The official preseason all Big 12 teams were announced last week, and most of it was pretty standard with Pierre Jackson being named Preseason POY. However, I didn't agree with all of the first team, and hate how everyone else was honorable mention. Let's break it down by 1st and 2nd team and get some angry e-mails sent my way. That's way more fun.
First with the player of the year race: it is a two horse race between Pierre Jackson and Jeff Withey, with Rodney McGruder a solid, but distant third. Jackson and Withey really couldn't be more opposite of each other. On one hand we have Jackson, who is in my opinion the best returning point guard in college basketball. He had the 18th best assist rate in the country last year and was an excellent shooter as well, shooting 50% from two, 41% from three and 82% from the line. Jackson turned it over a fair amount last year (25%) but I would be willing to bet that had at least as much to do with to whom he was passing than it did with Jackson himself.
However while Jackson was a great offensive player, other than his 3.5% steal rate his defense wasn't fantastic. (Granted this isn't based on watching every possession, but I did watch a lot of Baylor games last year) he gambled for a lot of steals and in the instances when Baylor went to a man to man defense Jackson was beat off the dribble quite a bit. And though it is fair to note that it is tough to evaluate individual defense in a zone, Baylor ranked 6th in the Big 12 in eFG allowed.
Withey, meanwhile, doesn't feature too much of an offensive game. He has really only one post move: a sweeping hook over his left shoulder where he covers pretty much the entire lane in two steps. The majority of his offense, though, comes off offensive rebounds and dump offs, with two thirds of his field goal attemps coming at the rim and 78% of those attempts being assisted on. He could do with adding some muscle as well, as his fg% at the rim was lower than Elijah Johnson's. On the rare occasion in which he shot jumpers, his fg% was just 29% (all stats here courtesy of hoop-math.com).
Defensively though, there was no one better (on the interior) than Withey last season. He grabbed his fair share of defensive rebounds, affected god knows how many shot attempts, and only had the best block percentage in the country. Not too shabby.
So really it is a horse apiece for those two whom you want to be player of the year, but given that college basketball is a guard's game I have no problem with them voting Jackson in. Let's take a look at the rest of my first team:
Rodney McGruder, F, Kansas State
McGruder was a guy I ticketed for a big year last year, and he made me look smart (thanks!). He shot a lot for K State and made a lot of them, just missing out on joining Pierre Jackson in the 50/40/80 club (the real one is 50/40/90 but hardly anyone who is good at other basketball things shoots 90% from the line, which is sad). McGruder shot exactly 50% from two, 38.5% from three and 80% from the line. And, even while handling the ball a lot for a team that turned it over on 21% of their possessions, 239th nationally, McGruder still had just a 12.6% turnover rate. He's pretty good.
Myck Kabongo, G, Texas
Kabongo had an up and down year with Texas, with both high assist and turnover rates. A high turnover rate for a Freshman is generally no big deal, but it's really encouraging that he manages such a high assist rate on a team A. whose best scorer was more of the isolation type guy and B. that didn't shoot very well. Kabongo didn't shoot well himself, just a 44.5% efG, but he got to the line an absurd amount (19th best in the country in fact) and if he improves his free throw shooting he should be quite an offensive weapon for the Longhorns this year.
Elijah Johnson, G, Kansas
Really no one is talking about Elijah for some reason, and I'm really confused about it. It could be me being a homer I guess, but consider the following: since the second Missouri game last year (11 games), Johnson shot 44.4% from three, and had 35 assists compared to just 16 turnovers.
To be fair, Johnson's assist rate was only a bit higher than his turnover rate, and he shot just 33% from three for the season. But he was a good jumpshooter, and overall shot 56% from two which is pretty awesome for a guard. He's an underrated defender as well and I think that his three point percentage will settle somewhere in the high 30s this year and he'll prove to be a top 5 guy in the league.
Steven Pledger, G, Oklahoma
Pledger is one of the better pure shooters in the league, having posted a 55.7% eFG last season. He shot a ton of jumpers as evidenced by taking only 90 FTs all season, and I think he'll be this year's version of Rodney McGruder, especially since Oklahoma should be pretty good this year.
Jordan Tolbert, F, Texas Tech
Tolbert's Big 12 numbers were a bit pedestrian last year, but overall he was very solid, shooting 52% from two and 72% from the line while absolutely carrying the Red Raiders. He contributed on the offensive and defensive glass at all, with rates roughly at 10 and 20 percent, respectively. All of that had him inline for a borderline second team spot, but that was before all of the sordid details surrounding Billy Gillespie's treatment of his players and Tolbert in particular. If Tolbert played much of the season with a hurt hand and still played as well as he did I think he's a lock for the second team.
Melvin Ejim, F, Iowa State
Ejim is a bit of a polarizing candidate: On one hand, he shot 56% from two, being adept at scoring at the rim and from farther away from the basket. And he also had a 20.4% defensive rebounding rate and shot 76% from the line. On the other hand, 60% of his two point jumpers were assisted on, and with Royce White gone (and impossible to replace) I wonder whether he'll get the ball in favorable spots enough to make this kind of an impact. Add in the fact that Scott Christopherson, who shot 46% from three, is gone and the lane should be much more clogged up for Ejim.
Travis Releford, F, Kansas
Releford's calling card is his defense; he's the best perimeter defender in the Big 12 and among the best in the country. His length bothers smaller and bigger guards alike, and he's quick enough to stay in front of both (side note: I am willing to admit I was terribly wrong about his defensive abilities, though I do still say that his ankle injury masked his talent a bit).
But what few people realize is that Releford is quite accomplished offensively as well. His 126.4 offensive rating in conference play was second in the league, and he is a very versatile scorer as well. He took 44% of his field goals at the rim, shot the three fairly well (32.5%) and shot a ridiculous 48% on two point jumpers. Last year his usage rate was just under 14%, but he will likely take a bigger role in this year's offense, and there's little doubt he'll be up to the task: he had a three game stretch in late December/early January where he took 10 or more field goal attempts in each game, and shot over 50% in each game, including a 9-13 effort against Oklahoma which wrapped up the Big 12 player of the week for him. Even if he does end up carrying a bit lighter load however, going 4-6 from the field every game while playing fantastic defense is an extremely valuable player.
Sheldon McClellan, G, Texas
McClellan did a lot of everything for the Longhorns last year, shooting 54% from two, 31% from three and 76% from the line. He shot 42% on two point jumpers, the best on the team, which suggests that an improvement in 3 pt% should be coming next year as well. In addition to the scoring, McClellan was fourth on the team in offensive rebounding, had just a 10.3% turnover rate, committed just 1.6 fouls per 40 minutes, and drew 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes. With J'Covan Brown gone he'll probably be Texas's primary outside scorer, and while he won't dominate in any other area he will contribute in all of them.
You'll note than Oklahoma State Sophomore LeBryan Nash didn't make either the first or second team for me, despite being a unanimous all Big 12 first teamer by the media. The reason for that is simple: the media is wrong. Nash has all the talent in the world, supreme athletic ability, etc. and he may (and probably will be) a lottery pick in next summer's NBA Draft. None of that changes the fact that he isn't a good college basketball player yet. He averaged 13.3 ppg and had a huge game in Oklahoma State's upset over Missouri (thanks for that one), but those two points mask the true player: he took almost 30% of the team's shots while on the floor, so of course he's going to score almost 15 per game. In truth, he shot just 43.6% from two, 23.5% from three and 73% from the line. He also didn't rebound at all and had a higher turnover rate than assist rate. His athletic ability and talent suggests he should be better than he has been, but you can make a list of those type of players 10 miles long.