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The Absolutely Correct Big 12 Awards Ballot

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Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Big 12 was undoubtedly the best conference in college basketball this year, and when a conference is as good as the league was this year, there are going to be a lot of candidates for awards. That's certainly true this year, where at least 4 players would be defensible players of the year, at least 4 coaches would be defensible coaches of the year, and the first and second teams could be filled with roughly 25 different players.

Much like with trying to figure out the order of Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Texas in my preseason ballot (I would say I wasted my time with one of those teams) I spent roughly 50,000 hours trying to determine who my player, coach, and newcomer of the year were, not to mention the first and second teams:

Player of the Year - Rico Gathers, Jr. F, Baylor

Buddy Hield and Perry Ellis were certainly defensible candidates, and at times I had each guy written in this space, but in the end I went with Gathers, who affected Big 12 games on both sides of the floor more than any other player. His usage rate wasn't incredibly high, but 21.6 percent is high enough for me, especially when it corresponds with ranking 4th in the league in offensive rating. Gathers was a terror on the glass, with a 17.3 offensive rebounding rate and a 25.7 percent defensive rebounding rate, ranking 1st and 2nd in the league respectively.

Gathers had just a 9.5 percent turnover rate, was second in the league at getting to the line, and had decent block and steal numbers. I'm not sure he belongs on the all defensive team, but he didn't give anything away at that end of the floor, all while being able to affect the game on the glass, on offense, on defense, and at getting to the line.

Coach of the Year - Bob Huggins, West Virginia

How we name coaches of the year has always seemed weird to me, but I too fall into the trope of giving it to the coach who outperforms my expectations the most. This obviously hamstrings Bill Self, as Kansas is a favorite to win the league pretty much every year, though it is worth pointing out that oftentimes the hardest thing to do is win when you're supposed to, and Self has done that better than anybody.

Still, I'm picking Huggins. I thought West Virginia would finish 8th in the league, and even though the Mountaineers were outscored in league play, their conference showing as well as the fact that they are comfortably in the NCAA tournament should give him the award.

Since I will get asked about Scott Drew: I picked the Bears to finish 6th, but it's worth noting that they maybe underperformed this season, given that they finished the Big 12 season ranked 2nd in point differential but find themselves in the 4/5 game anyway.

Newcomer of the Year - Jameel McKay, Jr. F, Iowa State

McKay came off the bench for the Cyclones and immediately changed the team's fortunes whenever he did so. He ranked 5th in the league in offensive rating, 5th in effective field goal percentage, 5th in both rebounding categories, and 2nd in block percentage. Iowa State finished just 8th in the league in defense, but that was mostly due to their horrible perimeter defense, rather than the work McKay did.

Defensive player of the Year - Myles Turner, Fr. C, Texas

Texas finished third in the league defensively, and a lot of that can be owed to Turner, who led the league in block percentage and finished third in the league in defensive rebounding.

Turner being named defensive player of the year brings me to a philosophical question: Stopping teams from taking shots at the rim is generally more important than protecting shots at the rim, but there's no doubt that one rim protector has more of an impact on defense than just one perimeter defender (see the Kansas defense without Embiid last year despite having Wiggins in the lineup still) so should a great rim protector get the nod over a perimeter defender, or vice versa? I'm not sure we have the way to answer that question yet.

Sixth Man Of The Year - Taurean Prince, Jr. F, Baylor

I could give this to McKay too, but partially in the interest of diversity I'll give it to Prince, who is just as deserving. He led the league in shots taken, and shot 55.3 percent on twos and 37.4 percent on threes. If we are being honest, I think he had a better year than Buddy Hield, who actually won the player of the year, did, but coming off the bench and ranking just 23rd in minutes played really hurts his chances of even making the all conference first team.

All Big 12 1st team:

Guard - Monte Morris, So., Iowa State

Morris led the league in offensive rating, finished third in assist rate, and fourth in turnover rate. He ended up with a low usage and shots%, but he didn't shoot because he didn't have to, not because he couldn't: Morris shot 54.5 percent on twos and 43.9 percent on threes in conference play. His defense was pretty bad, and defense matters, but he just squeezes the other great point guards out of the first team by virtue of his ability to control the ball so well.

Guard - Frank Mason, So., Kansas

Frank Mason is the clearest example of why I never question who Bill Self gives playing time to anymore. Last year he showed flashes of being able to get into the lane, but that was about it. I thought he was a borderline waste of a scholarship and someone who would only be a change of pace guy off the bench. Boy was I wrong. Way wrong. Mason quickly became the best player on the best team in the conference, playing the fourth most minutes in the league, constantly attacking the rim, and finding a delicate balance between scorer and facilitator. He shot 45 percent from two and 35 percent from three, ranked 8th in the league in assist rate (7th among starting point guards), and had a 15.2 percent turnover rate. Mason's play is a big reason for Kansas finishing the season 4th in the league in turnover rate (2nd in steal rate), and a big reason why Kansas's perimeter defense has gone from horrible to good.

Guard - Buddy Hield, Jr., Oklahoma

Hield led the league in scoring, and was efficient while doing so, shooting 49 percent on twos and 38 percent on threes. What hurt his player of the year candidacy for me was that Hield was basically only a jump shooter. He didn't rebound, didn't have a lot of assists, and while he wasn't terrible defensively he wasn't good enough to get any bonus points there. Still, anyone who shoots as much as he did as efficiently as he did deserves a spot on the first team.

Forward - Perry Ellis, Jr., Kansas

Ellis had a rough start to the year, and a rough finish as he had to miss the final game due to a knee injury, but in between he had a fantastic conference season. Ellis ranked 5th in the league in shots taken, shot 50 percent from two, 47.6 percent from three, and ranked 11th in the league in offensive rebounding and 9th in defensive rebounding. He also was 9th in the Big 12 at drawing fouls. Another big reason for Kansas's unexpected ability on defense this year was the improvement of Perry Ellis down low. He had always been effective on the perimeter, but got even moreso this year and improved his ability down low.

Forward - Rico Gathers, Jr., Baylor

2nd team

Guard - Anthony Hickey, Sr., Oklahoma State

Forward - Taurean Prince, Jr, Baylor

Forward - Jameel McKay, Jr. Iowa State

Forward - Georges Niang, Jr. Iowa State

Forward - LeBryan Nash, Sr., Oklahoma State

All Defensive team

Jordan Woodard, So., Oklahoma

Kelly Oubre, Fr., Kansas

TaShawn Thomas, Jr. Oklahoma

Jameel McKay, Jr. Iowa State

Myles Turner, Fr., Texas