Ejim, Smart headline Big 12 players to watch in Kansas City

Photo by Parker Robb | Collegian Iowa State forward Melvin Ejim surges toward the basket as he attempts to plow through the impenetrable wall formed by junior forward Nino Williams and senior guard Will Spradling in the first half of K-State's 80-73 defeat of Iowa State March 1 in Bramlage. Ejim led the Cyclones with 30 points.

There are very few that will argue that the Big 12 has been the best conference in college basketball this season. With eight teams still competing for their shot to get into the NCAA tournament, here are some players to keep an eye on this week in Kansas City, Mo. at the Big 12 tournament.

Iowa State senior forward Melvin Ejim
Ejim has been everything and more for the Cyclones this season. Head coach Fred Hoiberg likes to run and gun, which allows many different players to score for Iowa State. However, there is no denying that Ejim has been the anchor for his team. The senior from Canada has been named the 2014 Big 12 player of the year after finishing the regular season ranking second in the Big 12 in both scoring and rebounds. Ejim averaged 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. The senior’s best performance of the year came against TCU where he scored a Big 12 record 48 points and grabbed 18 rebounds. The Cyclones will play K-State in their first game of the tournament, and will need Ejim to play at a high level if they plan to win three games at the Sprint Center.

Oklahoma State sophomore guard Marcus Smart
If you follow college basketball, Smart’s name is probably one that you’ve heard before. He is famous for his antics as well as his play, but since returning from his three game suspension, Smart has carried the Cowboys far. Oklahoma State heads into Kansas City as winners of four of their last five games. In those last five games, Smart is averaging 19.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists. The Cowboys were one of the favorites to win the Big 12 regular season title this season, but simply could not find much success during the regular season. With Oklahoma State playing their best basketball of the season headed into the tournament, they could show that despite their sluggish regular season, they are capable of making an NCAA tournament run.

West Virginia junior guard Juwan Staten
The West Virginia Mountaineers are still fighting for their opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. A big reason for that has been the play Staten this season. The junior finished the regular season having led the Big 12 in both points and assists this season, and averaged 18.4 points and 5.9 assists. West Virginia is 17-14 this season and 9-9 in conference play. If Staten can will his team to a strong Big 12 tournament performance, it’s hard to not pencil West Virginia into the NCAA tournament.

Kansas senior forward Tarik Black
You might be thinking, “Why should we keep our eyes out for a guy who averages less than five points and five rebounds a game?” Well, Black must now step up for the Jayhawks with freshman center Joel Embiid out with a back injury. Though Black has only been asked to play about 12 minutes a game during his lone season with Kansas, if the Jayhawks want to repeat as conference tournament champions, they will need Black to play well in Embiid’s stead.

John Zetmeir is a junior in mass communications. Please send comments to sports@kstatecollegian.com.