I think we all need a break from football and to talk about some hoops, right? Right?!?!?! Right. We've reached the ultimate episode, the 5 best players returning to the Big 12. Something tells me one player in this group will raise some eyebrows, so let's not delay any further:
5. Marcus Foster, Sophomore, Kansas State
Foster came to Manhattan and immediately assumed control of the K State offense. Foster compiled a usage rate of 27.2% and took nearly a third of the team's shots while he was playing. It's no surprise, then, that he led the team in scoring at 15.5 points per game. Foster is the main reason why pundits cite Kansas State as a darkhorse Big 12 contender.
I don't mean to crap on a guy who I have ranked 5th in this list, but basically 10-5 were pretty interchangeable, so it's only fair to acknowledge there are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of Foster. For starters, his shooting percentage was built off him shooting 40% from three. He is a good shooter, no doubt, but shooting percentages are volatile and for a guy who shoots as many threes as he does (47% of his FGAs) any tick downwards in shooting percentage could have a huge impact on his numbers.
Secondly, Foster doesn't contribute in a ton of other areas. He does a really good job of not turning the ball over (16.9%) but he didn't have a ton of assists last year (21%) and didn't really contribute on the glass. The media loves guys like him, and for good reason, but let's put a pin in the Marcus Foster for Big 12 POY talk. For now.
4. Georges Niang, Junior, Iowa State
It feels like Niang has been in Ames forever, yet is only a Junior. As a Sophomore his overall numbers suffered thanks to the team wide affliction that the Cyclones suffered from, namely the inability to make a three in Big 12 play. Niang shot under 30% from three in Big 12 play last year after shooting almost 40% from three as a Freshman. He still posted a 52.6% eFG thanks to excellent shooting inside, and while he was just average on the glass, he was Iowa State's second best passer and as a 6'7" forward who can do those sorts of things on the perimeter as well as score inside, he is a matchup nightmare.
Niang isn't a very good defender, but his responsibilities on offense are such that one can forgive him for taking a breather on defense. It's probably unfair to rank him behind of Ellis, but it's one of those things where their roles in the offense are basically built for them. It's probably more accurate to say they're tied for third. If one can bet on this sort of thing, Niang is a darkhorse POY candidate because Iowa State should challenge for the conference title and Iowa State's pace should inflate his per game numbers, similar to what happened with Ejim last season.
3. Perry Ellis, Junior, Kansas
For full disclosure, Perry was 2nd on the first draft of this list, so it wouldn't surprise me to see that happen by the end of the year. I do think, though, that there are going to be too many people for one basketball in Lawrence for Perry to put up the kind of shots he'll need to get higher on this list.
But oh what a player. Ellis took the second most shots on the team and posted a 56% eFG. That is amazing. Despite all of the shots he took he finished 6th in Big 12 play in eFG in conference games. He shot 55% from two, 47% from three (on only 17. Seriously, take more) and 76% from the line. Ellis took over half his shots at the rim, partially due to the Bill Self offense but partially due to Ellis's ability to post anyone up, big or small, and his ability to pull guys outside with him and drive past them. He can put the ball on the floor, score over guys, score around guys, or shoot jumpers out to three point range.
Ellis also did well on the glass. His 18.2% defensive rebounding percentage was third among rotation players (unless you consider Tarik Black a rotation player) and he was third in offensive rebounding as well.
Ellis didn't get a ton of assists, but didn't turn it over either. (and there's something to be said for that in our offense). I also think that while he's a pretty bad interior defender, he is an underrated wing defender, so a Frankamp-Selden-Ellis-Traylor-Alexander lineup might be seen every so often this season.
2. Kyan Anderson, Senior, TCU
Repeat after me: Kyan Anderson is awesomely good. Way too good to be playing at TCU. What's more, he has worked his butt off to turn himself into a great player after a lackluster start to his career. He's raised his shooting percentages and assist percentage every year of his career, and lowered his turnover percentage every year.
Last year, Anderson had a 33.2% assist rate, 36th nationally, and just a 19.5% turnover rate. He also shot 39.6% from three and 50% from two despite taking 331 field goal attempts. He also made 85% of his 185 free throws. Anderson is the rare guy who leads his team in shots and leads you to conclude he probably didn't shoot enough. He played a higher percentage of minutes than anyone in Big 12 play other than Markel Brown and our #1 player, and he was third in the Big 12 in assist rate in conference play.
Anderson isn't a lock down defender, but he defends well enough, and does it without fouling (1.9 per 40). Bottom line, if he played for any other team in the league his name would be mentioned a lot more for all league honors, but as it is we'll have to take up his cause and let everyone know just how underappreciated he is.
1. Juwan Staten, Senior, West Virginia
There's not much to say about West Virginia that others haven't already. He led the league in scoring in league play, he had a 32.4% assist rate on the season paired with just a 12.7% turnover rate. Thanks to his efforts, West Virginia turned it over the least amount in the Big 12, and 7th least in the entire country. It's based virtually 100% on his efforts that West Virginia was 4th in the Big 12 offensively.
Staten took just 15 threes last year, and has taken only 50 in his career, but he gets into the lane so effectively and scoring there that he managed to take almost half of his field goal attempts at the rim and shot 60% at the rim (courtesy of hoop-math). He does take too many mid range jumpers (48%), but shoots well enough that it doesn't kill him, and his scoring, while nice, is secondary to his unbelievable assist to turnover rates.
Staten was also named to the all defensive team last year and while he wasn't THAT good defensively, he is good enough to be taken seriously for that sort of thing this year with guys like Marcus Smart and Andrew Wiggins now gone.
It's perhaps a bit ironic that with all of the elite freshmen talent in college basketball lately and all of the Big 12 teams expected to go dancing, that the best two players in the league are a pair of seniors who might not go to the NCAA tournament.