitely onto something when they tabbed Melvin Ejim with that honor after he finished last season as an honorable mention. All Ejim has done since then is lead the conference in scoring and cemented his reputation as an above-average rebounder. If you’re the type to judge POY candidacy by a specific moment or game, Ejim has that, too; On February, he exploded for 48 points on 18-22 shooting to go with 18 rebounds in a resounding win over TCU. He’s been the most reliable cog in Fred Hoiberg’s rotation since his early return from a left knee injury and deserves a ton of recognition as the best four-year player in the conference.
Joel Embiid (Kory Carpenter)
When Joel Embiid decides to leave college, he could be the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft. A lot of that is based on potential, but there is a reason he went from an unknown raw talent to one of the best big men in the country over the last four months. He averages 11.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. He now owns the freshman block record at Kansas, having passed Eric Chenowith’s mark of 62 swats last week against Texas. Embiid had six blocks in that game and has blocked at least five shots in five games this season. More importantly than the blocks, however, is the effect his presence has on opposing teams in the paint. Watch a Kansas game and you’ll see players looking over their shoulders when they get into the paint, worrying if their shot attempt will end up in the tuba section. Then there are plays like this. There are a handful of players in the World who can pull off Hakeem Olajuwon’s dream shake in a game. Joel Embiid is one of those players.
Juwan Staten (BG)
The Mountaineers are still trying to scrape into the field of 68 following a disappointing 2013 season, and if they somehow squeeze into the bracket, Juwan Staten will be a big reason why. During an up-and-down season, the senior point guard has been a constant for Bob Huggins, playing 93 percent of available minutes and leading the conference with 504 points scored in Big 12 play. At the end of the day, though, it would be tough to see the Big 12 POY award going to someone on a team playing in the NIT. In fact, just once has the Big 12 Player Of The Year hailed from a team that didn’t make the tournament (Nebraska center Venson Hamilton in 1999). In a season like this one where the conference figures to send half its membership (maybe more) to the NCAA Tournament, Staten’s odds are going to be very long, but the production he’s given to his team should be acknowledged in this space.
Honorable Mention: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State; Markel Brown, Oklahoma State; Cameron Ridley, Texas; Perry Ellis, Kansas;