Picking the Big 12 Player of the Year has never been more difficult. It seems like every team has a worthy candidate, from Juwan Staten and Eron Harris of West Virginia, to DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim of Iowa State. Add in Joel Embiid, Marcus Foster, Ryan Spangler, Marcus Smart, Markel Brown, and Cameron Ridley and you certainly have a ton of candidates for that top spot. However, I think that there is another name that deserves to be up there: Andrew Wiggins.
After his most recent game, Andrew Wiggins is averaging nearly 17 points per game, along with 5.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 1.0 steals per game, while shooting over 44% from the floor, but his ability to take over a game is unmatched in the Big 12. Against West Virginia, Andrew Wiggins had 41 points (on 18 field goal attempts), 8 rebounds, 5 steals, and 4 blocks. This was the first time a player had scored 40 points with 5 steals and 4 blocks in over 15 years (according to ESPN). The crazy thing is that this wasn’t even the first time Wiggins had put up videogame-like numbers. Against Iowa State, Wiggins went for 17 points and 19 rebounds, and he put up 27 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists against TCU. Oh, and the game after that? Wiggins scored 29 points on 16 shots, grabbing 7 rebounds as well. All these numbers are nice, but what makes Wiggins the Player of the Year? Well there are a couple of things…
1. Best of the Best
This year Kansas was by far the best team in the Big 12, finishing with two fewer losses than any other team in conference play, on their way to a tenth consecutive title. It isn’t outrageous to suggest that the Player of the Year should go to the best player on the best team. If you took Andrew Wiggins off of Kansas, I don’t think they would’ve won the title this year, and I don’t think they would’ve finished the Big 12 with fewer than 8 losses. Yes, the Big 12 is that good. Wiggins had some of his biggest performances against top competition (especially against Iowa State), and when Wiggins struggled the team really seemed to falter.
2. Dominance on Both Ends
Everyone knows what Wiggins can do on the offensive end of the court. Wiggins can dunk from just about anywhere inside the three-point line, and he has the ability to knock down three or four three-pointers in succession. However, Wiggins may be the most underrated defender in the nation. Wiggins uses his length to bother even the most focused of shooters, and his athleticism allows him to make up for the occasional error, but Wiggins doesn’t get enough credit for how he locks up guys. How about an example?
Marcus Foster (of Kansas State) had been on fire, scoring 10+ points in 13 of his 14 last games, coming in to the first KU-KSU meeting. In his last three games Foster was averaging 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists , as he had led the Wildcats to some impressive wins, including one over Oklahoma State…
Enter Andrew Wiggins…
Wiggins held Foster to just 7 points on 3/12 shooting (0/3 from three point range), while Wiggins scored 22 points himself. This was Foster’s worst shooting performance of the year, and it also marked the second fewest number of points he’d scored in a game all season. Wiggins’ performance on both sides of the ball led to a big victory for the Jayhawks, who were on top of the league. They never looked back.
All year Wiggins has been asked to shoulder much of the load on offense, while having to lock down the other team’s best player. Sometimes I get the feeling that people don’t realize how hard it is to compete on both ends of the floor, so let me give you another example. Brady Morningstar was a fantastic three-point shooter, who had managed to make at least 42% of his three-point attempts in each of his first two seasons. However, as Morningstar developed into more of a lock down defender, he really struggled to get his shot to fall. Morningstar made just 39.6% of his threes during his junior year, and averaged fewer points per game despite playing a bigger role on the team. Andrew Wiggins certainly saw a dip in offensive production due to the energy he expended on defense, but this is really something that should be celebrated, and it certainly shouldn’t be counted against him.
There is one other point to be made, in that every award winner really has a moment where their greatness in on display; I’d compare it to a “Heisman moment.” LeBron James had his block on Tiago Splitter and the dagger in the NBA Finals against the Spurs; Johnny Manziel had the game winning drive against Alabama when he won the Hesiman; Trey Burke had his shot against Kansas, but enough about that one. I believe Andrew Wiggins had his “Naismith Moment” against West Virginia, when he drained a three pointer and proceeded to steal the inbounds pass and dunk the ball with authority. That ten-second sequence really summed up the impact of Wiggins, offensively, defensively, and in transition. You really can’t stop him.
Obviously there are many great candidates for the Player in the Year in the Big 12, but one player has really shown himself to be more complete than any other. If you look at the impact that each player has had on every game they’ve played in, there’s really only one choice: