As the conference season comes to a close, we turn our focus towards the NCAA tournament, seedings, matchups, locations, etc. But before we look forward, we first look back and hand out some postseason awards.
This year the Big 12 was a jumbled mess. Kansas outscored opponents by .15 points per possession, with the next closest team being Oklahoma at roughly +.07. The middle of the Big 12 was basically a jumbled mess, which, combined with Kansas's dominance not coming at the hand of one player, has created a mess for the conference awards.
First, a brief explanation of how I considered these awards: defense is half the game, so you'll see that talked about a lot. And yes I did make the (sometimes unfortunate) decision to go re-watch these guys on video to see how well they defended in both 1 on 1 and team situations so I don't have to rely merely on steal% and block% to make my points. Secondly, while team success is not irrelevant, there's no doubt in my mind a league's best player (or one of its best players) can come from a team that finished low in the standings. That said, if your team gets outscored on the year, it probably doesn't bode well for your chances. Lastly, if you see me cite a per game number as anything more than descriptive, you are free to yell at me. Let's get it started.
Player of the Year: Joel Embiid, Freshman, Kansas
We're probably starting off with my most controversial award here. I know most Kansas fans have Wiggins pegged as the POY (and ISU fans want Ejim/Kane, OSU fans want Smart, etc. etc.) but no one impacted the game on both ends as much as Embiid did this year. The biggest argument against him of course is his relative lack of playing time, but I am loathe to hold injuries or a coach's substitution patterns against a player.
The case for Embiid is obvious: he was 2nd in the league in eFG and true shooting, despite being double and triple teamed (and having the hell beat out of him down low). He led the league in getting to the line, was fourth in offensive rebounding, and led the league in defensive rebounding. He also was third in block%, just percentage points behind Isaiah Austin and Prince Ibeh. Everytime the ball was dumped down to Embiid it was basically a free two points, or free trip to the line, he dominated on the glass, and was the best rim protector in the conference.
Lastly, it's pretty hard to get it out of my head that once he went out of the Kansas State game that turned into a layup line, or once he got hurt in the OSU game that game was over, etc. There are probably 5 or six guys who could be player of the year without me putting up much of a fuss, but to me Embiid was the player of the year.
The rest of the first team:
Andrew Wiggins, Freshman, Kansas
We'll start with the other Jayhawk. Wiggins led the team in usage rate, was the best perimeter defender in the conference, was 7th in getting to the line, and shot 37% from three. The narrative surrounding Wiggins made the general public believe every game was going to be like the West Virginia game where Wiggins would be a high volume, high efficiency scorer. What he's done, though, is flashed looks at that while dominating defensively, showing he can score from anywhere, and showing off an impressive basketball IQ. I've talked enough about Wiggins here, so we'll get to the other guys.
Juwan Staten, Junior, West Virginia
Staten being on the first team All Defensive team was a bit dubious to me, but offensively he had a great season. He was third in the league in assist rate and had just a 13% turnover rate. He was 7th in usage rate in the league, but his sub 50% eFG hurts him a bit. Staten took just 5 threes in the league season, and was certainly a better distributor than he was a scorer.
Marcus Smart, Sophomore, Oklahoma State
Lost in the hubbub about Smart's antics and Oklahoma State finishing 8th in the league was that Smart was better this year than last year. Not shooting, obviously, as Smart had just a 45.1% eFG and shot just 30% from three, but he was second in the league in assist rate and had a 13.2% turnover rate. He is one of the better perimeter defenders in the league as well, and led the league in steal rate. He could have stood to take a few less shots, but he still had a very good season for the Cowboys.
DeAndre Kane, Senior, Iowa State
The final spot in this list came down to three guys, but I finally settled on Kane. Kane had a 53% eFG despite taking a ton of shots for the Cyclones, and finishing 6th in the league in usage rate. His 30.4% assist rate ranked 5th in the league, and he was impressive on the glass as well, with a 15.1% defensive rebounding rate.
Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
Marcus Foster, Kansas State
Markel Brown, Oklahoma State
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Perry Ellis, Kansas
Coach of the Year: Rick Barnes, Texas
I, like everyone, think it's weird that a guy who coaches a team who is supposed to suck but does just OK ends up winning coach of the year over a guy who wins 30 games every year, but that's just the way it is I guess. I do think Barnes is a deserving winner this year. After all of the departures, I thought Texas was going to be a tire fire this year, but they finished 4th in the league (though they were only 6th in efficiency margin) and are going to make it into the NCAA tournament. Pretty good for a guy who I thought was going to be fired. Again, though, this award was a tough call. Bill Self, Lon Kruger, or Tubby Smith could have won it without much objection from me. Coming in last: Travis Ford.
Freshman of the year: Joel Embiid
Probably should give it to Wiggins to switch things up, but see above.
Defensive player of the year: Joel Embiid:
See above, and see above.