Two years, two players of the year, two No. 2 NBA draft picks.
There is no question the Big 12 has some of the best talent in the country, and the last two years have driven the point home even more. While Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant took over college basketball for just a little while, other players have quietly made clutch plays, made All-Big 12 teams, and won national championships.
With no freshmen drawing the attention of the two aforementioned standouts, the emphasis this season will be on team and experience. Here is a look at some of those players that have been around awhile and are this season's players to watch.
Damion James, Jr. Forward, Texas
There is just something I like about the way he plays. James is athletic and willing to do what his team asks of him. Having played power forward when Durant stopped by, James is now living and loving at the small forward spot.
But James is not your typical 3. Not only did he average a double-double, 13.2 points and 10.3 rebounds per game, but he gives the Longhorns easy buckets on lob passes and putbacks and has a reliable jumper out to 15 feet. Look for him to increase his productions as the inside option to AJ Abrams outside.
AJ Abrams, Sr. Guard, Texas
Welcome back, Mr. Abrams, the Longhorn fans are rejoicing! I don’t think there is a player who will benefit from staying in college more than Abrams. While he is an outstanding scorer, Abrams can use this year to solidify his ball handling skills.
Shooting guard is his natural—and best—position, but if he is truly looking to play in the Association, he must show he can handle the ball through pressure and find open players. Abrams showed he is more than just a three-point shooter, shooting 42 percent from the field and averaging 16.5 points per game. The Longhorns are going to expect even more from him this season, and so are the NBA scouts.
Sherron Collins, Jr. Guard, Kansas
Can you say, “Now is your time to shine”? After taking the last two seasons to perfect his roles as “instant offense” and “sparkplug off the bench,” Collins will be the Jayhawks team leader this season. He has the ability to play at a pace many cannot, but I believe his weight could play an issue. Having played 24 minutes a game last season, Collins will need to be on the court more for Kansas to win, and losing the extra pounds would help.
Byron Eaton, Sr. Guard, Oklahoma State
There are many similarities between Collins and Eaton. Like Collins, he is quicker than quick, his team’s success now depends on how he plays, and his weight has been an issue. But this season, with Travis Ford’s new up-tempo offense, you should see Eaton at his lightest and best.
Last season, Eaton produced 11.5 points and 3.5 assists per game, but over a five-game stretch he averaged 20.6 points and the team won all five games. He also made one of the most incredible shots in the history of basketball in one of the greatest college games I have ever seen.
Josh Carter, Sr. Guard, Texas A&M
After testing the draft waters and deciding they were a little too cold, Carter comes back to the heat of Texas to improve his stock. He led the nation in three-point percentage as a sophomore, but Carter’s percentage slipped last season. Going into his last season, he will be more of a focus on offense and he might not return to the percent he shot two seasons ago. At 6’7”, if he can show he is capable of consistently scoring in a verity of ways and improve his passing skills, Carter will be drafted in June.
Curtis Jerrells, Sr. Guard, Baylor
Talented guards are aplenty in the Big 12, and Jerrells is arguably the best. He finished last season second in the conference in scoring at 15.3 points per game and first in assists with 3.8 per contest. He is most dangerous behind the arc, but if he could improve his percentage by even two percentage points, he would easily average over 20 points per game.
Jerrells is quick, handles the ball very well, and is an improving passer. Even though he is a shoot-first guard, the Bears would like his assist numbers to go up because there are other options on this team.
Blake Griffin, So. Forward, Oklahoma
So there is a guy named Griffin in Oklahoma that is really good and is going to be one of the first overall draft picks next June. Nope, not Taylor—he is pretty good, too—but I am talking about Blake.
Everyone knows what Blake can do, but he will be better, stronger, and healthier than last season. There is not a more dominant force in all of college basketball, and at 6’10” with a 37" vertical, Griffin is a monster at both ends of the court.
Craig Brackins, So. Forward, Iowa State
Brackins came to Iowa State last season as top-20 freshman. While the majority of the players ranked ahead of him are now in the NBA, Brackins is about ready to explode on the national scene. But, unfortunately, he plays for Iowa State. Rarely is the team shown on television, so he will continue to be the “best-kept secret” in the Big 12.
Scoring only 11 points per game does not tell the whole story; he scored 20 points in five different games and was second on the team in blocks. He is quick off the ground, runs the floor very well, and got stronger as the season went on. He posted a school freshman record when he dropped 33 points on Baylor.
DeMare Carroll, Sr. Forward, Missouri
The former Vanderbilt transfer was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season. While averaging 13 points and a team-high 6.7 rebounds per game, he scored double figures 26 times. At 6’7”, he is undersized in the post but makes it up with quickness, hustle, and hard-nosed play. He could very well creep toward a double-double in his last season of eligibility.
Alan Voskuil, Sr. Guard, Texas Tech
If you expect Voskuil to sit behind the three-point line and wait for an open shot, your team will lose. His game has developed to include a solid mid-range jumper and he will run the break. But he still is a great outside shooter—he shot 50 percent last season.
During his sophomore year, Voskuil played about 11 minutes a game, then 34 minutes last season. The Red Raiders rely on his production and leadership, and I would not be surprised to see him in the mix for All-Big 12.
Others to keep an eye on:
Mario Little, Kansas
Willie Warren, Oklahoma
Leo Lyons, Missouri
James Anderson, Oklahoma State
Connor Atchley, Texas
Josh Carter, Texas A&M