Wooden Watch: Texas Tech's Keenan Evans merits attention

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Bates-Diop's versatility makes him a Wooden Watch candidate (0:59)

Dalen Cuff and Tom Crean are impressed with Keita Bates-Diop's road back from injury and break down his ability to score at three levels: at the rim, midrange and from beyond the arc. (0:59)

Let's start this week's Wooden Watch with some trivia: What high-scoring Big 12 point guard has guided his school to a first-place tie with Kansas and its highest-ever ranking in the AP poll?

Hint: The answer is not Oklahoma's sensational freshman, Trae Young.

While Young has justifiably garnered plenty of headlines and established himself as the Wooden Award favorite, it's Texas Tech senior Keenan Evans who has his team in the more enviable position.

Before this season, the Red Raiders had appeared in the AP top 10 only a total of four weeks -- all in 1996, their last season in the old Southwest Conference, when they peaked at No. 7 for one week and finished at No. 8.

Since joining the Big 12 the following season, it has been a struggle to stay relevant. Not only has Texas Tech never won a Big 12 basketball title, it hasn't finished with a winning record in conference play since the 2006-07 season -- Bob Knight's final full season as the team's head coach. Before Wednesday's 76-58 win against Iowa State, that year also served as the last time the Red Raiders had a 20-win season.

With a No. 7 ranking and a 20-4 record, Texas Tech already has ensured history will look favorably upon this season, and Evans, who ranks second in the Big 12 in scoring (18.6) behind Young, has a lot to do with it.

If Evans' game is unfamiliar, that's probably not a surprise. When the Wooden Award released its late-season top 20 earlier this week, he was one of three players included who had not appeared on the official preseason or midseason watch lists. That, on its own, isn't necessary unusual. There are always going to be players who make mid- and late-season pushes to garner consideration.

What's unusual here is just how long it has taken Evans to play his way onto the national radar. He was a third-team All-Big 12 selection a year ago, but his game -- and production -- has taken noticeable strides in each of his four years on campus. As a freshman for former coach Tubby Smith, he averaged just 5.8 points on a team that went just 3-15 in conference play and lost 17 of its final 21 games.

Stock up

Trevon Bluiett, Xavier

No. 5 Xavier, playing with its highest ranking in school history, needed overtime twice in the past week, but prevailed both times thanks largely to the heroics of Bluiett, a senior guard. He scored 26 points in Tuesday's 98-93 win against Butler -- none bigger than a dagger 3 with 25 seconds left in overtime to put the Musketeers up by five. In a 96-91 win against Georgetown on Saturday, Bluiett scored a career-high 31 points.

Following No. 1 Villanova's shocking loss to St. John's on Wednesday, Xavier holds a half-game lead over the Wildcats with a game between the Big East powers looming on Feb. 17.

Stock down

Jevon Carter, West Virginia

The past few weeks have been rough for West Virginia. The Mountaineers climbed as high as No. 2 in the AP poll, but responded with a stretch in which they lost five of six. Wins against Kansas State and Oklahoma helped correct the course, but in those wins Carter struggled with his shot.

Carter, a senior guard who is on the latest official Wooden Award watch list, combined for just 16 points and was a dreadful 7-of-25 (28 percent) from the field in those games. There is something about playing Kansas State that affects Carter's shooting: In two games against the Wildcats this season, he has combined for nine points and is just 3-of-15 from the field (0-for-5 on 3s).

Still, West Virginia remains just a game behind both Kansas and Texas Tech in the Big 12 standings with seven regular-season conference games remaining.

Big week ahead

Marvin Bagley III, Duke

The Blue Devils have lost two of three heading into Thursday's game in Chapel Hill against rival North Carolina (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). It will be the first Duke-Carolina game of Bagley's career, which presents him a significant opportunity to leave his mark on the program. A loss here would put a dent in his chances of winning the Wooden Award, but a signature performance would give him some momentum -- especially considering how Oklahoma is starting to fade and how that could affect perception of Young's monstrous season.

Others to watch: Deandre Ayton, Arizona; Mohamed Bamba, Texas; Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State; Mikal Bridges, Villanova; Miles Bridges, Michigan State; Jalen Brunson, Villanova; Carsen Edwards, Purdue; Vincent Edwards, Purdue; Marcus Foster, Creighton; Devonte' Graham, Kansas; Tra Holder, Arizona State; Jock Landale, Saint Mary's; Luke Maye, North Carolina; Collin Sexton, Alabama; Allonzo Trier, Arizona; Trae Young, Oklahoma.