We’re closing in on about two weeks left in the regular season and the battle for the Big 12 regular season championship is all but over. Kansas will almost assuredly take home the Big 12 regular season title, only needing one win to clinch a share and two to clinch it outright. Baylor, Iowa State, and West Virginia all sit three games back of the Jayhawks with only four to play. The rest of the Big 12 is still battling it out for position in the conference tournament, as well as for berths into the NCAA tournament. Texas Tech has some major work to do, most likely needing to win their last three games to get in, while Oklahoma State stayed hot, extending their winning streak to three games. With that said, our player of the week once again comes from Lawrence, Kansas, as one player played a huge role in their big win over Baylor on Saturday.
Player of the Week
Frank Mason III, Kansas
It’s been a while since we’ve mentioned Frank Mason, but that’s not his fault. Mason is averaging 20.3 points per game, 4.2 rebounds per game, and five assists per game to this point in the season. He does this so consistently that it’s now more surprising when he doesn’t have a good game, and if it weren’t for Josh Jackson and his rapid improvement, Mason would have been our player of the week on more than one occasion. Alas, Jackson has done those things, so Mason has taken a back seat when it comes to top-notch performances. That changed this week when the Jayhawks rolled into Waco to take on Baylor. Win, and they have a three-game lead with four games left. Lose and Baylor falls to one game back and a solid shot at a share of the conference title. Mason wouldn’t let the latter occur. He finished with 23 points, accounting for over a third of the team’s scoring and eight assists, while also making all eight of his free throw attempts. Mason put up those 23 points on only 12 field goal attempts. Mason made his presence felt in the second half, scoring 16 of his points in the game’s final 20 minutes. Mason will continue to play a vital role for Kansas, just as he has all season. Kansas will expect to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament and he will be at the head of that charge, along with Jackson. The Jayhawks go as those two players go, and with the way the two have been playing, Bill Self may be cutting down the nets for the second time as a national champion come April.
Oklahoma State’s Backcourt
Oklahoma State continued to build their tournament resume this week, as they took home victories in both of their games. The Cowboys have been riding their backcourt all year and it didn’t change in those two wins, as Jawun Evans and Jeffrey Carroll both had big offensive weeks. Evans scored 43 points and tallied 21 assists on the week while Carroll added 40 points of his own. Both players have become the two main components to Brad Underwood’s fast-paced offensive attack and they could carry the Cowboys further than expected in March. Underwood, who was an assistant under Bob Huggins at Kansas State, uses a similar approach to West Virginia. The up-tempo attack creates a lot of shooting opportunities, and Carroll and Evans have both taken advantage of that. This style of play could cause issues for teams not used to the press, and could allow the Cowboys to find their way into the Sweet Sixteen.
Wesley Iwundu, Kansas State
Wesley Iwundu has done it all for the Kansas State Wildcats and this week it was much of the same. Iwundu is averaging 12.6 points per game to go with 6.2 rebounds per game and 3.5 assists per game. He continues to be the leader on the floor for the Wildcats night in and night out and he is to thank for a good portion of their emergence this year as a potential tournament team. This week, Iwundu had two good all-around games once again, scoring 16 points in each game, dishing four assists in each game, and pulling down 20 total rebounds. Iwundu’s performance was of key importance to the Wildcats in their close win over the Longhorns as he scored a quarter of the team’s points. Without that win over the Longhorns, the Wildcats would have been in rough shape as they aim to make their case as an NCAA tournament team this season.
Monte Morris, Iowa State
It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that once again Iowa State finds themselves near the top of the Big 12 as the season draws to a close. The Cyclones consistently show up and play well during conference play and this season has been no different, and once again a lot of the credit has to go to the play of Monte Morris. Morris continues to lead Iowa State to victories with his scoring ability and his ability to find the open man and put the team in the best position to succeed. This week, the Cyclones won three games against teams fighting for NCAA tournament berths and Morris put up 56 points in the process. His most impressive performance came against TCU when he scored 18 points and dished 11 assists as the Cyclones beat the Horned Frogs by 13. Morris is once again peaking at the right time, and so are his Cyclone teammates. This is a team that I think is built to win the Big 12 conference tournament, and they may be my top challenger to Kansas to do so.
Devonte Graham, Kansas
While Kansas may have had a great week as a team, and Frank Mason may have excelled against Baylor, the same can’t be said for his backcourt partner, Devonte Graham. Graham struggled mightily for the Jayhawks on the offensive end, scoring only seven points in his 37 minutes of playing time. Graham was able to grab seven rebounds and dish out four assists, but that doesn’t make up for his horrific night on the offensive end of the floor. Graham only managed to make one field goal attempt in the game, and luckily for him it was a three. He shot 8.3 percent from the field and 11.1 percent from three on the game, with 12 and nine attempts, respectively. Graham is an important role player for Kansas, and he will be relied upon if either Frank Mason or Josh Jackson has a bad offensive night. If they struggle and Graham is not there to pick up the slack, that could spell disaster for the Jayhawks, and is the most likely scenario for an early tournament exit for the Jayhawks.
Freshman of the Week
Jarrett Allen, Texas
This week the freshman of the week goes to a player who isn’t getting a lot of respect nationally. Jarrett Allen has been playing at a high level all year, but the atrocity that is the Texas Longhorns’ season has dampened his performance a bit. This week Allen had another good week, scoring 46 total points in three games, as well as pulling down 21 rebounds and swatting away six shots. His best game came against West Virginia where he was extremely efficient, scoring 17 points on only nine field goal attempts. Not to mention, he had a rim-rattling dunk that will be giving West Virginia fans nightmares for a long time. Even though the Longhorns did not win a game this week, Allen was not to blame. His performance should allow him to sneak his way into lottery consideration once again. As a strong defender, rebounder, and good rim-runner offensively, there will always be a place for someone like Allen in the NBA.
This week we’re going to take a look at where each team will play in the postseason. The Big 12 has an opportunity to put up to eight teams in the NCAA tournament, although at this point it seems unlikely. I will be doing my projections based on the season ending today, and will only be doing NCAA tournament projections and NIT projections, as the CBI and CIT are often rejected by teams who are invited, making it too variable in nature to be projected.
Kansas – One Seed
Baylor – Three Seed
West Virginia – Four Seed
Iowa State – Seven Seed
Oklahoma State – Seven Seed
TCU – Eleven Seed
Kansas State – Twelve Seed
Texas Tech – NIT bid
Texas – No postseason appearance
Oklahoma – No postseason appearance