Mar 23, 2012; St. Louis, MO, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack forward C.J. Leslie (back) shoots as Kansas Jayhawks center Jeff Withey (5) defends during the first half of the semifinals in the midwest region of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-US PRESSWIRE
We've finally made it to the end! I was going to do these players one by one but to be honest it should be pretty obvious why they are where they are so I'll stick with what's been working.
5. Steven Pledger, Senior, Oklahoma
Pledger didn't take an inordinate amount of shots for the Sooners (who, at 9th in the Big 12 in eFG probably needed him to) but he made an impact when he did shoot. Pledger shot 50% from two, 41.6% from three and 83% from the line. He relied mostly on the jumper, taking only 10% of his shots at the rim, and took almost half of his attempts from three. With the Sooners' struggles offensively I'd like to see Pledger take hold of the reins a bit more, but either way i think Oklahoma will surprise some people this year and Pledger will finally become known to the more casual Big 12 fan.
4. Rodney McGruder, Senior, Kansas State
I was a huge fan of McGruder coming into last season, and nothing he did dissuaded me from that stance. He took a lot of shots for the Wildcats, tied for 4th most in the entire league in Big 12 play in fact, but it was a worthwhile endeavor for K State as McGruder shot 50% from two and 38.5% from three. He didn't get to the line a ton (especially considering how much he played) but he made 80% of his free throws. McGruder rarely turns it over, which is impressive for how much he handles the ball, and he is a capable defender who can defend without fouling.
3. Elijah Johnson, Senior, Kansas
This ranking is a bit more projection than the others, as Johnson had a bit of an up and down year last year. But he came alive towards the end of the season, particularly from three where he shot 52.7% in the postseason. Johnson was also in double figures every game of the postseason, including a 26 point effort against Texas A&M in the Big 12 tournament opener. Not just a scoring threat, Johnson showed the whole package at times, grabbing 10 rebounds in the Final Four win over Ohio State and increasing his assists while lowering his turnovers. Defensively he led the team with a 2.6 steal percentage and showed why he could be a first round pick next year.
2. Pierre Jackson, Senior, Baylor
Jackson had a legitimate claim for the Cousy Award last year, but he'll have to settle for being the best returning guard in the conference. Jackson really did it all for the Bears: he shot over 40% from three, 50% from two, 82% from the line, had the 18th best assist rate in the country and even had a 3.5% steal rate. With fewer options inside to take the heat off Jackson his numbers might take a bit of a dip but even though he's not ranked 1st in terms of quality he's probably the most important player on this list.
1. Jeff Withey, Senior, Kansas
In just one season of steady playing time, Withey has vaulted up the list of my favorite Jayhawks ever. He set an NCAA tournament record for blocks, and while everyone was busy slobbering all over Anthony Davis in the title game, he wasn't even the best defender in that game. That would be Withey, who forced his counterpart to go 1-10 from the floor, and that field goal was a baseline jumper. Two nights before, Withey helped force Jared Sullinger to go 5-19 from the floor (oh and don't forget about the 10 blocks against NC State). Withey led the country with a 15.3% block rate last year, and is the best interior defender in college basketball. Offensively he's no slouch either. Withey shot 53.6% from two, but added to his value by getting to the line more than all but 16 players in the country, and converting at an 80% clip. He really has only one post move, a sweeping hook shot, but it's nearly unguardable and while I don't think he'll be a consistent back to the basket guy on offense he'll get plenty of points via dump offs and put backs, all while being the best defensive weapon not just in the Big 12, but in the country.