Predicting the 2014-15 Big 12 All-Conference Teams
Kansas will likely win the Big 12 for an 11th straight season, but it's a player from Kansas State who figures to be the early favorite for Big 12 Player of the Year.
As a consolation prize, Kansas fans will have to settle for two players on the All-Big 12 first team, one on the second team, the Freshman of the Year and the Coach of the Year.
In the second week of our second seven-week series of the summer, we took a look at Big 12 rosters and projected standings to forecast the first, second and third All-Big 12 teams—as well as a handful of honorable mentions for them.
In addition to those teams, we also projected Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Newcomer of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year and Coach of the Year.
In case you'd like to reference them in the discussion, here are the projected Big 12 standings from mid-June.
These are the players who won't quite get enough votes to get onto one of the three all-conference teams but will get enough votes to have their names mentioned at the bottom of the press release as "Others Considered."
Kenny Chery, Baylor
Phil Forte III, Oklahoma State
Thomas Gipson, Kansas State
Jonathan Holmes, Texas
Jameel McKay, Iowa State
Kelly Oubre, Kansas
Aaron Ross, Texas Tech
Karviar Shepherd, TCU
Devin Williams, West Virginia
Le'Bryan Nash, Oklahoma State
Now that he has finally accepted that three-pointers are not his forte, Nash has evolved into a very valuable power forward.
Over his first two seasons at Oklahoma State, he made just 28 of his 118 three-point attempts but became much more of an interior presence this past season, attempting just six three-pointers and doing exponentially more as a rebounder and shot-blocker.
We're not expecting much from Oklahoma State this year, but Nash should be the Cowboys' biggest bright spot.
Rico Gathers, Baylor
Though his per-possession numbers have been very solid over the last two years, Gathers hasn't quite been able to break into the starting rotation. But with Isaiah Austin and three seniors leaving town this summer, he might finally become a star.
Gathers is one of the best offensive rebounders in the country, ranking in the top seven in offensive rebounding percentage in each of the past two years. We'll see what he can do when his 17.8 minutes per game nearly doubles, but it's not unreasonable to think he could average a double-double.
Monte Morris, Iowa State
A player who led the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio as a freshman? Yeah, I'll give him a spot on an all-Big 12 team.
He probably deserves to be higher on the list, but he'll also probably be overshadowed by Dustin Hogue and Georges Niang.
Kyan Anderson, TCU
While playing for a team that won zero Big 12 games, Anderson ranked third in the conference in steals per game, seventh in assists per game and eighth in points per game.
Anderson was an all-Big 12 honorable mention last year, but he likely would have at least been on the third team if the Horned Frogs had won a single game.
Myles Turner, Texas
Turner will battle Cliff Alexander for Big 12 Freshman of the Year, but he'll also battle his own teammates for playing time.
Even if he does start (he will), expecting more than 27 minutes per game on this loaded roster is probably too optimistic. And of the 15 people to make all-Big 12 last year, 13 averaged more than 27.5 minutes per game.
We're obviously expecting big things if he's on the third team, but I worry that his cumulative numbers won't quite be good enough for first or second team.
Perry Ellis, Kansas
Hardly anyone ever talks about him, but you could really make a case that Ellis was the most valuable player for the Jayhawks last year.
His O-rating was a full 10 points better than any other member of the starting five. He shot 55 percent from the field and 76 percent from the foul line while attempting more of each than everyone on the team not named Andrew Wiggins.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma
Unless you intentionally follow Oklahoma basketball, Hield doesn't get the attention he deserves.
Brady Heslip and Phil Forte are constantly referenced as the Big 12's three-point assassins, but Hield actually attempted more three-pointers than Forte last year. Juwan Staten and Demarcus Holland were named to the Big 12 All-Defensive team, but Hield had more steals than either of them.
After getting to back-to-back NCAA tournaments, it's about time Oklahoma starts getting a little more national respect.
Dustin Hogue, Iowa State
Hogue was really living in the shadow of Georges Niang, Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane until he exploded for 34 points in Iowa State's final game of the year. Then people suddenly realized that he was one of the most efficient scorers and rebounders in the entire conference.
Will he be able to ride that end-of-season momentum to a ton of recognition, or will he slip back into obscurity in one of the most talented starting fives in the country?
Ryan Spangler, Oklahoma
Cameron Clark and Tyler Neal have both graduated. Unless TaShawn Thomas is granted a waiver to play this season, Spangler might be the only source of rebounds that this team has.
He doesn't attempt very many shots, but he did shoot 60.2 percent from two-point range on his 5.6 attempts per game last season. Spangler averaged 9.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game last year while only playing 29.2 minutes. Expect all three of those numbers to increase this year.
Cameron Ridley, Texas
We'll have more to say about Ridley in a few slides, but he should be Texas' biggest catalyst on both ends of the court. If he was in a position to average more than 30 minutes per game, he would be on the first team without a doubt.
First Team No. 5 and Freshman of the Year: Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Why even bother playing out the season when we already know that Kansas is going to have a big man named to the all-Big 12 first team?
Joel Embiid just barely missed first team last season, and he missed several games due to injury and didn't even break into the starting lineup until mid-December. Before him, it was Jeff Withey in 2013, Thomas Robinson in 2012, Marcus Morris in 2011 and Cole Aldrich in 2010.
Perhaps Ellis gets the honor instead, but I think Cliff Alexander is the real deal and will battle Jahlil Okafor for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
He's built a lot like Robinson, Jared Sullinger and Julius Randle. Unlike most incoming freshmen, there's no question that he'll be able to bang with the big boys in the post from the moment he first steps onto a collegiate court.
The only potential thing standing in Alexander's way could be Jamari Traylor. Traylor has started all of one game in his two years with Kansas and seems unlikely to win a starting job over Alexander, but he's also too good a scorer, rebounder and shot-blocker to play less than 15 minutes per game.
Maybe they'll have a nice symbiotic relationship where Ellis and Alexander each average 30 minutes per game and Traylor picks up 20 minutes while they hydrate and catch their breath, but Alexander will need at least that much playing time to make first team all-Big 12.
First Team No. 4: Juwan Staten, West Virginia
Juwan Staten is the only returning player from the 2013-14 all-Big 12 first team, but I simply can't put him any higher on the list while expecting such a disappointing season from West Virginia.
The Mountaineers went 17-16 last season. Staten averaged 18.1 PPG, 5.8 APG, 5.6 RPG and 1.2 SPG. That team is losing three of its five leading scorers in Eron Harris, Terry Henderson and Remi Dibo.
If they go 14-18 this year (or worse), how much does Staten need to increase his already ridiculous numbers just to keep the status quo?
On the flip side of that coin, Staten would absolutely be one of the top candidates for Big 12 Player of the Year if he all but single-handedly wills them to the NCAA tournament for the first time since joining the Big 12.
Whether he earns a bunch of Player of the Year votes or not, Staten might be the most entertaining player to watch in the entire conference this season. Despite standing just 6'1", he attempted 59 more two-point field goals than any other Big 12 player while also leading the conference in free-throw attempts and points per game.
And that was when he actually had sidekicks to help carry the load.
I'll be intrigued to see how many times he goes above and beyond the career-high 35 points that he established last February.
First Team No. 3: Wayne Selden Jr., Kansas
"It feels good to have your body not hurt," Wayne Selden Jr. told Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star back in early June.
Selden said multiple times during that interview that he played too soft last season while dealing with knee pain that had plagued him for years. After having an arthroscopic procedure shortly after the end of the season, he's playing with more bounce and more confidence than he has in a long time.
Long story short: Selden is ready to play like the McDonald's All-American that he was.
While many assumed in the preseason that he would join Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid on the one-and-done track to the NBA, Selden coasted pretty obscurely throughout the year.
He had a nice 15-point, six-rebound, four-assist game in the Champions Classic against Duke, but no one remembers that game as anything other than "Wiggins vs. Parker." He eclipsed 20 points three times last year but one was a loss to Texas while another came in that ridiculous 86-60 win over Kansas State.
Outside of that, he was just steadily on the court ceding attention to the other players on the team who actually displayed a killer instinct.
But this year, he's ready to be the man. Rather than being the freshman that people forget about, he'll be the sophomore that the freshmen look up to. Selden will be one of the primary ball-handlers and scorers en route to what should be an 11th straight Big 12 title for Kansas.
First Team No. 2: Georges Niang, Iowa State
As you may have seen in the photo that made its circulation around the Internet last week, Georges Niang is in ridiculously good shape right now.
Not only does he no longer need to compete with Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane for points, but he's physically ready to carry the Cyclones to the Final Four for the first time in more than 70 years.
Niang is a versatile player, capable of doing just about anything. Standing 6'7", he had 152 rebounds and 123 assists while committing "just" 82 turnovers. He trailed only Naz Long for the team lead in three-pointers and finished the season only a couple of two-point field goals behind Melvin Ejim for the team lead in that department.
If he had done a better job at getting to the free-throw line—averaged just 3.0 attempts per game last season—he would have led the team and possibly the conference in scoring. Now that he's stronger and even more a focal point of the offense, one has to assume that the free throws will shortly follow.
As we also mentioned with Monte Morris and Dustin Hogue, the only potential downfall here is that Niang might get a little too lost in the Cyclones' whirlwind of talent to be the Big 12 Player of the Year.
With Bryce Dejean-Jones, Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader being added to the mix as transfers, this is a team that will run at least eight men deep on a regular basis—and all eight of those players could average 10 points per game with enough playing time.
Niang is pretty clearly the team leader here but will his piece of Iowa State's pie be big enough for first-place votes? And will Iowa State finish far enough ahead of Kansas State in the Big 12 standings to warrant naming Niang the conference's MVP?
Big 12 Player of the Year: Marcus Foster, Kansas State
It's a good year to be a combo guard named Marcus, as Foster joins Marcus Paige on our list of projected conference Players of the Year.
Unlike Paige, not many people saw Foster coming last year.
247Sports had him rated as the 58th-best incoming point guard. ESPN 100 had him slotted at 45th among shooting guards. Though they didn't even agree on his position, both sites rated Foster in the lower half of the 3-star tier.
But thanks to Angel Rodriguez's decision to transfer to Miami, Bruce Weber had little choice but to see what Foster could do, inserting him into the starting lineup for the first game of the season.
That first game certainly didn't go very well—Foster shot 3-of-12 from the field and scored just eight points with two assists in a home loss to Northern Colorado—but things would only improve from there.
By mid-January, the Wildcats were 14-4 and unexpectedly vying for a tournament bid—all thanks to some freshman that none of us were talking about before the season. Over his last 13 games before the tournament, Foster scored at least 20 points seven different times while shooting 45.7 percent from three-point range.
Suffice it to say, he was only just heating up when the season ended. If he can carry that momentum into this season and lead the Wildcats to a top four finish in the Big 12, the Player of the Year trophy should be his for the taking.
Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year: Cameron Ridley, Texas
There are a lot of quality candidates for this award. Aforementioned players like Perry Ellis, Dustin Hogue, Le'Bryan Nash, Karviar Shepherd and Juwan Staten could all be leading vote-getters in this category—as could other players from Texas like Jonathan Holmes or Demarcus Holland.
However, Cameron Ridley is simply the most imposing presence in the conference.
He ranked first in the Big 12 in offensive rebounds and sixth in defensive rebounds, despite playing substantially fewer minutes than other top guys like Melvin Ejim, Hogue, Cory Jefferson and DeAndre Kane.
Ridley ranked second in the conference in blocked shots, swatting a total of 76 would-be two-point field goals on the year. His defensive rating (98.3) was fourth-best in the Big 12, and he is the only returning player from last year's top five in that category.
And now with Myles Turner in the picture, Ridley will have the freedom to play even more aggressively on defense.
His personal rebounding totals might take a hit, but Ridley will be viewed as the anchor of a team that should have the best defense in the conference.
Big 12 Newcomer of the Year: Justin Edwards, Kansas State
As with the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year, there are a lot of great options for Newcomer of the Year—an honor reserved for incoming transfers.
Texas Tech adds two important JUCO transfers in Devaugntah Williams and Justin Jamison who might help the Red Raiders flirt with .500 this year. Oklahoma State (Jeff Newberry) and Baylor (Deng Deng and Lester Medford) are also reloading with JUCO players. And, of course, Iowa State adds a trio of crucial transfers in Jameel McKay, Bryce Dejean-Jones and Abdel Nader.
Kansas State has multiple players vying for the honor with Stephen Hurt serving as one of the best JUCO big men and Brandon Bolden looking for a fresh start after a disappointing run with Georgetown. But it's a different Wildcat who we see taking home the award.
While playing for a pretty dreadful program at Maine, Justin Edwards emerged as a bit of a minor conference star, averaging 16.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.9 steals as a sophomore.
Unfortunately, he also averaged 4.1 turnovers per game and shot just 27.3 percent from three-point range.
Bruce Weber does have other options. Jevon Thomas probably would have been a starter last season as a freshman had he not been ruled ineligible for the first six weeks of the season. Nigel Johnson is also a candidate to join Marcus Foster in the backcourt.
But my money's on Edwards earning a starting job, as those turnovers shouldn't be such an issue when surrounded by substantially better players and not needing to be the only reliable player on offense.
He certainly doesn't need to be a stud to replace departing senior Will Spradling. He averaged just 7.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals last season while shooting 33.6 percent from downtown. Anything above and beyond those numbers will be considered an improvement for a tournament-bound team.
Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year: Naz Long, Iowa State
As mentioned last week, it’s tough to forecast a Sixth Man of the Year. In doing so, we’re saying “This is the best player in the conference who isn’t good enough to start,” which is just about the definition of a back-handed compliment.
Yet, you certainly can’t argue with the top choices the Big 12 has to offer this year, as Kansas, Texas and Iowa State all have multiple candidates.
The Jayhawks will have Jamari Traylor and whoever ends up not winning the starting point guard battle between Frank Mason and Devonte Graham. The Longhorns have almost an entire roster of candidates in Connor Lammert, Demarcus Holland, Kendal Yancy and Martez Walker.
Best of all, though, is Naz Long coming off the bench for the Cyclones.
Long scored just 7.1 points per game last season for Fred Hoiberg, but he made 40.0 percent of his 160 three-point attempts. In total, he made 16 more three-pointers than any other Cyclone, despite playing 300 minutes fewer than any starter.
With DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim out of the picture, he’ll have an even bigger role on this year’s team, but he should still serve as the sixth man behind Monte Morris, Bryce Dejean-Jones, Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Jameel McKay.
If I’m wrong about that starting five and Long actually starts, go ahead and pencil in the player he replaces for Sixth Man of the Year.
Big 12 Coach of the Year: Bill Self, Kansas
We’re expecting the Big 12 standings to look almost identical to the way they finished last season. Maybe there’s a little bit of shuffling among the middling teams, but Texas might be the only team in the conference poised for an improvement of at least two games—and Rick Barnes already won this award last year.
As such, it's only logical to presume that Bill Self wins this year’s award after leading Kansas to an 11th consecutive Big 12 title.
Self has won at least a share of the award four times since the 2005-06 season, but he has been shut out the last two seasons despite earning a No. 1 seed in the 2013 NCAA tournament and a No. 2 seed this past March.
And for the first time in a long time, Kansas actually has a reasonable amount of room for improvement. The 10 losses in 2013-14 were the most since 1999-2000. The 25 wins also broke a streak of four straight seasons with at least 31 wins.
Even if the Jayhawks extend their Big 12 streak, they could do so in more impressive fashion than last season—and while having arguably a less talented roster. We have high expectations for Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, but it's nothing compared to last summer's anticipation over Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
All things considered, entering the tournament with a 27-7 record wouldn't be anything close to the best in the Self era at Kansas, but it should be enough to earn ample votes for Big 12 Coach of the Year.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.