Big 12 Look: Players to Watch

As six teams battle for second place, there's a few under-the-radar players to keep an eye on

With half a dozen games remaining in the Big 12 Conference season for most teams in the league, the No. 2 seed for the tournament still is wide open.

Kansas appears to have wrapped up another Big 12 regular season championship, but there are six teams within striking distance for the second-highest seed.

Iowa State is currently in second place by half a game, but Texas – ranked sixth right now – is just two games out of that spot despite a horrendous season so far.

Here’s a look at one player, who isn’t the most obvious, that could make a different down the stretch for his team – trying to reach that No. 2 seed:

Monte Morris, PG, Iowa State - There might not be a team in the country with six players averaging in double figures. Well, there is Iowa State. It only makes sense that the player with the responsibility of getting those players the ball is the most important.

Morris, who is averaging 11 points per game, has at least four assists in 10 of the past 12 games. No surprise that Iowa State (8-4), which has lost just four games in the past 12, lost both of those games where Morris’ assist numbers were down.

Ryan Spangler, F, Oklahoma - Missing Spangler was pressingly obvious Saturday night when the favorite to win the Big 12 Blue Collar Award – if there was one –fouled out of the Sooners’ loss to Kansas State.

Not many had been playing better than Spangler, who had scored in double digits nine straight games. Oklahoma (8-5) needs him on the court. He doesn’t need to change what he’s been doing. He just needs to keep doing it – something that could be an issue after he slowed down at the end of last season.

Juwan Staten, F, West Virginia - Ok, so it’s not excluding every team’s best player. Staten has to play like the Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year if the Mountaineers (7-5), who rely so much on the team press but have lost three of the last four.

Still just one game out of second place isn’t bad. Staten can’t settle for six points against Baylor or four against Oklahoma or three against Texas. In each of those games, Staten shot worse than 30 percent – worse than 15 against Oklahoma and Texas. Isolation in the half court is still a type of offense.

Anthony Hickey, PG, Oklahoma State - The Cowboys (7-6) needed someone to step up behind LeBryan Nash and Phil Forte, and Hickey was the man. He has scored in double figures in four of the past five games while still averaging four assists per game during the past six contests, which would be fifth in the conference.

It has taken a while for Hickey, but the way he’s playing now is why Oklahoma State knocked off four ranked opponents in its past six games.

Kenny Chery, PG, Baylor - Forward Rico Gathers doesn’t make the list because there’s no question what the Bears will get from him. Taurean Prince, off the bench, has scored in double figures and shot at least 38.5 percent in the last nine games.

It’s Chery though that keeps the offense going. In five straight games, if Chery had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio then Baylor (6-6) lost. Neutral or positive turned into a win.

Myles Turner, F, Texas - Turner was almost a shoe-in to be a one-and-done. He was supposed to take the Big 12 by storm, dominating the competition. But he just hasn’t.

He’s 17th in the league in scoring and leading Texas despite less than 12 points per game. He’s sixth in rebounding but has just 6.5 per contest – one more per game than Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. Turner needs to be the player he was against Texas Tech – 25 points and 12 rebounds – if the Longhorns (6-6). Before that game, he had finished in single digits in five of the past six games and never had more than eight rebounds.

Of note: Every team in the Big 12 has a win against a top-25 opponent. That’s a first in conference history.

Biggest surprise: A couple candidates come to mind to the but both involve a shade of purple and the state of Oklahoma. After knocking off four ranked teams in five games, Oklahoma State gave TCU its first Big 12 victory of the season – outside of the win against Texas Tech. Meanwhile, the Sooners were beaten by Kansas State, a loss that all but knocks the Sooners out of the race for the Big 12 Conference. Oklahoma still controls its own destiny to earn the No. 2 seed in the Big 12, though.

What to watch this week: This is it: The Big 12’s last stand against Kansas’ 11th straight regular season title. If the Jayhawks can go on the road to Morgantown and beat West Virginia to take a three-game lead on the league, it’s all but over – barring a horrible and surprising collapse.

Quotable: “That’s what separates our league from anybody else in America. We have better teams than everybody else. . . . If you don’t bring your ‘A’ or at least your ‘A-minus’ game, you are going to get beat.” - Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford.

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