Player of the Week
Bryson Williams, Texas Red Raiders
No. 25 Texas Tech stunned no. 6 Kansas in Lubbock with a 75-67 upset win. After falling to no. 11 Iowa State just days before the marquee matchup with the Jayhawks, the Red Raiders needed to show serious resiliency to win an important game in a short turnaround: enter Bryson Williams (pictured). The 6’8 senior forward almost doubled his season scoring average by pouring in 22 points, a career high, on 9-13 shooting from the field. The California native had a tremendous all-around game. He had eight rebounds, three assists, a steal, and no turnovers. With only one other Texas Tech player in double figures, there was a heavy burden on Williams to carry the offensive load against a squad with serious firepower of their own. Williams answered the bell, hitting almost everything he shot inside the arc and draining one three. What makes the upset even more impressive is that Texas Tech was missing their top two scorers in Terrence Shannon Jr. and Kevin McCullar. Shannon, a potential draft pick, is usually their main source of offense late in the shot clock. Without their top two guards, Williams was able to be the offensive hub, creating his own offense while also helping others spring free. Kansas is the number seven team in points per game in the country with over 83 per contest. Williams helped limit the potent Jayhawks to 16 points below their average. Despite being short-handed and against great competition, Williams played the best game of his career and helped knock off one of the best teams in the country.
After last week in which it looked like the favorites may never lose, this week felt like March Madness came early. Oklahoma State crushed no. 14 Texas 64-51 behind 17 points from Kalib Boone. Oklahoma dominated No. 11 Iowa State 79-66 with Umoja Gibson scoring 20 points. Texas Tech beat Kansas without their top two scorers, and TCU almost pulled off the upset of the year, leading No. 1 Baylor at the half before fading late. Last week’s blog featured a post about how the blue bloods (and Iowa State) seemed to be on course to steamroll all the unranked teams in the conference. Then this week happened, and it was yet another reminder of the absolute chaos that can happen on any given day. Three upsets on one crazy Saturday, and it was just another day in college basketball. Baylor still looks like a powerhouse, and the other ranked teams are still superior, but this was a gut-check for the ranked teams. Bring your best every game or get beaten. It really is that simple, because even with the stars and draft picks that the ranked teams feature, the rest of the Big 12 still has plenty of scoring, shooting, defense and talent to go around. Just a week after a vanilla couple of games saw the favorites win comfortably, the Big 12 showed once again how the underdogs can never be written off.
Nijel Pack, Kansas State Wildcats
Sitting sixth on the Big 12 points per game leaders, Pack has had a great second season with the Wildcats. The 6’0 guard has turned it up a notch over his last two games. Against no. 14 Texas and West Virginia, scored 41 points, grabbed ten boards, dished three assists with one steal and no turnovers. He wasn’t just putting up shots to score, he was very efficient in both games. The Indiana native dropped nine threes between the two games, hitting on over 40% of his looks. Despite his smaller stature, Pack knows how to find open space. Whether it’s taking jumpers or attacking the basket, he is very tricky to stop. What is even more impressive is how much of the offensive burden the sophomore takes on. The Wildcats average 70 points per contest, and with their leading scorer averaging a healthy 16 points, he accounts for more than 22% of their points. Pack is doing everything he can to lift up an otherwise disastrous offense, and even if it hasn’t resulted in wins yet, it could help shift the mentality in Manhattan.
Matthew Mayer, Baylor Bears
Mayer was a versatile and unique player for the national title winning Bears last season. A 6’9, 225 pound forward with the handle and shot of a guard, Mayer drew serious looks from NBA teams. After Baylor lost their three best players from the championship squad, it seemed destined that the senior would have a chance to burst onto the scene as the new star in Waco. Instead, the mullet-wielding Texan has averaged a paltry nine points, five rebounds, and one assist per game. Even worse, Mayer’s biggest skill was supposed to be that he was a “unicorn”, a big that can shoot. The former four-star recruit is shooting just 40% from the floor, 32% from the three-point line and 60% from the field. Mayer has shown some real promise on defense as a switchable, active, and smart defender. He has averaged more than one steal and block per game. He just hasn’t seemed to find a groove in the offense, and he is forcing difficult looks. The terrible free throw percentage doesn’t help the idea that his other shooting numbers would improve. While Scott Drew has the Bears off to a great start, it hasn’t been the same story for Mayer.
Top Five Wooden Award Winners in Big 12 History
In honor of the Wooden Award Top 25 list coming out this week (including three Big 12 players), here are the most impressive seasons in Big 12 history.
5. Frank Mason III, Kansas Jayhawks
The first player in Big 12 history to average 20 points and five assists per game, Mason had an amazing final season. The senior guard led a talented team full of NBA players but was the unequivocal star. Mason was the heart and soul of Kansas, using his quickness, agility, handle and shot to warp defenses. Few players in the history of the Big 12 have orchestrated offenses quite like Mason was able to during his fourth season in Lawrence. Mason was tremendous at reading defense, using pick and rolls, pushing in transition, and attacking to create openings for himself and others. Also a fiery defender, Mason accumulated 47 steals, good for 1.3 per game. Mason was also excellent at deciding when to playmaker and when to look for openings for himself. The 5’11 guard shot an other-worldly 47% from deep on 4.8 attempts per game.
4. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma Sooners
The Wooden award winner the season before Mason, Hield was also a senior when he took home the prestigious award as a member of the Sooners. The 6’4 shooting guard was the definition of a sniper, hitting 46% of his three-point attempts on almost nine attempts per game. That combination of attempts and efficiency behind the arc helped him to average a whopping 25 points per game, while also averaging six rebounds, two assists and one steal per game. The Bahamas native was lethal behind the arc, using screens, give-and-go’s and off-the-dribble moves to give himself the space required to fire. His lack of other contributions and turnovers per game (3.1) limit him from being even higher on the list. He did however help the Sooners reach the final four in his final season before departing for the NBA.
3. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma Sooners
Back-to-back Sooners on this list, but they couldn’t be less alike as players. While Hield was finesse and outside shooting, Griffin dominated with strength, force and above all, insane leaping ability. Griffin put on many dunk contests during games with his alley-oops and transition breakaways. That amazing vertical helped him put up 22.7 points, 14.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.2 blocks per game as a sophomore. The 6’10 forward was a menace around the rim and used his physicality to generate easy looks inside. Despite being much stronger than every defender he came across, Griffin was also faster, using his speed to get ahead of the defense for points in transition. Griffin was the main focus of every defense, but he was simply unstoppable. He couldn’t be contained on the glass, and he even grabbed almost four offensive rebounds per game. The number one selection in the NBA draft the following year, there were no answers for Griffin’s mix of power, height, speed, and verticality.
2. Danny Manning, Kansas Jayhawks
Manning technically won the Wooden Award as a member of the Big 8, but he played for Kansas and had a remarkable season, so I am counting it. He led the Jayhawks to the national title by averaging 24.8 points, nine rebounds, two assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.8 steals per game. The 6’10 forward was from Lawrence, Kansas and was a key member of the Jayhawks success during his four years at the school. A fluid and strong athlete, Manning used his quickness and power to beat defenders in the post. He utilized those same attributes to ruin offensive game plans, as he was both an interior shot blocker and perimeter stopper. He is the all-time leader in field goals made and effective field goal percentage in the Big 8 and had over 1,000 field goals made during his incredible career.
1. Kevin Durant, Texas Longhorns
Arguably the greatest scorer to ever touch a basketball, Durant was dominating college hoops before he started torching nets in the pros. A 6’10 forward with a sweet jumper, handles and vision, Durant had the full package well before his 21st birthday. Durant was the first freshman to receive the Wooden Award, and did so by averaging 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.9 blocks per game. The “slim-reaper” is unguardable by the best in the NBA, so the poor wings in the collegiate ranks stood no chance. He shot more than 40% from deep in his lone season with the Longhorns and used his height and long arms to get any shot he wanted. Beating mismatches in the post, burning defenders to the rim, running in transition, hunting rebounds, there is nothing Durant couldn’t do on the court. He was the star, and despite all the schemes being built around stopping the ferocious freshman, nobody could. Durant was too good at getting to his spots on the court. Throw a wing at him, Durant is taller and stronger, while a center gets burned by his agility and handle on the perimeter. His blend of creativity, off-the-dribble shooting and confidence led him to have one of the greatest collegiate seasons in history, and he did it as a freshman.