This marks the 20th Big 12 men’s basketball season. I’ve covered all of them and struggled to come up with a list of the best players in league history.
How to measure remarkable seasons of players like Kevin Durant, who left Texas after one season, with a Nick Collison, who remained in college for four years?
The answer was two lists.
One ranks players who played in the Big 12 for three or four years. The other includes players who played one or two. Those players left early for the draft or were transfers from four- or two-year schools.
The rankings reflect the players’ college years, not NBA careers, although many have been productive at both. Here are the lists by service time of the Big 12’s best, in order:
Best Big 12 players with three or more years experience
1. Nick Collison, Kansas (1999-2003)
The 2003 Big 12 player of the year helped the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, including the 2003 national title game. He’s the only player in league history in the top six in career scoring and rebounding.
2. Marcus Fizer, Iowa State (1997-2000)
The Cyclones’ dominant big man led Iowa State to the 2000 Elite Eight and was the Big 12 player of the year that season.
3. Raef LaFrentz, Kansas and 4. Paul Pierce, Kansas (1997-98)
This requires an explanation. LaFrentz played four years at Kansas and Pierce three. But only their final two seasons were spent in the Big 12. LaFrentz was the league’s player of the year in the first two seasons and is the Big 12’s only two-time consensus first-team All-American. Pierce joined him on that team in 1998 and was the most outstanding player of the first two Big 12 Tournaments.
5. Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (2012-16)
In line for national player of the year honors this season, the sharp-shooting Hield helped the Sooners reach their first No. 1 poll ranking in a quarter-century. He’ll finish his career as a top-five scorer in league history.
6. Kirk Hinrich, Kansas (1999-2003)
Among the best shooters and playmakers in Big 12 history, Hinrich joined Nick Collison and Drew Gooden on formidable teams in coach Roy Williams’ final seasons at KU.
7. Jacob Pullen, Kansas State (2007-11)
Arrived the same year as Michael Beasley, and kept the Wildcats winning after Beasley’s season. Pullen led K-State to the 2010 Elite Eight and is the only Big 12 player to score 30 or more points in two NCAA Tournament games.
8. Andre Emmett, Texas Tech (2001-04)
Bob Knight inherited Emmett and turned him into a terrific college player. He averaged 7.7 points as a freshman and more than 20 in each of his final two seasons. One of two players named first team All-Big 12 in three seasons.
9. Drew Gooden, Kansas (1999-02)
Averaged 15.6 points and 9.2 points over his three-year career. In 2002, Gooden helped Kansas to the Final Four and was the Big 12 player of the year, leading the league in scoring and rebounding.
10. Hollis Price, Oklahoma (1999-2003)
Among the best Big 12 Tournament players in history. Price was the event’s most outstanding player in 2002 and 2003 and made the all-tournament team in 2001.
The next 10 in alphabetical order: Sherron Collins, Kansas; Marcus Denmon, Missouri; LaceDarius Dunn, Baylor; Melvin Ejim, Iowa State; Acie Law IV, Texas A&M; Chris Mihm, Texas; Marcus Morris, Kansas; Thomas Robinson, Kansas; Brandon Rush, Kansas; Wayne Simien, Kansas
And five more because I can’t help myself: Mario Chalmers, Kansas; Damion James, Texas; John Lucas III, Baylor/Oklahoma State; Georges Niang, Iowa State; Kareem Rush, Missouri
Best Big 12 players with two or fewer years experience
1. Kevin Durant, Texas (2006-07)
Durant became the first freshman named national player of the year. He averaged 25.8 points, 11.1 rebounds, 1.9 steals and 1.9 blocks. Nobody in Big 12 history has had a better season.
2. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma (2007-09)
As a sophomore, Griffin led the NCAA in rebounding at 14.4, and topped the Big 12 in scoring at 22.7 points. In 15 games, he scored at least 20 points with 15 rebounds. Griffin was the national player of year and first from the Big 12 to be an overall No. 1 draft selection.
3. Michael Beasley, Kansas State (2007-08)
At times, Beasley looked like he was toying with opponents. His 26.2-point average is a Big 12 record, and he posted double-doubles in 28 of his 33 games. His biggest moment may have been leading the Wildcats past Kansas, ending the program’s 24-game Bramlage Coliseum losing streak to the Jayhawks.
4. T.J. Ford, Texas (2001-03)
A play-making machine, Ford became the first freshman to lead the nation in assists. A year later, he was the Wooden Award winner and South Regional MVP in helping the Longhorns to a Final Four appearance.
5. Jamaal Tinsley, Iowa State (1999-2001)
After two years at San Jacinto, Tinsley arrived in Ames and was a star from the outset. He led the Cyclones to consecutive Big 12 championships and was named conference player of the year in 2001.
6. Tony Allen, Oklahoma State (2002-04)
A force on the Cowboys’ 2004 Final Four team, Allen, a junior college transfer, became the first Oklahoma State player to surpass 1,000 career points in two seasons. He was the Big 12 player of the year and MVP of the league tournament in 2004.
7. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State (2012-14)
The last freshman to be chosen Big 12 player of the year, Smart was a do-everything guard who averaged 15.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and led the Big 12 with 3.0 steals per game. He passed up the NBA Draft to return as a sophomore and helped Oklahoma State to a second straight NCAA appearance.
8. LaMarcus Aldridge, Texas (2004-06)
A hip injury reduced his freshman season to 16 games and Aldridge returned a more well-rounded player as a sophomore. He developed a jump shot, averaged 15.0 points and 9.2 rebounds and was the league’s defensive player of the year.
9. Chauncey Billups, Colorado (1996-97)
Billups played his freshman season in the Big Eight and sophomore year in the Big 12, helping Colorado to a second-place finish, its best in league history. He averaged 19.1, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists as a sophomore.
10. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas (2013-14)
Wiggins set the Kansas freshman scoring record at 17.1 points on his way to an all-conference season and overall No. 1 NBA Draft selection.
The next 10 in alphabetical order: DJ Augustin, Texas; Isaiah Austin, Baylor; Alec Burks, Colorado; DeMarre Carroll, Missouri; Daniel Gibson, Texas; Joey Graham, Oklahoma State; DeAndre Kane, Iowa State; Ben McLemore, Kansas; Tristan Thompson, Texas; Royce White, Iowa State
And five more because I can’t help myself: Darrell Arthur, Kansas; Jordan Hamilton, Texas; Xavier Henry, Kansas; Perry Jones III, Baylor; Ricardo Ratliffe, Missouri