Player of the Week

Mike Miles, TCU Horned Frogs

In a week that featured some prolific offensive outbursts, the Horned Frog star guard was “miles” ahead of the rest. The 6’2 sophomore poured in 26 points, on an incredibly accurate 10-15 from the field and 3-6 from deep. The Texas native also added four rebounds, four assists and a career-high five steals to help pull off the massive upset vs. No. 9 Texas Tech 69-66. It is more than the stats that elevate Miles’ play to Player of the Week status, it’s the way that win might have shifted their season. With TCU firmly on the bubble, the end of their season was going to be one of serious intrigue. When March Madness is approaching, every game has immense implications; and in arguably TCU’s most important one, their best player delivered. His play on both ends was tremendous, and he was the best player on the court that featured at least one future NBA player. TCU ran almost all of their offense through No. 1, and he was able to use his speed, dribble, and pinpoint shooting to create looks for both himself and his teammates. On the defensive end, he was a menace and a huge factor in Texas Tech’s starting guards coughing up a combined nine turnovers. Those in turn led to fast break points, making it more difficult for the Red Raiders to set their staunch defense. In a week with two 30-point games, nobody played a more crucial role in potentially changing the fate of their team come March 13th.

Who’s Hot

Adam Flagler and the Baylor Bears

Baylor had one of the best weeks of anybody in the country, beating Oklahoma State on the road before toppling No. 5 Kansas by ten at home. After a couple weeks of inconsistent play from the reigning national champions, they have seemed to turn a corner. They just lost to Kansas by 24 and were able to forget that and outplay one of the best teams in the sport. The resilience is impressive, and now the Bears have tallied eleven quadrant one wins, the most in the country. A great finish to the season could leave Baylor with a much easier bracket draw. One of the biggest reasons for the strong play is junior guard Adam Flagler. One of the players asked to step up following the loss of Davion Mitchell, Jared Butler, and more, Flagler has met all expectations. He is Baylor’s leading scorer, and averaged 21 points, five boards, 2.5 assists and two steals this week, while only turning the ball over once. He uplifted an otherwise mostly stagnant offense in Stillwater before another solid performance against the Jayhawks. If Flagler can build on this and become an even better number one option for the offense, Baylor will be tough to slow down.

Who’s Not

Oklahoma State and West Virginia

Two of the three worst teams in the conference, the Cowboys and Mountaineers have not had the type of seasons their fans were seeking. A few wins this week wouldn’t have made a difference to their abysmal resumes (Oklahoma State has been banned from March Madness this year after an FBI probe into the program). However, a couple of solid outings can raise confidence levels and belief going into the offseason. Instead, they lost four games by a combined eight points. All four outcomes were decided by one possession, and all of them went the wrong way for two teams that could desperately use a few lucky bounces. Oklahoma State would have had their best win of the season against No. 10 Baylor but fell in overtime. West Virginia has now lost four straight games when leading at halftime and gave up a 12-point lead against unranked Iowa State. The Mountaineers have built a culture around defensive grit, but failed to contain Izaiah Brockington, who dropped a career-high 35 points in the comeback. Falling by one to No. 20 Texas was another frustrating loss in a season full of them.

Top Five Big 12 “Rising Stars”

In honor of the Rising Stars Challenge at the All-Star game, I focused on the best players from the Big 12 that are in their first or second season. This is on potential, with some consideration given to current play.

5. Quentin Grimes, New York Knicks

The former Houston Cougar started his collegiate career with Kansas, and therefore qualifies for this exercise. The sweet-shooting forward had cracked the Knicks veteran-laden rotation before suffering a minor injury last week. Before then, Grimes averaged just 6.3 points and 17.4 minutes per game but has made his presence felt from behind the arc and on defense. Grimes has a fluid, quick release and long, active arms that help him be a prototypical “3-And-D” player. There is early evidence that Grimes could develop into even more, if given a longer leash and allowed to play through mistakes. He doesn’t have the ceiling of the other players ahead of him, but he certainly has a bright future and could be one of the NBA’s premier marksmen in the future.

4. Davion Mitchell, Sacramento Kings

A one-man fast break for Baylor last year, Mitchell took over games with his quickness, agility, and accuracy. While Mitchell hasn’t burst onto the scene for the Kings, he has been a useful player, averaging 10.1 points, 3.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds in his rookie season. He should get more playing time thanks to the Haliburton trade, even if that awkwardly sped up the Kings ever-changing timeline. The young point guard is a weird fit next to another small, ball-dominant guard in De’Aaron Fox, but has potential to be an offensive force. He is a pesky defender and plays with so much hustle and intensity. He and Sabonis should be a difficult to contain pick-and-roll tandem.

3. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies

This is where the rankings get really difficult. Bane is one of the best shooters in the league, and one of its most unappreciated young stars. Playing next to the human highlight reel, Ja Morant, can do that. However, he is a tremendous player in his own right. The former TCU stud has amped up his play in his sophomore season, averaging 17.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.2 steals on 45% from the field and 41% from deep. He doesn’t have the flashy game that other young players do, but he is so consistent and accurate. Bane is the type of player who seems to constantly make winning plays and is also a tremendous defender. The 6’5 guard can take three positions on defense and is so quick in diagnosing what sets the offense is trying to get into. Bane is already a phenomenal player, and he is only going to get better with more experience. The Grizzlies may have created the best backcourt duo in the league, and Bane is a larger piece of that than often given credit for.

2. Tyrese Haliburton, Indiana Pacers

It almost feels wrong typing Indiana instead of Sacramento after Haliburton’s name. He seemed truly committed to shifting the King’s losing culture and helping break the playoff curse. Alas, he was shipped to Indiana, where he has been incredible for the Pacers. In just two seasons he is already one of the most promising talents in the sport, averaging 14.7 points, 7.8 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.7 steals on 41.6% shooting from deep. The former Cyclone isn’t overly athletic, but he is so smart and fundamentally sound. He is 20th in the league in assist to turnover ratio (3.25) and excels and generates excellent looks for others without compromising ball security. The 1.7 steals showcase just how sound his defense is and is one of the most versatile guards on defense in the league. While Sabonis should be a great player for the Kings, Haliburton is already exceeding high expectations, and should have even higher ones in the future.

1. Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons

The number one overall pick last year, Cade Cunningham has been great despite some early injury woes. The 6’6 point guard has averaged 16 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.2 steals a game. He is not particularly efficient yet but has shown flashes of carrying the offense for a very young and inexperienced Pistons team. His potential is limitless because of his perfect size to guard three positions, insane vision for a young player and shooting potential. One of college’s most prolific players as a freshman for Oklahoma State, Cunningham has shown enough just 46 games into his career to believe he can be a franchise star for Detroit. Without the help of many other talented players, Cunningham has used his frame, handles and vision to put up really good stats (and some wins) for an otherwise dreadful team. He is going to be a sensation offensive force and defensive menace for a very long time.

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