Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Casting our ballots: Big 12
By Jason King
Editor’s Note: To see our expert picks for each of the nation’s 12 top conferences, click here. To cast your vote in these races, visit SportsNation.
A quick look at the player and coach of the year races in the Big 12:
Player of the year
Thomas Robinson is battling Kentucky’s Anthony Davis for national player of the year honors, so it’s logical to assume the 6-foot-9 forward is a shoo-in for the Big 12 award, right? Robinson averages team-high 17.8 points and ranks second in the country with 11.8 rebounds per game. He’s tallied 21 double-doubles and, in the most important game of the year, Robinson had a game-tying 3-point play and a game-saving block to help KU defeat Missouri in overtime Saturday.
Thomas Robinson (0) and Bill Self have had plenty to celebrate this season.
Still, if you’re basing this award solely on performance in conference games, Robinson’s teammate Tyshawn Taylor is the better choice. Taylor leads the team with 18.4 points a game against Big 12 opponents, and he’s shooting 50.4 percent from the field. More importantly, Taylor’s leadership -- both vocally and by example -- helped set the tone for the Jayhawks en route to their eighth straight Big 12 title.
He’s scored 20 or more points eight times in the Big 12 and has raised his season scoring average from 9.3 points as a junior to 17.1 points this season. Taylor still has issues with turnovers, although the situation isn’t nearly as bad as it was in November and December. No major college point guard in America has been as good as Taylor since the turn of the new year.
That being said, I think the player of the year award should encompass the entire season, so for that reason I’m going with Robinson, who is also my pick for national player of the year.
Coach of the year
There are three worthy candidates.
Kansas’ Bill Self is the mastermind behind one of the greatest streaks in all of college sports. Winning eight straight league titles in a major conference such as the Big 12 is simply unheard of. UCLA won 13 straight conference championships from 1967-79, but that was when players were staying in school all four years. No power conference team since then has won as many consecutive titles as the Jayhawks. This year Self managed the feat despite losing four starters and six of its top eight scorers from last year’s Elite Eight team. While other major programs experience down years or rebuilding years from time to time, there has been no slippage at Kansas under Self.
Missouri’s Frank Haith is another strong candidate and would’ve been the easy pick had the Tigers won at least a share of the Big 12 championship. Missouri is a Final Four-caliber team, and Haith is one of the main reasons. This squad is playing with much more structure than it has in the past and takes tremendous pride in sharing the ball. The result has been a shooting percentage (49.7) that ranks third in nation. The mental toughness the Tigers showed in a deafening environment at Allen Fieldhouse Saturday said volumes about Haith and the culture he’s helped create.
Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg should also be considered. The Cyclones will finish third or fourth in the Big 12 after going just 3-13 last season.