One of the more underrated conferences in the NCAA, the Big 12 is one whose tournament should showcase some of the best young players in the nation. These men have done an excellent job of setting themselves apart from the rest of the pack and, now that the tournament is upon them, it's time for them to take their game to the next level and shine even brighter.
Fans should definitely be excited to watch Kansas guard Ben McLemore, who has taken the country by storm with his natural scoring abilities and absolutely deadly outside shot. His Jayhawks are the top-seeded team in this year's Big 12 Tournament, so he'll really need to be at his best in order for the team to earn a spot in the title game.
That means he'll have to fend off plenty of competition, as in players from rival teams who will also shine ridiculously bright from start to finish in this year's tourney.
Along with McLemore, these players should definitely bring tons of excitement and drama to this year's Big 12 Tournament.
Jeff Withey, C, Kansas
He isn't overly athletic, nor is he as dominant as some other centers in the nation, but Jeff Withey sure knows how to block shots. The 7'0" senior has averaged four per game to go with 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds for the Jayhawks this season and has also shown marked improvement with his offense.
Withey isn't going to be one of those centers who takes a conference tournament by storm and averages a double-double from start to finish, but he's definitely going to be in full defensive mode in each of the Jayhawks' games.
This means that should the score be close, fans should expect him to have an extra bounce in his step as he jumps up to swat away balls or grab an extra rebound. His stat sheet won't exactly be glamorous, but fans who love defense will be more than satisfied.
Pierre Jackson, G, Baylor
In his senior season, Pierre Jackson has done a fine job of establishing himself as a solid scoring point guard. He doesn't have much size at 5'10", 180 pounds, but makes up for it with his excellent determination and ability to lead the Bears on the floor.
Jackson averaged 19.4 points, 6.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game this season, and also managed to shoot 43 percent from the field and 36 percent from long range. Baylor only went 18-13 on the season and 9-9 in conference play, but Jackson and teammate Isaiah Austin (13.6 PPG, 8.8 RPG) managed to be bright spots for a program that lost three key players to last year's NBA draft.
The Bears are going to need a lot of luck to get past a strong Oklahoma State squad in their first tournament game, but Jackson can definitely lead them to an upset victory so long as he chooses his shots conservatively and gets everyone involved.
And speaking of Oklahoma State...
Marcus Smart, G, Oklahoma State
Simply put, Marcus Smart is amazing. His outside shot isn't as strong as a guard's should be on either the collegiate or professional level, but his defense more than makes up for it.
The freshman averaged 15.1 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists this season, but shot just 41 percent from the field and 29 percent from long range. However, his three steals per contest tied for second in the nation and made his lack of a long-range game somewhat easy to overlook.
The fact is that Smart has excellent size for a point guard at 6'4", 225 pounds and is also just a great athlete. He has done a great job stepping up as a reliable option for the Cowboys this season and in the Big 12 Tournament, he should only continue to dazzle the fans.
Ben McLemore, G, Kansas
The Jayhawks lost a key player in Thomas Robinson to last year's NBA draft, but redshirt freshman Ben McLemore did an excellent job of stepping in and contributing immediately. As a result, Kansas is once again the top-seeded team in this year's Big 12 Tournament.
On the season, McLemore averaged 16.7 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and 43 percent from long range. His outside shot is excellent as is his scoring game in general, and the Jayhawks' fate easily lies with him.
McLemore also has a pure shooting guard's size at 6'5", 185 pounds, and his ability to nail shots from the perimeter and long range makes for an incredibly bright future. Kansas winning the conference championship isn't guaranteed by any means, but having McLemore leading them on offense definitely makes their prospects good.
Oh, and let's not forget that the fans are going to be roaring whenever he touches the ball.
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