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Late Push

Player of the Week

Marcus Smart - Oklahoma State

Marcus SmartMarcus SmartOklahoma State has been showing signs of life again, and just in the nick of time. Their sophomore point guard, Marcus Smart, has taken the reins and sparked a three game winning streak since returning from his three game suspension. Smart has been a terror on defense this week as well as overcoming some rough shooting nights in order to get buckets when his team needed them most.

In wins over TCU and Kansas this week, Smart’s impact was represented in just about every statistical category as he averaged 19 points 7 rebounds 6 assists and 4.5 steals during this two game stretch. What doesn’t show up in the box score is how Smart took over the last three minutes versus #5 Kansas and lead his Cowboys to a victory that just may have been the key win to get them into the NCAA tournament. Oklahoma State’s work isn’t done if they hope to rebound from a rough conference season and make the field of 68, but with Smart back to his old self, I wouldn’t bet against them.

Who’s Hot

Cameron Ridley - Texas

Texas’ sophomore center, Cameron Ridley, notched back to back double doubles this past week for the Longhorns in games against Baylor and Oklahoma. The 6’10’’ big man, went for 20 points and 10 rebounds against the Bears, and 19 points and 14 rebounds against the Sooners. When compared to last season, Ridley is as improved as anyone in the conference, and he’s really finishing the season strong. Ridley’s recent production spike leaves him 5th in the conference in rebounding and 3rd in blocked shots as Texas rounds out their regular season and prepares for the Big 12 tournament.

Joel Embiid - Kansas

Since returning from a one game hiatus February 15th, Joel Embiid has responded well to a little rest and time to heal some minor bumps and bruises. In the four games since his return, Embiid has averaged 14 points, 10.25 rebounds, 1.75 steals and 2.75 blocks per game. Embiid’s fatigue was most noticeable in his shooting percentages, but since his return he’s back to his old self a then some. Joel shot 71% from the field, and 76% from the free throw line in that same span. He appeared to be favoring his back at the end of the Oklahoma State game, but with Texas Tech at home and with Kansas already the league champions, he may get another game or two to regroup before tournament play begins.

Who’s Not

Jaye Crockett - Texas Tech

The Red Raiders’ senior leader, and leading scorer, Jaye Crockett has been as steady a performer as just about anyone in the conference this year, but after a good middle part of the Big 12 season, the Red Raiders have hit a 5 game slide, and Crockett’s production goes hand in hand with this slump. He has only averged 6.25 ppg on 30% shooting in his last 4 games, and even his production on the glass has nearly been cut in half during this span as he’s only mustered 3.75 rebounds per game. At 13-16, and playing in the toughest conference in country, the Red Raiders aren’t completely out of the running for an NIT birth, but to get there they’re going to need the most of Crockett down the stretch.

Top 5 Freshmen to Keep an Eye on

With many of the Big 12’s most prolific freshmen likely trying their luck with the NBA draft in 2014, I compiled a list of potential NBAers who will most likely take a year or two more in the college game before going pro.

1. Marcus Foster - Kansas State

6’2’’ 200 lbs - 15.1 ppg 3.4 rpg 2.8 apg

Marcus Foster far exceeded expectations this year in Manhattan, and not only displayed high level athletic ability, a reliable outside stroke, good isolation game, but more importantly the ability to take over games and the mentality to lead his team. He is a solid ball handler, but is still more of a shooting guard. Foster really improved his shot selection as the season progressed, and his improvement from the start to finish of this year was very encouraging going forward. Playing in the most difficult league in the country, Marcus actually raised his scoring (16.25 ppg ) in 16 conference games, and looking forward to next season, he very well could challenge for the Big 12 scoring crown.

For the NBA he’ll need to improve on his distributing ability. To maximize his stock he’ll need to transition into a scoring point guard, but even if he doesn’t I feel he has a future as a combo guard to bring of the bench and score buckets in the 2nd unit. Foster also has room to grow on the defensive end, but he certainly has the strength and athletic ability to guard NBA point guards; however, he lacks the length to contain many NBA shooting guards.

2. Isaiah Taylor - Texas

6’1’’ 170 lbs - 12.7 ppg 3.7 rpg 3.9 apg

Texas’ freshman guard Isaiah Taylor has showcased his deadly ability to get to the rim, and wreak havoc in the open court all season long. Possessing top end speed and quickness, he is an absolute jitterbug getting into the lane and has a nice array of floaters, scoops and finger-rolls that allow him to rack up buckets in the paint. Despite being slight of frame, Taylor also was effective as a pesky on ball defender, and looks to have good length for a 6’1’’ player. He is only 4-17 from downtown on the year, and as effective as he is getting in the lane, he’s not a threat at all shooting jumpers, and that weakness is what has driven down his shooting percentages.

For the NBA he’ll need to work on his jumper to keep defenses honest. I don’t ever foresee him being a great outside shooter, but good is not out of the question. Taylor is going to also need to hit the weights if he hopes to get in the lane, and finish at the rim as much in the pros. His position will be a point guard, but his role will be dictated on how much he improves on his weaknesses.

3. Karviar Shepherd - TCU

6’10’’ 225 lbs - 8.9 ppg 6.9 rpg 1.8 bpg

TCU has had a rough season, but they have a few bright spots going forward. Karviar Shepherd is one of those bright spots. At 6’10’’ and possessing a soft touch on his jumper and the ability to alter and block shots in the lane, he has a nice foundation for a two way PF/C as he continues to progress. He’s already shooting above 70% from the stripe and is a consistent in game threat from 10-12 feet. His 1.8 bpg and 6.9 rpg also rank him in the top 10 in the conference this season.

For the NBA he’ll need to add some strength. Shepherd has a very thin frame, and not particularly broad shoulders, but he appears to have the ability to carry 240-250 lbs when he’s older. The weight room will also help out his athletic ability, which is adequate, but not a standout characteristic of his. Like all 18-20 year old big men, he’ll also have to learn to manage his fouls, but this is something all young post men must work on, so I’m sure it’s a trait Karviar will make strides in going forward. He is a center right now, but shooting touch will help his position out in the NBA. With continued development, he will most likely be able to play minutes at both the power forward and center spot.

4. Wesley Iwundu - Kansas State

6’7’’ 195 lbs - 6.9 ppg 4.1 rpg 1.8 apg

As Kansas State’s highest profile 2013 recruit, Wes Iwundu was able to step in and play a role from day one. A very long player with good athletic ability, Iwundu still has a great deal of untapped potential. Almost playing the role of a 3 and D player this year in the college ranks, I feel his floor is that at an NBA level. He has a good foundation as a ball handler, and with some work could really be a nice two way player and a guy who can play the 2 and 3 at the next level.

For the NBA he’ll just need to continue to expand his base skill set. To play the two, he’ll need work on his ball handling, and outside shot. At an NBA level, he has the tools to potentially be the best player of all of the guys on this list, but because Wes is a little more raw, he’s ranked a tad lower, because there’s a lot left up in the air. He already has the length and athleticism, but Iwundu could stand to gain 10-15 pounds of muscle to help defend NBA small forwards.

5. Brannen Greene - Kansas

6’7’’ 215 lbs - 2.3 ppg 1 rpg .3 apg

Being Andrew Wiggins’ backup hasn’t left a ton of minutes for Kansas freshman, Brannen Greene, but being 6’7’’ with a silky smooth jumper gives him a definite role in the NBA. Greene hasn’t shot eye popping percentages this season, but this is mainly due to limited minutes. His form is great, and he has already shown good fundamentals running off screens. Defense is a major weakness, but playing at Kansas his team defense will most likely improve over time.

For the NBA, he’ll need to work on his ball handling. It’s okay at this point, but it will only help him out going forward as he will need to handle the ball at times. His defense will also need some work, but although not a good one on one defender, his comparison (Kyle Korver) has really developed in that area by becoming an improved team defender. I feel playing for Bill Self will help Greene come along in that department. All in all he is 6’7’’, has a great shot, and has a definite role in the pros. More reps and improvement should come in time, as he most likely a 3 or 4 year college player.

Honorable Mention

Jordan Woodard - Oklahoma

6’ 185 lbs - 10.6 ppg 2.2 rpg 4.6 apg

Jordan Woodard has put together a very good freshman year for Oklahoma. He is a pure point guard, with a pretty solid outside stroke and has done a great job taking care of the ball for an 18 year old floor general. He has a strong frame and good quickness for a 6’ player, but although I project him to be a highly decorated college player by the time he leaves Norman, I question his translation to the NBA. I think he’ll be in the mix as a 2nd round prospect by his senior year, but to me he looks like a guy who will be a good to great college player, but struggle to make the jump.

For the NBA, Woodard will have to improve his shot selection. He’s prone to taking very bad shots inside the arc, and for a guy his size to stick in the pro’s he’s going to need to be an efficient scorer. As a likely 4 year player, and being a high character guy, I am sure his shooting numbers will increase, but I worry that it may not be enough due to the fact he is only 6 feet tall and doesn’t appear to be a particularly long player. On the other hand, Woodard could carve out niche as a backup, but that is dependent on how much improvement he makes. Being a smaller player without great length or athletic ability, he just has less appeal as a draft pick.