ACC's Most Hated Tournament

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By Wesley Golds and Tyler Brooks

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Big 12 is no stranger to NBA talent. Over the last five years, the conference has produced almost 10 picks per draft, including lottery selections Blake Griffin (Oklahoma) and Michael Beasley (Kansas State), as well as sleeper picks DeAndre Jordan (Texas A&M) and Mario Chalmers (Kansas).

This year’s draft will no doubt usher in another handful of talented players. Below is a rundown of five of the elite players from the Big 12 guaranteed to get a spot on an NBA roster next year.

5) Jeff Withey, Kansas – Center / SR /7-0 /13 ppg., 8.3 rpg., 4.2 bpg.

The old adage goes, “you can’t teach height,” and that’s something Kansas center Jeff Withey has plenty of. And as we saw a few years ago when the Oklahoma City Thunder took a chance on Jayhawks center Cole Aldrich with the 11th overall pick, NBA teams are willing to gamble on big men that can block shots.

Right now, Withey is averaging 4.2 blocks per game, which leads the Big 12 and is good for third nationally. His highlight reels reflects an athletic body-type, as he’s shown that he knows how to adjust while in midair when he’s chasing down a player on a fastbreak or when he’s springing up to block a shot from deep in the paint – and the stats back it up. In 33 games played so far this season, Withey’s averaging an incredible 1.5 fouls per game.

While Withey is nowhere close in total blocks, his game best resembles former Mississippi State player Jarvis Varnado, who left college as Division I’s all-time blocks leader. Both players averaged 13 points per game during their senior year, and while Varnado averaged 10.3 rebounds in his final year, Withey still has time to catch up to that before seasons’ end. Varnado eventually found a spot on an NBA roster (currently, the Heat), and Withey should, too.

If Arkansas’ Steven Hill can at least make a one game appearance in the NBA, Withey shouldn’t be too worried about getting drafted.

4) Isaiah Austin, Baylor – C / FR / 7-1 / 14.5 ppg., 9.4 rpg., 1.3 bpg.

Baylor’s Isaiah Austin gets the bump over Kansas’ Jeff Withey simply because of his higher offensive output and slightly better rebounding numbers. And let’s not forget, he’s only a freshman, so putting up numbers that are better than many upperclassmen in the Big 12, Withey included, shows that Austin has a lot of potential.

While the Bears aren’t as good this year as they were a few seasons ago, Austin’s helped Baylor become a terror in the paint. He leads the conference in rebounding, and paired with junior forward Cory Jefferson, who also averages more than eight rebounds per game, the Bears have become a menacing force on the glass.

At a modest 5-3 in Big 12 play, Baylor sits in fourth place behind usual conference powers Kansas, Kansas State, and surprise contender Iowa State, respectively. What’s hurt the Bears this year is their shortcomings on defense. Baylor is the second highest scoring team in the conference, averaging over 75 points per game, but against legitimate competition like Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Iowa State, Baylor gave up an average of 70 points, going 1-3 in that span.

So if there’s a knock against Austin’s game, it’s his defense, or lack thereof. It’s especially puzzling, considering his height and wingspan. Surprisingly, Jefferson, four inches shorter than Austin, leads the team in blocks, averaging two per game. But youth is on Austin’s side, and pro teams will be willing to forgive his defensive flaws if they believe in his upside.

3) Myck Kabongo, Texas / Guard / Sophomore / 9.6 ppg., 5.2 apg., 3.0 rpg.

Texas' do-it-all guard was pretty efficient when he was on the floor - now if only the Longhorns could get him back out there. After being suspended this year for tampering charges, Kabongo was supposed to be one of the few bright spots for Texas this season. The Longhorns have struggled mightily without him, and with reports mentioning that his return to the hardwood is imminent, Texas is hoping to get back on track and make a run at a postseason bid

Under coach Rick Barnes’ direction, Texas basketball has experienced a renaissance. The Longhorns reached the Final Four in 2003 for the first time since 1947, and just their third appearance overall. Since that magical season, however, Texas has failed to find that same level of success, despite Barnes’ recruiting prowess, which included brining in players like LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Durant.

This year, Texas started 0-5 in Big 12 play, failing to get its first conference win until late January, when the Longhorns defeated a struggling Texas Tech team at home. Considering that Kabongo has showed a multitude of basketball skills despite having a pretty weak roster, scouts will have to take notice. If nothing else, at least they’ll consider that is name will look awesome on their jerseys.

2) Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State / Guard / FR / 14.2 ppg., 5.8 rpg., 4.6 apg.,

While Oklahoma State has been somewhat under the radar this year, one player has the potential to become a national household name: Marcus Smart.

At 6-foot-4, the freshman guard has easily been the Cowboys’ MVP, averaging team highs in rebounding and assists, while coming in second in scoring behind fellow guard Markel Brown. Owing a lot of success to his play, Oklahoma State has seemingly replaced Baylor as the next Big 12 darling – the unheralded team that comes out of nowhere for a deep tournament run.

Similar to Kansas’ Ben McLemore, Smart appears to have not just the game NBA teams want – inside-outside scoring, rebounding, slash-and-kick – he’s got the right body-type. If not for the sheer amount of success Kansas has had this season with McLemore in the backcourt, Smart would easily be No. 1 on this list.

The Cowboys’ recent upset over No. 2 Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse not only boosted the team’s resume come tournament seeding time, but it showed that Smart, who had a monster game – scoring 25 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and five steals – can perform well on both the big stage or in a hostile road environment.

Oklahoma State is 5-3 in Big 12 play, with only one glaring loss, a 77-68 defeat against in-state rival Oklahoma back in early January. If the Cowboys keep improving their record or find a way to catch Kansas, you might even hear Smart’s name called before McLemore’s this April.

1) Ben McLemore, Kansas / Guard / FR / 16.4 ppg., 5.4 rpg., 1.9 apg.

What is it with these freshman phenoms from the Big 12? Widely projected as a Top 5, if not the first-overall, selection, McLemore could soon be starring on an NBA team near you. He’s got the athletic body type scouts look for and pro teams crave. He’s second in scoring in a competitive conference. And he appears to have few, if any, character issues that might spook a pro team.

In more than 30 games at Kansas, McLemore has rarely disappeared despite the spotlight that comes with playing for the Jayhawks. In his two worst games, the season opener against Southeast Missouri State and a filler against American University, McLemore took less than 10 shots and found other ways to help his team rout the competition.

Against the Redhawks in his first collegiate game, he showed off his athletic prowess, pulling down 12 rebounds, dishing out five assists, and swatting three shots. A few weeks later against the Eagles, he once again proved he can help his team win without scoring, helping Kansas to an 89-57 blowout despite taking only four shots.

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