Big 12 Basketball Tournament: Ranking the Conference's 25 Best Players

Jack WinterCorrespondent IMarch 8, 2011

Big 12 Basketball Tournament: Ranking the Conference's 25 Best Players

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    Throughout the 2010-2011 college basketball season, the Big 12 proved its worth as one of the country's top power conferences.

    Kansas and Texas have been near the top of the polls all season long. Missouri and Texas A&M have been ranked from week to week. Kansas State is back to playing at the level of a national-title contender. Perennial bottom-feeders like Colorado and Nebraska have left their marks on the conference.

    Obviously, nothing is more instrumental to the league's success than the players.  Whether freshmen or seniors, guards or forwards, the Big 12 possesses one of the best stables of individual talent in the country.  Fortunately for basketball junkies, every player in the conference will be on display in this week's Big 12 tournament in Kansas City.

    Following is a list of the Big 12's top 25 players as we get ready for postseason action.

No. 25: Cade Davis, G/F Oklahoma

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    Oklahoma's Cade Davis—a contributor for the Sooners since the Blake Griffin era—put together his best season as a senior in 2010-2011.

    No longer just a spot-up shooter, the 6'5'' Davis averaged career highs of 13.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game this season.  Additionally, he played and defended multiple positions for an undermanned OU squad.

    Players like Davis don't get much publicity playing on sub-par teams, but every coach in the Big 12 would love to have them on their roster.

No. 24: Ricardo Ratliffe, F Missouri

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    The prize member of Mike Anderson's ballyhooed 2010 recruiting class, junior-college transfer Ricardo Ratliffe didn't disappoint for Missouri in 2010-2011.

    The Tigers' best low-post scorer and an athletic presence in the paint on both ends of the floor, Ratliffe averaged 10.7 points and 6.3 rebounds per game.  If not for foul trouble that limited his minutes, he no doubt would have improved on those relatively underwhelming statistics.

    Ratliffe's play will be instrumental in determining how far Mizzou advances into March.  If the Big 12 All-Rookie pick performs to his ability and can stay on the floor, he has enough ability to deeply impact meaningful games.

No. 23: BJ Holmes, G Texas A&M

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    A pesky 5'11'' senior, B.J. Holmes' true impact for the Texas A&M Aggies doesn't show up on the box score.  Still, his infectious on-floor attitude and energy make him one of A&M's most valuable players.

    Holmes is a disruptor on defense, using his quick feet and unrivaled endurance to stay in front of ballhandlers and play passing lanes.  Offensively, he averages just over nine points and three assists per game, but he is a known clutch shooter who connects on 40.7 percent of his three-point attempts.

    Holmes is invaluable to the success of Texas A&M—even if the numbers don't show it—as evidenced by the league's coaches selecting him as an All-Big 12 honorable-mention pick.

No. 22: Laurence Bowers, F Missouri

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    Junior forward Laurence Bowers is arguably Missouri's most important player.  In Mike Anderson's up-tempo "hellish" defensive scheme, long, well-conditioned and active big men are invaluable. At 6'8'' with guard-like agility, Bowers certainly fits that bill.

    He averaged 6.1 rebounds, 1.2 steals and ranked second in the conference with 1.9 blocks despite playing just under 25 minutes a contest.  Bowers was named to the Big 12 All-Defensive team for his impressive defensive exploits, but he did not just play one end of the floor.

    He was MU's second-leading scorer with 11.8 points per game and he shot 54.3 percent from the field.

No. 21: David Loubeau, F Texas A&M

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    An unknown on the national scene, followers of the Big 12 know just how talented a player Texas A&M junior forward David Loubeau is.

    A true back-to-the-basket threat, Loubeau may be the league's most effective post scorer.  Utilizing a litany of moves and counter moves down low, he averaged 11.6 points per game this year and he shot over 50 percent from the field to go along with 4.9 rebounds.

    Loubeau was named to the All-Big 12 third team for his efforts in helping A&M to their highest league finish in years.

No. 20: Cory Joseph, G Texas

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    A highly-touted Canadian import, freshman Cory Joseph was instrumental in Texas' rebound from an embarrassing 2009-2010 season.

    A calming influence for the Longhorns, Joseph is the rare freshman capable of running the show for a top-ranked team.  He averaged 10.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and a team-leading three assists per game for UT this season, and he shot over 40 percent from three-point range.  Joseph's most impressive statistic, though, is his gaudy—especially for a freshman—2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.

    Joseph is a member of the conference's All-Rookie team as well as an All-Big 12 honorable-mention pick. Facing lofty preseason expectations, he lived up to them and more for the Longhorns this season.

No. 19: Tyrel Reed, G Kansas

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    Big 12 teams have felt the wrath of Tyrel Reed's crunch-time long-range bombs for several years. This season, though, the Kansas senior developed his all-around game and proved to be one of the league's most underrated performers.

    The sneaky-athletic Reed ranked third on the Jayhawks in scoring at 9.9 points per game, and he was KU's most consistent performer all season long.  In addition to hitting 39.7 percent from beyond the arc, Reed made more layups off the dribble and at the rim this season than he did in the previous three combined. Formerly known as a defensive liability, he frequently checked the opposition's best perimeter player and he more than held his own.

    A leading candidate for the national Senior CLASS award, Reed was an All-Big 12 honorable-mention pick by the league's coaches.

No. 18: Quincy Acy, F Baylor

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    One of the most athletic players in the conference, Baylor's Quincy Acy had a predictably stellar season despite his team's struggles.

    The 6'7'' forward averaged 12.1 points per game on 53-percent shooting and he led the Bears. He was also among the conference leaders in rebounding with 7.4 per contest.  Sometimes lost in the shuffle among Baylor's offensive attack, Acy got the majority of his points through hustle, strength and determination.  

    If the Bears make a run in the Big 12 tournament, Acy's enthusiastic leadership will no doubt be the reason why.

No. 17: Gary Johnson, F Texas

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    Gary Johnson, Texas' burly 6'6'' forward, is the type of player who seems to have been in college six or seven seasons, as he's been a consistent member of the Longhorns rotation since 2007.  He's clearly played the best basketball of his seemingly never-ending career in 2010-2011, though.

    The unquestioned Texas leader, Johnson ranked third on his team in both scoring (12 points per game) and rebounding (seven per game), and he was a key cog in the Longhorns vaunted defensive attack.  Capable of guarding three positions, he's the conference's most versatile defender.

    Johnson was named a league honorable-mention pick for his efforts in leading UT to near the top of the national rankings.

No. 16: Cory Higgins, G Colorado

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    One of the Big 12's best scorers since 2008, Colorado senior Cory Higgins saw a dip in his statistics this season.  He surely doesn't mind, though, as this has been the Buffs' best season since he set foot in Boulder.

    Impossible to keep out of the lane, the 6'5'' Higgins averaged 15.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists this season.  To foster team success, he played more off the ball this season and still found a way to rank among the conference's scoring leaders.

    One half of a devastating perimeter combo, Higgins and his team need a solid showing in the Big 12 tournament to help their chances of getting invited to the Big Dance.

No. 15: Rodney McGruder, G Kansas State

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    Overlooked by many due to the presence of preseason All-American candidate Jacob Pullen and interior force Curtis Kelly, Kansas State sophomore wing Rodney McGruder is perhaps the most underrated player in the conference.

    At 6'5'' and solidly built with great athleticism, McGruder is one of the Big 12's most versatile wings. Capable of putting the ball on the deck or spotting up from deep, he ranked second on the Wildcats with 11.2 points per game, and he shot a stellar 41.5 percent from deep and 45.1-percent overall.  Most impressive, though, are his exploits on the glass, as McGruder led KSU by corralling 6.2 rebounds per contest.

    Instrumental in K-State's late-season turnaround, McGruder will no doubt make his presence known nationally as March continues.

No. 14: Thomas Robinson, F Kansas

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    The collective son of Jayhawks nation, sophomore forward Thomas Robinson has overcome unbelievable personal tragedy to play the best basketball of his blossoming career.

    A backup to the Morris twins, Robinson would likely be a starter for every other team in the Big 12.  One of the country's most efficient players, he averages 8.5 points and 6.5 rebounds despite playing just under 15 minutes per game, and he shoots a scintillating 61.7 percent from the field.  Quite simply, there aren't many backups who can contribute 15 points and 13 rebounds on the road in a rivalry game like Robinson did against Missouri last week.

    Always playing with unbridled passion and enthusiasm, there may not be a more beloved player in college basketball than Robinson, and it's not surprising. The only thing more impressive than his on-court performance this season has been his incredible demeanor through the most dire of circumstances off it.  

    He deserves a deep run into March, and he will no doubt be hugely influential if Kansas gets there.

No. 13: Diante Garrett, G Iowa State

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    Their 3-13 conference record doesn't show it, but the undermanned Iowa State Cyclones have been more competitive in the Big 12 than most anticipated.  The biggest reason for that is the play of their senior lead man, 6'4'' Diante Garrett.

    Taking on a new role as his team's main option this season, Garrett scored nearly twice as much as he did last year.  He averaged 17.2 points per game this season—good for sixth in the league—and handily led the Big 12 by doling out 6.1 assists a contest.

    If his team had endured more success, Garrett could have perhaps gained more postseason acclaim.  As it is, he was still good enough this year to garner All-Big 12 second-team honors.

No. 12: Lance Jeter, G Nebraska

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    The Nebraska Cornhuskers surprised this season, in contention for an at-large NCAA tournament bid well into last month.  Though they lost three of their last four games to finish 7-9, 2010-2011 was undoubtedly a step in the right direction for Doc Sadler's program.

    Leading the charge for the Huskers was senior Lance Jeter, a speedy and strong 6'3'', 225-pound PG. The Cornhuskers hung their hat on defense this season, and the awesome on-ball defense of Jeter was a big reason for their success on that end of the floor.  On offense, the senior was stellar, averaging 11.5 points and dishing out 4.6 assists per game, ranking third in the Big 12.

    In a conference lacking an elite true PG, Jeter may have been its best and he was named to the All-Big 12 third team.

No. 11: LaceDarius Dunn, G Baylor

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    One of college basketball's best scorers since his sophomore year, LaceDarius Dunn came into his senior season rife with preseason acclaim.  Baylor, though, never lived up to expectations and will surely miss out on the NCAA tournament.  

    Dunn, the Big 12's leading scorer, was not at his best this season, but he still was one of the league's deadliest offensive forces.  As a result of the opposition's defense being centered around stopping him, Dunn's shooting percentages faltered, but he still averaged nearly 20 points per game.

    Dunn was named first-team All-Big 12 for his efforts this season.  Though he didn't have the team or individual success he likely anticipated, 2010-2011 was not a bad way for Dunn to end his collegiate career.

No. 10: Marshall Moses, F Oklahoma State

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    Oklahoma State senior forward Marshall Moses was arguably the most underrated performer in the Big 12 this season.  Playing on a team with a 6-10 conference record, it was easy for fans and media alike to overlook his impressive season.  If the Cowboys had been successful, he'd have no doubt received more deserved acclaim.

    Moses averaged team-leading numbers of 14.7 points and 7.5 rebounds this season, and he shot 55.5 percent from the field.  He was the ninth-leading scorer in the Big 12, and ranked among the conference's top five in rebounding and field-goal percentage.  Statistically, few big men were better in 2010-2011.

    Though he was named to just the All-Big 12 third team, Moses was clearly one of the conference's top few big men this year, and perhaps its most pleasant individual surprise.

No. 9: Perry Jones III, F Baylor

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    The highest-rated recruit to ever sign with Baylor and a surefire top-three NBA draft pick this June, Perry Jones III didn't disappoint in what is likely to be his only collegiate season.  The 6'10'' thoroughbred was the Bears' best player in 2010-2011. If his role had been bigger, Baylor would have undoubtedly enjoyed more success.

    He ranked 11th in the league with 13.2 points per game and ninth by pulling down 7.2 rebounds per contest.  Perhaps most impressive, Jones III was at his best in Big 12 play when he scored in double figures in all but one contest.

    One wonders the numbers Jones III would have compiled had he played in a system catered to his outstanding and unique abilities.  Even so, he was good enough this year to be named to the All-Big 12 second team, a rarity for a true freshman.

No. 8: Khris Middleton, G Texas A&M

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    The Texas A&M Aggies came out of nowhere to finish tied for third in the Big 12 this season, and there wasn't a bigger reason for that than the outstanding play of sophomore wing Khris Middleton.  

    Middleton, A&M's leading scorer, is one of the conference's most versatile scorers, equally adept playing off the dribble, in the post or in catch-and-shoot situations.  He averaged 14.4 points per game this year on 45.2-percent shooting from the field and a stellar 80.2 percent from the charity stripe.  Middleton was at his best in the Aggies' two biggest wins of the year, as he scored a combined 46 points in wins over ranked foes Missouri and Kansas State.

    A tough matchup for most due to his 6'7'', 215-pound frame, Middleton is a member of the All-Big 12 second team and he is poised to wreak havoc on the conference for at least one more year.

No. 7: Jordan Hamilton, G Texas

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    Texas sophomore wing Jordan Hamilton took a lot of heat for the struggles of the 2009-2010 Longhorns.  A prized recruit, fans and pundits pointed to his poor shot selection and general lack of team play as an indicator of UT's problems.  This year, that all changed.

    Considered by most as Texas' best player, Hamilton helped lead the Longhorns to a 13-3 conference record and a likely top-two seed in the NCAA tournament.  The 6'7'' sharpshooter was much more team oriented this year, but he still managed to rank fourth in the Big 12 in scoring by averaging 18.5 points per game.  Often overlooked is Hamilton's stellar work on the glass. He pulled down an awesome 7.6 rebounds a night, by far the best mark for a wing in the league.

    Texas will be a tough out in the postseason for many reasons, but chief among them is the natural scoring ability of Hamilton, a member of the All-Big 12 first team.

No. 6: Marcus Denmon, G Missouri

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    A Kansas City native, Missouri junior G Marcus Denmon has emerged as one of the most efficient perimeter players in the country.

    At 6'3'' with wiry strength, this season Denmon added a knack for getting to the basket to his offensive repertoire.  Always known for his deadly outside shot, he used that to his advantage in developing his off-the-dribble game.  Denmon averaged a team-leading 16.8 points per game and shot an astounding 45.6 percent from beyond the arc and 50.1 percent overall.  Taking Missouri's frenetic style of play into account, those stellar shooting numbers are even more impressive.  Additionally, Denmon proved instrumental to Mizzou's pressure-style defense, using his quick feet to keep ball-handlers in front of him and his anticipation to play passing lanes.

    Though Missouri had loftier expectations than their 8-8 conference record, they'll be a tough out for anyone come postseason play and there isn't a bigger reason for that than Denmon, a member of the All-Big 12 first team.

No. 5: Tristan Thompson, F Texas

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    The Texas Longhorns have relied on their outstanding defense to become a legitimate 2011 NCAA title contender.  No player is more important to UT's amazing success on that end of the floor than freshman Tristan Thompson.

    At 6'8'' and a thick 225 pounds, Thompson is longer and more athletic than his measurements and body indicate.  He moves extremely well for a player his size and he has superb timing in blocking shots and going up for boards.  As a result, Thompson ranked first in the league in blocks and second in rebounding, very rare feats for a true freshman.  He's no slouch on offense, though, as evidenced by his freshman-leading 13.5 points per game and stellar mark of 54 percent from the field.

    Thompson, a member of the All-Big 12 first team and All-Defense team as well as the Freshman of the Year, is perhaps the most underrated player in the nation.  Aside from Ohio State's Jared Sullinger, there isn't a first-year man who means more to an elite squad than he does.

No. 4: Markieff Morris, F Kansas

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    Coming into the year, Kansas forward Markieff Morris was most widely known as the Jayhawks "other" twin. After a 2010-2011 season that cemented him as one of the country's best big men, he's completely shed that label.

    Markieff, bigger and more explosive than his brother, is one of the most efficient players in the country. Scoring via post-ups, put-backs and long jumpers, Morris averaged 13.5 points per game and led the Big 12 with a 57.8 field-goal percentage.  He's nearly as effective defensively, as evidenced by his league-leading 8.3 rebounds per game and general activity as a helping defender.

    If not for the presence of brother Marcus, Markieff would have been KU's offensive focal point and, as a result, garnered more national media attention.  The All-Big 12 second-team pick, though, is no doubt on the mind of opposing coaches and players as postseason play begins.

No. 3: Jacob Pullen, G Kansas State

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    A preseason All-American after leading Kansas State to the Elite Eight last year, senior G Jacob Pullen— like his team as a whole—was very underwhelming in the initial months of the 2010-2011 season.  The fact that he ranks so highly on this list is a testament to how amazing he was over the season's last two months.

    Despite an awful start to Big 12 play, Pullen ranked second in the league in scoring with 19.6 points per game and in the top 10 in both assists and steals.  More indicative of his impact for KSU than statistics, though, are his performances in his team's biggest games.  In upset wins over Big 12 foes Kansas and Texas, Pullen looked like an All-American, pouring in a combined 58 points on 15-of-29 shooting from the field, 22-of-26 from the charity stripe and 6-of-10 from beyond the arc.  Obviously, when KSU's senior leader is playing well, few in the country are capable of putting up the numbers he is.

    Pullen and the 19th-ranked Wildcats are playing their best ball of the season, and if the last several weeks are any indication, the All-Big 12 first-team selection will lead KSU on another deep run into March.

No. 2: Alec Burks, G Colorado

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    The rare elite wing who plays for a perennial conference bottom-feeder, Colorado sophomore Alec Burks is unknown on the national scene.  Given his NBA size and skill-set, one believes that if he wore KU's blue or Texas' burnt orange, he would be an All-America candidate.  Instead, he'll have to settle for being arguably the Big 12's best player.

    At 6'6'' with long arms, a quick first step and awesome athleticism, Burks is a terror for opposing guards to defend.  Offensively, he uses his supreme ball-handling ability and understanding of pace to get to the rim at will, where he is one of the country's best finishers.  Burks ranks third in the Big 12 in scoring at 19.5 points per game and he pulls down a solid 6.2 rebounds per contest.  Like Pullen, he's been at his best when it matters most.  In huge wins over Missouri and Texas, he totaled a staggering 69 points to go along with 18 rebounds.

    Burks has the Buffaloes squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.  With a strong showing in the Big 12 tournament, Colorado will likely receive an at-large bid to the Big Dance, and no one will have provided a bigger impact than Burks, a unanimous All-Big 12 first-team selection.

No. 1: Marcus Morris, F Kansas

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    A role player for Kansas' 2009-2010 squad, junior F Marcus Morris took an only somewhat-expected leap to superstardom this season in leading the Jayhawks to a 29-2 record and a seventh-consecutive Big 12 title.  

    At 6'9'', 235 pounds, Morris is the country's most versatile offensive performer.  He can score in any way possible—post-ups, put-backs, facing up, isolations, long jumpers and any other way it's possible to put the ball in the basket.  Quite simply, he's the rare player with an NBA skill-set still at the college level.  

    Given his vast array of tools, it's not surprising that Morris averaged 17.3 points and seven rebounds per game while shooting a scintillating 59.7 percent from the floor and 35.8 percent from deep.  Maybe most impressive is that he's scored in double-figures 20 straight games for a deep-and-balanced Kansas squad that ranks among the country's best offensively.

    Bill Self's Jayhawks are playing great basketball heading into the postseason.  Though KU has one of the country's most talented rosters, their March fortunes will ultimately fall on the broad shoulders of Morris.

    With the Big 12 Player of the Year leading the charge, Kansas is as good a bet as any to cut down the nets in early April.