Only three players had earned both honors — Marcus Smart, Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley — before Cunningham. The 6-foot-8 star has helped his team compete for a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament after leading the Cowboys to a 6-1 finish in their last seven Big 12 games, although Cunningham missed Saturday’s 85-80 win at West Virginia with an ankle injury.
His 40-point effort in the first installment of the Bedlam matchup with rival Oklahoma last month was one of college basketball’s most impressive efforts this season.
While his freshman-of-the-year status seemed certain, Cunningham had significant competition in the Big 12 player-of-the-year race. Jared Butler has averaged 17.1 points, 5.0 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 2.1 steals for a Baylor team that lost just one regular-season game, won the Big 12 championship and will likely secure a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday. He also has made 44% of his 3-point attempts.
But Cunningham has recorded incredible numbers, too. He has made 41% of his 3-pointers and connected on 84% of his free throw attempts in Big 12 play. He’s averaging 19.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.5 APG and 1.4 SPG.
All signs point to Cunningham returning to the Cowboys’ lineup in time to help his team compete for a national title. But the school won’t know if it is eligible until Selection Sunday. The NCAA could uphold its postseason ban, which was issued before the season after former assistant Lamont Evans allegedly accepted bribes.
Oklahoma State will play its first game of the Big 12 tournament on Thursday.