Mailbag: Big 12 POTY, UCLA’s upside
by Nicole Auerbach and Eric Prisbell, USA TODAY Sports
Welcome back to USA TODAY Sports’ weekly college basketball mailbag — the first one of March!
We know you’re ready for a wild week of conference tournaments and an even madder March overall, and we are, too. Because of that, we’ll have two mailbags next week (Thursday and Selection Sunday morning), so be sure to send in your questions to Nicole Auerbach and Eric Prisbell on Twitter.
Without further ado, this week’s ‘bag:
@JeffBridges12: Who is the Big 12 player of the year?
Auerbach: We’ll start with the toughest question we received. I remember a conversation I had with K-State coach Bruce Weber a few weeks ago about how many talented players there are in the Big 12 — and most of them aren’t getting the national recognition they deserve. Think about some of the great players we’re not hearing enough about: Isaiah Austin, Rodney McGruder, Will Clyburn … the list goes on and on. I think for POY, though, we’ll see a familiar name. My guess is the debate will come down to Marcus Smart vs. a Kansas player (either Ben McLemore or Jeff Withey). I lean Smart, though, because I believe he’s been the best freshman in the nation this season — and the most valuable player on his team. Is Oklahoma State a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament without Smart? Are the Cowboys even a lock to make the tourney without him? I’m not sure. I really like Withey and McLemore, and I still think Kansas might have a Final Four run in them, but looking at the Big 12 regular season as a whole, I’d go Smart. He has helped Oklahoma State evolve from a 15-18 team to one opponents won’t want to play in the NCAA tournament.
Prisbell: Honestly, this is the toughest question I have been asked all season. You can make a strong case for at least three players. I have gone back and forth on this question so many times. In the end, I’m going with the senior Jeff Withey. He affects the game in so many ways defensively. He has had … [For more on Mailbag: Big 12 Player of the Year, tourney seeding, UCLA's upside, click here.]