Player of the Week
Kristian Doolittle, Oklahoma
It’s been a roller coaster of a season for Oklahoma. After enduring a five-game losing streak, the Sooners have won four of their last five.West Virginia has had its own ups and downs too, yet Oklahoma was able to come together and collect the 92-80 victory over the Mountaineers on Saturday. Junior forward Kristian Doolittle has been the catalyst on offense for the Sooners, scoring 15 points to go along with nine boards and three helpers en route to the dub. Doolittle carried the momentum into the marquee matchup versus No. 13 Kansas and helped lead the Sooners to the must-needed win over an underwhelming Kansas team. Breaking the Jayhawks’s Big 12 regular season title streak is a win in itself, but Doolittle connecting the dots on offense is another great takeaway for Oklahoma. Doolittle finished the game with 24 points and 11 rebounds while knocking down all but one of his eleven attempts from the charity stripe as well as making seven-of-eleven field goals. In a last ditch effort to make the big dance come March, Oklahoma needs all the wins it can get.
Jermaine Haley, West Virginia
Junior guard Jermaine Haley is a sturdy 6’7", 215 lbs player who’s able to attack the rim with ease as well as hold down the fort on defense. As of late, he’s really come alive for the Mountaineers. Despite the 92-80 loss against Oklahoma, Haley held his own and scored 23 points, six rebounds, and five assists. Haley remained hot proceeding the defeat, but this time around West Virginia was able to hold off Iowa State 90-75 on Wednesday. Haley scored a season-high 28 points to go along with seven rebounds, three assists, three steals, and one block en route to the upset win. It may be too little to late for the Mountaineers, however, head coach Bob Huggins is allowing his players to have their moments to shine in the midst of the rebuilding season.
Desmond Bane, TCU
Junior guard Desmond Bane has shouldered the load for a TCU team that has suffered a slew of setbacks this season. He’s done a nice job putting the ball in the hoop as well as deferring to his teammates.That being said, the Horned Frogs are losers of six out of their last seven games, and Bane hasn’t played to his ability during the stretch of games. In the 81-66 loss against No. 11 Texas Tech, Bane only managed to make two field goals en route to seven points. He then matched his scoring total of seven points in 36 minutes of burn in the 64-52 defeat to No. 18 Kansas State. While it’s worth noting TCU suffered defeats against ranked opponents, it appears unlikely the team goes dancing due to the inability to deliver a late season win over a marquee program.
Top 5 Biggest Surprises in the Big 12
1) Kansas not winning the Big 12 regular season title
Kansas was the preseason No. 1 team in the nation heading into the year, however, it’s been all down hill for the most part after losing to Arizona State before conference play. It’s been a disaster of season for the Jayhawks, from losing Udoka Azubuike to injury Silvio De Sousa being ruled ineligible by the NCAA, and senior leader Lagerald Vick having to leave the team. While the absences have piled up, so have the losses. Dedric Lawson has been nothing short of sensational, and is perhaps the front-runner for Big 12 Player of the Year. Devon Dotson appears to be a cornerstone building block for the program, while freshman counterpart Quentin Grimes hasn’t lived up to the same preseason hype. With all this being said, Kansas still remains in the top 25 and poised for a revival in the postseason.
2) West Virginia’s struggles
West Virginia found itself in the top 25 preseason rankings, and was considered to be vying for a top bid in the Big 12. That being said, the Mountaineers have struggled to string together any consistency throughout the season. Losing Jevon Carter figured to be a blow for the program, but his absence has been even more detrimental than expected. There are definitely talented players on the roster, but as a collective the team hasn’t come together to overcome its weaknesses. Head coach Bob Huggins has some work to do if he’s going to build this program back to relevancy.
3) The ascendance of Jarrett Culver
While the strength of No. 8 Texas Tech is a surprise in itself, no player has improved his game from year one to year two more than Jarrett Culver. He was certainly in the rotation in his freshman campaign, but delegated to Zhaire Smith and Keenan Evans. Head coach Chris Beard gave Culver the keys to the car, and he’s driven his team to victories ever since. Culver is not only one of the elite bucket-getters in the country, but he locks opponents down on defense as well. He’s also drawing praise for his basketball intellect and exceptional work ethic and character. Culver has put himself in a position to be a top 10 pick in this year’s NBA Draft, assuming he opts to declare.
4) The amount of elite teams in the Big 12
Even though No. 13 Kansas has been disappointing, the team still is a lock for a spot in NCAA Tournament. Number 8 Texas Tech and No. 18 Kansas State have both been consistently ranked foes in the Big 12 through most of the season. Baylor and Iowa State also figure to be in field come Selection Sunday. Maybe even Texas or Oklahoma can sneak into the field as well. Getting at least half of the conference into the tournament, plus a few wildcards should be considered a successful year for the Big 12.
5) The abundance of impactful newcomers
Dedric Lawson, Marial Shayok, and Makai Mason all could make first-team all Big 12. All three weren’t even in the Big 12 last season after transferring. There’s also been some outstanding impact from the freshman class, particularly from the likes of Jaxson Hayes and Devon Dotson. Plus sprinkle in the player development from each of the team’s coaching staffs, and it appears the Big 12 has a bright future ahead.