With three games remaining on the schedule for Big 12 basketball teams, the dog days of the winter season are coming to an end.
Will Texas (22-4, 12-1 Big 12) hold on at Colorado, vs. Kansas State and at Baylor? If so, the Longhorns would clinch the Big 12 regular season title, their first since sharing the crown with Kansas in 2007-08.
If UT loses one of its remaining three games this season, Kansas (26-2, 11-2) would have to win out (at Oklahoma, vs. Texas A&M, at Missouri) to claim at least a share of a seventh straight league title.
If KU and UT finish with the same league record, both would win the regular season title. The Big 12 doesn't turn to head-to-head matchups or any sort of tiebreaker.
In a little more than a week, the All-Big 12 team will be announced. If I was voting for my first and second teams today, here's what my ballot would look like:
Guard: Jacob Pullen, Kansas State
Say what you want about Pullen (it took him nearly the entire season to starting playing to his gamebreaking potential) and Kansas State (not performing up to expectations after being picked to win the league; guys quitting the team; post players regressing), but the following facts are indisputable: In Big 12 play, Pullen leads the conference with 21.6 points per game. In his last three games, the Wildcats senior has went off for 30.7 ppg. Kansas State (19-9, 7-6) has won five of its last six games and will likely earn an NCAA Tournament bid.
K-State's big men (Jamar Samuels, Curtis Kelly) continue to struggle putting up consistent scoring totals. Put simply, the stellar play of Pullen is the main reason KSU will likely be dancing in March. Better late than never, I suppose.
Guard: LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor
By Dunn's standards, the senior has struggled this season. His field goal percentage, three-point percentage and rebounding figures are all down. His turnover average is up. That said, Dunn (20.4 ppg) is the only Big 12 player to average at least 20 points this season. Yes, he's occasionally a chucker (his 212 attempted threes are by far the most in the Big 12), but Dunn's 38.7 percentage from distance is decent. If he keeps the Big 12 scoring title, he deserves a first-team nod.
Guard: Alec Burks, Colorado
Only Dunn and Pullen average more points in the Big 12 than Burks (19.2 ppg). The sophomore's 6.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game prove the Grandview, Mo. native can do more than just score. But he's a scorer at heart. Burks is one of the best slashers in the conference. He gets to the foul line more than anyone in the league (202 times) for players with at least 2.5 made free throws per game. He's shooting 84.7 percent from the line, third in the Big 12.
Guard/forward: Jordan Hamilton, Texas
If there's a more improved player than Hamilton in the Big 12 this season, I haven't heard of him. Pick a stat, any stat. It's likely better than Hamilton's freshman season a year ago. Field goal percentage (41 to 45.6), three-point percentage (36.5 to 40.7), free throw percentage (57.8 to 77.1), rebounds per game (3.7 to 7.5), assists per game (1.5 to 2.3), points per game (10 to 18.8). Hamilton's ascension from sixth man as a freshman to one of the best players in the league as a sophomore has Texas in a better spot than anyone could have predicted before the season.
UT's chemistry is considerably better than last year, and Hamilton's shot selection is a contributing factor. He's not taking nearly as many ill-advised shots to simply boost the scoring average. If anything, he took his aggressive shot selection and applied it to defense. Hamilton's 5.61 defensive rebounds per game rank second in the league, a rather impressive feat for a perimeter-oriented player. Texas has also ranked first in the country in kenpom.com's adjusted defensive efficiency ratings for a large portion of the season.
Hamilton is fourth in the Big 12 in scoring and third in rebounding. Hamilton gets my early vote for Big 12 player of the year.
Forward: Marcus Morris, Kansas
The junior may not be at the very top of the Big 12 in scoring (17.1 ppg, sixth in league) or rebounding (6.9 rpg, 12th in league), but his marksmanship from the field is unparalleled. Morris leads the conference in field goal percentage at 60.3. If he took more shots, he could probably lead the league in scoring, but the balance of the KU offense prohibits that from happening.
To put Morris' accuracy into perspective, consider that Iowa State's Diante Garrett, for instance, averages 17.3 points per game, almost identical to Morris' 17.1. Garrett, however, attempts 16.5 shots per game, while Morris only averages 10.5 per game. Imagine the potential scoring average for Morris if he took 16 shots per game.
Here's my second team:
Guard — Diante Garrett, Iowa State: Senior leads conference in assists with six per game; also scores 17.3 points per game.
Guard — Marcus Denmon, Missouri: Seventh in conference with 17.5 points per game; second in Big 12 in steals (1.86 per game); junior is shooting an impressive 44.4 percent from three-point line; could be second-most improved player in league behind UT's Hamilton.
Forward — Perry Jones, Baylor: Freshman averages 14.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg; scoring has improved in Big 12 play, where he's averaging 16.5 ppg; third in Big 12, behind KU's Morris twins, in field goal percentage (56.3).
Forward — Tristan Thompson, Texas: Leads conference in blocked shots (2.25 per game) and offensive rebounds (3.46 per game); freshman scores 12.7 ppg and pulls down 7.5 boards per game; a difference-maker on defensive end; still has some polishing left on offense.
Forward — Markieff Morris, Kansas: Junior leads Big 12 in rebounding at 8.4 per game; he's second in league to his brother Marcus (60.3) in field goal percentage at 60 — no other Big 12 player is above 57 percent.
Would your first or second team look any different? Who's your Big 12 player of the year?
That should be all for now, friends. As always, discuss.