Sometimes, players of the year reveal themselves early and don’t allow anyone else to be part of the competition. Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin was that type of Big 12 player of the year.
But more often a race develops, with favorites changing places weekly. So seems the case this season in Big 12 men’s basketball.
Throughout a ferocious season, different players appeared to be the league’s best. Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, West Virginia’s Juwan Staten, Iowa State’s Georges Niang, Oklahoma State’s Le’Bryan Nash, Baylor’s Rico Gathers and Kansas’ Perry Ellis were the favorite at some point.
If a front-runner has emerged with less than a week remaining, it may be by the slimmest of margins. My best guess, if the voting were held today, Ellis would get the nod over Gathers.
Two qualities favor Ellis. He’s the top player on the top team, though in the 10-year history of Kansas’ consecutive Big 12 regular-season titles, a star from the team that won or shared the championship was player of the year four times, most recently KU’s Thomas Robinson in 2012.
The others: Kansas’ Wayne Simien in 2005, Texas’ P.J. Tucker in 2006 and the Jayhawks’ Marcus Morris in 2011.
The stronger argument is that Ellis is playing at the highest level of his career now. In his last five games, Ellis has averaged 22.4 points and eight rebounds while shooting 58 percent.
For the season, Ellis is averaging 14.5 points and 7.2 rebounds but hasn’t always been a fan favorite. Kansas coach Bill Self defended Ellis for his last-second miss at West Virginia two weeks ago, a game in which Ellis scored 19 points and kept Kansas competitive in the second half.
Gathers, nearly doubling his numbers by averaging 11.3 points and 11.9 rebounds, has been in beast mode all season. He entered the week leading the nation in rebounding and set a Big 12 record with a 28-board game in January.
Gathers’ averages are slightly down the last two weeks, but only because Baylor has been spreading out its contributions over a four-game winning streak. The Bears started the week tied for third, moving up from the middle of the pack.
Gathers would become the first Baylor player to win the league’s top individual honor.
Hield leads the league in scoring at 17.0, just ahead of Nash at 16.9. Hield, Nash and Ellis are the top three scorers in Big 12 play.
Self said it Monday during the weekly coaches’ teleconference: Voting shouldn’t happen until the end of the regular season, and seasons like this are the reason. Somebody could make a resounding statement in the final days and tip the balance.
But if in the final week Ellis keeps up his recent pace, he could become the Jayhawks’ first Big 12 player of the year since Robinson.