During the Big 12’s first 20 years of existence, a point guard emerged as the conference’s Player of the Year just twice. Iowa State’s Jamaal Tinsley took home the honor in 2001, and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart proved worthy of the distinction in 2013.
Four games into the 2018 league schedule, though, back-to-back seasons culminating with a point guard collecting the Big 12’s most coveted individual trophy seems inevitable.
Obviously, Kansas All-American Frank Mason III became the third lead guard to win Big 12 Player of the Year in 2017. The unmistakable front-runners for the prize this season all play point guard, too: Oklahoma’s Trae Young, KU’s Devonte’ Graham, Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans and West Virginia’s Jevon Carter.
The league’s list of influential ball-handling specialists doesn’t end there, either. As No. 12 Kansas (13-3 overall, 3-1 Big 12) navigates its way through conference play, head coach Bill Self anticipates game-planning for and facing a strong point guard every step of the way.
“I’m sure it will end up being 9 for 9,” Self predicted. “Plus our guy, Devonte’. It’s a great guard league.”
The 15th-year Kansas coach wouldn’t go as far as to agree with the notion this current crop of point guards is as good as the conference has seen, but he admitted there seems to be a noticeable shift in which type of players are standing out and taking over.
“We’ve had good guards in our league, it seems like forever, but it seems like the most dominant players have usually been the bigs,” Self said, naming former players of the year Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley and Blake Griffin and referencing former KU big men such as Thomas Robinson, Wayne Simien and Marcus Morris, all of whom won Big 12 Player of the Year, as well. “But it seems the smaller player has been the more dominant player for sure last year and certainly this year, without question, with what Trae’s doing and with what other guards are doing.”
Young, a sensational freshman and likely All-American for Oklahoma, has posted such eye-popping numbers it will be difficult for any other guard in the league to outshine the 6-foot-2 shooting dynamo. Young torched TCU for 39 points in his Big 12 debut and enters this weekend’s rematch with the Horned Frogs, in Norman, Okla., averaging 30.5 points and 9.8 assists in league play.
In his senior season at KU, Graham is scoring (18.1 points per game) and dishing (7.5 assists) more than ever before, while also handling on- and off-court leadership responsibilities with ease. After an uncharacteristic shooting night in a win over Iowa State (4 for 14) earlier this week, Graham didn’t look like he would lose sleep over scoring only 11 points.
“I had nine assists, so I’m still satisfied with the night,” Graham said. “I feel like everybody played pretty well.”
At Texas Tech, Self said senior Evans has proven himself to be one of the premier players in the conference. Evans’ 19.9 points in Big 12 games have keyed the Red Raiders’ 3-1 start.
Surprisingly, West Virginia senior Jevon Carter posted single-digit scoring nights in wins over Kansas State and Baylor, leading to his 10.0 points-per-game average in conference. But the Mountaineers enter Saturday’s game at Texas Tech owners of the Big 12’s only unblemished conference record (4-0), and Carter’s season numbers — 16.1 points, 6.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 steals — serve as a reminder of what he’s capable of over the course of the next couple of months.
Like Carter, Baylor senior Manu Lecomte’s scoring has dipped in league play thus far, but he has averaged 16.5 points overall and knocked down 3.3 3-pointers a game, while shooting 41.5 percent from long range.
Iowa State freshman Lindell Wigginton looks like a point guard who will give the rest of the league fits for years to come. Wigginton, a 6-2 lead guard from Canada, torched Kansas for 27 points on Tuesday by getting to the rim for layups in the first half and nailing three of his four successful 3-pointers in the second half.
TCU sophomore Jaylen Fisher’s 3-point shooting (43.9%) makes him difficult to defend on the perimeter and he’s second among all Big 12 players in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.7), trailing only Kansas senior Graham (2.9).
Kansas State is going to miss the point guard play of junior Kamau Stokes, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury, when the Wildcats (12-4, 2-2) visit Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday. Stokes assisted on 28 percent of K-State’s field goals prior to suffering the injury and buried seven 3-pointers earlier this year against Arizona State.
Even in Stokes’ absence, however, the Wildcats don’t seem to be in awful shape. Redshirt freshman Cartier Diarra replaced him Wednesday and contributed 17 points, four assists, one steal and three turnovers, while going 2 for 3 on 3-pointers in first career start, an 86-82 K-State home win over Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys, though off to a 1-3 start in Big 12 play, have seen graduate transfer Kendall Smith step in this season and make an impact when he scores. Wednesday’s defeat at K-State marked the first time Smith put up double-digit points and OSU lost.
Self thinks highly of Texas true freshman Matt Coleman, predicting the traditional point guard will be great for the Longhorns one day. Coleman already looked more than capable in UT’s double-overtime win over TCU this week, scoring 17 points and distributing a career-best 12 assists on the day the Longhorns announced point guard Andrew Jones has been diagnosed with leukemia.
The man who has coached Kansas to 13 consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles thinks the best teams in the league this season will feature complementary big men, too — not just a great point guard. But it’s clear to Self and everyone else that, at least for now, it’s little man’s conference.
“Our league is so good — you can’t even say from top to bottom. Our league is just so good, period,” Self said of the 2018 race.
Big 12 point guards
Trae Young — Oklahoma freshman
29.2 points, 10.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 4.5 turnovers, 58-for-149 on 3-pointers (38.9%)
Devonte’ Graham — Kansas senior
18.1 points, 7.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals, 2.6 turnovers, 51-for-118 on 3-pointers (43.2%)
Keenan Evans — Texas Tech senior
17.3 points, 3.2 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 1.7 turnovers, 23-for-70 on 3-pointers (32.9%)
Jevon Carter — West Virginia senior
16.1 points, 6.8 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 3.6 steals, 2.8 turnovers, 32-for-81 on 3-pointers (39.5%)
Manu Lecomte — Baylor senior
16.5 points, 3.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 1.9 turnovers, 49-for-118 on 3-pointers (41.5%)
Lindell Wiggington — Iowa State freshman
15.6 points, 2.1 assists, 4.5 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 2.2 turnovers, 29-for-70 on 3-pointers (41.4%)
Jaylen Fisher — TCU sophomore
11.7 points, 5.4 assists, 1.5 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 25-for-57 on 3-pointers (43.9%)
Kamau Stokes (out, foot) — Kansas State junior
13.4 points, 4.6 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.4 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 33-for-79 on 3-pointers (41.8%)
Cartier Diarra — Kansas State redshirt freshman
5.1 points, 1.7 assists, 1.4 rebounds, 0.4 steals, 1.4 turnovers, 13-for-29 on 3-pointers (44.8%) [17 points, 4 assists, 1 steal, 3 turnovers, 2-for-3 on 3-pointers in first career start]
Kendall Smith — Oklahoma State graduate transfer
11.3 points, 3.6 assists, 2.7 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.4 turnovers, 17-for-50 on 3-pointers (34%)
Matt Coleman — Texas freshman
8.7 points, 5.0 assists, 2.9 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 2.0 turnovers, 12-for-52 on 3-pointers (23.1%)
Odds are you vividly remember what happened the last time Kansas and West Virginia squared off. Feb. 16 wasn’t that long ago, after all.
The final seconds, in which the Mountaineers’ Juwan Staten scored a layup on one end of the floor and the Jayhawks’ Perry Ellis missed one on the other end, received a lot of attention. But West Virginia’s ability to dominate the offensive glass and create Kansas turnovers throughout proved even more important for Bob Huggins’ squad.
In a 62-61 WVU win, the Mountaineers scored 15 second-chance points off 22 offensive rebounds. — Again, 22 offensive rebounds. — Plus, Kansas gave the ball away 14 times, and West Virginia capitalized by scoring 17 points off turnovers.
West Virginia thrived by doing what it does best. Now the question is: Can the Mountaineers replicate that at Allen Fieldhouse? Statistics indicate those specific set of skills travel well.
According to TeamRankings.com, WVU leads the nation in opponents’ turnover percentage: 28.2%. In away games, WVU opponents have turned it over on 28% of their possessions.
What’s more, WVU retrieves 38.7% of available offensive rebounds — that ranks 8th in the nation. On the road, the Mountaineers get 37.6%.
The tricky part for the No. 20 Mountaineers (22-7 overall, 10-6 Big 12), though, could be maintaining their typical style, aggressiveness and effectiveness without a key piece or two.
Huggins said Monday starting guards Staten and Gary Browne are “day-to-day” with injuries. Staten hurt his knee against Texas and Browne suffered an ankle sprain against Baylor.
Without both of those guys, beating No. 9 Kansas (23-6, 12-4) might prove impossible. WVU lost by 12 at Baylor without Staten and Browne (played just 3 minutes).
Now, as a refresher, here are the Mountaineers KU has to hold back in the final week of the regular season, as the Jayhawks try to clinch their 11th straight Big 12 championship outright.
No. 3 — Juwan Staten, 6-1, senior G
— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 20 points, 9/18 FGs, 2/3 3s, 4 assists, 0 turnovers, 1 steal in 32 minutes
Will West Virginia’s best player be available at Kansas? We might have to wait until just before Tuesday’s 8 p.m. tip to find out.
If he suits up and is close to 100%, Staten gives WVU its best shot at pulling off an upset. The Big 12’s preseason Player of the Year has scored 20 or more points in three straight games vs. Kansas.
In 14 Big 12 games, Staten has averaged 13.1 points and 5.0 assists, made 10 of 29 3-pointers (34.5%) and hit 40.8% of his field goals overall. He also gets to the foul line with regularity, but has made just 53 of 86 free throws (61.6%).
— hoop-matth.com update: Look for Staten to go one-on-one and take 2-point jump shots. 48.4% of his attempts on the season qualify as such, and while he connects on 41.3% of them, only 10 of his 62 makes have come via a teammate’s assist.
No. 5 — Devin Williams, 6-9, sophomore F
— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 8 points, 4/7 FGs, 4 rebounds (1 offensive), 3 assists, 2 TOs, 1 steal in 26 minutes
In WVU’s first meeting with the Jayhawks, KU actually did a nice job of negating his presence on the offensive glass, but his teammates more than made up for Williams only grabbing 1.
Williams has cleaned the glass well in the Big 12, averaging 8.9 bards to go with his 11.4 points and 46.2% shooting. He averages 2.7 offensive rebounds a game.
The big man gets to the foul line for 4.9 attempts a game in the league, and he shoots 69.9%.
— hoop-math.com update: Given his size and rebounding ability, it’s surprising that Williams only takes 47.1% of his shots at the rim. He gladly takes jumpers from the baseline and elbows. His 34 put-backs on the offensive glass don’t even lead the team.
No. 14 — Gary Browne, 6-1, senior G
— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 6 points, 1/6 FGs, 1/2 3s, 3/4 FTs, 3 rebounds (1 offensive), 2 TOs, 1 steal in 24 minutes
Another starting guard described as “day-to-day,” West Virginia could really use one of its better 3-point shooters at Allen Fieldhouse.
In Big 12 games, Browne has knocked down 16 of 48 3-pointers (33.3%). That’s not outstanding, but he has made the second-most 3s on the team in conference.
Browne averages 8.6 points in the league on 38.9% shooting from the field.
On the season, he has made 26 of 72 from 3-point range.
— hoop-math.com update: More likely to shoot jumpers than attack the rim, Browne makes 35.9% of his 2-point jumpers — the range where 26.4% of his attempts comes from. He doesn’t live there as much as he does downtown, but if you can force him there it is to your benefit.
No. 1 — Jonathan Holton, 6-7, junior F
— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 5 points, 2/3 FGs, 1/2 FTs, 9 rebounds (6 offensive), 1 assist, 1 TO, 1 block, 2 steals in 22 mintues
One of many players to destroy KU on the offensive glass just more than two weeks ago, Holton might not have scored much himself, but his 6 offensive rebounds set a tone for WVU’s win.
In Big 12 play, 52% of his rebounds come on the offensive glass, and he averages 5.1 boards a game, while scoring 5.3 points and making 41.1% of his shots.
Holton is coming off a performance of 7 offensive rebounds (10 total) at Baylor, where he scored 7 points.
— hoop-math.com update: More than any of his teammates, Holton operates at the rim, where he takes 64.5% of his shots and makes 61% of those looks. He has 46 put-backs via the offensive glass to lead WVU. 29.7% of his shots at the rim are a result of his rebounding.
No. 4 — Daxter Miles Jr., 6-3, freshman G
— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 2 points, 1/5 FGs, 0/3 3s, 3 rebounds (1 offensive), 1 assist, 0 TOs in 15 minutes
The freshman has struggled with his shooting in the Big 12:
38-for-97 FGs, 39.2%
14-for-49 3s, 28.6%
11-for-21 FTs, 52.4%
With Staten and Browne unavailable at Baylor, Miles scored 11 points (4-for-9 shooting, 1-for-5 from 3) and dished 5 assists.
That came after a 12-point, 5-steal showing in a win vs. Texas, in which Miles hit 4 of 8 shots and 2 of 4 from 3-point range.
— hoop-math.com update: Only 11.7% of his shot attempts have been 2-point jumpers. He only shoots 19% from that range, and rightfully prefers scoring at the rim (39-for-71) or taking 3-pointers.
No. 2 — Jevon Carter, 6-2, freshman G
— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 13 points, 4/8 FGs, 3/5 3s, 2/2 FTs, 6 rebounds (4 offensive), 1 assist, 1 TO in 29 minutes
We told you before the game at WVU to watch out for this guy off the bench. But who knew he’d kill it on the offensive glass, too, with 4 boards on that end of the floor?
Carter might get a chance to make an even bigger name for himself if Staten and/or Browne can’t play. One of those scenarios would make him a starter, and even more critical to the Mountaineers’ offense.
He started at Baylor and basically became Juwan Staten Jr., scoring 25 points on 7-for-13 shooting from 3-point range. — That is correct. Carter made 7 3-pointers his last time out. — He took 16 shots and 13 came from behind the arc.
While WVU’s style forces teams to turn it over more often than usual, Carter really forces things as a defender, with a team-leading 28 steals in Big 12 play.
In conference, Carter averages 9.4 points and 3.1 rebounds. Plus, the young guard has made 39.4% of his shots, 40.5% of his 3s and 84% of his free throws.
— hoop-math.com update: Third on WVU in FG attempts, most of those come from 3-point range (58%), but Carter also finds his way to the paint, where he converts 58.6% of his shots at the rim (34-for-58).
No. 00 — Jaysean Paige, 6-2, junior G
— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 3 points, 1/2 FGs, 1/2 3s, 1 rebound (on offense), 3 TOs, 1 block in 6 minutes
He only averages 12.7 minutes in the Big 12, but those obviously could go up depending on the health of WVU’s backcourt.
Paige has made 13 of 41 3-pointers in the league and averages 4.7 points.
— hoop-math.com update: A catch-and-shoot guy, each of Paige’s 28 3-point makes this season has come off an assist.
No. 11 Nathan Adrian — 6-9, sophomore F
— Feb. 16 vs. KU: 2 points, 1/7 FGs, 0/4 3s, 4 rebounds (3 offensive), 1 assist, 0 TOs, 1 steal in 17 minutes
A big man who spends time on the perimeter on offense, Adrian has taken 2.0 3-pointers a game in the Big 12. Unfortunately for WVU, Adrian has made 5 of his 32 tries.
With a 25.4 field-goal percentage to boot, he averages only 2.8 points in the league.
— hoop-math.com nugget: He’d probably be better off getting more looks at the rim, but Adrian is a big guy who likes to jack 3-pointers (that’s where 56.3% of his shots come from). At the rim, he converts 65.4% of his attempts. But only 25.2% of his shots are taken there.