Kansas doesn’t have a star and even though Oklahoma State’s duo of Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte are near the top of the conference in scoring, it seems like the lack of success by the Cowboys could keep them out of the discussion.
Baylor suffers from a similar fate to Kansas: Too much depth-emphasis for one player to shine, and Kansas State’s Marcus Foster has spent more time suspended or playing poorly than playing at level worthy of the top individual honor in the Big 12.
That leaves two players, and it just so happens that those two players were matched up and locked in a battle – in the paint and on the court – Monday night.
Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield drew the assignment on Iowa State’s Georges Niang when the Cyclones came out with a big lineup to start the Sooners’ victory. Niang moved to the wing but played in the post, and Hield was manning him on the inside.
Niang might have been the slight favorite coming in Monday, but for at least one night, Hield made a big case.
“He’s a terrific player,” Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger said of Niang. “You just have to give him a lot of attention.”
Although, Kruger could have been talking about his own player.
Down by 10 points with five minutes to play in the first half, Hield hit a jumper and scored inside. Then, he stole the ball from Niang and found point guard Jordan Woodard for a pretty reverse lay-up.
The Big 12’s most active 3-point shooter then delivered an early dagger – even if it didn’t kill Iowa State. Hield knocked down a 3-pointer from the wing to tie the game going into halftime.
When Iowa State tied the game in the second half, it was Hield who hit an answer 3 just 20 seconds later. Three minutes later, Hield hit another jumper to stretch the Oklahoma advantage to seven points.
Big plays a big moments: Hield finished with 17 points, his 18th straight game in double figures and 22nd game of the season with at least 10 points.
Niang you ask? He finished with just seven points, tying his season-low and registering his second-straight seven-point outing.
Hield is the fast-riser in the player of the year debate, fast enough that he might just stay at the top. He has scored at least 20 points in six of the Sooners’ 11 conference games.
Since the start of Big 12 play, Hield’s scoring average has gone up, not down, and he’s currently the Big 12 leader in scoring. He’s also averaging 5.5 rebounds per game – more than Niang.
Hield is making his case, and so far, it’s the best one yet.