Player of the Week
Tashawn Thomas – Oklahoma
As the Oklahoma Sooners emphatically opened up their Big 12 season, it was TaShawn Thomas’ presence down low that proved again to be the major element that OU was lacking a season ago.
Last Saturday night against the then ranked 18th Baylor Bears, Thomas exploded for 24 points, and 8 rebounds as well as chipping in a block and a steal. His versatility and ability to exploit the Baylor zone was a huge factor in the Sooner’s 10 point victory. Matching up against Big 12 rebound king, Rico Gathers, and rangy freshman, Johnathan Motley, Thomas’ bulk, length, and skill were things last year’s run and gun squad was in great need for amongst the bigger teams in the conference.
Monday night the task was even greater as the Sooners matched up against the massive Texas Longhorns on the road, but it was TaShawn again doing what it takes and tallying a 12 point 11 rebound double double. He and Ryan Spangler throughly frustrated the Texas bigs, and held Myles Turner, Jonathan Holmes, and Cameron Ridley to a combined 5-22 from the field. TaShawn Thomas and the Sooners not only racked up two wins against ranked teams this season, but beat a Texas team many were already crowning the Big 12 Champs in Austin. With #14 West Virginia just a week away, there’s no letting up, but the Sooners made a resounding mark on the conference this week, and TaShawn Thomas was a crucial part in their success.
Frank Mason III – Kansas
Shortly before the holidays a Kansas team with some serious momentum was halted in their tracks by a hungry Temple team that hit them when they weren’t expecting. A young team looking for stability found just that in Frank Mason III, as he helped right the ship in wins over Kent State and UNLV. The Sophomore guard, who’s always been known for his defense, provided steady play as a scorer, distributer, and ball handler. Against the Golden Flashes of Kent, Mason scored 14 points, pulled down 5 rebounds, dished 5 assists, and only turned the ball over once. Just a few days later, Frank was a catalyst to the Jayhawks fast break success against UNLV. Using his speed and explosive direction changing ability, he darted his way to 18 points, 7 assists 4 rebounds and 2 steals. During this two game bounce back, Mason averaged 16 points, 4.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists 2.5 steals and shot 56% from the field. Kansas opens Big 12 play Wednesday against Baylor, and a young Jayhawk team still looking for a leader may have found just that in Frank Mason III.
Devin Williams – West Virginia
Once of the most imposing physical presences in the Big 12 is West Virginia forward Devin Williams. Despite being blessed with a chiseled physique, the sophomore big man has had some early season woes as far as taking advantage of his gifts in the paint. The 6’9’’ 255 pound Mountaineer has made important strides lately and picked up his play immensely as West Virginia rattled off two Big 12 wins in a three day span. Williams has made an impact by tallying back to back 14 point games in wins over TCU and Texas Tech. He’s also done so on great shooting numbers. Devin has connected on 67% of his shots from the field, and even 80% from the free throw stripe. That’s not even mentioning the fact he averaged 7 rebounds during this span in only 23 minutes per game. Williams’ conference play production on the week gave him per 40 minute averages of 24.3 points per game and 12.17 rebounds per game. With Devin giving West Virginia potent and efficient minutes, the Mountaineers look to be a much bigger threat than many thought before the season started.
Marcus Foster – Kansas State
Zero. Strangely enough that was Marcus Foster’s point total from the Wildcats’ Big 12 opener versus Oklahoma State. The sophomore guard’s 0-4 performance in just 14 minutes was both as odd as it was out of character. The Wildcats have been struggling, and Foster himself has been stuck in an abysmal two game slump. Foster went for the donut against OSU, but the previous game, a loss versus Georgia, he mustered just 2 points on 1-5 shooting. This past week his averages were just bizarre considering his proven track record. Foster averaged 1 point per game on 11% shooting from the field, 1.5 rebounds and .5 assists in two losses, both in which K-State failed to top 50 points. Something strange is going on in Manhattan when your leading scorer and most prolific player sits on the bench for 26 minutes in your conference opener, but whatever is going on, Marcus Foster and the 7-7 Wildcats need to figure it out fast or their tourney hopes could be in serious jeopardy.
Robert Turner – Texas Tech
One of just two upperclassman in a lineup composed of mostly freshman, senior point guard Robert Turner has struggled lately as the Red Raiders have entered Big 12 play. No one will doubt Texas Tech’s grit, and Turner’s leadership is a big part of that. Energetic play is a great sign for this team, but for TTU to have success in the conference, they’ll need another offensive threat outside of Devaughntah Williams. An experienced ball handler, Turner has been in a bit of an offensive slump shooting only 29% on his way to 8 points per game over the course of the last two games. Robert has also only chipped in .5 rebounds and .5 assists over this span as well. Facing three top 15 teams in their first three conference games, Turner and the Red Raiders are fighting an uphill battle, but Turner’s play at the point is key for Texas Tech in order for them to pick up wins later in the conference season.
Top 5 Senior Prospects
1. Juwan Staten – West Virginia
Juwan Staten burst on the national scene last year as a junior with his insanely well balanced offensive production, tough defense, and lighting quick ball handling. West Virginia is an even better team this year, and although Staten’s production isn’t quite as out of this world, the senior point is playing well and brings all the same things to the table.
At just 6’ 190 pounds, Staten’s biggest drawback is his small stature, but he has a great shooting touch, the ability to create his own shot, and real potential in the pick and roll game. Juwan also takes good care of the ball, and has the outside shot and range necessary to be a three point threat in the NBA. Most likely an early 2nd round pick in the 2015 draft, Staten has real appeal for teams looking for an NBA ready reserve.
2. Bryce Dejean-Jones – Iowa State
Already playing for his third team in his short career, Bryce Dejean-Jones has rejuvenated his career in a Cyclone jersey. At 6’6’’ 210 pounds and possessing both a smooth outside jumper, and the ball handling ability necessary to slash, BDJ has the size and well balanced offensive game that is in line with the skill set NBA teams look for in modern wings.
Having an early season hiccup with local law enforcement raises some maturity and character concerns, but a strong conference season and NCAA tournament could make that incident seem like ancient history. A rebuilding or younger team could be a great home for Dejean-Jones where his one on one scoring ability, and shooting touch could provide a cheap option score points off the bench.
3. Jonathan Holmes – Texas
Coming into the season being viewed as a bit of an undersized power forward, Jonathan Holmes and his conditioning has him looking a lot more like a big guard these days. Jonathan made his name as the Longhorns leading scorer last season, and he’s improved his ball handling significantly since then.
At 6’8’’ 235 pounds, Holmes still will fight with that tweener label, but this season he’s played and looked a lot more like a small forward now that he’s not being forced to play out of position at the power forward spot. His leadership, well rounded skillset and history of hitting big shots could prove a valid option for both a young team, or a more veteran squad looking to fill a spot at the end of their bench with a high character, mature player.
4. Tashawn Thomas – Oklahoma
The super transfer, who also nabbed player of the week honors, is a valid low post option at the next level as well. Incredibly well rounded offensively, and possessing the experience to make the jump to the NBA, Thomas is erasing all doubt he was just a big fish in a small pond when he was racking up double doubles in Houston.
At 6’8’’ 240 pounds, TaShawn isn’t all that big for an NBA power forward, but his ability to face up and stretch defenses helps his cause. Reportedly, he also has a massive 7’3’’ wingspan, and hasn’t exactly shied away from the bigger players he’s faced this season. A bit reminiscent of another former Sooner, Romero Osby, I feel Thomas has that same kind of appeal in the mid to late 2nd round.
5. LeBryan Nash – Oklahoma State
Le’Bryan Nash has come into his own, and his physical natured defense has fit in wonderfully with the Cowboys’ tough identity this season. At 6’7’’ 235 pounds, he has good size, and the athleticism to play the NBA small forward position.
Despite his increased scoring average, his next level appeal is more on the defensive end as he could be a player capable of guarding both NBA shooting guards, and small forwards. His lack of a long range shot doesn’t quite fit him in the role of a 3 and D player, but he’s an excellent mid-range jump shooter, and could have some appeal in the late 2nd, as an athletic defender to bring off the bench.
Follow David Ray on Twitter @DR_NBADraft