Selecting the Big 12 Conference’s Top 25 returning players for the 2019-20 basketball season was a difficult task.
Today we continue our Top 25, beginning with Nos. 16-20 as we run up to heading to Kansas City for Big 12 Media Day at the Sprint Center. At some point during the five days these stories run, you’re going to hate me. That’s cool. That’s part of the job. Hit me up on Twitter at @PostinsPostcard if you agree or disagree. Or both. I’m happy to reply when I can.
Before we begin, here is some context for the selections.
First, any player considered must have played in the Big 12 last season. So, if you’re looking for our Freshman, Transfer or Rising Player stories, we ran those earlier this offseason. Those players won’t be included here.
Second, I watched about 75 percent of last season’s Big 12 league games, attended the Big 12 Tournament in person and watched about 25 percent of last season’s non-conference games. I won’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve done my best to see every possible returning player several times, either on TV or in person.
Third, I am not “projecting” performance for the coming season. That will probably end up being the most disagreeable thing about this Top 25. I can’t project how players have improved over the summer or how they may fit in the configuration of their respective teams this coming season. There are too many factors at play. So the rankings are based on their performance last season. I felt that was the fairest way to accomplish this task, much like our Top 25 player rankings for football and baseball. I will, however, provide a small sentence or two about how each player could fit into their team’s season. But it wasn’t a consideration for the rankings.
So which players are Nos. 16-20? Let’s get started.
No. 20 — G Marcus Garrett, Kansas
You have to find a place for a player like Garrett, who was a part of the Big 12 All-Defensive Team, an honor not normally given to freshmen. But he was one of four Big 12 players to record six steals in a game last season (vs. West Virginia) and his 1.4 steals per game for the season was tied for fifth in the Big 12. For the season he averaged 7.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game and his slash shooting line — 42.2/24.5/58.7 — was serviceable for a freshman who spent most of his time driving to the basket as opposed to shooting 3-pointers. He has six games in double figures in scoring, but just one in the final 10 games of the season.
Entering this season: The Jayhawks want him to improve his overall shooting while remaining their top perimeter defensive threat.
No. 19 — F Emmitt Matthews Jr., West Virginia
Matthews’ overall numbers don’t look worthy of being in the Top 25 — 5.4 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game and 16.4 minutes per game. But we need to look a little deeper because Matthews didn’t really take hold of a role until halfway through Big 12 action. For the season he was a Top 15 offensive rebounder in the Big 12. He was one of a handful of Big 12 players who had a perfect night at the free throw line (8-for-8), which underscores his 80 percent shooting from the arc. He grew as a scorer in the season’s final contests, averaging 14.2 points in his final six games, with a high mark of 28 against Texas Tech, one of the nation’s best defensive teams. During that span his shooting improved to 62 percent from inside the arc and 50 percent overall. He was a willing defender and emerged as one of West Virginia’s best drive-to-the-basket threats by season’s end.
Entering this season: The Mountaineers hope that Matthews can improve his 3-point shot to stretch defenses and grow his scoring average to double digits.
No. 18 — G Cartier Diarra, Kansas State
Diarra was a part-time starter for the Wildcats last year, taking the floor mainly when Kamau Stokes or Dean Wade missed games. When he wasn’t starting, he was usually the first player off the bench and ended up playing 25 minutes a game. He scored 6.8 points per game on 40.4 percent shooting from the floor, 36.5 percent shooting from the 3-point line and 70.2 percent from the free throw line. Diarra showed he can shoulder a heavier load in the final seven games last year, averaging 11 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. Despite only shooting 74 3-pointers for the season, he was No. 11 in 3-point percentage in the Big 12.
Entering this season: Diarra is on a path to be a full-time starter for the Wildcats this season.
No. 17 — G Thomas Dziagwa, Oklahoma State
In his first two seasons Dziagwa was nothing more than a backup with a solid outside jumper. Last season he logged 32 minutes per game and was one of the Big 12’s top shooters from distance. Last year he hit 105 3-pointers, third best in a single season for the Cowboys. He’s already in the Top 10 on the school’s all-time list. He’s a career 41 percent shooter from the arc and last season he averaged 11.7 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. He was in the Top 16 in scoring in the Big 12 and was No. 4 overall in shooting percentage from the 3-point line. He cleared 10 or more points in nine of his final 12 games last season. He would be higher on this list if we was among the league’s better rebounders and defenders last season.
Entering this season: The Cowboys hope his defense catches up to his exceptional shooting.
No. 16 — G Courtney Ramey, Texas
Texas had several solid guards to turn to last season, and Ramey emerged as one of their better plays throughout. His season averages were 8.1 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game. Down the stretch of the season Ramey’s numbers took an uptick, moving up to 10.1 points per game for the final 16 games of the season, which included the NIT championship run. His presence on the floor with Matt Coleman III basically gave the Longhorns two point guards. Texas would have liked his shooting to be better, with a slash line of 38.5/38.6/58.5. But he provided solid intangibles, including a Top 8 Big 12 ranking in assist-to-turnover ratio, a Top 15 ranking in assists and a Top 8 ranking in 3-point percentage.
Entering this season: Ramey isn’t that far away from being a complete player, especially if he can improve his free-throw percentage.
Next: Nos. 11-15.
**We now have FREE Big 12 Forums here at Heartland College Sports. Go sign up here and join our conversation! **