It was an exciting week in the Big 12 with games in full swing and marquee matchups across the board. Kansas rebounded from their tough loss to Indiana with a nice victory over Duke in the Champions Classic. Baylor made their statement to be the top contender with a lopsided victory over the Oregon Ducks, who were ranked 4th at the time. Guard play looks to be a theme in the conference this year, with players lighting up the scoreboards from backcourts around the conference (we’ll get to some of that shortly). There were some great team performances like the one by West Virginia against a bad New Hampshire team, and some awful ones, like the one by Texas against a mediocre Northwestern team. Luckily for Texas, they were my “who’s cold” last week, so they’ll stay out of that spotlight. Here is our recap of the first full week of Big 12 action.
Player of the Week
Monte Morris, Iowa State
What a week (game, really) from Monte Morris. It’s hard to be the player of the week in the conference when you only play one game, but his performance was too masterful to ignore. Yes, Iowa State was only playing The Citadel, but that doesn’t diminish the display put on by Morris. Morris was able to put up a triple-double, but more impressively, he did it in 22 minutes. He managed 17 points, 10 assists, and 10 boards, while adding two steals on the defensive end. As Iowa State’s senior leader, Morris needed to take over this year without Georges Niang by his side and he looks like he will be doing just that to lead the Cyclones. Morris will also need to remain efficient from the field, and be able to distribute the ball effectively to sharpshooter Matt Thomas and powerful wing Deonte Burton. He was able to do that against The Citadel, shooting 8-12 from the field and dishing the aforementioned 10 assists. Morris might end up being the most important player in the conference, because if he shines, Iowa State will make a run at Kansas and the Big 12 title. Morris, as he showed this week, has the ability to take over a game and put Iowa State in the Final Four conversation. And this week, with a lot of teams facing weak opponents again, Morris stands out as the best amongst his peers.
Jo Lual-Acuil Jr., Baylor
Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. Get used to hearing that mouthful of a name. Did I mention that guard play is going to dominate this conference? Well, not at Baylor. Lual-Acuil was a force on the defensive end for the Bears this week. Without his prowess in the paint the Bears may not have had such an easy time defeating the Oregon Ducks this week. Lual-Acuil finished with only 8 points, but had 14 boards to go with 7 blocks. Yes, 7 blocks. It would not be a surprise if Lual-Acuil flirted with a triple-double more than once this year. The 7-foot junior from Melbourne deflected shots left and right from the Ducks this past week, and then did the same to Florida Golf Coast, swatting away 5 more shots for the Bears. Oregon as a team only shot 32.8 percent from the field, and that can be attributed partially to Lual-Acuil. As the game wore on, starting guards Tyler Dorsey and Dylan Ennis became weary of attacking the rim with Lual-Acuil in the game. His defense will make an enormous difference for the bears, who many thought would have to rely on Johnathan Motley as their main source of post defense and rebounding. Lual-Acuil will need to learn to box out on rebounds instead of relying on his length and athleticism, but at the college level, his size advantage will play extremely well. He should continue to make a name for himself as a defensive force in the Big 12. With the conference being dominated by guards, Lual-Acuil stands out as a big who will make them think twice before taking the ball to the hoop. His dominant defensive performance, especially against Oregon, make him the hottest player in the conference.
Who’s NotCarlton Bragg
In a week where teams dominated cupcakes for the most, it becomes difficult to find a player that struggled. So we’ll turn to Carlton Bragg for some not so obvious reasons. For all intents and purposes, Bragg performed well this week, even putting up 15 points and 11 boards against Siena. But look a little closer and you see what may be developing into a problem for Bragg and the Kansas Jayhawks. Bragg, who fouled out in the team’s opener against Indiana, was in foul trouble again against Duke, tallying four fouls in only 16 minutes against the Blue Devils. As the more talented of the Jayhawks’ two starting bigs, this could be an issue down the line. Bragg recovered by staying out of foul trouble against UAB and Siena, but they also don’t have the talent that Duke does. Bragg is showing that he struggles to not foul when talented teams with talented players attack him in the paint. In conference, this could become the area that opposing teams attack. With the strength of guard in the conference, and their ability to get in the paint and draw contact, Bragg will need to figure out how to defend without fouling. Otherwise, teams may have found the crack in the Jayhawks’ armor that prevents them from winning their thirteenth straight Big 12 title.
Top Five Freshmen Performers
This week, I want to take a look at the top five true freshman in the Big 12 that have the chance to show major growth as the year goes on. I’m looking for players with roles that will grow and that will receive the opportunity to put up big numbers, which is one of the reasons someone like Jarrett Allen does not make the list. It’s also the reason the list is heavy with players who I think will become go-to scorers/ball handlers by the end of the year.
5. Cameron McGriff, Oklahoma State
With all of my talk about ball dominant players, naturally the first player on the list is a wing who will play mostly off of the ball. McGriff has the chance to really shine under coach Brad Underwood. McGriff is getting quality minutes, averaging roughly 23 minutes per game if you take out a blowout win over New Orleans and looks like he may be the perfect complement to Jawun Evans. McGriff has the chance to become the number two option at Oklahoma State, by using his athleticism and polishing his ball handling skills.
4. Andrew Jones, Texas
There’s our first ball dominant player. Andrew Jones spot on this list can be attributed to Kerwin Roach. Roach has struggled since returning from his one game suspension for the Longhorns and has not done much to solidify his position as the team’s primary ball handler. Jones has the talent to lead Shaka Smart’s team, and I believe that Smart will give him every chance to do so. Jones will need shoot better from beyond the arc and continue to generate steals like he did against Eastern Washington if he wants that chance.
3. Xavier Sneed, Kansas State
It’s only a matter of time until Bruce Weber realizes that Sneed is the engine that will make his Kansas State Wildcats go. Sneed is a do it all wing player who is best with the ball in his hands. The Wildcats are already doing better when Sneed scores mores, winning by 22 and 27 when he scores at least 15, and only by 13 in his eight-point performance against Omaha. Sneed will need to become a better passer if he wants the ball in his hands full-time, but at this point, he’s Bruce Weber’s only hope of saving his job. I’d be shocked if he weren’t starting by conference play.
2. Jaylen Fisher, TCU
Fisher is unique in this top five, because he is already a focal point of his team’s offense. Head Coach Jamie Dixon handed Fisher a starting role from the opener of the Horned Frogs season. Fisher, who is arguably TCU’s most talented player, will only gain more of Dixon’s trust as the season goes on. I would not be surprised to see him lead the team in usage rate by year’s end, and to be the team’s centerpiece moving forward.
1. Josh Jackson, Kansas
At this point, who didn’t see this coming. I wasn’t going to make it an entire week without talking about the most talented player in the country (yes, the country). Josh Jackson is in the perfect situation to take over as the year goes on, and he may already be in the process of doing it. He put up 22 points in 33 minutes for the Jayhawks in a victory over UAB Monday night, including a rim-rattling dunk that blew up social media. Jackson has all of the talent in the world, all he needs to do is earn Bill Self’s trust. If he can do that (it would be a major upset if he didn’t) he will quickly show the Big 12 why he was the number one recruit in the nation and why he is the number one prospect in this year’s draft class.