Climb Any Mountain

Player of the Week

Juwan Staten - West Virginia

Juwan StatenJuwan StatenPerhaps one of the most nationally heralded point guards in the country entering this season, Juwan Staten hadn’t really matched his lofty numbers from last season early into the 2014-15 campaign. Partially because he’s playing 7 minutes less per contest, and also partially because the Mountaineers have lifted a lot of the scoring burden off of Staten by implementing an offensive strategy that does a better job of spreading the ball around. Still, Juwan Staten is still the Juwan Staten of last year, and he was sure to remind us of that this past week.

Taking on NC State, the Mountaineers’ floor leader exploded for 24 points, 3 rebounds, and 6 assists. Just a few days later against the Terriers of Wofford, Staten recorded his first double double of the year in a 17 point 10 rebound, 4 assist outing as #18 West Virginia improved to 11-1 on the season. Currently sitting on the Wooden Watch list, Juwan averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5 assists this past week and gave a firm reminder that he hadn’t lost a step since last season.

Who’s Hot

Kelly Oubre - Kansas

One of the most hyped prospects coming into the Big 12 this year is Kansas’ Swingman, Kelly Oubre. Blessed with tremendous athletic ability and a smooth left handed jumper, many predicted the 6’7’’ frosh to start out of the gate, but after early season adjustments Oubre has finally played his way into the Jayhawks starting five. His true coming out party was in a lopsided victory against Lafayette. Kelly went off for 23 points in 25 minutes on a super efficient 9-15 shooting and chipped in 10 rebounds in order to record his first career double double. In a blowout on the road against Temple, Oubre was one of Kansas’ few bright spots as he notched 9 points on 7 rebounds and showed more fire than most of the uninspired Jayhawks. On the week the springy wingman averaged 16 points per game on 56% shooting from the field, and pulled 8.5 rebounds per contest. With Kansas looking to adjust after a big loss before conference play, having Kelly Oubre raising his level of play as of late is a good thing for Bill Self.

Rico Gathers - Baylor

There’s really never been much question as to what Rico Gather’s on court forte has been since he put on a Baylor uniform. Rebounding. Finally in a more featured role, as a junior, Gathers has been keeping his insane pace on the glass and currently leading the Big 12 in total rebounds per game (10.5), offensive rebounds per game (4.9), and his 15.3 rebounds per 40 minutes only trail seldom used Oklahoma State center, Anthony Allen. This past week in wins against Southern and New Mexico State, the Bear’s burly power forward averaged 11.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals in only 28.5 minutes of play as Baylor improved to 10-1 on the season. Rico has the physique of an NFL defensive end, and his bully style presence hauling in misses makes him a formidable matchup despite measuring in at just 6’8’’ in shoes. With just one more warmup before Baylor opens up conference play against Oklahoma January 3rd, Rico’s fervent rebounding momentum is picking up at the right time as he prepares to matchup against last year’s Big 12 rebounding leader, Ryan Spangler.

TCU

Yep, that’s right, TCU as a team is on the hot list, and it’s hard to argue. The team that won zero, yes zero conference games last season is currently ranked 25th in the AP top 25 poll after running off 12 straight wins to start the season. The Horned Frogs haven’t exactly matched up against a formidable schedule, but they topped other major conference schools, Ole Miss, Mississippi St, and Washington State, as well as running over a number of smaller conference schools with relative ease. Trent Johnson’s club has experience, depth and size, and although they will most certainly have their hands full when the Horned Frogs enter Big 12 play, I’ve gotta give the Horned Frogs their due for being unbeaten into late December.

Who’s Not

Perry Ellis - Kansas

After enduring a very up and down start to his junior season, Perry Ellis is in the midst of a week long slump. In his past 2 contests the 6’8’’ combo forward has put up just 4.5 points per game on 3-16 shooting from the field, which includes an embarrassing 1-10 showing as the Temple Owls blew Ellis and KU. Sometimes looking very poised, under control, and others coming off as passive and unable to finish over length, Perry will need to regain some confidence if he hopes to lead his team to the type of conference season the Jayhawks are accustomed to having.

Top 5 Most Improved Players

1. LeBryan Nash - Oklahoma State

Le’Bryan Nash isn’t an unfamiliar name for those of us who’ve been following high school, and college basketball for the past few years. The senior swingman came into Stillwater a hyped recruit, produced at a pretty solid level right out of the gate, and made steady, but marginal improvements over his first three years. In an era when many top guys bolt for the pros, whether their ready or not, the Cowboy’s 6’7’’ swingman has really upped his game in his final collegiate season. A strong, athletic specimen, Le’Bryan has made a reputation for himself as a tough defender, and a solid 3rd offensive option, but as a senior he’s shown remarkable poise as Oklahoma State’s primary scorer, and as a result is leading the Big 12 in points per game. The most noticeable improvement is his offensive patience, and knowledge of his strengths and limitations. A player with a solid mid-range game, he doesn’t force 3’s but has 18 foot range that keeps defenders honest enough to utilize his quickness off the dribble. He’s also sporting career highs in points (17.6) rebounds (6.7) assists (2.0) and steals (.9). Still a borderline prospect with 2nd round potential, Nash has certainly helped his cause as a senior.

2. Nino Williams - Kansas State

Another example of a late bloomer, would be K-State redshirt senior, Nino Williams. A do all, glue guy, and recipient of a Joel Embiid elbow or two, the 6’5’’ swingman has emerged as the Wildcat’s 2nd leading scorer on very efficient shooting percentages for a small forward. Nino’s 13.2 points per game come by way of 56% shooting from the field 50% shooting from downtown ( he’s 1-2, but I’ll let it slide) and 76% shooting from the charity stripe. Averaging 16 points per game in the month of December, Williams season scoring average of 13.2 points per game more than doubles is pace as a redshirt junior (6.8), and places his 8th overall and one spot behind teammate Marcus Foster on the Big 12’s scoring list

3. Monte Morris - Iowa State

Iowa State floor general, Monte Morris has fully embraced a more prominent role for the Cyclones with former teammate, DeAndre Kane, suiting up in Belgium. Morris’ incredible care with the basketball has given him a cult following amongst stat heads, analysts, and coaches around the country. It’s not just his out of this world 6.22 assist to turnover ratio ( up from his 4.78 mark from last season) that places him on my list of most improved players, but his scoring his up to 11.3 points per game on a shade of 50% shooting from the field. His 1.7 steals per game also rank him 5th in the Big 12, and he paces the conference in assists per game (5.6). Morris is struggling a bit with his long range game this season, but in his sophomore year, and first season as more than a facilitator, Monte Morris’ improvement as an overall player is as noticeable as how little he turns the ball over.

4. Frank Mason III - Kansas

Coming into Kansas as a jitterbug combo guard style slasher, and tough on ball defender with virtually no outside shot it’s pretty remarkable how much Frank Mason III has upped his game during the course of just one off season. Mason has more than doubled his minutes, points, rebounds, and steals per game numbers from last year, but his most noticeable improvement comes from his long range accuracy. The 5’11’’ spark plug is shooting 55% from 3 point range, which is a far cry from the ho hum 33% mark he showcased during his freshman season. Still fearless, and still a little out of control at times, Frank is averaging 11.7 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game, and 3.9 assists per game which places him in the company of Georges Niang, and Monte Morris as the only players in the Big 12 currently averaging 10+ points per game, 3.5+ assists per game, and 3.5+ rebounds per game.

5. Isaiah Cousins - Oklahoma

From a numbers standpoint, you may look at Isaiah Cousins and think he doesn’t look all that improved as a Junior. Then take a closer look and even though it’s just by a few percentage points her and there, he’s sporting career highs in points per game (13.2) rebounds per game (6.2) assists per game (2.2) field goal percentage (49%) and three point percentage (44%). It’s not just the stats that sets Cousins as a mention on the most improved list, but his infectious energy and do it all style of play. When the Sooners need an extra distributor, someone to hit the glass, or a guy to take on an opposing team’s best offensive player, it’s often Isaiah stepping up and doing the dirty work to help his team. As Oklahoma’s premiere perimeter defender, and glue guy, the 6’4’’ Junior is one of the most versatile and most important pieces in Lon Kruger’s well balanced Sooners squad.

Follow David Ray on Twitter @DR_NBADraft

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