Simply put: nobody affected the game in so many areas. Smart put together arguably the most complete season from a point guard since Jason Kidd. For most of the season, Smart was in the Big 12's top 15 in all five major categories: points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. He fell just out on blocks, but remained in the other four. He grabbed 5.7 rebounds per game, dished out 4.3 assists per game. And he scored 16.1 points per game and had more than three steals per contest in Big 12 play. But perhaps most importantly, Smart had moments where he swung games in the Cowboys' favor, including crashing the glass for offensive rebound after offensive rebound to beat Kansas. Kansas's Jeff Withey was the other candidate here, but Smart was both more versatile and valuable than the Jayhawks' star. Without Smart, I'm not sure Oklahoma State is an NCAA Tournament team.
Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year — Jeff Withey, Kansas
Withey's biggest improvement came on the offensive end, but his biggest impact remains on the defensive side of the ball. Not only did Withey lead the Big 12 in blocked shots with four per game — his 124 blocks this year were exactly double that of the second-place guy in the Big 12, Baylor's Cory Jefferson. The Big 12's all-time leading shot-blocker also improved as a rebounder, grabbing a league-best 6.35 defensive rebounds per game. From a defensive presence standpoint, nobody matches up with the Kansas big man here.
Big 12 Coach of the Year — Lon Kruger, Oklahoma
It was a tough choice between Kruger and Kansas State's Bruce Weber. Kruger brought back an experienced roster with all five starters returning. Weber inherited, from Frank Martin, an experienced roster with four starters returning. The Wildcats won a share of the league title, true, by going 14-4 in the Big 12, a four-game jump from a year ago. But Kruger's Sooners actually made an even bigger leap, jumping up six games from last year's 5-13 squad in the Big 12 by going 11-7. An underrated kudos should go to Fred Hoiberg, who again produced a top-half of the Big 12 team despite replacing several key players.
Big 12 Freshman of the Year — Smart
Clyburn was one of the Big 12's top all-around players. He handled the ball, scored 15.2 points per game and grabbed 7.1 boards per game. And while three-point shooting wasn't his specialty, he made some awfully big ones over the course of the season. As stated above, the Cyclones had to replace a bulk of their talent, but with Clyburn and point guard Korie Lucious and the addition of freshman center Georges Niang, Iowa State had a nice year.
All-Big 12 First Team
Last One Out: Romero Osby, Oklahoma
I've made the cases for Smart and Withey above. McLemore was the No. 1 offensive option for the league champion team, a hyper-efficient scorer who put up 16.7 points and at least a 'wow' play or two per game. McLemore also grabbed 5.3 rebounds per contest, an outstanding number for a guard. McGruder frustrated most players who had to chase him around in Kansas State's motion offense all season, scoring 15.1 points per game. His numbers jumped up in Big 12 play, with McGruder scoring 16.1 PPG, grabbing 4.9 rebounds per game and 1.3 steals per game.
Osby was the last one out here. He was arguably the Big 12's toughest defensive matchup because of his size, quickness and driving ability. His numbers only continued to go up in Big 12 play, averaging 17.8 PPG and 7.3 RPG in league. But he fell just short of Jackson, the last one in, who scored 19.3 PPG and dished out 6.8 assists in the Big 12, the top marks in the league in both statistics.
All-Big 12 Second Team
Last One Out: F Travis Releford, Kansas
Clyburn is covered above.
Perhaps no two players improved as much from last year to this year as Rodriguez and Brown. Rodriguez went from an erratic point guard with highlight reel plays and lowlight reel mistakes to a player who scored (11.5 PPG), passed well (5.48 APG), generated turnovers (1.48 SPG) and generally ran his team efficiently (2.30 A-TO Ratio). Brown had moments as a dynamic athlete a year ago, but this year, he was Oklahoma State's top scorer with 15.6 points per game, and he showed the ability to shred defenses from distance.
Releford was a difficult omission. The Big 12's best perimeter defender was also one of the league's more efficient scorers, averaging 11.9 PPG. But Ejim was the Big 12's top rebounder and tough guy. A box score stat-stuffer, Ejim averaged 10.6 points and 9.3 rebounds (finishing in KenPom's top 100 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate), while making an outstanding 36.8 percent of his threes from his power forward position. He's a big part of the reason Iowa State was among the league's best rebounding teams despite not starting a player over 6-foot-7.
All-Big 12 Third Team
Last One Out: G Chris Babb, Iowa State
Kabongo was potentially the hardest player to rank on this team. His numbers — 15.8 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 5.3 APG and 1.9 SPG — were arguably first-team worthy. But with him only playing in eight games, it was hard to put him anywhere near that spot. Still, he gets a spot on the team because he played nearly half the conference season, and dramatically shifted Texas's fortunes (2-8 without him, 5-3 with him) in Big 12 play.
McGee was the Big 12's top assassin, scoring 13.5 PPG and leading the league in three-point percentage (47.0) and three-pointers made per game (2.81). So many were huge, momentum-changing daggers, and he also finished in the Big 12's top 10 in steals per game (1.26). The 7-1 Austin scored 13.6 PPG, was second in the league in rebounding at 8.8 RPG and blocked 1.62 shots per game. He was second in the Big 12 in offensive rebounds per game and was third in defensive rebounds per contest.
Another difficult omission was Cory Jefferson of Baylor, who scored 12.1 PPG, had 8.2 RPG and 2.0 blocked shots. But it was hard to take a third Baylor player over a third Oklahoma State player, and Jefferson's scoring dipped in Big 12 play, whereas Nash (the last pick of the forwards), held steady at about 14 PPG. Nash was one of the Big 12's most difficult scorers to stop when he got going, and was a bit part of the reason the Cowboys had a third-place league finish this year.
All-Big 12 Freshman Team
G Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State; G Ben McLemore, Kansas; F Isaiah Austin, Baylor; F Georges Niang, Iowa State; F Ioannis Papapetrou, Texas.
This was a tough team to elect because there were so many good freshmen this year. Smart, McLemore and Austin were the no-brainers, and Niang, who scored almost 12 points per game, wasn't far off. That left five players competing for the final spot — Papapetrou, Texas Tech's Josh Gray, West Virginia's Eron Harris, Oklahoma's Buddy Hield and Oklahoma State's Phil Forte. And while all had their strengths, I went went Papapetrou because 1) he affected the game in the most areas, 2) he played all five positions for the Longhorns this season and 3) he came on at the end of the year, really improving over the course of the season.