Andrew Wiggins Is Still the Most Important Player in Big 12 Title Race

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 14, 2014

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 11:  Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Kansas Jayhawks waits during a timeout in the game against the Kansas State Wildcats at Allen Fieldhouse on January 11, 2014 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

It was almost as if we were all setting up Andrew Wiggins to fail.

The expectations for the Kansas freshman weren’t only unfairthey were borderline absurd. Rustin Dodd of The Kansas City Star broke down just how high the hypothetical bar was set for Wiggins before the season started:

If the Andrew Wiggins experiment at Kansas is deemed a success, it will not be because he meets the expectations that have been laid out before him. For the most part, he can’t.

Wiggins, a 6-foot-8 swingman, the son of two professional athletes, the great Maple hope of Canadian basketball, is expected to dunk from the free-throw line, score 30 points per game, and lead KU to a fourth NCAA title before becoming the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.

As Self says … impossible.

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 05:  JJ O'Brien #20 of the San Diego State Aztecs defends on a fast break by Andrew Wiggins #22 of the Kansas Jayhawks during the game at Allen Fieldhouse on January 5, 2014 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Self that Dodd references is head coach Bill Self, who is far more concerned with how Wiggins plays as a member of this talented team than he is with any premature comparisons between the freshman and a young LeBron James.

Given the outlandish expectations that surrounded Wiggins’ arrival, it is not surprising that he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype. The swingman is posting nightly averages of 15.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.4 assists and one steal behind a 44 percent clip from the field and 34 percent mark from behind the three-point line.

These are solid numbers. In fact, they are better than solid, but compared with some of the other superstars across the college basketball landscape they appear fairly pedestrian. Wiggins would be the third-leading scorer on Big 12 rivals Oklahoma State and Iowa State if he had those same numbers.

Kansas has lost early season games to Villanova, Colorado, Florida and San Diego State, and this has caused the luster of Wiggins to wear off somewhat. Names like Jabari Parker, Marcus Smart, Doug McDermott, Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon are suddenly seizing more headlines.

A nine-point outing on 2-of-9 shooting in the Big 12 opener against Oklahoma did nothing to bolster his stock, even if Kansas did win the game.

However, let’s not just forget about the uber-talented Wiggins. He still holds the key to the Big 12 title race.

Like it or not, the race for the league championship will run through Lawrence until some other team decides to win the trophy for itself. The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the past nine Big 12 regular-season championships and have taken home six of the past eight league tournament titles.

Kansas barely slid past Oklahoma when Wiggins struggled, but the Jayhawks were absolutely dominant against in-state rival Kansas State the next time out. Wiggins led the way with 22 points and five rebounds on 7-of-13 shooting.

It may seem simple to point out that in Kansas’ two Big 12 games it looked like a juggernaut when Wiggins was on his game and quite vulnerable when he struggled, but he is the key piece to the entire Jayhawks attack.

Jan 8, 2014; Norman, OK, USA; Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Wiggins (22) handles the ball while being defended by Oklahoma Sooners guard Isaiah Cousins (11) during the first half at Lloyd Noble Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Wayne Selden, Perry Ellis and Joel Embiid are all NBA-caliber players on their own merits, but when Wiggins is tapping into his vast potential the floor opens up for the rest of the team. Opposing defenses must instantly focus more attention (and perhaps even double-teams) on the dynamic Wiggins, which allows Kansas’ vast array of weapons to get more open looks at the basket.

The Big 12 is better than many expected heading into the season, and if it isn’t the best conference it is a close second to the Big Ten. Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and even Texas are all dangerous, with the Cyclones, Bears and Cowboys being particular threats to Kansas’ Big 12 throne. 

For as talented as those teams are, none of them have the most NBA-ready player in college basketball, according to Gary Parrish of CBS Sports:

When Wiggins plays like the superstar he is, the impact goes far beyond his final statistics in the box score. It allows the rest of the Jayhawks’ elite talent to shine through, which makes this Kansas team the best in the Big 12 even with so many challengers.


Follow and interact with Bleacher Report writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.


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