3 in the Kee: A trio of the Big 12’s most underrated players (so say new metrics)

West Virginia guard Juwan Staten is the darling of the new-math club.

Tommy Gilligan/Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart have the inside lane, at least until someone can wrestle it away from them. And for a while, it looked as if Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane might just do exactly that — at least until he rolled an ankle last weekend in Norman.

If neither Wiggins of Kansas nor Smart of Oklahoma State finishes the race for Big 12 Player of the Year at the front, then do you start sniffing around for dark horses? Jayhawks center Joel Embiid, who might have the highest ceiling, NBA-wise, in the league? Teammate Wayne Selden, who’s suddenly playing like one of the most dangerous — and confident — outside shooting threats in college hoops? Kansas State guard Marcus Foster, who seems to have exceeded expectations while helping the Wildcats do the same? Baylor forward Cory Jefferson, who never seems to miss a beat?

Or, at least according to some of the new basketball metrics out there, should we be looking at a challenger from somewhere else?

SLEEPER WATCH — THE THREE MOST UNDERRATED PLAYERS IN THE BIG 12 (ACCORDING TO METRICS, AT LEAST)

:03 … Dustin Hogue, F, Iowa State


Kane gets the ink (and the points) and do-everything forward Melvin Ejim gets the grinder love, but Hogue, a 6-foot-6, 215-pound forward, is one of those "glue guys" who help to make the surprising Cyclones click. Especially in the paint, where the Yonkers, N.Y., native goes into Monday night’s visit from Kansas ranked 13th nationally in defensive rebounds per contest (7.2) and 18th in the country in 2-point basket field-goal percentage (67.5) while leading Iowa State in putbacks (12).

At the start of the week, Hogue was one of seven qualified Big 12 players to sit among the top 100 in the nation in terms of NBA efficiency (87th at 18.67; sixth in the league) while checking in at No. 5 in the Big 12 in terms of "win shares," as tracked by Sports-Reference.com, with 2.5; that figure trails only West Virginia’s Juwan Staten (whom we’ll get to), Oklahoma State’s Markel Brown (ditto), Smart and Kane.

:02 … Markel Brown, G, Oklahoma State

The Louisiana native might be trying to snap out of a long-range shooting funk (one 3-point make since Dec. 21), but the 6-3 guard remains one of the better backcourt players in the conference — if not the country — at getting to the line and maximizing those foul trips.

In five games so far this season, Brown, Smart’s right-hand man, has collected eight or more free-throw makes — including 11 versus Colorado, 12 at Kansas State and 11 versus Texas. He opens the week ranked fifth in the league in terms of NBA efficiency (18.94); second in S-R.com’s win shares (3.2); second in offensive win shares (2.1); and third in win shares per 40 minutes (.248).

:01 … Juwan Staten, G, West Virginia

At 6-1, 190, the Ohio native might be the poor man’s Kane (17.0 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game, 6.1 assists per game going into Monday), but he’s the darling of the new-math club.

Staten, a transfer from Dayton, leads the Big 12 (and ranks 21st nationally) in NBA efficiency (21.69); TeamRankings.com average game score (16.206, also good for 26th in the country); and win shares (3.4).

Through West Virginia’s first 16 games, Staten has put together four contests in which he’s grabbed nine rebounds or more and seven tilts in which he’s dished out seven assists or better. He’s posted one double-double (against William & Mary on Dec. 29) and found himself either one point, one rebound or one assist away from a double-double on five other occasions. Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers might lack a signature win (so far), but they certainly have a signature player at the head of the pack.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter @seankeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.