We are just beyond the midway point of the Big 12 Conference schedule, and with just seven or eights games to go for different teams, Sooners Illustrated will hand out its mid-season awards – some of which are actual awards given within the conference and others are just made up.
It can all change before the end of the year, but here’s how it looks now:
Player of the Year: Not sure there’s really any question here. If Oklahoma All-American Buddy Hield has already wrapped up the national player of the year in the minds of some pundits, then it’s pretty clear he’s the Big 12 Conference Player of the Year.
He’s averaging almost seven points per game more than any other player in the conference and is still sixth in the conference with a 52.4 shooting percentage. Hield also leads the conference in 3-pointers made – almost twice as many as any other player – and has a seven-point lead in 3-point percentage on any player not on his team.
Coach of the Year: There will be a lot more debate for the conference’s top coaching honor. Lon Kruger has led to the Sooners to the No. 1 spot in the country, and Shaka Smart has re-ignited Texas in just his first year. But the job Bob Huggins has done at West Virginia to put the Mountaineers atop the conference with eight games to play is really remarkable.
He’ll have to earn it. Starting tonight against Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse, West Virginia plays the five teams directly below it in the conference once more before the end of the season.
West Virginia, which was unranked in the preseason AP poll, lacks a dominant offensive player but is still fourth in the conference in scoring. The Mountaineers have the highest scoring margin in the league and are shooting 46.1 percent as a team.
Newcomer of the Year: There aren’t many freshmen around the country that have had as big of an impact as Oklahoma State point guard Jawun Evans. His contribution (12.9 points, 4.9 assists and a 47.1 shooting percentage) is unmatched by any first-year player in the Big 12 Conference – transfer or freshman.
And he’s only getting better. Since his 42-point outing against Oklahoma, Evans has scored 22 points against Kansas and had 21 on the road against Auburn. He’s shining in big moments.
Defensive Player of the Year: Oklahoma forward Khadeem Lattin might also be in the running for the most improved player, but he’s the clear-cut best defensive player in the conference – especially in league play. He’s averaging 2.5 blocks on the season but 3.7 during Big 12 action. He’s the best rim protector in the league and ranks 20th in the nation.
Sixth Man of the Year: Huggins has been key for West Virginia, but Jaysean Paige coming off the bench has given the Mountaineers some real punch. Oklahoma fans will remember the 18 points he scored in the Sooners’ narrow victory, but Paige has scored at least 12 points in all but two Big 12 games this year and has five separate 20-plus outings in league play.
Most Improved Player: It’ll be a hard sell to Oklahoma fans that Jordan Woodard isn’t here – more on him later though. The most improved player in the conference has to be Wayne Selden at this point. Selden is finally becoming the player everybody thought he would be immediately at Kansas. He went from an afterthought to one of the more dominant players in the conference for the Jayhawks. He should set a career-high for single-season points by the end of the tonight and has seen a six-point spike in his per game scoring average.
Selden has also seen a jump in every single scoring category.
Biggest surprise: Always keep in mind that Oklahoma guard Jordan Woodard shot 25 percent from behind the 3-point arc last year. That’s not just bad. That’s pretty abysmal for a starting guard. His jump to almost 50 percent before Monday night’s game against Texas is as big a reason for Oklahoma’s success as Hield’s star status or Isaiah Cousins growth at point guard.
But to jump that significantly is easily the biggest shock of the season thus far.
Toughest place to play: It’s really a toss-up here, and Saturday will probably decide the winner. Both Phog Allen Fieldhouse and Lloyd Noble Center have unblemished records this season – overall and in league play. Texas is also unbeaten at home in Big 12 action.
So when Kansas comes to Norman on Saturday it could determine which venue is for sure the toughest. Both places have hosted tight contests, but to be the champ, Oklahoma has to beat the champ. Phog Allen still reigns supreme.