|Marcus Smart vs. Ben McLemore: The POY Race|
It's a two-man race. Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart vs. Ben McLemore of Kansas. A battle for Big 12 Freshman of the Year, and possibly National Freshman of the Year. But who has the edge?
In their first meeting, it was Smart. Travis Ford's first-year point guard was phenomenal in Lawrence – 25 points, 3 assists, 9 rebounds and 5 steals – leading Oklahoma State to an 85-80 upset victory. That was just game number three on the Cowboys current seven-game win streak.
Meanwhile, the Jayhawks have stumbled to a 4-3 record, including an embarrassing loss at TCU.
But through both streaks, both freshmen have elevated their respective games. Just take a look at the statistical comparison between the two. First, through season averages. Then, through the past seven games.
Season totals: 15 PTS I 4.5 AST I 5.8 REB I 2.9 STL
Last 7 games: 19.1 PTS I 4.4 AST I 6.1 REB I 3.4 STL
Season totals: 16.7 PTS I 1.9 AST I 5.5 REB I 1.2 STL
Last 7 games: 18.1 PTS I 1.7 AST I 5.8 REB I 0.8 STL
Both significantly increased their scoring. Both bumped up their rebounds. Both held steady on assists. What separates the two is how each impacts the rest of the roster.
McLemore is as pure a shooter you'll find in college basketball.
"I love his form, it's soft, he gets up and jumps well," Travis Ford said. "He can get it off screens, can get it off the bounce, get it in transition. And then he understands how to score off the dribble, he's not out of control off the dribble. He understands angles and when to take his shots. I like his demeanor on the court. I think he's got great demeanor from freshman. He does score a lot of points, but from what I've seen, he plays within himself."
But McLemore isn't necessarily known for taking over games. His numbers suggest otherwise, but consider the Jayhawks record in the past 7 games. Those losses to OSU, TCU and Oklahoma, are smudges free from Smart's record in that same span. And that's where we can separate the two.
To this point, Smart's leadership and play-making in key moments is unrivaled in the Big 12 – by anyone. His knack for grabbing offensive rebounds and hitting key shots late in games has been the difference for the Cowboys. And that's before we mention his game-winning block of OU's Stephen Pledger on Saturday.
So as voters prepare to fill out their Big 12 Freshman of the Year ballots in just over a month, it seems Smart has the advantage over McLemore – for the moment. We'll learn more about both at 8 p.m. Wednesday in Gallagher-Iba Arena in the highly anticipated rematch. The outcome could help cut the line between the two freshmen stars.
Not that Smart even pays attention to that side of Wednesday's script.
"I'm not really focused on (the Big 12 Player of the Year race)," Smart said. "Whatever happens, happens. You can't really control that, you just got to go out and play hard, let the results do the talking for themselves."
The Cowboys are just glad to ride Smart's momentum heading into another huge test. But awards and winning-streaks aside, their just happy that Smart didn't chose to play his college basketball in Lawrence, where he was heavily recruited.
As Markel Brown puts it: "We try to take advantage of (Smart) while we have him here. We'll try to get as far as we can, just ride the Marcus Train."