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Player of the Year debate: Jimmer or Nolan?

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It’s one of those years where the tired cliché applies: There are so many guys worthy of Player of the Year, it’s a shame there’ll only be one.

So we figured, why not have more than one?

Ken Davis already argued the candidacy of Connecticut superhero Kemba Walker, while Rob Dauster proclaimed Duke’s Nolan Smith his top player. Me? I go with the no-brainer in Jimmer Fredette. But what fun would it be if we merely proclaimed our winners? Why not argue about it?

Mike: I love me some Nolan Smith. He’s probably the best all-around player this season, but how can you go against Jimmer Fredette? BYU’s senior guard not only leads the nation in scoring, but jaw-dropping shots, plays and expectations. The guy’s a force of nature. And if there’s anything I learned this winter, it’s that you can’t fight nature. It always wins.

Rob: Jimmer has been incredible. I’m not arguing that. There isn’t a more exciting player in the country to watch. Ankle breaking cross-overs into 30 foot pull up threes? Yes, please.

The issue I have with Jimmer is that he not only doesn’t play any defense, he doesn’t even try. The next time BYU plays, watch him on the defensive end of the floor. He’ll stand in the same spot for entire possessions.

Mike: He stands in the same spot because every team has some chump he usually doesn’t have to pay that much attention to. And it’s not like he’s a chump. He averages more steals a game (1.4 to 1.3) than Smith. Plus, the Cougars often throw a zone to there to give Jimmer some breathing room. And now that Brandon Davies won’t be playing anymore, expect BYU to use even more zone, thus minimizing Jimmer’s biggest deficiency.

And besides, Jimmer’s doing even more on offense lately. Nine assists vs. SDSU? Seven vs. UNLV? Guy is unstoppable even when he’s not shooting. Smith can’t control a game like that.

Rob: I disagree. I think Smith absolutely can control a game like that, and he does. He just doesn’t need too put up the numbers Jimmer does with the weapons that he has on the floor with him. That’s not to say he doesn’t put up numbers — he’s 0.1 rpg away from joining Tu Holloway and Norris Cole as the only players that average 20 ppg, 5 rpg, and 5 apg.

When Duke is at their best, Nolan Smith is the guy making all of the plays. And down the stretch, he’s just about the only guy on the Duke roster that touches the ball. What I think is the most impressive about Smith is that he is having this much success playing a role that he wasn’t supposed to coming into the season.

Mike: But it’s a roll he’s played before. It’s impressive to see how far Smith’s come as a creator. As a sophomore, he was the starting point guard, then got demoted. During the NCAA tournament run last year, Smith was the one creating with the ball.

But I think it’s far easier to create when you’ve got guys like Kyle Singler, Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins to pass to. Jackson Emery and Charles Abouo are nice players, but they rely on Fredette creating their open looks at the basket. If the Cougars make the Final Four, it’ll be because of Fredette. If Duke makes it, it’s not all on Smith.  

Rob: If BYU is all Fredette, then they aren’t going to make the Final Four. The Cougars went into Viejas Arena and beat SDSU by 13, and while Jimmer had 25 points and 9 assists, they won because the other guys, namely Charles Abouo, played very well. I also don’t think it is fair to detract from a player based on how good his teammates are.

The best player in the country isn’t necessarily the most valuable or the most important player. If that were the case, then shouldn’t we also include Charles Jenkins or Tu Holloway or Norris Cole in the conversation?

Mike: The best player is all of those things. He’s the most important, most valuable and the best player on the court. That’s Fredette. I mean, the guy is a phenomenon college hoops is lucky enough to see every few years.

The biggest test might not even be how the Cougars play without Davies. It’ll be if Fredette has enough juice left in his legs. The guy’s been playing at such a high level all season, I worry he’s gassed just when most of the country will be watching. And that’s a shame.

Rob: I agree with everything in that last paragraph. He is the single most exciting player in the country to watch. Its an event when he plays. He’s a show man with a flair for the dramatic, usually in the form of contested 30 foot leaners off the dribble. But entertainment value does not make you the player of the year.

Is Blake Griffin now the NBA MVP? Smith is a better defender. He’s a better leader. Since Kyrie Irving went down, he’s boosted his average to 23.5 ppg. Let’s see what Jimmer does without Davies.

Mike: If one game’s any indication, he’ll have to do more than ever. BYU got manhandled by New Mexico Wednesday night for just their third loss of the season (and second against the Lobos). Fredette’s shot wasn’t falling early, but his teammates were worse. Consider BYU’s next few games the ultimate test of his Player of the Year worthiness. If Fredette can’t get them at least two NCAA tournament wins, maybe he’s not worthy of this.

But I’ll take my chances. You don’t bet against the Jimmer.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.