Breakdown: Big 12 surges with big wins

It's our weekly look at Big 12 basketball from the play-by-play voice of the Red
Raiders, Brian Hanni.
PRIME PERFORMER: Marcus Smart put on a clinic Tuesday night in
Oklahoma State's 101-80 blowout of No. 11 Memphis in Stillwater. Smart had 24
points in his first nine minutes on the floor -- he finished with career-high 39
points, five steals, four assists and four rebounds. Smart had been averaging
13.7 points per game this season against a softer slate in the first two weeks
before erupting on national TV versus a fringe top-10 team.
For all the talk about the fabulous freshman class in college hoops this year,
Smart is one super sophomore that deserves every bit as much ink and air time as
Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker. He may not be drafted ahead of
them when it's all said and done, but he's in a similar class -- just ask Kevin
Durant who was on hand for Tuesday's game at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Had Smart not gone-off on Josh Pastner's Tigers, this honor would have gone to
Iowa State's Melvin Ejim, who posted a game-high 22 points and nine rebounds in
a 77-70 upset of No. 7 Michigan in Ames. It was Ejim's first game back coming
off a hyper-extended knee.
RISING ROOKIE: Joel Embiid has the measurables scouts drool
over and a ridiculous amount of untapped potential given that he's only been
playing the game since he was 16. The seven-footer grew up as a volleyball star
in his native Cameroon, now he's a projected lottery pick just three games into
his college career. The Kansas center had his father in the stands on Tuesday
night and put on a show for dad's first ever chance to a see an organized
basketball game. Embiid helped the Jayhawks beat Iona 86-66 with 16 points and
13 rebounds. Don't expect those numbers every night, but Embiid is honing his
skills under a coach known for developing NBA bigs, and how he blossoms under
Bill Self this year will certainly be one of more intriguing storylines in the
Baylor JUCO guard Kenny Cherry deserves some mention as well after pouring in 20
points to help lead Baylor to an 87-68 win over Louisiana-Lafayette Sunday. The
Montreal native who used to go by Kenny-Fred Cherry is now averaging over 14 per
game in helping fill the void left by departed senior Pierre Jackson.
STOCK REPORT: A week ago, Big 12 co-favorite Kansas already had
a top-five win over Duke while fellow favorite, Oklahoma State, was blasting
cream puffs from Little Debbie U. Fast forward a week, and the Cowboys passed
Tuesday's test with flying colors, routing No. 11 Memphis by 21 with Marcus
Smart looking like the Wooden Award front-runner in a year in which college
hoops is long on MVP options.
The Cowboys looked every bit the part of the nation's No. 7 ranked team and did
so without the services of its top scorer over the first three games, Phil
Forte, who barely played after fighting an illness throughout the day. Forte had
been averaging 21 a game. Markel Brown poured in 20 proving he's a more than
capable Robin to Smart's Batman.
As previous mentioned, Ejim's well-timed return from a preseason knee injury
gave Iowa State just the lift it needed to upset Michigan. ISU held preseason
All-American Mitch McGary to nine points and six boards. The win vaulted the Big
12's preseason fourth place team into the national rankings for the first time
this year at No. 21 in the AP Poll.
Texas Tech lost by 12 at Alabama last Thursday, but since then the conference
has gone 11-0 -- including a quality win by the Red Raiders over Texas Southern.
That 11-game winning streak from the league including two top-25 wins, three
wins over projected NCAA tournament teams and TCU's first win (71-64 over
Abilene Christian on Tuesday), so it's been a good week for the league with no
notable fallers.
MUST SEE TV: If all goes according to plan, No. 20 Baylor and
No. 13 Gonzaga should meet up next Tuesday in the semifinal round of the Maui
Invitational. The winner could wind up playing No. 9 Syracuse the following
night. Monday's slate of Texas vs. BYU in the CBE (Kansas City) and Texas Tech
vs. Pitt in the Progressive Legends Classic (Brooklyn) should make for some
interesting hoops action as well.