Player of the Week
Tristan Clark, Baylor
After showing flashes during his freshman season, Tristan Clark is finding his groove in his second go-around at Baylor. The sophomore forward has shown great intangibles to go along with amazing efficiency. The San Antonio native helped lead Baylor to the 57-47 win over Oregon, dropping 13 points and adding eight rebounds and two blocks in the process. Clark followed up the surprise win by scoring 17 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field en route to a 84-44 blowout over New Orleans. He established himself on the boards in the contest, bruising his way to 12 rebounds and and five blocks. Clark is hitting an amazing 78% of his field goals and blocking 2.8 blocks on the season, showing an impact on both ends. He has increased his scoring output from 6.8 ppg as a freshman to 14.3 ppg. The Bears may not be the best team in the Big 12, but a strong conference record should get them into the NCAA Tournament come March. Clark’s play will be integral to their success.
Esa Ahmad, West Virginia
After going through a shooting slump, senior forward Esa Ahmad was able to get back on track during 78-68 victory over Lehigh. In 33 minutes of action, Ahmad scored 21 points on 7-of-16 shooting from the field and 5-of-6 from the charity stripe. He also chipped in with nine rebounds and one rejection. In the past, West Virginia solely relied on Ahmad for cleaning up the glass and rim-protection. That being said, Ahmad has been able to expand his game and become an offensive threat on all three levels. The Mountaineers have had an underwhelming start to the season, but it’ll be interesting to see if the team can overcome their woes entering conference play.
Christian James, Oklahoma
Senior guard Christian James has played at an all-conference level during his final dance with the Sooners. While this isn’t to say that the Houston product won’t be ready to rise to the occasion during the first conference game against No. 5 Kansas, James struggled mightily in the overtime thriller against Northwestern. While Oklahoma was able to
come out victorious, James shot an abysmal 5-of-21 from the field and 2-of-10 in 43 minutes of action. For a player who’s normally very efficient, his shot selection wasn’t on par with what it normally is. Oklahoma will need him to play at full strength in order to steal the upset over Kansas.
Top 5 Biggest Questions Entering Conference Play
1) Will Kansas Keep the Streak Alive?
Kansas is looking to build on its 14 consecutive Big 12 regular season titles streak. While the Big 12 is relatively deep this season, it appears that the Jayhawks are once again in the driver’s seat to secure their 15th championship in a row. The upset loss to Arizona State shouldn’t take away from how talented this team is. Head coach Bill Self has done a nice job transitioning his new acquisitions into the offense. It’ll be interesting to see if the freshman backcourt of Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson can continue to improve during conference play, as that should put Kansas over the top.
2) Is Texas Tech a legit contender?
The Red Raiders currently sit at an impressive 11-1 record, with their only loss to a stacked Duke team at Madison Square Garden. That being said, Texas Tech has had a moderately easy out-of-conference schedule, so it remains to be seen if this team is ready to run through the Big 12. While there’s no denying the talent and production of star player Jarrett Culver, the biggest question mark is whether head coach Chris Beard can squeeze enough offensive production out the rest of the roster. There’s no denying that Texas Tech is elite yet again on defense, but this team may be susceptible to blowing late game leads if Culver is not able to produce down the stretch.
3) Which Freshman has a Chance to Break Out During Conference Play?
There’s no denying that Texas misses the defensive dominance of Mohamed Bamba from a season ago. His rim-protection prowess helped translate into easy baskets because it set up fast break opportunities for the Longhorns. While Jaxson Hayes is nowhere near the talent of Bamba, the Loveland, OH native is making a name for himself. He’s an efficient offensive threat in the paint, and is one of the premiere defensive players in the Big 12. As the season progresses, expect Hayes to keep developing and potentially become a fringe first-round prospect in the NBA Draft. Though it’s apparent a second year in school would do him well as he figures to improve considerably as a sophomore, and enter the NBA with a much better chance to contribute and gain confidence.
4) Which Team is The Most Slept On?
As it currently stands, every team in the Big 12 has a record of .500 or better. That means that all of these are bunched together and are about the same level for the most part. It’s difficult for a team to show up every night and play their style of game throughout the duration of the season. However, an experienced team like Kansas State could be the team that moves up in the standings during the course of conference play. After falling just short of making the Final Four, many have tabbed the Wildcats as having a disappointing season thus far. This claim is a complete myth, as Kansas State is entering conference play on
a four-game winning streak with a 10-2 record. The tenacious defense and ability to close out games is what separates the Wildcats from the rest of the pack.
5) Who are the Frontrunners for Big 12 Player of the Year?
As it currently stands, there is no true frontrunner for the award, but team success will certainly separate the good from the great as it normally does. Kansas is the best team in the conference, which puts the team’s best player, Dedric Lawson, in a great position to win the award if he’s able to carry his team to the Big 12 crown. Jarrett Culver is another strong possibility who whould be in the running all-season. Two other dark horse candidates include Iowa State’s Marial Shayok and Oklahoma’s Christian James, both of whom have had impressive individual seasons which has translated into victories for their respected programs.