Yesterday RCT released its site wide ballot for the preseason all Big 12 teams and predicted order of finish, and as always I wanted to post my ballot in full to better explain my decisions and answer any comments if anyone is curious as to any picks or omissions.
Player of the year - Frank Mason, Junior guard, Kansas
Any of the five guys on my first team would be great choices for the player of the year, but I'm picking Mason. I generally tend to shy away from any type of most important distinctions, but it's clear that Kansas needs Mason to have the ball as often as possible this season (which raises some questions as to how fresh he will be in March). Mason was the team's second leading scorer at the World University Games despite taking the third most (and almost the fourth most) shots, and he had 35 assists compared to just 15 turnovers. It is fair to suggest Mason struggles with passing the ball, as he is primarily a shoot first player, but a 23.8 percent assist rate and 15.2 percent assist rate in conference play is quite good for a first year point guard.
To call him not a true point guard, however, is preposterous. First off, true point guard is a pretty ridiculous term, and second off Mason is exactly the guy Kansas needs. It all starts with his quickness. He can get into the lane seemingly at will, and while he can draw and dish (he needs to refine that part of his game) he gets to the rim extremely well. Mason attempted 127 shots at the rim last season (38.1 percent of his field goal attempts), which was more total and within striking distance percentage wise of Karl Anthony Towns last season. That quickness and ability to score inside opens things up outside for Mason. He doesn't have the quickest release, but with teams having to play off him he has the ability to get a lot of open shots. He responded last season, shooting 43 percent behind the arc.
Defensively, Mason plays pretty well, although he's always going to be limited a bit by his height. Still, he doesn't compound things by fouling and for the most part I'd rather he just save himself for offense, though it is good to know he can play well on that side of the floor if they need him to.
Any of the next four players below would be a defensible player of the year choice, but if I get the chance to start my team with anyone in the Big 12, it's Frank Mason, which makes him my preseason player of the year.
Rest of first team:
Buddy Hield, Senior guard, Oklahoma
Last season's player of the year deserves a spot on the team for sure. My lone reservation with Hield, and I hate to call him this because he's so good at it, is that he is "just" a jumpshooter. Hield shot 36 percent from three and 32.2 percent on 2-point jumpers, but took over half his shots from three, and over three-fourths of those were assisted. Hield is a tremendous spot up shooter, and might get an NBA look because of it, but isn't a guy who creates his own shot or creates any value outside of his scoring, so he never really got any POY consideration from me.
Georges Niang, Senior forward, Iowa State
Niang is probably the favorite to take home the postseason player of the year award considering the fact that voters only look at per game stats and don't pay much attention to defense, but on his own merits probably warrants a first team spot. He took just under 27 percent of the team's shots while he was on the floor, and shot 48.5 percent on twos while shooting 40 percent on threes in 115 attempts. His merits as a creator are a bit overstated as his assist rate is only roughly 3 percent higher than his turnover rate, and he offers nothing in terms of offensive rebounding, but as a scorer he is a pretty deadly option. He's not terribly quick, but he's still a tough matchup option for any big men who guard him on the perimeter, and he overpowers smaller players quite well.
However, Niang gives it all back defensively. He's not the worst defender in the conference, but he's the worst defender of any guys who you'll see on an all American list, or being talked about as an all Big 12 player. He gets zero steals, blocks zero shots, can't stay in front of guys and gets overpowered in the post. The one thing he has going for him is he generally boxes out well on the defensive glass, so while his individual defensive rebounding numbers aren't much to write home about, he contributes in that area.
Perry Ellis, Senior forward, Kansas
Ellis and Niang are usually linked by writers and fans, but there are a few key differences. For starters, Perry Ellis has outpaced his reputation on defense by quite a bit, and has developed into an average defender, perhaps even a bit above average. He doesn't get a lot of steals or blocked shots either, but is much (much much much) better at keeping his man in front of him or playing solid defense in the post.
Offensively, Ellis gets to the rim a lot. Some of that is his role in the offense and the offense Kansas runs, but he's a good post up player who can generally get himself a decent look down low. He struggles at times against bigger post players, but rebounded to shoot over 50 percent in conference play last season. Ellis has reportedly been expanding his perimeter game, and hopefully will shoot roughly twice as many threes as he attempted last season (39 percent on 46 attempts). Ellis also is a good enough mid range player to provide some important contributions to the offense. His threat causes defenders to come out to him, which not only allows Ellis to drive past them, but also opens things up for other players. A second competent post player should allow Ellis to post better shooting and passing numbers this season.
Rico Gathers, Senior forward, Baylor
My personal player of the year last season, Gathers looks primed to turn in that type of season again. He is the best rebounder in the league, and was the third best offensive rebounder in the entire nation last season. In some respects Baylor's best offense is putting up a shot and letting Gathers go get it. The knock on Gathers is that he shot just 45.5 percent on twos last season and 43.5 percent against Baylor's best opponents, but he gets the Bears so many extra possessions that that cancels out a bit. He also ranked 2nd in the league at getting to the free throw line and rarely turned it over, adding more possessions for the Bears.
Monte Morris, Junior guard, Iowa State
Morris is probably the best assist/turnover guy in the league, and shoots well when he needs to. However, Morris's usage rate was just 17.7 percent last season, which is extremely low. Part of that is his low turnover rate, but part of that was he is just less involved in the offense than you'd expect an elite point guard to be. He's incredibly efficient, but he probably gets a bit too much credit for his gaudy assist totals when he's mostly setting guys up for decent jumpers rather than doing the heavy lifting.
Taurean Prince, Senior forward, Baylor
Prince is Buddy Hield lite, a guy who took over 40 percent of his shots behind the arc, making 40 percent of them. He also shot 52.6 percent on twos, making him one of the better scorers in the league. He didn't offer much value in other areas however, which knocks him down to the 2nd team.
Devin Williams, Junior forward, West Virginia
Williams rivaled Gathers for best rebounder in the conference, ranking 7th in offensive rebounding and 1st in defensive rebounding. Williams also drew the most fouls in the league, making his 46.8 percent effective field goal percentage in league play more palatable. He's one of the rare Mountaineers who doesn't steal the ball however.
Jameel McKay, Senior forward, Iowa State
McKay was tops in the Big 12 at getting to the free throw line last season, second in block percentage, 5th in offensive rebounding, 6th in defensive rebounding, and, although he didn't do the work, 5th in eFG and 4th in true shooting percentage. A lot of his offense is created for him from dump offs and putbacks, but he is still good at finishing through traffic and is by far the best defender for the Cyclones. In fact, I think that you could make an argument that he is their best player.
Isaiah Cousins, Senior guard, Oklahoma
I would have Cheick Diallo in this spot if he were cleared, but if not I have Cousins. Cousins led the Big 12 in 3-point shooting in conference play, and is a pretty good defensive player both on and off the ball. There are plenty of players to consider in this spot, the most popular of which is Texas guard Isaiah Taylor, but I didn't pick him because he barely shot 40 percent on twos in Big 12 play, and just 25 percent on threes. His assist/turnover numbers are very good, however, and I think that he will get quite a few steals and thus some easy shots thanks to havoc, which will cause his shooting percentage to go up, so he will probably be on my end of season all Big 12 team even if I don't think he's one of the league's best 10 players.
Newcomer of the year - Chris Olivier, Oklahoma State
Olivier shot 54 percent on twos , was a good rebounder, and decent shotblocker for Eastern Illinois last season. He likely won't rebound or shoot as well as he did last season thanks to the step up in competition, but with LeBryan Nash gone there are a lot of shots to go around and Olivier is as good a bet as anyone to take them.
Defensive player of the year - Jameel McKay, Iowa State
Freshman of the year - Cheick Diallo, Kansas
Predicted Order of Finish
The Jayhawks have the best player in the league, the deepest team in the league, can win shooting threes or going inside, can win via offense or defense, have experience and future NBA talent, and are a pretty easy choice for league champs. Only injuries (knock on wood) will stop them.
2. Iowa State
I'm skeptical of how Steve Prohm will do in the long term at Iowa State, but this season there shouldn't be much difference. They have a great trio with Niang, Morris, and McKay, but even with their additions they don't have a lot I love outside of them. Defensively they should be a bit better thanks to a full season of McKay, but the perimeter defense is still awful. I'm not sure they'll be able to overcome that lack of defense with their offense, even if it should be fantastic again.
I might be a bit high on them, but I love this Baylor team. They need to get their point guard situation cleared up a bit, but if they do this team should be very good. Prince and Gathers will handle most of the scoring load, but they need to continue to get some fortuitous luck from behind the arc defensively. Baylor ranked 7th in 2 pt defense, but led the league in 3 point defense, so if they can keep teams from scoring behind the arc their defense should be good enough to win games.
Lots of people picked Oklahoma second in the league, and with the guys returning I don't blame them. However, Oklahoma ranked 91st nationally and 5th in the Big 12 defensively two seasons ago without TaShawn Thomas, and last season ranked 8th nationally and 1st in the Big 12 with him. It seems crazy to suggest he was that important, but Oklahoma's three previous teams ranked 99th, 89th, and 91st defensively, and Lon Kruger has just one other finish better than 40th nationally since 2005, so it's tough to suggest that the Sooners will be the top defensive team in the league again. Taking a minor step back in that area won't doom the team by any means, but in a league as tough as the Big 12 it could drop them to 4th.
5. West Virginia
I like this team quite a bit. The Mountaineers suck to play against mainly because they foul you 10,000 times and only get called for 50 of them, but there's no doubt it can be effective. West Virginia led the league in steal percentage and were second in offensive rebounding, but other than that their numbers were pretty awful. They ranked 7th in eFG and 10th in eFG allowed, so if you could beat their press you were probably scoring. West Virginia was 278th in experience and gave the 15th most minutes to their bench last season, so a lot of guys got a lot of valuable game experience. With the Mountaineers returning basically everyone, it's hard not to project them for some improvement. Whether someone can take Juwan Staten's role as the team's point guard will be the biggest question.
I have no idea how Shaka Smart will do long term at Texas. He only won a conference regular season or tournament title at VCU once, though I am open to the idea that a bunch of one and doners will want to come play basically another year of AAU ball at Texas under Smart and collecting that much talent will help tremendously. In the end though I think he will be a good hire for Kansas purposes because it will give the Jayhawks a look at a pressing team twice a season in case the situation should arise in the NCAA tournament and I think Smart is a good enough coach to be there for awhile but not good enough to unseat the Jayhawks as the dominant school in the league.
In the short term, I don't see this roster adapting too well to Havoc. Isaiah Taylor should have a good season (and given the per game numbers he is likely to put up is a decent darkhorse Big 12 POY bet) but Cameron Ridley can barely move, which takes away a big defensive weapon, so Prince Ibeh will likely have to step up in a big way.
7. Oklahoma State
Replacing LeBryan Nash will be tough, but Phil Forte should get to take a bunch of 3-pointers which will be good, I think Chris Olivier will have a nice season, and Jawun Evans might be the freshman of the year if Diallo doesn't get cleared. The Cowboys won't be terribly deep, but they have maybe the most interesting addition in the league in Igor Ibaka, brother of Serge. This Ibaka isn't as big or as talented, but reportedly has a similarly deadly outside shot and can block some shots as well. Travis Ford better hope Ibaka can be like his older brother, because another season close to the bottom could spell his doom.
The Frogs lost their best two players, but they've been increasing their talent level every season since entering the league. They got four 3 star commits in last year's class, including JuCo transfer Malique Trent who should be ready to contribute right away. This year won't be much better than last year (if at all) but I do think the Frogs have the potential to be a consistent middle of the pack team in the coming years.
9. Kansas State
Kansas State lost virtually everyone off last year's team thanks to graduation or transfer, had coaches and players throwing each other under the bus, and have to rely on a bunch of fairly low ranked freshmen. Should be a fun season.
10. Texas Tech
As bad as I think K State will be, Tech finished 10th in both offense and defense last season. The Red Raiders did have a handful of freshmen playing key roles and have incoming JuCo transfer Devon Thomas, who averaged about 16 ppg last season, so by sheer experience they might be able to make up the gap and finish ahead of the Wildcats.