Player of the Week
Charles O’Bannon Jr., TCU Horned Frogs
TCU pulled off a massive 77-68 upset win over No. 19 LSU in the Big 12-SEC Challenge. The 14-4 Horned Frogs have had a tremendous start to their season, and this win helps cement their case as a seriously improved team. “Chuck” Bannon was great, finishing tied for a game-high with 19 points, six rebounds, two steals and just one turnover. The 6’6 senior scored almost double his season (10) and was a menace on defense as well. Bannon not only filled up the stat sheet but did so without taking many shots. His 19 points came on just nine shots, as he hit 6-9 from the field and 3-4 from deep. The former four-star recruit and USC Trojan came into college without much of a three-point shot. He shot just 12.5% his freshman year but has worked to become a reliable three-point shooter. His progress has paid dividends for TCU, as his 40% three-point shooting takes some of the offensive burden off Mike Miles. They are inching closer to having games come March (currently projected as one of the last four teams with a bye), and Bannon’s improvement is one of the reasons why. He can guard multiple positions, is active in passing lanes, and his shooting opens up space for teammates. He put all of those skills on display against LSU and could see more big games to come. After Bannon’s and TCU’s worst game of the season against Texas, TCU needed to respond and make a statement. Bannon’s best game of the season helped that immediate resurgence.
Izaiah Brockington and the Iowa State Cyclones
It has been an odd season in Aimes. They have made both the who’s hot and who’s not list. The Cyclones started 12-0 before starting 1-5 in conference play. One constant in an otherwise turbulent season has been senior Izaiah Brockington. He is third in the conference in points with 16.8 and second in rebounds with 7.8. When the season started the athletic lefty wasn’t on anyone’s draft radar. He was a solid player for St. Bonaventure and Penn State but has found a new gear for Iowa State. His scoring, efficiency, defense, and athleticism are finally combining to the point where his potential is becoming serious production. He led a 2-0 week for the Cyclones, combining for 41 points, eight rebounds and three assists. The 6’6 wing has been the carrying force for an otherwise inconsistent offense. The Cyclones don’t look dominant the way they did early in the season, but Brockington has continued to solidify his case as a second-round pick. NBADraft.net even mocked him at 43 to the Golden State Warriors. It is extremely difficult to be drafted as a senior, but even more so when not on the NBA’s radar. Brockington’s play has merited discussions into being an NBA player. With the length to guard three positions, a 41% three-point success rate and great bounce the Philadelphia native has all the makings of a three-and-D role player. Already a Player of the Week on this blog, Brockington has had a magical season. For the Cyclones, their strong week came after their awful six game stretch. They desperately needed wins this week and got them. One of only four Big 12 teams to win their game against the SEC, Iowa State demolished Missouri and eked out a win in overtime against Oklahoma State. One of just two teams to win both games this week, the Cyclones crack the Who’s Hot list once again.
The other team to go 2-0 this week, the Longhorns took down a plucky TCU squad by 23 before upsetting No. 18 Tennessee in front of a raucous crowd in Austin. Texas can be so tough to play because they don’t have one go-to scorer, they have four or five guys that can carry an offense. It feels like each game they have a new player with the high score, and it is challenging defensively to know who to scheme against. They have long and switchable forwards, and pesky guards. They don’t have a single player in the top-five of any Big 12 statistics. For the Longhorns it’s about the sum of the parts much more than the individuals. In a star driven sport, it is nice seeing a team that sticks to its defensive identity and is committed to getting everyone looks. Another reason they are tough to take down is that their starting five is so diverse. All five starters are capable three-point shooters, keeping space for a Timmy Allen post up, a Marcus Carr drive, or a wide-open shot for resident sniper Christian Bishop. With a mix of highly touted recruits and well-regarded transfers, it should be a fun, unique season in the Lone Star State capital.
The Big 12
Oof. Saturday was a chance to make a convincing argument that they were the premier conference in college basketball. Instead, they were left licking their wounds as the SEC demolished the Big 12. The SEC went 8-4, including No. 12 Kentucky crushing No. 5 Kansas 80-62 in Allen Fieldhouse and No. 4 Baylor losing by nine to unranked Alabama. The two best title contenders were embarrassed, and the depth that is so often lauded was nonexistent. Oklahoma State, Kansas State and West Virginia were all barely competitive against unranked foes, while Oklahoma stood no chance against No. 1 Auburn. With a great showing the Big 12 could show the competition in the conference, which would go a long way in the bracket selections. Now the SEC has that distinction, and their blue bloods look stronger than ever. With the Big Ten also having plenty of ranked teams, the Big 12 is in a rough spot. Their most notable draft prospects struggled too, notably Ochai Agbaji and [Christian Braun], who combined to go a paltry 9-25 from the field. In short, the conference was embarrassed on national television, with the whole country watching.
Top Five Starting Lineup
I did this Top Five list last year, and it was one of my absolute favorites. This is not a ranking of the best prospect or scorer at each position, just how I would build my perfect lineup using the Big 12 players.
Point Guard: Mike Miles, TCU Horned Frogs
The 6’2 sophomore has the perfect blend of passing, offensive creation and defense to be the lead guard of the perfect Big 12 team. Top five in the conference in both points (15.6) and assists (4.1), he provides scoring punch and can set up others for easy looks. Averaging 1.2 steals per game this year, Miles would also be a plus defensively, a must to crack this starting five. His size is also a win for the team, as he could defend either guard spot, and can be effective with or without the ball. The one negative for Miles this season has been his efficiency, which would most likely rise with so many talented players around him and having less defensive attention thrown his way.
James Akinjo, Baylor Bears – A more traditional point guard, Akinjo leads the league in assists and is second in steals per game. His lack of high-end scoring keeps him out of the starting unit but is the perfect player for the leader of the second unit.
Shooting Guard: Ochai Agbaji, Kansas Jayhawks
Despite the rough outing versus the Wildcats, Agbaji is a phenomenal player, and will likely take home the Big 12 Player of the Year Award for his dynamite play on both ends this season. A 6’5 guard, Agbaji is leading the conference with 20.9 points per game. It’s not just the scoring average that stands out when watching Agbaji, it’s the shot selection and efficiency that is so appealing to scouts and the ideal Big 12 starting lineup. He is shooting 52% from the field and an absurd 44% from behind the arc. Those are absolutely insane percentages for a guard, especially one averaging so many attempts and having such a high usage rate. Agbaji isn’t much of a passer, but his elite shooting from every area of the court, to go along with high-level offensive creation, make him the shooting guard of this lineup. He would also be the focal point of the offense for the team.
Taz Sherman, West Virginia Mountaineers
I really wanted to find a spot for him, as his scoring and defense are hard to not include, but Agbaji plays the same position, and he doesn’t have the passing of a point guard or the size of a small forward. His intensity on defense and bunch scoring would be extremely helpful off the bench.
Small Forward: Izaiah Brockington, Iowa State Cyclones
If you haven’t guessed it yet, I really like Brockington’s game. His speed and bounce in transition would be welcomed, as would the 41% three-point shooting. He can get to the basket and has an affinity for knocking down tough jumpers. He would have the ball in his hands less with this team, but his three-point shooting is a great fit with so many offensive initiators around him. Brockington’s rebounding, which ranks second in the conference with almost eight per game, would be a welcome addition. His constant pursuit of missed shots is tremendous in slowing down the opposition’s second chance opportunities and can create transition chances. With a semi-small lineup, a great rebounder is essential.
Adam Flagler, Baylor Bears
A great all-around player for Baylor, Flagler brings scoring, a reliable outside shot, defense, and hustle. He would complement the backup guards nicely and could occasionally handle the ball.
Power Forward: Kendall Brown, Baylor Bears
This was a tough choice between the offense of Christian Braun or the defensive versatility of Brown. With so many other offensive options, Brown’s defense is too useful to pass up. His 6’8 size, paired with unique athleticism allows him to guard every position. The five-star recruit has great speed for his frame, and can outrun bigger forwards in transition, or punish small forwards in the halfcourt. With one of the highest field goal percentages in the conference, Brown doesn’t need to take many shots, and is extremely efficient near the rim. He would be a perfect pick and roll partner for any of the guards. The freshman also has enough of a three-point shot that he can’t be left ignored from deep.
Christian Braun, Kansas Jayhawks
Braun has one of the best scoring rates in the conference, but his dip in three-point percentage limits his usefulness in the starting five. With so many other players that are roughly the same size, he doesn’t provide enough defense against bigger forwards.
Center: Bryson Williams, Texas Tech Red Raiders
Williams, a 6’8, 240-pound senior, provides great size under the basket. He isn’t the best defender, but his 13.5 points per game and 46% from deep can’t be left of this starting unit. With Brown capable of taking the other team’s premier big, Williams provides an extra scoring spark. He can space the floor, which can leave Brown space to operate near the basket. Williams can be a useful chess piece on offense because of his shooting and would be great in pick-and-pop or pick-and-roll plays.
Moussa Cisse, Oklahoma State
The team has plenty of scoring and shooting but lacks a player that sparks fear when opponents come driving to the rim. Luckily, Cisse is one of the top shot blockers in the country, blocking 1.7 shots per game. His imposing 6’10 frame forces teams to reevaluate their offensive plan of attack, while his strong rebounding is an added bonus.