Player of the Year / Freshman of the Year: Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State Cowboys
Cade Cunningham was everything the Cowboys could have hoped for from their prized five-star recruit, and more. The 6’8 point guard led the conference in scoring with 19.7 points per game, and did so while being the focal point of every defensive scheme he faced. Cunningham used his great size and athleticism to attack in transition, and also used his bigger frame to see over defenses and connect with teammates for easy buckets. He was tied for 11th in assists in the Big 12 and navigated aggressive game plans against him to consistently bolster an otherwise mediocre offense for the Cowboys. To put into perspective how much Cunningham meant to Oklahoma State, he was first or second in every major statistical category for the team. He can score, pass, shoot, dribble, defend, force turnovers, and rebound. In every aspect of the game he seems to be fluent, despite being years younger than some of his competitors. There was very limited competition for this pick, as Cunningham has a serious case to be Player of the Year in the conference and the country, in addition to his Freshman of the Year Award. He has been featured on these weekly blogs countless times because of his ability to impact the game in simply every conceivable way. Combined with a weak freshmen class, there really is nobody close to as deserving as Cunningham. He is currently projected to be the number one overall pick in this year’s NBA Draft, and should be dominating in the NBA soon. Cunningham gets the nod over Butler based on his incredible impact to the program.
(Runner Up) Player of the Year: Jared Butler, Baylor Bears
There have been so many incredible talents throughout the Big 12 this season, but none were more effective, or as consistent as Butler. Known more as a defensive menace to start the year, Butler developed into a complete player because of improved accuracy from deep, where he shot 44% with over two makes a game. This newfound marksmanship created better lanes to finish inside and shoot mid-range looks. All of these new offensive skills helped Butler finish third in points per game with 17.1 points on an incredibly efficient 49% from the field. However, Butler did not abandon his teammates in pursuit of individual statistics, and finished second in the Big 12 in assists per game with five. Furthering the ferocious guard’s case, is that for all the strides he took to become an elite offensive weapon, he continued his harassing defensive intensity from previous seasons. He led the conference in steals with an astounding 47, beating out Miles McBride, while playing in fewer games and playing less minutes per game. Butler was a constant, dominant force throughout the entire season, and did so while leading the conference’s best team to a 21-1 record and a likely number one seed come March Madness. Butler elevated his play, and his teammate’s play throughout the season, and is a deserving Player of the Year in one of the best conferences in the country. Due to his defensive instincts, shooting, passing and hustle, the 6’3 from Reserve, Louisiana has an excellent chance to be a first round selection in the upcoming NBA draft.
Coach of the Year: Scott Drew, Baylor Bears
Drew led the No. 2 Baylor Bears to their first regular season Big 12 conference championship in 71 years. In addition, he coached a squad that will surely be a number one seed during March Madness, with an impressive 21-1 record. He helped navigate a treacherous schedule with nothing but immense success. As the wins piled up, Baylor continued to play their game, and frustrated opponents with hustle and attention to detail. They were commanding on both ends of the court, as the Bears were first in the Big 12 in points per game and third in points allowed per game. They were also first in margin of victory, winning by an average of almost 20 points per game this season. He had to deal with COVID-19 related pauses, getting COVID-19 himself, and more, but did so while continuing to win games. Expectations were high for Baylor coming into the season, ranking second in the preseason AP top-25 poll. Even with the intense pressure, Drew has managed to guide Baylor to a nearly perfect record, and helped stars Jared Butler and Davion Mitchell become likely first round picks.
Biggest Surprise: Miles McBride, West Virginia Mountaineers
After a decent freshman year where the four-star guard averaged 9.5 points and 1.8 assists per game, this quantum leap would have been challenging to predict. McBride starred for West Virginia, improving in almost every major category. He went from 31st in points per game to eighth, with over 15 points a game, and 32nd in assists to fourth, with 4.7 a game. Plus, while putting up much better numbers, he didn’t just keep his efficiency from last season, he improved it. He shot 2% better from the field, and a drastic improvement of 11% from three-point range. This effectiveness from deep completely shifted the spacing in West Virginia’s offense and allowed McBride to take over as the catalyst. He took huge strides to power the No. 10 team in the nation, and get the Mountaineers to the fourth seed in the conference. Finally, McBride was once again a turnover forcing machine, as he was second in the conference in steals. He took massive leaps in most areas of play, while continuing to take smart shots and play terrific defense. He went from a freshman campaign with a limited impact on winning, to a sophomore season where he put his mark on every inch of the court. This ascension from McBride will likely get him looks in the late first or early second round of the NBA draft.
Biggest Disappointment: Iowa State Cyclones
This may seem unfair considering their dismal play last year as well, but almost nobody in the Big 12 took a significant step backward. Four teams that weren’t ranked at the end of last year are in the AP top-25 now, and it’s hard to crucify Kansas not winning the regular season title when they finished second in the conference, and handed No. 2 Baylor their only loss. That leaves the lowly Cyclones, who went winless in conference, the first to do that in seven years. They ended the year with a paltry 2-21 record. Their only wins came over Arkansas Pine Bluff and Jackson State. Even with Rasir Bolton finishing seventh in points per game, the Cyclones could not generate consistent offense. They finished ninth in the conference in points per game, and had a conference-worst -11.1 scoring margin. Even though the expectations surrounding the program were low to begin with, Iowa State missed them by a mile. It was a very trying year in Ames, but they end with some solace, as Bolton announced he would be returning next season.
Big 12 Top Five Prospects
1 Cade Cunningham, Oklahoma State
Already mentioned as the Freshman on the Year award winner, Cunningham is likely to take home that award and many more in the coming weeks. The 6’8 point guard is the presumptive top pick because of both his physical prowess and basketball skill. Very rarely do prospects show his level of talent, and have his physical profile especially at the age of 19. The leading scorer in the conference, Cunningham has consistently puzzled defenses on how to slow him down. However, the former five-star prospect can do everything on the court. He has nice vision, reads passing lanes well, is a tremendous athlete and can rebound. Cunningham is simply everything to desire in a modern NBA point guard, but with a 6’8 frame. He is a truly special player and prospect, and the winner of the lottery should be ecstatic.
2. Kai Jones, Texas
Jones has seen limited action for the Longhorns, but has impressed in that time. He is 6’11, and 218 pounds, and is a physical presence defending the interior. He can run the floor well, leading to a lot of easy baskets in transition. He is also a solid three-point shooter for his size, converting almost 39% of his attempts. He averages less than 10 points and five rebounds a game, but in the middle to late first, teams should be willing to take a chance on his frame, athleticism, and shooting touch.
3. Greg Brown, Texas
Often in the NBA draft, players are selected because of what they have produced in college and high school, while others are chosen for what scouts believe they can become. Brown fits squarely in the latter, as his amazing athleticism and 6’9 size are tremendous attributes for the NBA. The downside is that the former four-star recruit has struggled to use that frame to generate many positive statistics. He is fifth in the conference with 1.1 blocks per game, but is only averaging 10 points per game and has 58 turnovers to just 10 assists. Numbers like that highlight that he could become an elite shot blocker and rim-runner, or could struggle to stay on the floor thanks to his inability to read the defense and make the right pass. Teams in the late first or early second should overlook some of his statistical struggles for a chance to work on his skill sets and build on his tremendous size.
4. Davion Mitchell, Baylor
Technically Robin to Butler’s Batman, Mitchell is a terrific player in his own right. He led the league in assists with over 5.5 assists per game, and his high IQ and court vision should quickly translate to the NBA game. Despite being just 6’2, Mitchell is an elite defender and was second in the conference in steals per game. He is older at 22, but his mix of defensive ability and passing should help get him selected in the first round.
5. Jared Butler, Baylor
The projected Player of the Year award winner should be a talented NBA player. The 6’3 guard has really expanded his offensive repertoire, to pair with an already tenacious defensive ability. His junior class status may scare some teams away, but he is only 20 years old and still has room to improve over his first few seasons. A team in the twenties could bite on his mix of shooting, playmaking, defense and leadership. He is seen as a lower ceiling prospect because of his lack of burst with the ball, and combo guard status but he has so many other pieces to his game that drastically improve his floor.
Big 12 Power Rankings
No. 2 Baylor Bears
No. 12 Oklahoma State Cowboys
No. 13 Texas Longhorns
No. 11 Kansas Jayhawks
No. 10 West Virginia Mountaineers
No. 20 Texas Tech Red Raiders
No. 25 Oklahoma Sooners