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. 11-15 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. 11-15? Let’s get started.
No. 15 — F Xavier Sneed, Kansas State
Like Oklahoma’s Brady Manek, Sneed is a player that didn’t get enough attention last year (both were Big 12 honorable mention). Some of that could be attributed to K-State’s ‘Big 3’ of Barry Brown Jr., Dean Wade and Kamau Stokes. But Sneed finished last season with 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, along with 64 assists. Those numbers put Sneed among the Top 20 scorers and Top 15 rebounders in the Big 12. His 1.4 steals per game put him among the Top 10 in that category, too. His numbers didn’t see any particular growth in Big 12 action, so he remained a steady player and contributor throughout the season. But a better overall shooting hash line (39.6 FG/34.6 3-Point/67.0 FT) probably would have put him higher on this list. Still, he hit some big shots down the stretch for the Wildcats last season.
Entering this season: He’ll be a starter for K-State from Day 1, be one of their best defenders and has to emerge as a team leader with the ‘Big 3’ now gone.
No. 14 — F Brady Manek, Oklahoma
For two seasons Manek has been one of the Big 12’s most consistent forwards, and with slightly more production he might be a little higher on this list. Still, his season averages were consistent and among the leaders in the Big 12 — 12.2 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game (just outside the Top 10 in the Big 12 in both categories), 46.9 percent shooting from the floor, 35.8 percent from 3 and 76.4 percent from the free-throw line. He improved his drive-to-the-basket game from his freshman to his sophomore year. He’s a workhorse who avoids injury and plays consistently good defense. He had five double-doubles. Like Sneed, his numbers remained consistent throughout the season.
Entering this season: I felt Manek missed an opportunity to be a more dominant player in his sophomore season when Trae Young left for the NBA. I still feel he has upside. It’s time for him take over more games.
No. 13 — F Michael Jacobson, Iowa State
The forward sat for a year and waited his turn. As last season progressed Jacobson turned into a quiet assassin inside for the Cyclones, especially in the wake of losing Solomon Young for basically the entire season. His averages of 11.1 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game were among the Top 20 in the Big 12. His 57.6 percent from the floor was fifth-best in the conference and as the season progressed he became a more capable offensive rebounder. As with most of the players in this section of our Top 25, Jacobson was quietly consistent, but didn’t see a tremendous uptick in his Big 12 numbers as opposed to the whole season. Jacobson, to me, is more of a power forward and he had to play mostly center in the wake of Young’s injury. He was a capable defender inside, but not dominant.
Entering this season: Young’s return inside should allow Jacobson to return to the power forward position and stretch defenses with his mid-range game and solid 3-point shooting.
No. 12 — G Tyrese Halliburton, Iowa State
A two-time Big 12 Newcomer of the Week last year, Halliburton had to start from Day 1 due to injuries. Once players like Lindell Wigginton returned, Halliburton had played well enough to keep his starting job. With just 6.8 points per game, this might seem a bit high for Halliburton coming out of last season. But he did much more for ISU than just score (and frankly the Cyclones had plenty of options). He was fifth in the Big 12 with 3.6 assists per game, acting as a sort-of second point guard with Nick Weiler-Babb. He was tied for third in steals (1.4 per game) and third in 3-point percentage (43.4 percent). He was also No. 10 in blocked shots (nearly 1 per game) and first in assist-to-turnover ratio (4.5). Somehow, Halliburton didn’t crack any All-Big 12 team last year. His scoring kept him out of this Top 10, but he gave the Cyclones every other intangible one would hope from a true freshman.
Entering this season: There’s a reason why the league’s coaches voted him an All-Big 12 preseason selection. With departures of several key Cyclones, including guard Talen Horton-Tucker, the opportunity is there for Halliburton to show a wider audience that he has a complete game.
No. 11 — G Jared Butler, Baylor
Butler got to Baylor last August after transferring from Alabama and receiving a waiver to play immediately. He needed non-conference action to get his feet under him and find a role in Baylor’s offense, but by season’s end he was a starter at guard and averaged 10.2 points per game. He earned All-Big 12 Honorable Mention and All-Freshman honors. One of 28 Big 12 players to average at least 10 points per game for the season, he was also in the Top 15 for 3-pointesr made per game (1.7). In Big 12 action, when the Bears lost Tristan Clark to injury, Butler’s shooting volume and scoring went up. His scoring average went up by two points over his season average, he was seventh in Big 12 play with 3.4 assists, sixth in 3-point percentage (42.2), fourth in 3-pointers made (2.4 per game) and in the Top 15 in assist-to-turnover ratio. He was also one of the best free throw shooters Baylor had, making nearly 80 percent, and improved as a defender. He was the definition of a player that saw an opportunity and made the most of it down the stretch of the league season.
Entering this season: The Bears would like to see Butler continue to improve his overall shooting. He’ll need to emerge as the leader in that backcourt, something he was already doing by the end of last season. He’ll be among the top guards in the Big 12.
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