Player of the Week
Mike McGuirl, Kansas State
McGuirl led the Wildcats to the biggest upset in the Big 12 this season, beating No. 7 Oklahoma 62-57. McGuirl scored 19 points, and added seven rebounds, two steals and an assist. He was efficient in the win too, hitting 7-13 shots from the field, and draining 5-9 three-point shots. This was such an impressive win, as Oklahoma had been one of the best teams in the country over the past few weeks. They had gone 8-1 in their last nine, and looked primed to make in 9-1. Yet, McGuirl stopped the Sooners in their tracks, completely taking over the game. What makes it even more shocking is that Kansas State had been struggling mightily in conference play, and lost 13 straight games in conference play before upsetting TCU and Oklahoma in back-to-back games. In the 62-54 win against TCU, McGuirl was lights out again, leading both teams in points and rebounds, and tying with teammate Nijel Pack in assists. He ended the game with 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists, in what was another terrific performance. Pack, the team’s leading scorer, struggled to hit shots in both games. The Wildcats leaned heavily on McGuirl, and the senior leader delivered big time in both of the huge victories.
Even with No.2 Baylor firmly cemented at the top of the conference, there is still so much mystery about the rest of the conference rankings. Four teams are all within a game of each other for second place, and the conference currently has six of their ten teams in the AP top-25. Sprinkle in the fact that even Kansas State has been surging, nearly every game brings both viewing interest and great importance to the conference standings. Baylor, who has been nearly invincible, struggled for huge stretches against bottom-feeder Iowa State, and had to comeback from down 17 points. No matter the game, teams simply cannot rest, especially with March lurking around the corner. With the amount of NBA draft worthy talent, elite coaches, and relatively even teams, it will be an incredibly tense and riveting end to the season. Plus, so many have a realistic shot at winning the national title, and these last few games and the conference tournament could play huge roles in where each team gets seeded.
The Red Raiders have fallen in their last three games, and now find themselves in seventh in the conference. They are 6-7 in conference play, and have quickly plummeted from the top to near the bottom of the standings. To put into context their swift fall, they are closer to 11th place than first, and there are only four games to go. Texas Tech began the season with high hopes, and raised their level of aspiration with some tremendous play earlier in the year. With such a deep and talented conference, no team can take a game off, let alone three. They have not been able to shoot from behind the arc effectively the whole season, but this issue was magnified in each of the last three losses. They went a paltry 15-47 from three over those losses. This is a team that has star power in Mac McClung, other reliable scorers Terrence Shannon Jr. and Kyler Edwards, and quality coaching. Yet, in two of the last three games, three members of the starting five were held to single digits. Head coach, Chris Beard has been willing to be flexible with who plays, especially down the stretch, but they seem to not know who their best starting five is. They are currently a five seed in ESPN’s Bracketology, but that ranking will free fall if they continue to play the way they have been.
Top 5 Defensive Starting Lineup
Point Guard: Davion Mitchell, Baylor
Mitchell is the point guard for one of the best defenses in the country, and a perfect fit for this starting lineup. He is absolutely tenacious, both on and off the ball. He is second in the conference in steals, averaging 2.1 per game. Mitchell is slightly undersized at 6’2, but he has the hustle, energy and strength to be useful guarding any guard and even some small forwards. His elite defensive IQ and athleticism are likely to help him get drafted early in the NBA draft this year. He is the perfect candidate to lead this lethal defense.
Shooting Guard: Jared Butler, Baylor
Mitchell is second to only his backcourt mate in steals, who leads the conference with 2.4 per game. Butler is a disruptive force, capable of locking up the other team’s best guard or small forward. He is stronger than his 6’3, 195-pound frame would suggest, and he uses his immense knowledge of the game to read opposing action very well. Similarly to Mitchell, Butler is a great defender both on and off the ball. Plus, he rarely gets caught out of position, and seems to always be in the right spot to make a huge defensive play.
Small Forward: Marcus Garret, Kansas
The best defender on the Jayhawks, the 6’5 senior has been frustrating opposing offenses for years under Bill Self. He brings versatility, which is a must with so many teams being able to attack from all areas of the court. He has the length to bother smaller players, and the size and quickness to handle forwards. Garrett allows the defense the ability to switch, while also being able to limit higher scoring forwards. In addition, he is fifth in the conference in steals.
Power Forward: Greg Brown, Texas
Listed at 6’9, 205 pounds, Brown has the length and size to defend centers. However, he fits at power forward defensively, thanks to his insane athleticism and quickness for his size. He can suffocate smaller forwards, and is a tremendous shot blocker too, averaging 1.1 blocks per game, which is tied for fourth in the Big 12. Brown is not only a tremendous defender, but is still developing, as he is only a freshman. With his immaculate intangibles, he will continue to transcend into one of the best few defenders in the league. As an extra bonus, he is a strong rebounder, and should help limit second chance opportunities for opposing squads.
Center: Kevin Samuel, TCU
The 6’11 rim protector is the final piece to the best possible defense. Samuel is the best shot blocker in the conference, and the second best rebounder. Those qualities, plus his strong frame allow him to limit other centers. He takes away second chances, and prevents baskets better than anyone else in the conference. He is not the most mobile, but with four other guys committed to preventing baskets, Samuel can focus on protecting the interior.
Sixth Man: Miles McBride, West Virginia
Yes, this is technically cheating on a top-five list. Yet, McBride simply could not be left off of this list. While he may not put up the same numbers as Mitchell and Butler, he is the same quality of defender. He is relentless in disrupting opposing guards, and is third in the conference in steals. He flies around the court, and his 6’2 stature does not prevent him from ruining so many offensive chances. He is also a good rebounder for his size.