About a week ago, RCT unveiled our first ever preseason Big 12 awards. The results were not terrible, and far better than the official awards and preseason polls.
Still, I differed a bit (even if my 2nd 3rd and 4th place teams were drawn out of a hat) and because I believe all predictions/ballots should be on record for accountability's sake, here's my Big 12 preseason awards ballot:
Player of the Year - Juwan Staten, Senior Guard, West Virginia
Staten, as we've already covered in the best returners piece, was amazing last year. He took 407 twos and made 49% of them, he had a top 50 assist rate while maintaining a turnover rate under 13%, and he was pretty good on the defensive end as well. In short, he was amazing and I think, even with some departures, he will be again.
Freshman of the Year - Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Cliff dominated high school competition. He had 30 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 blocks against the best high school team in the nation. He's been called a bully, and a guy who only can score by overpowering people, but he already has shown a deft touch on his baby hook, and from what I have seen has a really high hoops IQ. He got the best of Jahlil Okafor in the Chicago HS championship game. His teammates at Curie were no slouches, but Alexander showed up repeatedly against some of the best competition in the country. Doing it against high schoolers and collegians is different, but I think Cliff is the best Freshman in the country and frankly I don't think it's that close.
Newcomer of the year - Bryce Dejean-Jones, Senior Forward, Iowa State
BDJ, as we'll call him to save space, did a lot of things well for UNLV last year. It's worth noting he had just a 13% turnover rate as the go to guy in their offense, and he shot 47% from two. He wasn't a very good rebounder, however, which means Iowa State is going to have to find one (probably Dustin Hogue) because Georges Niang isn't either.
Juwan Staten, Senior Guard, West Virginia
Kyan Anderson, Senior Guard, TCU
Already covered in the returners post, but Anderson shot 50% from two, just under 40% from three, and 85% from the line. He also had the 36th best assist rate in the entire country while maintaining a turnover rate under 20%. There's basically no chance it happens, but he's not all that far off becoming a member of the collegiate 50/40/90 club as the go to guy for TCU. Now that's impressive.
Georges Niang, Junior Forward, Iowa State
I ranked Ellis ahead of Niang on the returners section, but have Niang on my first team. Why? I don't know. I think they're so close in value that this was my way of showing I view them as roughly equal. Though they provide different traits, they provide the same value on offense, though one thing I am interested in is Niang's three point percentage. He took 50 more threes as a Sophomore than he did as a Freshman and he shot just 33% (compared to 39% as a Freshman). That few threes doesn't tell us anything either way, but if he can't shoot threes or rebound then he might not be very good.
Cameron Ridley, Junior Forward, Texas
Ridley is probably the best interior defender in the conference, is a very good offensive rebounder, and shoots it at a high percentage. He also draws a ton of fouls, though he does not make many of his free throws. He's not the sexiest pick because talking about interior defense isn't very much fun, but he's a very valuable player.
Cliff Alexander, Freshman Forward, Kansas
Already covered above, but if he stays out of foul trouble he's going to be Bill Self's best Freshman, numbers wise.
Marcus Foster, Sophomore Guard, Kansas State
Foster has been getting some sneaky All-American pub, and was a first teamer, but both are wrong. Here's why. First, he doesn't do much other than score. Now, obviously scoring is the most important thing, and even projecting some improvement in the assist/turnover mark, there's only a 4% gap between those two numbers. I will still be willing to give Foster a pass for all of this if he continues his torrid three point shooting pace: he made 39.5% of his 200 threes, but although I am not calling him a bad shooter, I am wary of guys (and teams) whose offensive value depends a lot of their three point shooting ability.
Dustin Hogue, Junior Forward, Iowa State
Hogue didn't take a lot of shots last year, but had a 61.5% eFG and he was the best rebounder on the Cyclones. Going from 16.7% usage to probably the 24-25% that will be required of him this year will cause his efficiency to take a hit, but that offense is going to get him a lot of good looks.
Jonathan Holmes, Senior Forward, Texas
Holmes is basically Ridley-lite. He is a good defender, good shooter, and good rebounder. He had a higher usage rate than Ridley, but didn't play as much and isn't as good at interior defending so Ridley gets the nod for first team.
Perry Ellis, Junior Forward, Kansas
Ellis is a very good shooter, a good rebounder, and he takes care of the ball really well. I am very high on him, but there are some things I'm worried about as to his scoring (more on that later).
Ryan Spangler, Junior Forward, Oklahoma
Spangler has a really low usage rate, and usually I hesitate to put those guys on my all-conference teams, but he's an efficient scorer and he's one of the best rebounders in the conference. Oklahoma didn't rely on him much last year because of all the threes they took, but if those threes dry up a bit I think they'll go to Spangler a bit more.
I am really setting myself up here, but absent injuries I don't see Kansas not winning the Big 12 outright, to say nothing of winning at least a share. Their depth is unbelievable, they have veteran leadership, they have the best coach in the country, and they have the best home court advantage in the country. For a team to knock them off, they'd have to win out at home, and go (probably) 6-3 on the road. They'd potentially have to sweep Kansas as well. I don't see it.
2. Iowa State
I have rearranged these 500 times, no exaggeration. Any order these three finish in will not surprise me. Iowa State finished 6th in the Big 12 in both offense and defense last year, lose the Big 12 player of the year, as well as the guy who was actually the best player on their team. These up and coming guys are good, but they might not be as good as the guys who left, and they aren't as experienced. Hoiberg has also finished last in the Big 12 more often than he's finished higher than 3rd, so we'll see.
Texas, meanwhile, brings everybody back from last year's team, which was definitely good, but they still aren't deep or very good in the backcourt. Their offense was really bad and I don't think just the addition of Myles Turner will make it that much better. Their defense, very quietly, was just 4th in the league as well.
Oklahoma, meanwhile, not only finished 2nd in the league but finished 2nd in efficiency margin, so their success was no fluke. Still, they took the most threes in the Big 12 and made 38% of them. If that number drops off a bit, they could be in trouble (although they do have the aforementioned Spangler to take some of the work inside).
5. Kansas State
I could maybe see the Wildcats finishing 4th, but mostly I think they're in a tier all by themselves. They're too good for the rest of the league, but not quite good enough for the top 4. They have some interesting transfers and Marcus Foster will get hot a couple times, but they're this year's quintessential good but not great team. Also the refs are totally out to get them every game and it's tough to compete with that.
We're starting to get into guessing territory here. I really like Kenny Chery and Rico Gathers, and they bring in the best name in the country, JuCo transfer Deng Deng. I also like what I read about fellow JuCo transfer Lester Medford.
7. Oklahoma State
The Pokes have LeBryan Nash, who will have to be the primary guy on this year's team, something he's struggled with. I also suspect Phil Forte will have about 45 points when Kansas comes to Stillwater, but without Marcus Smart and Markel Brown this might be the beginning (or middle) of the end for Travis Ford.
8. West Virginia
Juwan Staten alone can't save the Mountaineers, though I think they might finish a bit higher if Devin Williams develops.
9. Texas Tech
These two could go either way, but they'll be at the bottom. I love Kyan Anderson, but TCU was so much worse than everyone else last year, including Tech, that I don't see them finishing above them.