The Ubbies: Big 12 Hoops Edition
The regular season is over and it’s time to hand out some hardware for the boys on the hardwood.
The coaches named their award winners on Sunday. Now, it’s my turn.
It’s The Ubbies, Big 12 basketball edition.
Best player: Melvin Ejim, Iowa State. The coaches and media got the player of the year race right. The competition was tight all year and see-sawed back and forth multiple times, but Ejim edged out Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Juwan Staten to earn my vote. He finished second in the league in scoring on a team with multiple weapons like DeAndre Kane and Georges Niang and averaged 8.6 boards a game while shooting better than 51 percent from the field. His 48-point outburst against TCU on Feb. 8 was a thing of beauty. No Big 12 player had more than 41 in a game this year. His ability to finish around the goal is what makes him great.
Best defender: Joel Embiid, Kansas. I would be very concerned about his recurring back injury and his need to seek out a second opinion in Los Angeles this week on the issue. Still, Embiid is a big-time shot blocker. He finished the year averaging 2.6 swats a game, but the amount of shots he altered or prevented from even happening around the goal just by taking up space in the lane don’t show up on his nightly stat line.
Honorable mention: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State
Best newcomer: DeAndre Kane, Iowa State. He was Iowa State’s best player for a stretch in December and January and finished the season averaging 17.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists a game. Kane came to Iowa State as a transfer from Marshall after being dismissed from the program. He made the most of his second chance and his final season in college.
Best freshman: Joel Embiid, Kansas. Everyone assumed Wiggins would run away with this, but Embiid’s midseason rise earned my vote. His looming presence in the paint makes everything work for Kansas’ defense, and his skill and touch around the basket for a player who has only been playing the game about three years is impeccable. I never bought that he would come back for his sophomore year, and considering his recent struggles with his back, he’s completely nuts if he returns for a sophomore season.
Honorable mention: Andrew Wiggins, Kansas.
Best coach: Lon Kruger, Oklahoma. The Sooners late run and second-place finish in the Big 12 standings clinched my vote. OU may not have a single NBA player on its roster, but overachieved after losing its top three scorers from a season ago. The Sooners survived a brutal Big 12 schedule at 12-6 and rose to the top with consistent play throughout league play.
Honorable mention: Rick Barnes, Texas
Honorable mention: Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State; Marcus Foster, Kansas State
Most underrated player: Markel Brown, Oklahoma State. You saw just how good he can be when OSU needed him to be the No. 1 option. The Cowboys went 0-3 during Marcus Smart’s suspension, but Brown earned a lot of respect for not only his effort, but his stellar play. Everyone knows about his crazy hops and dunking ability, but he’s an all-around talent who dropped 26 in consecutive close losses without Smart. He’s scored in single digits just three times this season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s ultimately a better NBA player than Smart.
Honorable mention: Monte Morris, Iowa State; Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma; Perry Ellis, Kansas
Most annoying storyline: Marcus Smart’s flopping. I wrote about it back in January, and the habit continued throughout the season. Here’s a look at his body of work all in one place. Iowa State fans, your zinger at Smart’s flops on the season’s final day was a great idea with even better execution. I hope Smart’s flopping days are done once he takes his game to the next level, but my gut says they won’t be. Smart’s an outstanding player, far too good to lower himself to gimmicks like this that distract from his talent. I did respect his response to Iowa State fans’ collective flop on Saturday, which he called "hilarious." "That’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s college. Enjoy yourself and have fun with it," he said.
Best game: Iowa State 98, Oklahoma State 97 (3OT) Big Monday was big fun all year for Big 12 teams, but no game was more thrilling than this one. Point guard Monte Morris drained a three from the corner to put ISU up for good with 43 seconds left in the third overtime to give the Cyclones a much-needed win.
Best play: Brady Heslip, Baylor. Does Baylor make the tournament without Heslip’s scrambling, buzzer-beating three to force the first of two overtimes against Kansas State back on Feb. 15? The shot helped Baylor win its second consecutive game after a 2-8 start in Big 12 play, and propelled the Bears to a 7-1 finish in their final eight games.
Worst moment: Marcus Smart and Jeff Orr. Nobody looked good in the Feb. 8 incident between the Oklahoma State star and Texas Tech fan. Orr admitted to calling Smart a "piece of crap" in the final seconds of the Red Raiders’ win, and Smart responded by shoving him and earning a three-game suspension. It was the lowest point of a midseason valley for Smart and the Cowboys, but a late-season winning streak at least made sure it wouldn’t be the moment that defined the season.