Before the regular season began, I ranked the top 13 players in the Big 12 based on the 13 scholarships teams are given.
With the Big 12 season beginning on Jan. 4, let’s re-evaluate the best players in the Big 12 (stats through Dec. 27 games).
First, some notes.
Baylor forward Mark Vital has dropped out of the top 13, but that’s only because Baylor is so well balanced this season and is so deep that it’s hard to include him on here over the two other Baylor players on the list. Vital is averaging a little more than five rebounds a game and his scoring is about the same (6.9 points per game). The Bears still are better when he’s on the floor, but you could also argue that newcomers in Waco like Davion Mitchell and MaCio Teague are having just as much impact.
Xavier Sneed is not my list. The Kansas State senior is having a good season (14.1 points per game on 41.5% shooting and 35.6% from 3-point), but the Wildcats in general are a mess, and Sneed is not having the dominant season he needs to make KSU a tournament team.
The two toughest omissions were Texas Tech freshman Jahmi’us Ramsey and Kansas sophomore Ochai Agbaji.
I think Ramsey will be an all-league type of player when the season ends, but he’s played in seven games for the Red Raiders because of an injury, and only one of those games (Iowa) was against a team that has any shot to make the NCAA Tournament without having to win its mid-major league tournament. However, when he’s healthy, he’s mostly been fantastic. He scored 15 against UTRGV on Dec. 21 after missing nearly a month of the season and already has a big career high of 27 points in a game.
Can he do that against good teams is the big question? The downside for Ramsey is he can be a little inefficient at times. But for every 4-for-13 game he has, he also has shot 50% or better in four of the seven games he’s played.
A factor I look at when putting this list together is who is playing a lot of minutes for winning teams. Agbaji s averaging 33.4 minutes, seventh-most in the league. The top five guys in the league are all on this list. It tells me that the coach thinks this player is key to winning — even if the team has depth issues and are being forced to play a guy a lot.
This is big time college basketball and those coaches wouldn’t keep a bad player on the court for that many minutes. Agbaji is not a bad player and in fact he could be the best future pro the Jayhawks have — and I think Kansas, spoiler alert, has the best player in the league. His numbers are good (11.3 points per game, 47.5% from the field, 40% 3-point, 4.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game) and includes a bad offensive stretch for him to start the season.
I left him off the list because I don’t think he’s the third most important player on his own starting lineup and with David McCormick emerging like he is, he may not be the fourth. That statement is why Kansas’ only two losses are by a combined three points to Villanova on the road and to Duke in Madison Square Garden.
The pre-conference top 13:
13. Marcus Garrett, junior, guard, Kansas
Garrett’s injury during Kansas’s 56-55 loss in Philadelphia against Villanova might have been the difference in the game.
Because Garrett, from Dallas Skyline High School, is the best defensive player in the Big 12.
And it’s beginning to not be close.
He is a big reason why Kansas has the fourth-best defense in America according to Kenpom.
It’s why he’s on here, even if the offensive numbers aren’t nearly as bad someone who saw him shoot last year would think. He’s actually shooting really well at 48% from the field and 36% from 3-point. He’s not shooting a lot and is just 65.4% at the free throw line with a 8.7 points per game. And his steal numbers don’t pop out (1.7) and he’s actually tied for second on the team in steals.
Garrett, is the ultimate “have to watch him to appreciate him” player. He draws other teams’ best players defensively, he’s Kansas’ back-up point guard when Devon Dotson spends the five minutes on the bench but most importantly, Garrett may be the KU’s smartest player, and that shows as he is tied for the league in assists-to-turnover ratio at 3.1.
If his jump shot wasn’t so bad, he’d probably be in the running for more national awards. But it isn’t. Not yet.
12. Austin Reeves, junior, guard, Oklahoma
Reeves is probably the most surprising player in the league and wasn’t on my list in the preseason and I’m not sure where he’d have ranked if I had expanded this list out in October. The Wichita State transfer is averaging 35.1 minutes per game, he’s a percentage point behind Kristian Doolittle for leading scorer at 16.6 points per game and is averaging 5.9 rebounds.
He has some warts. He’s not a great 3-point shooter at 28.1% and yet leads his team in 3-point attempts at 64. He shoots 39% from the field and he averages just 2.3 assists a game. But this is where the minutes played chime in. He’s playing significantly more than Jamal Bieniemy (29.2 minutes) and highly touted freshman DeVion Harmon, in fact he’s playing the third-most minutes among Big 12 players at 35.1.
The Sooners aren’t super impressive when you watch them. Reeves’ offense could be a big part of it, but it’s hard to dismiss him when Oklahoma is 8-3 with wins over Minnesota, Oregon State and Missouri.
11. Terrence Shannon, freshman, guard, Texas Tech
Of all the freshmen I’ve watched, Shannon has been the most eye-opening. He hasn’t been the best. That guy goes to school in Morgantown. But Shannon has done it against some good teams and goes on these scoring outburst that make me believe Tech could make a run to the Final Four with a healthy Ramsey and the best duo of glue-guys in the league in Chris Clarke and Davide Moretti.
Shannon scored 24 against DePaul and 13 against Louisville — the two best teams and games Tech has played all season, even if the DePaul game was a loss. His last four games, all starts, he’s scored 24, 13, 18, 14 and has raised his average three points. He’s shooting 42% from the field and 85.5% from the line.
10. Freddie Gillespie, senior, forward, Baylor
The best story from last year is continuing his amazing run. If you’ve watched any Baylor game this season and late last season, you know Gillespie’s history. A Division III transfer, walk-on, who was thrown into the rotation last season only to become one of the best players in Waco.
He’s even better this season.
Gillespie is shooting 54.8% from the field, averaging 8.9 rebounds and has 24 blocks on the season. While he only scores 8.9 points per game and he hasn’t taken a single 3-point shot, he ranks fourth in rebounding among the league and third in blocks and in the top 15 in steals.
I could have put MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell here if I just wanted to throw a second Baylor player on my list, but Gillespie, who is only playing 27.2 minutes a game, just does a little bit of everything except for 3-point shooting as he has never attempted a single 3-point shot at Baylor.
9. Chris Clarke, senior, forward, Texas Tech
The best transfer in the league recently just won Big 12 Newcomer of the Week despite also returning to a bench role for the Red Raiders. Clarke was one of the most hyped incoming players in the league. He’s only averaging seven points a game, but he’s also hauling in nine rebounds and shooting 46.9% from the field.
The most amazing thing is probably his contribution on distribution. Clarke, a 6-foot-6-inch, 220 pound guard who plays like a forward, is averaging 5.5 assists per game. He has only started four games, but has played the third most minutes on his team.
Davide Moretti isn’t in the top 13 despite being fourth in October because that was based on Moretti’s role being expanded. But he’s more or less doing the same things he did last season, but is shooting nearly eight percent worse from 3-point and close to 10 percent worse from the field. That may be because he didn’t have Ramsey in a lot of games so defenses can focus on him more, but he’s just not the force I thought he would be entering the season.
I still think he’s the most dangerous shooter and late-game player in the league and possibly the country because of how he shoots and his near automic shooting from the line.
8. Desmond Bane, senior, guard, TCU
Bane has been what TCU needs, but perhaps Fran Fraschilla tweeted it best during TCU’s 67-59 loss to Xavier :
These young players from @TCUBasketball need to introduce themselves to Desmond Bane. He’s in “witness protection” and hiding out in Frogs’ offense.
— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) December 22, 2019
Bane is playing more than 35 minute per game, shooting 39% from 3-point, 46.5% from the field, 78.3% from the line, averaging 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.
He’s in the top five of the league in scoring with 16.1 and he’s taken the most shots for TCU at 129, but Fraschilla’s tweet stands out because if Bane isn’t getting at least one touch on every non-fastbreak possession, something isn’t clicking offensively.
Bane is on pace to easily earn first team All-Big 12 honors because of his numbers and status as the best player on TCU and possibly being the best senior — the big guy at Kansas may hold that honor.
Perhaps no team in the league is as tied to the performance of its best player than TCU is to Bane. He needs to be an All-American type of player for TCU to make the tournament. While the Horned Frogs have an 8-3 record, the three losses they’ve suffered have been to three best teams they’ve played, and the best win they’ve recorded might be Illinois State or Winthrop.
Weirdly enough, one of the most important games of the season is the Big 12 opener on Jan. 4 against Iowa State in Fort Worth. For TCU to have any chance for a .500 or better season, it needs at least six conference home wins and with Iowa State being a team that projects in the bottom half of the league, it can’t lose at home to the Cyclones and feel good, realistically, about its tournament chances.
And to do that, it’ll need Bane to be amazing at home.
7. Oscar Tshiebwe, freshman, forward, West Virginia
Ramsey might have owned the title of “best freshman” so far had he not missed Texas Tech’s most important games so far this season, but it would have been hard to top Tshiebwe, the only 2019 McDonald’s All-American to join the league this season.
He has been as advertised.
It helps that he plays next to Derek Culver, who was on this list, and a player I was bullish on — and still am — in the preseason. But Culver didn’t make the list because he hasn’t played as well as he did last season yet. He’s averaging 11.4 points and 9.4 rebounds and shooting 45.7% from the field, but he is being helped by and his individual numbers may be suffering from, playing next to Tshiebwe, who is also averaging more than nine rebounds a game and leading the Mountaineers in scoring at 12.9.
Tshiebwe and Culver together is going to cause a lot of problems for teams who aren’t as big — the Oklahoma-West Virginia game will be fascinating. WVU is one of the best rebounding teams in the nation because their two front court players, who have started together in nine of their games, are hauling in more than 19 rebounds a game themselves.
6. Matt Coleman, junior, guard, Texas
I wanted to include Coleman in my top 13 at the start of the season but he was too inconsistent in his first two years to really say he’d be an elite player. In a league with awesome guards, would Coleman standout?
Whether you view Baylor’s Jared Butler as a point guard or not — not sure I do — then Coleman has been the third best point guard in the league and that’s actually saying something. Coleman — not Courtney Ramey, Andrew Jones, Jericho Sims, Jase Febres or any of the freshmen — has been the Longhorns’ best player and he’s been their most important player.
Coleman is No. 5 in league in assists at 4.5. He is seventh in assists-to-turnover ratio. He’s averaging 12.7 points, leading the Longhorns in scoring, steals, assists, 3-point shooting percentage, field goal shooting percentage and is actually the third leading rebounder for Texas at 4.0 per game.
He is second on the Longhorns in free throw attempts at 27 — behind only center Jericho Sims at 28 — and is shooting 77.8% from the line. It should be no surprise then to learn that he also averages a team-high 34.4 minutes a game.
This is what Texas needs from its point guard.
5. Kristian Doolittle, senior, guard, Oklahoma
The leading scorer from the Oklahoma Sooners at 16.7 was the most difficult player I left off the preseason list and so far he’s showing why. Doolittle, who was recently named conference player of the week, is in the top five in scoring average, rebounding (8.9), near the leaders in shooting percentage and free throw percentage among the league.
Comparing him with the two other senior Big 12 players like Bane and Sneed, and Doolittle has outperformed them while also playing a more difficult schedule — the 24th-most difficult schedule in the country according to Kenpom, second in the Big 12 to Kansas’ 10th most challenging.
Doolittle’s 12-of-21 3-point shooting is the fourth-best percentage in the nation. Maybe that’s because he doesn’t shoot of ton of them, thus the percentage is an outlier, but maybe he should shoot a little more.
4. Udoka Azubuike, senior center, Kansas
Azubuike leads the nation in field goal shooting at 80.5%
That’s it. That’s the note.
3. Jared Butler, sophomore guard, Baylor
I was high on Butler entering the season, but I couldn’t imagine he’d be this good this season. On a team with Tristan Clark, Vital and all the other talented Bears, Butler is the best player on the roster.
He’s the Big 12’s third-leading scorer at 17.6 points per game. He’s shooting 46.6% from the field, 90.3% from the line (he needs to get there more often, just 31 attempts) and is third in the league in 3-point percentage at 42.3%. Texas’ Jase Febres has taken the most 3-point attempts in the league (84) and has made the most (31), but Butler has taken 13 fewer 3-point shots and made just one fewer three.
If the shooting was it, I don’t think you could put him over Azubuike and Doolittle. But he’s also averaging 3.3 assists, 1.7 steals and even 2.6 rebounds. That’s top-10 in steals and 12th in assists.
2. Tyrese Haliburton, sophomore guard, Iowa State
Perhaps if Iowa State wasn’t so average everywhere else Haliburton would be No. 1 on my list. He could record multiple triple-doubles in conference play and is on pace to be the highest drafted player from the league in 2020. And deservedly so.
Haliburton’s 7.7 assists per game is fifth in the nation. His 17.3 points per game is fourth in the league. His 5.7 rebounds is 16th in the league (he is the point guard). He is shooting 54.1% from the field, behind only Azubuike and TCU’s Kevin Samuels (68.6%). His 3-point shooting percentage is second only to Ramsey at 42.4% and he’s played in three more games and shot it 24 more times. His 28 made 3-pointers is third in the league and just three behind Febres despite 18 fewer attempts. He is tied with Garrett in assists-to-turnover ratio. But has 39 more assists than Garrett. He leads the league is steals per game and steals overall at 28 and only Desmond Bane has played more minutes.
At 6-foot-5-inches, he’s the lanky guard NBA teams want and landed at No. 10 in ESPN’s most recent mock draft.
There’s only one player in the league more important to his team’s success than Haliburton, but there’s not a single player more important to his team’s overall success than Haliburton. In other words, if Kansas lost Devon Dotson tomorrow, the Jayhawks would still be really good because Garrett would take over at point guard, Isaiah Moss would enter the lineup and the offense would continue to go through Azubuike.
If Iowa State lost Haliburton tomorrow the Cyclones wouldn’t win another game this season.
However, he’s not No. 1 because there’s only one player in the league who could carry his team to a league title and National Championship.
1. Devon Dotson, sophomore guard, Kansas
The Big 12’s leading scorer at 19.2 points per game wins on the box score review and the eye test. Dotson is shooting 48.6% from the field, fifth in the league and second only to Haliburton for guards who have played at least 10 games (Ramsey has played only seven). He is shooting 82.7 % from the free throw line — though his biggest moment of the season may have been a missed free throw in the final seconds against Villanova — and has taken 75 attempts, the most in the league.
Math: A point guard getting to the line 6.8 times and making 82% is 5.5 points per game.
What I also love is Dotson seems focused on being the best college player he can be, not the best pro prospect. If that were the case, he’d be taking more 3-pointers than 4.18. He knows it’s not his strength (32.6%) and instead he uses his speed with the ball to attack the rim– otherwise known as a Bill Self point guard.
He is his coach’s dream point guard, by the way. He combines the best attributes of All-Americans Sherron Collins and Frank Mason and turns the speed to 11.
Dotson is also one of the better defensive point guards in the nation. His speed makes him that way.
His best game of the season was against Dayton when he scored 31 points. He scored 17 against Duke and 18 against Colorado. His worst game was against Villanova and BYU, where he scored 15 and 13 points on bad shooting nights.
Like Mason and Devonté Graham before him, Dotson has become the most important player on the roster, and like Collins before him, a lot of people think its the post players that assume that role.
The pace that he’s on, combined with the style Kansas plays, the marquee attention the program gets and the skill set surrounding him, it’s hard to imagine Dotson not finishing among the finalists for National Player of the Year, not just conference player of the year.