Big 12 basketball is home to some of the best playmakers in college basketball this season.
That will be shown come June during the NBA draft where a couple of the Big 12’s best figure to be taken early in the first round. Ben McLemore of Kansas and Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State are ranked first and third, respectively, on Chad Ford’s big board on ESPN.com. Their playmaking ability is part of what makes them such attractive players at the next level.
A playmaker can come in different forms. He can be dynamic with the ball in his hands, make plays for teammates or change the game on the defensive end. No matter the form, a playmaker simply generates positive momentum for his team.
Here are the top 10 playmakers in Big 12 basketball.
Korie Lucious has played well in his only year in Ames after transferring from Michigan State. Lucious is doing a nice job running the team, playing 31.2 minutes per game, and he is a big reason that Iowa State is in the NCAA tournament discussion.
Lucious is second in the Big 12 with 5.6 assists per game, getting easy shots for teammates both inside and from three. He is also an offensive threat from deep, making 1.9 threes per game while shooting 35.8 percent from beyond the arc.
Angel Rodriguez is having an excellent sophomore season, making more plays for himself and teammates while also making fewer mistakes. His development is a big reason Kansas State has had the success it has in Bruce Weber’s first year.
Rodriguez is fifth in the Big 12 in assists with 5.5 per game and is also taking better care of the ball. He is playing six more minutes per game on average this season compared to last, but is turning the ball over just 2.3 times per game compared to 2.7 last year.
Rodriguez is averaging 11.5 points per game and has scored in double figures in each of the last nine games.
Elijah Johnson has had an up and down senior season, but he is still the likely candidate to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line for Kansas. Johnson is fourth in the conference in assists with 4.9 per game, and he does a great job making plays off the dribble.
He has played well recently, beginning with a 39-point performance in an overtime win at Iowa State. In the last three games, Johnson is averaging 19.3 points and 9.7 assists per game. If Johnson continues that kind of play, the Jayhawks are serious national title contenders.
Markel Brown often finds himself on highlight reels because he is one of the best dunkers in all of college basketball. He has proven this year he can do more than just dunk.
Brown is averaging 15.7 points per game, ranking third in the Big 12. He has drastically improved his outside shooting, making 39 percent from beyond the arc compared to 31.9 percent a year ago.
Brown has also come up with big plays late in games, taking the ball the length of the court for a game-winning layup against Baylor on Feb. 6.
Jeff Withey is not a traditional playmaker. His playmaking ability is pretty one-dimensional, but Withey is dominant within that dimension, blocking and altering shots as well as anyone in the country.
He is averaging 4.0 blocks per game, which ranks third nationally. Withey had 12 blocks against San Jose State on Nov. 26 and just blocked nine shots against West Virginia on Saturday. He is the reason teams are shooting just 37.6 percent from inside the arc, which is tops in the country, according to KenPom.com.
Rodney McGruder is one of the best players in the league. He is fifth in the conference in scoring with 14.8 points per game, and he also makes an impact on the defensive end, ranking ninth in the Big 12 with 1.3 steals per game.
Over the weekend, McGruder showed he can make big plays in clutch situations. He hit a game-winning three at the buzzer to deliver Baylor a crushing home loss.
Ben McLemore can be a little inconsistent and disappear for long stretches of games. He also does not do well creating his own shot off the dribble, but few possess McLemore’s playmaking ability in the open floor. When he gets out in transition, McLemore’s elite athleticism is on full display and he finishes above the rim.
He is second in the Big 12 in scoring with 16.5 points per game. McLemore has also gone off for a few big games this season, including a 36-point performance on 12-of-15 shooting against West Virginia on Saturday.
Before Myck Kabongo returned from his 23-game suspension, Texas was 2-8 in its first 10 conference games. The wins came against TCU and Texas Tech, the two worst teams in the league.
Since Kabongo’s return, the Longhorns are 4-3 with three of the wins coming over Oklahoma, Baylor and Iowa State. The reversal of fortune is no coincidence. In his seven games, Kabongo is averaging 17.0 points, 5.4 assists 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game.
Kabongo has hit the ground running. He has proven just how valuable he is to Texas and shown why many believed before the season he was a first round NBA draft talent.
As a true freshman, Marcus Smart is one of the best point guards and leaders in the country. He will do whatever it takes for his team to come out on top, whether that is hitting a game-winner against Iowa State or making a big block late in overtime against Oklahoma.
Smart does it all for the Cowboys. He ranks in the top 15 in the conference in points, rebounds, assists, steals, blocks and free-throw percentage. If he were a better outside shooter (29.6 percent from three), he would be a lock for the top pick in June’s NBA draft.
Pierre Jackson has been an elite playmaker since arriving at Baylor last year as a junior college transfer. Jackson is electric with the ball in his hands and can easily create a shot for himself or a teammate.
He leads the Big 12 in both scoring (19.1 points per game) and assists (6.4 assists per game). Jackson has scored in double figures in 28 of the 29 games in which he has played, and he has registered at least five assists in 12 straight games.