Back in the Groove

Player of the Week

Marcus Foster - Kansas State

Marcus FosterMarcus FosterWith Kansas State riding a three game losing streak, Marcus Foster and the Wildcats were in desperate need of a change in momentum if there was any hope to salvage a post season birth. Last week Foster stepped up to the plate, and his 23 points lead the Wildcats past TCU at home. Building on his earlier output, the 6’2’’ combo guard then hit the winning three point shot in overtime after hitting the tying floater that took the game into extra minutes as Kansas State upset Oklahoma in Norman.

His late game heroics and steady dose of scoring is just what K-State needed as they now sit at 2-1 in the Big 12, and have a quality road win against a top 20 team. In the TCU game alone, he topped his scoring total from the Wildcats’ last three losses combined. Marcus’ weekly averages were 18.5 points per game on 50% shooting from the field, 56% shooting from long range, and 83% from the foul line. More importantly, he seems to have gained back the confidence that made him such an electrifying presence when he burst on to the scene as a freshman. K-State needs 11 more Big 12 wins to reach the 20 win mark that seems to be a cutoff when the brackets are being created. With Marcus Foster back to his fearless self, the rest of the conference better be on high alert.

Who’s Hot

Jameel McKay - Iowa State

A player with a weekly average of 5.5 points per game, and 6.5 rebounds per game might not strike you as someone who should be mentioned among the best weekly players of the Big 12, but it’s what Marquette transfer, Jameel McKay brings to Iowa State that makes him an impact player. Fred Hoiberg’s run and gun squads of the past have always been a little light on rim protectors, and since becoming eligible Decemeber 20th, McKay has been a real difference maker for the Cyclones. Providing constant energy, an efficient shot selection and interior defense, McKay was huge in wins over Oklahoma State and West Virginia. The 6’9’’ forward averaged 3.5 blocks this past week, including an emphatic 5 swat performance in only 18 minutes against the Mountaineers. Last season during conference play, Iowa State was often bullied by the larger teams in the paint, but early into the 2014-15 conference season, Jameel McKay is showing that points down low aren’t going to come nearly as easily this season.

Phil Forte III - Oklahoma State

When the best all-around shooter in the Big 12 gets going, it’s something to see, and that’s exactly what Phil Forte III has showcased this past week as he’s provided an intense scoring punch to compliment the defensive minded Cowboys. Currently leading the conference in scoring, Forte averaged 20.5 points per game this past week including a 20 point outburst in an upset victory over Texas. The pint sized combo has been hitting shots at staggering clips this past week, and even dating back to the beginning of 2015. Forte has shot 61% from the field and 52% from deep in 3 Big 12 games. Despite being under 6 feet tall, Phil’s strong frame and lightning quick reflexes also rank him first in the conference in steals (2.6 per game). Since the formation of the conference, no player has lead the league in both scoring and steals, and although Forte’s lead may be slim atop the top scorers, he’s currently on pace for a historic season in the Big 12.

Who’s Not

Isaiah Taylor – Texas

Since returning from a wrist injury that cost him 10 games this season, Isaiah Taylor has really struggled to regain the momentum he had coming into this season. In his past three games, two being losses to both Oklahoma schools, Taylor has just mustered just 25% shooting from the field, and turned the ball over 10 times while dishing out just 10 assists. Still an active defender, and a player who can impact the game in other ways, Taylor playing at a higher level will be necessary for Texas to stop this current two game losing streak. Unfortunately, a lot of this slump has to do with something out of his control, his healing wrist, but hopefully a week long break before Texas takes on West Virginia on Saturday can aid in the healing process.

Top 5 Junior Prospects

1. Buddy Hield – Oklahoma

Hield has established himself as one of the top players in the Big 12 over the past year and a half, and his long range shooting ability, length, strong frame, and athleticism are all traits that will aid in his transition to the next level. Already with 47 three pointers, and 6 games in which he’s surpassed 20 points, the OU swingman is a serious threat from downtown and his range extends past the NBA line.

At 6’4.5’’ tall, he’s a little undersized, but his long wingspan and powerful build make this an issue not worth focusing on too heavily. A late first round possibility, Buddy’s ability to play both sides of the ball and catch fire from beyond the arc are his main appeal right now. He’s also physically mature enough and polished enough to play a role out of the gate, the size of which depends on the quality of team that drafts him.

2. Isaiah Cousins – Oklahoma

A player who has really helped his stock this year is Hield’s teammate Isaiah Cousins. Isaiah has emerged as Lon Kruger’s defensive ace, and both deadly in transition as well as from long range (.456%). A very good rebounder for his size, and a surprisingly adept distributor for a defense first player, Cousins’ basketball IQ is another trait that give him NBA appeal.

A strong rebounder for his size, Cousins, at 6’4’’ 190 pounds, is an adequate sized shooting guard, but he lacks some of the strength as bulk his teammate Hield can offer. Still, Cousins is proving himself to be a very solid all-around guard. A player who will most likely come back for his senior season, Isaiah could be poised for a breakout year if teammate, and fellow Junior Buddy Hield jumps to the NBA.

3. Taurean Prince – Baylor

It’s not often a 6’7’’ swing man who plays lock down defense, leads his team in scoring, and shoots a shade under 50% from three point range on a top 25 team flies under the radar, but I feel that is exactly what has happed with Baylor wing, Taurean Prince.

Although he primarily plays in Baylor’s 1,1,3 zone, Prince has the size, physical tools, and smarts to guard both the shooting guard and small forward spots at the next level. A very good spot up shooter, he also projects to have floor spreading ability and the range to hit the increasingly popular corner 3 pointer. Most likely a 2016 pick, he still needs work on his free throw, and mid-range games, but Prince has a definite role at the next level as a 3 and D player. Another year of improvement could land him a spot in the early 2nd round in next year’s draft.

4. Georges Niang – Iowa State

An incredibly productive and high level NCAA player that will fight the tweener label is Iowa State forward Georges Niang. An incredible passer, crafty ball handler and smart player with a nice shooting stroke, and some pick and pop appeal, Niang does just about everything you’d want a college player to do on the court.

Since arriving in Ames, he’s improved his perimeter game tremendously, and it is this evolution, and his newfound fitness regime that has propelled him ahead of fellow tweener Perry Ellis. Still a below average athlete and severely undersized for an NBA power forward, Niang’s ability to create for others (3.6 apg) and his smarts in the high post and on the wing could give him some appeal in the late 2nd round for the right system. This decision will most likely be made after his senior year, but skilled and smart players often find their way on to NBA rosters, whether they’re drafted or not.

5. Perry Ellis – Kansas

A player once looked at as a possibility in the late 1st round, Perry Ellis has more or less been exposed as an undersized power forward still trying to adjust his perimeter sills to be effective on the perimeter. A player with a vast array of post moves, and a nice mid-range game, Ellis is also a solid rebounder, but really struggles when matched up against larger players.

A player who’s a solid athlete at around 6’8’’, Perry’s inability to finish over length, and inconsistency has dropped his NBA appeal a bit this season. Still, he’s a high character individual with an intriguing set of tools. If he were able to gain reps and improve his range and three point shot, as well as his ball handling he could have some appeal at the end of the 2nd round after his senior season.

Follow David Ray on Twitter @DR_NBADraft