Player of the Week
Naadir Tharpe - Kansas
Guard play, outside shooting, and consistency at the point guard position have been constant criticisms throughout Kansas’ 2013-2014 season. This week KU point guard Naadir Tharpe caught fire and seemingly directly addressed all of these criticisms, and in the process lead his young Jayhawks to two consecutive victories over teams ranked in the top 15.
Tharpe had been a sub 10 ppg player throughout this year, but ignited to the tune of two consecutive 20 point games and shooting percentages that would make Ray Allen jealous. Tharpe, on the week, shot 82% from the field, 75% from downtown and 91% from the stripe versus Iowa State and Oklahoma State while sporting a 22 point per game average to go with 5 assists per game and 4 rebounds per game.
Jaye Crockett - Texas Tech
Since losing their first three conference Texas Tech has put together a two game winning streak, including an upset over then ranked #12 Baylor. Jaye Crockett, the Red Raiders’ senior leader, has come up big during conference play this season. In addition to dropping 19 points on Baylor last week, he has put up 15.8 ppg and 7 rpg in 5 Big 12 Conference games this season. Much like conference mate, Melvin Ejim, Crockett has shifted positions from an undersized 4 to a more wing oriented 3 and as a result of his new perimeter skills, he’s also shooting 41% from beyond the arc during this same 5 game stretch.
Shane Southwell - Kansas State
The Kansas State Wildcats are playing at a high level in the Big 12 season, as they currently sit #2 in the conference standings and Shane Southwell has upped his play as of late to help the surging Wildcats. This week Southwell filled the stat card averaging 18 ppg 6.5 rpg 3 apg and hit 6 three pointers in wins over #25 Oklahoma and West Virginia. Southwell has struggled with in-efficiency all season, despite a nice shooting touch. This week Shane was showing glimpses of his long range game from a year ago as he went 6-11 (54%) from three, including a 4-8 performance against West Virginia.
Dustin Houge - Iowa State
Iowa State is currently riding a 3 game losing streak after opening up the season 14-0. Dustin Houge has provided the Cyclones with energy, efficient scoring and high rebound numbers all year, but during this stretch he’s seen his production trail off a bit. With Iowa State being one of the smaller teams in the league, the size of Texas and Kansas gave Houge a lot of trouble as he only shot 5-16 during these two games as well as only pulling down 7.5 rebounds per game, which is two below his season average. Houge’s toughness and energy have never wavered, but in order for the Cyclones to get the best of the league’s bigger teams, Dustin will need to figure out a way to produce against legit centers like Joel Embiid and Cameron Ridley.
After putting together a great non-conference season that includes wins over Colorado, Dayton and Kentucky, Baylor has really hit a bump as they’ve dropped 3 or 4 and are currently 2nd to last in the Big 12 Standings. The Bears have one of the longest front courts in the conference and an experienced point guard, but production seems to have trailed off by just about everyone since Big 12 games kicked off a few weeks ago. Baylor is without a doubt a team with some real talent, but with a lot of other teams stepping up, they need to turn the ship around soon as we all know a sub 500 conference record can wreck NCAA resumes.
Top 5 Early Conference Season Surprises
1. Kansas State
Bruce Weber is an experience coach with a great resume; however, with the Wildcats losing so much talent and seemingly replacing it with considerably less, there were serious doubts as to whether K-State could be more than a middle of the pack Big 12 team this season. With stellar play Marcus Foster, and the experience and bulk down low of Thomas Gipson, the Wildcats have just flat out won games despite struggling to score points from time to time. They currently sit 2nd in the Big 12 standings, and with wins over OU and OSU they’ve shown the ability to beat other teams in the top 25.
2. Joel Embiid
We saw Joel Embiid raise his game so much during the non-conference year, and with the grind of the Big 12 season, more advanced scouting, and a lot of talent in the conference, many thought we’d see a little adjustment period before he turned his next corner. The natural from Cameroon just proved just how rapidly he’s progressing again as he’s continued to increase his production, especially guarding the rim. During his last 4 games Embiid has averaged 13 ppg 8.25 rpg and 4 blocks per game among countless in game adjustments that show his continued growth.
3. Texas Tech over Baylor
Tubby Smith’s impact in Lubbock was certainly expected, but when taking over a team as poor as the Red Raiders were last year it was unknown how much improvement would take place this year. The Red Raiders defeat over then ranked Baylor proved that they are no longer a team capable of being looked over. Lead by the play of Jaye Crockett, TTU sits at 2-3 and after a heart breaking OT loss to West Virginia could just as easily be sitting at 3-2. Not to read too much into one game, but when Smith’s Red Raiders took it to Baylor, I feel they may have taken an important step towards separating themselves from the bottom dweller reputation they came into the year touting.
4. Iowa State Losing 3 in a Row
The Cyclones came into the Big 12 season sporting an undefeated record and one of the highest scoring offenses in the entire nation. Two straight victories over TTU and Baylor came in stride as they seemed like a team that might lose three conference games all season, but a loss Jan 11th against OU sparked a three game losing streak where Kansas and Texas got the best of them as well. Iowa State is still a very good team, but hosting Kansas State on the 25th and heading to Allen Fieldhouse the 29th make the road to a turnaround a tough one. I feel 3 losses is still workable of you want to win the conference, but there’s not much room for losing going forward.
The Longhorns have not played up to their level of expectations over the past few years, and many thought coach Rich Barnes could be on the hot seat if Texas didn’t have a resurgence this season. The 14-4 Longhorns seem to be doing just that and have taken a team with middle of the pack expectations and picked up a key victory over then #8 ranked Iowa State. The Longhorns are a team with a well balanced scoring attack, and the emergence of Cameron Ridley gives them a big body that can terrorize some of the smaller run and gun teams in the league. Barnes and Texas sit only 2 games back from league leading Kansas and seem to have emerged as a major conference player in the early Big 12 season.