Another season of Big 12 basketball has nearly come and gone, and once again, the Kansas Jayhawks are league champions. It was called the best conference in college basketball, perhaps one of the deepest leagues in the history of the sport, and a wild season certainly didn’t disappoint.
Preseason projections on KenPom (see table below) gave the Jayhawks the fourth-best odds to win the conference. This was based on 10,000 simulations using his computerized rankings. KenPom’s projections tabbed Kansas with an 10-8 finish, and while the advantages of Bill Self and Allen Fieldhouse cannot be calculated into a computer, the point is made clear – the Jayhawks were no lock to win an 11th straight conference crown.
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Of course, the Jayhawks then proceeded to win the conference.
Kansas won the league outright; that’s not debatable. Instead, the interesting conversation is who will be the recipients of the many league awards? There may only be five spots on the All Big 12 First Team, but you could make a case for nearly a dozen players. When a league is as stacked as the Big 12 is this year, people aren’t always going to agree when it comes to end-of-season awards. Rock Chalk Blog took a crack at it, and here’s what we came up with:
All Big 12 First Team: Perry Ellis, Kansas; Rico Gathers, Baylor; Buddy Hield, Oklahoma; Frank Mason, Kansas; Georges Niang, Iowa State
All Big 12 Second Team: Kenny Chery, Baylor; Phil Forte, Oklahoma State; Monte Morris, Iowa State; Le’Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State; Juwan Staten, West Virginia
Player of the Year: Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Other contenders: Perry Ellis, Kansas; Georges Niang, Iowa State
It was really between Hield and KU’s Perry Ellis for the award, but the Oklahoma guard gets the nod here simply because of his outstanding statistics. Through 17 conference games, the junior Hield is averaging 18.5 points, which leads the league by two full points per game. He’s scored at least 12 points in every conference game besides one, and he also has topped the 20-point mark a league-best eight times. His 45% field goal rate is 9th among Big 12 players, and he also ranks 7th in free throw percentage, 6th in steals, and 9th in three-point percentage. If you’re going purely on statistics, Hield is undeniably the favorite to bring home the award.
Of course, the argument for Perry Ellis is that he’s the best player on the best team. Last year, Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim narrowly beat out KU’s Andrew Wiggins for the Player of the Year Award, and it angered numerous fans simply due in part to it not being given to the best player on the best team. Ejim’s stats were slightly better (18.3 points vs. 17.6; 8.3 rebounds vs. 6.2), but the argument was that without Wiggins, Kansas doesn’t come close to winning the league. Ultimately, because this award is for “Player of the Year” and not the “Most Valuable Player,” Hield takes home the crown.
Defensive Player of the Year: Rico Gathers, Baylor
Other contenders: Myles Turner, Texas; Anthony Hickey, Oklahoma State
The Defensive Player of the Year award is one of the most controversial prizes every year, simply because of confusion as to how exactly the criteria should be measured. Kansas centers Jeff Withey and Joel Embiid have brought home the award in each of the last two years simply because of their league-leading shot blocking numbers, but should that necessarily warrant “Defensive Player of the Year” honors? Should this award be given to the best shot blocker, the best on-ball defender, or the best steals-generator in the conference? In other years, this would be a fair debate, but this season, it doesn’t matter.
Rico Gathers’ rebounding numbers are historic in league play, as he averages a whopping 11.8 boards per game – three more than any other player in the conference. While no other player averages more than 2.8 offensive rebounds per game, Gathers changes the game with his unreal 4.8 offensive boards mark. He also contributes 1.1 blocks per game, good for 11th in the league. Baylor boasts the top scoring defense and the top team rebounding rate in the Big 12, and Gathers’ dominating presence is the biggest reason why.
Freshman of the Year: Kelly Oubre Jr., Kansas
Other contenders: Myles Turner, Texas
This award was expected to be a three-horse race between Oubre, fellow Kansas teammate Cliff Alexander, and Texas freshman phenom Myles Turner. Ultimately, Oubre has been the only one who has exceeded expectations. After sputtering out of the gate (he played single-digit minutes in five of his first seven games), Oubre has come alive as the freshman’s top conference in league play. Through 17 Big 12 games, he’s scoring upwards of 10 points per game, and his physical tools also help him contribute nearly six rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. He seems to have a good chance to go in the 2015 NBA Lottery, and his emergence in conference play is the biggest reason why.
Coach of the Year: Bill Self, Kansas
Other contenders: Bob Huggins, West Virginia; Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
On December 22, just 16 days before conference season was due to begin, Self’s Jayhawks were trounced by 25 points in a stunning road loss at Temple. The yearly doubts came out about if Kansas would be able to win the Big 12, and as he always has, Self answered the skeptics with a resounding response.
The 2014-15 Jayhawks have been called the “worst” team in the Bill Self era, and while that may be a bit unfair, they definitely have some glaring holes. Kansas has no true rim-protector, they’re maddeningly inconsistent, and their two-point shooting percentage is as low as it’s ever been under Self. Additionally, there had never been a league as deep and loaded from top-to-bottom as the 2015 Big 12 conference. The ingredients appeared to be in place to end the Jayhawks’ run, but Self led his team to an 11th straight league title, and his seventh outright conference crown overall. If Self doesn’t win the award this year, they need to just deem him ineligible for the trophy because they’re tired of him winning it every season.
Best Game: #9 Kansas 76, #20 West Virginia 69, overtime, March 3
Other contenders: January 19 – Kansas 85, Oklahoma 78; March 2 – Iowa State 77, Oklahoma 70; January 24 – West Virginia 86, TCU 85
24 hours after Iowa State put together a 21-point comeback over Oklahoma to clinch a share of the conference crown for Kansas, the Jayhawks overcame an enormous deficit of their own to clinch the league outright. KU trailed West Virginia by 18 late in the first half, and with just 1:55 left, the Mountaineers led by eight. It appeared that Kansas would lose for the first time all season at home, and as a result, make the final day of the regular season a lot more interesting for the title race. Behind gritty play from Frank Mason and Jamari Traylor, as well as some Allen Fieldhouse magic, the Jayhawks rallied to win the game in overtime. Kansas secured the 2015 Big 12 conference title outright, clinching a perfect home season in the process.
Best Individual Performance: Rico Gathers 25 points, 28 rebounds vs. Huston-Tillotson, January 21
Other contenders: Perry Ellis 28 points, 13 rebounds vs. Texas; Buddy Hield 27 points (10-10 FG) vs. Oklahoma State
It wasn’t against a Big 12 team, but it still technically came in the Big 12 portion of Baylor’s schedule. Honestly, does it matter? Gathers set a Big 12 record with 28 rebounds in one game, and in case that wasn’t enough, he also poured in 25 points on 9-17 shooting. That’s not only the best performance in the Big 12 this season, but maybe the best the league has seen in the last several years.
Worst Officiating Blunder: Juwan Staten’s walk-off travel sinks Kansas, February 16
It hasn’t been a good year for Big 12 officials (or refs in general), but missing a four-step travel in the waining moments of a one-point game tops the list. Both Kansas-West Virginia games were horrifically officiated, actually. All season long, head-scratching technical fouls and ongoing screw ups of the charge/block call have left fans whining for adjustments to be made to how games are officiated.
Best Dunk: Cliff Alexander’s jam against Oklahoma State, January 13
Not only did Cliff Alexander’s one-handed slam against Oklahoma State ignite Allen Fieldhouse, it was arguably the dunk of the year in all of college basketball.
Scott Drew Boob of the Year: Rick Barnes, Texas
Other contenders: How can there be any others?
Texas was picked to win the Big 12 because it returned everybody from a successful team (plus the commitment of a top-three recruit) and featured the 2014 Big 12 Coach of the Year. It sits in 7th place on the eve of the final day of the regular season, and is in true danger of missing the NCAA Tournament. 2011 Frank Martin and 2014 Travis Ford are like, “good job, buddy.”
Bonus for Inside the Paint listeners:
Worst Daniel Prediction of the Year: “Perry Ellis will not make All Big 12 First Team.”
Other contenders: Too many to list.
Not only did the co-host of the Inside the Paint podcast say this, but he also said that two Jayhawks would make the team, and neither one of them would be Perry Ellis! As a result, Daniel will have to run nearly a mile in only boxers next week to honor his lost bet.