Inside Man

Player of the Week

Cliff Alexander - Kansas

Cliff AlexanderCliff AlexanderAfter a slow start, KU has slowly risen to the top of the Big 12 ranks and is hitting the mid-season stride of a team capable of capturing it’s 11th straight conference crown. Improvements on the defensive end, spreading the ball around, and cutting down on mistakes is a huge part of the Jayhawks’ recent winning streak, but another part of this success stands about 6’9’’ and weighs in at 255 pounds. Chicago freshman, Cliff Alexander, has been a real interior force for Kansas and has provided much improved minutes off the bench for KU.

Alexander has hauled in misses at a jaw dropping rate, in part due to his 7’3’’ wingspan and hands that seem to rival vice grips as he often grabs loose balls with his fingertips or with only one hand. Saturday versus Texas, Cliff went off for 15 points, and 9 rebounds less than a week after tallying a 13 point 13 rebound double double versus Oklahoma. Even against the size of Texas, Alexander kept going at the massive Longhorns even if he had gotten blocked the time before. This relentless effort eventually wore down Texas, shredded the Longhorns’ zone with dunk after dunk, and fouled out fellow freshman, Myles Turner. In a reserve role, Alexander has averaged 14 points, 11 rebounds, 2.5 assists and a block in the two games since Kansas lost to Iowa State on the road. Cliff has had some moments this season, but nothing to this date has rivaled the production and impact he had this past week.

Who’s Hot

Rico Gathers - Baylor

Let me start this off by saying it’s not often in the heart of the Big 12 season, a team opts to take a night off and play Huston-Tillotson at home. A game in which Scott Drew rested Seniors, Kenny Chery, and Royce O’Neale. Still, Rico Gathers put up a rebounding number so high it broke Baylor’s team record, which was set a few days short of 60 years ago. twenty eight, yes twenty eight times Rico Gathers hauled in a miss last Wednesday, and 11 of them were offensive. Not to be completely one sided, the 6’8’’ Junior also chipped in 25 points, which gave him his first 20/20 game of his career after missing the mark by just 3 points and 2 rebounds earlier in the month against TCU. Yes, the Ram’s of Huston Tillotson’s tallest player was 6’8’’, and sure this is hardly the caliber of team anyone else in the Big 12 was playing this past week, but twenty eight rebounds. twenty eight rebounds.

DeVaugntah Williams - Texas Tech

With Texas Tech sitting without a win in the Big 12 season, and DeVaugntah Williams coming off his worst game of the year, the prognosis going into Saturday’s Texas Tech versus Iowa State game wasn’t looking good for the Red Raiders. Iowa State was ranked 9th in the country, and TTU hadn’t beaten a top 10 team since DeVaugntah was 15 years old. Now a Junior in college, Williams took matters into his own hands. The junior college transfer exploded for a career high 22 points, which included a 3-6 performance from downtown, 6 rebounds and 2 assists. With the Cyclones closing in during the final minutes, DeVaugntah hit the final two free throws with 5 seconds left to cement the final score at 78-73. The Junior from Missouri-West Plains picked a good time to have his best game as a D1 athlete, and Texas Tech’s victory sent shockwaves throughout the Big 12 standings.

Who’s Not

TaShawn Thomas - Oklahoma

After starting the Big 12 season off 2-0, the Oklahoma Sooners have hit a cold streak. Losing four of their last five games, the Sooners’ TaShawn Thomas has also found himself in a bit of a slump as well. This past week, the 6’8’’ Senior has gone just 5-19 in two consecutive losses against Kansas and Baylor. Normally a force on the glass, Thomas has just averaged 4 rebounds per game during this stretch as well. Now sitting at 8th in the Big 12 standings, OU needs a serious jolt to get back on track. A real force in a dominant win against Texas, Thomas has the talent to change games, and their versatile power forward may be the guy to get them back in the winning column.

Top 5 games left in the Big 12 Season

1. Feb 2nd - Iowa State vs Kansas

Since Fred Hoiberg has taken over in Ames, Kansas and Iowa State have started to develop a pretty hearty rivalry. Over the past few years the two teams have had some pretty memorable games. Ben McLemore’s banked three pointer, George Niang’s 25 point outburst in the Big 12 Tourney last year, and the list goes further than I care to elaborate. This season the Cyclones and Jayhawks are ranked 1st and 2nd in the conference, and there’s a lot on the line as Kansas hopes to even the season series, and Iowa State aims for the regular season streak.

2. Jan 31st - Kansas State vs Kansas

Speaking of rivalries and top teams in the conference, Kansas State comes into Allen Fieldhouse this weekend, and Kansas State has really hit their stride after a rocky non-conference schedule. The Wildcats have already toppled Oklahoma, Baylor and Oklahoma State since the Big 12 season kicked off, and a win in Lawrence would be a huge win for their growing tournament resume. Kansas is also clicking, and don’t want to lose any ground in the conference standings. The two Kansas teams, both hitting their stride only two days after Kansas Day, yes I know when Kansas Day is, will certainly have Allen Fieldhouse rocking, and the stakes this year for both teams are quite high.

3. Feb 17th - Texas vs Oklahoma

A couple of conference heavyweights who have hit a bit of an early season skid face off in mid February, and Texas is looking for revenge after a routing at the hands of the Sooners early into 2015. Both teams are chalked full of talent, and have the capability to beat anyone in the Big 12, but as of now a couple of 3-4 conference records are the reality for the Sooners and Longhorns. With such a drubbing in the first game, Texas is going to be looking for revenge, and the game could have a major effect on how the conference standings shape up when all is said and done.

4. Feb 7th - Baylor vs West Virginia

Two surging teams in the middle of the conference with drastically contrasting styles meet up in early February for the first time this season. The Bears run a strange, but effective 1,3,1,1 zone, and the Mountaineers’ press heavy, 40 minutes of hell is nearly the exact opposite of falling back into a half court zone. Currently, the two teams only have one game separating them in the Big 12 standings, and both teams are looking to rack up wins against ranked teams to cement a bracket slot in the NCAA tournament. The first of two meetings, this game will be an interesting contrast of styles, as well as the potential to paint a clearer picture of a currently muddy middle of the conference.

5. Mar 7th -Oklahoma State vs West Virginia

The last game of the Big 12 season for both teams, this could be the moment that could lock OSU in the NCAA tournament. The Cowboys have put together 13 wins to only 6 losses, but only 1 victory has come against a ranked team. Sitting at 3-4 in the conference, Oklahoma State has a few chances to topple teams sitting in the top 25, but the last game of the regular season facing a team who’s been in the top 25 since November could have serious implications for the Cowboys. For West Virginia it could mean the difference between a better tournament seed. It also just happens to be Senior night, and super senior Juwan Staten’s last collegiate game in Morgantown.

Follow David Ray on Twitter @DR_NBADraft

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