ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla, who has spent the season broadcasting Big 12 games and following college basketball, has been ranking the top 25 impact players in the sport during the season. He lists 10 impact players for the NCAA Tournament and two are from the Big 12.
Jeff Withey, Kansas senior center: It was at this time last season that Jeff Withey began to make a name for himself by helping the Jayhawks get to the Final Four with his great defense. In fact, he set an NCAA tournament blocks record with 31 in six games.
This season, Withey has continued to terrorize opponents around the basket and, in the process, allowed Bill Self's defense to record the nation's best defensive field goal percentage in the country. Kansas' opponents are shooting a paltry 39 percent inside the arc.
Like most of Self's post players at Kansas, Withey has become a reliable scorer as well. He scored 17 or more points nine times this season and is capable of getting big offensive numbers in any tournament game. But make no mistake about it: His rim protecting is what is critical to the Jayhawks' title hopes.
Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State freshman guard: If there is a freshman who can have a major impact on his team's chances to go far in the tournament, it is Marcus Smart. It shouldn't come as a surprise considering he has done everything this season for the Cowboys except wash the practice gear.
First of all, don't underestimate Smart's ability to dominate on the defensive end of the court. He is an excellent rebounder, help-side defender and has one of the best steal rates in the country. His nose for the ball is outstanding.
Offensively, even as a big, physical player, he can take over a game as a playmaker. Coach Travis Ford committed to playing Smart at point guard from day one, and Smart rewarded his coach's belief in him by winning the Big 12's Player of the Year award.
If Smart is on his game, Oklahoma State can play deep into the tournament.