The Big 12’s richness of point-guard talent is undeniable to West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, who was reminded of this notion recently while scouting opponents.
Huggins said he saw a television graphic listing the league’s top five point guards and didn’t see his guy, Jevon Carter, among the group.
“I kept watching game film and you keep seeing our expert analysts put up their five top point guards and our guy is never in there,” Huggins said. “If Jevon is not one of the top five in any league in America, I mean it’s one heck of a league.”
For point guards, it really is.
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Huggins added he couldn’t quibble with the choices of others. Start with Kansas’ Frank Mason, who was chosen the league’s player of the year. Mason is only the third point guard to win the top Big 12 award, following Iowa State’s Jamaal Tinsley in 2001 and Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart in 2013.
Some of Mason’s strongest competitors for the award were fellow point guards like Iowa State’s Monte Morris and Oklahoma State’s Jawun Evans, who were all-league first team members. Plus Carter, who made the second team and was selected the Big 12’s defensive player of the year.
All are on display this week at the Big 12 Tournament at the Sprint Center. The event begins on Wednesday and runs through Saturday’s championship game.
Morris, voted preseason player of the year, has improved his scoring by nearly 2 1/2 points to 16.2 per game and leads the nation in assist-turnover ratio at an amazing 6.17. He might have been voted the league’s top player in any other season. Or Evans, the league’s second-leading scorer at 18.7 points per game and top assist man at 6.3.
But Mason’s season — he takes averages of 20.5 points, 5.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds into the Big 12 Tournament — was that strong.
No player in college history has led the nation in scoring and assists for a season, and it’s only occurred once in the NBA. But the leading scorers for six Big 12 teams this season are also their team’s top playmaker: Mason, Morris, Evans and Carter along with Keenan Evans at Texas Tech and Oklahoma’s Jordan Woodard, who is out for the season because of an injury.
I’ve been with this league for a long time, as a coach, an assistant coach and a fan,” Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said. “I think the point-guard play is as good as it’s ever been.”
The proliferation of skilled point guards helped push Mason this season, according to Jayhawks coach Bill Self.
“I think, in Frank’s mind, when he looks across and sees he’s going against Monte Morris, Jevon Carter, Jawun Evans, whoever it is, I think that’s what brings his level up,” Self said.
That occurred in the final game of the regular season, when Mason went for 27 points, nine assists and eight rebounds, and Evans had 22 points and 15 assists, the most by a Big 12 player this season.
When a team’s top player is the point guard, Oklahoma State coach Brad Underwood says you probably have a good team.
“Good players make themselves better and great players make their teammates better,” Underwood said. “Great players aren’t usually one- dimensional, they can do a variety of things.”
Like score and set up others to score.
The Big 12 has a solid point-guard history. In addition to Smart and Tinsley, players such as Texas’ T.J. Ford and D.J. Augustin, Kansas’ Kirk Hinirch and Sherron Collins and Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen were among the best players in the conference. But to have so many in one season, who can score as well as well as distribute, the conference hasn’t seen this in its 21 seasons.
Great guard play could bode well for the Big 12 once the NCAA Tournament begins. The league’s five sure bets all are strong at the point, including Baylor with Manu Lecomte, the Miami, Fla., transfer who was chosen Big 12 newcomer of the year.
“When you have an elite point guard, it’s like having an elite quarterback or that Cy Young Award winner in baseball,” Underwood said. “You have guys controlling things. This league has its fair share. We’ll all test the adage you win with great guards.”