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.

Louisville’s NCAA appeal denied, 2013 title banner to come down

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The NCAA announced on Tuesday morning that Louisvile’s appeal of NCAA rules violations has been denied.

The penalties are the results of an NCAA investigation into a former assistant coach and member of the basketball team, Andre McGee, providing players and recruits with strippers and sex workers at on-campus parties in Billy Minardi Hall, the Louisville basketball dorm. Louisville, in their appeal, referred to the penalties as “draconian”.

The NCAA did not agree.

“Louisville must vacate men’s basketball records in which student-athletes competed while ineligible during the 2011-12 through 2014-15 academic years,” the NCAA’s statement on Tuesday read.

The most significant and relevant piece of information here is that Louisville’s 2013 National Title will be vacated along with their 2012 trip to the Final Four. In total, Louisville will have to vacate 123 regular season wins and 15 NCAA tournament wins from 2011-2015, the seasons in which players that have retroactively been ruled ineligible played in games.

For the first time in college basketball history, a national title will be wiped from the record books. Michigan, who lost the 2013 national title game, will not be named the national champion.

“From here, we will officially remove the formal recognitions from our facilities,” interim AD Vince Tyra said, “but not from our minds.”

The Cardinals were placed on probation for four years when the initial penalties were handed down in June of 2017. They have also been hit with scholarship reductions and restrictions on their recruiting while being forced to pay back the money they received from conference revenue sharing as a result of the NCAA tournament wins. That number will be around $600,000, the school said in a press conference on Tuesday.

“I cannot say this strongly enough: We believe the NCAA is simply wrong to have made this decision,” interim president Greg Postel said.

These penalties were announced before the NCAA did any investigation into allegations that were made against the program during the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball. That investigation, which determined that an agreement was made between an Adidas executive and a member of the Louisville staff to funnel $100,000 to the family of five-star recruit Brian Bowen, eventually cost Rick Pitino his job.

Pitino has repeatedly denied knowledge of the parties that took place in the dorms. Before this title was vacated, he was the only Division I head coach to lead two different programs to a national title; he won the 1996 title with Kentucky.

Pitino was charged by the NCAA with failure to monitor an employee, one of the four Level I violationsthat the NCAA found in their initial investigation. Louisville contested the NCAA’s findingthat Pitino had “violated NCAA head coach responsibility legislation”. Plausible deniability is no longer a defense for head coaches in the eyes of the NCAA. In an effort to prevent the punishment for violations from being dumped on low-level staff members, the NCAA changed their rules to state that head coaches were at fault for anything that happened in their program under their watch whether the NCAA can prove they knew about it or not.

“By his own admission, the head coach and his assistants did not interact with prospects from 10 p.m. until the next morning,” the NCAA said in their findings. “The panel noted that the head coach essentially placed a peer of the student-athletes in a position of authority over them and visiting prospects, and assumed that all would behave appropriately in an environment that was, for all practical purposes, a basketball dorm.”

“This arrangement played a role in creating a location where the former operations director’s activities went undetected.”

Player Of The Year Power Rankings: Jalen Brunson has overtaken Trae Young

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Jalen Brunson is the National Player of the Year.

At least that’s the way that I see it.

If the season ended today, the award goes to Brunson. As incredible as Trae Young has been and as ridiculous as his efficiency stats and counting numbers are, winning has to matter when it comes to National Player of the Year. It has to matter when it comes to postseason awards. It’s why I campaigned against Ben Simmons being a Player of the Year or first-team all-american. It’s why I said that Markelle Fultz shouldn’t be considered for any preseason Player of the Year or all-american awards.

And it’s why Trae Young, in my mind, is no longer the National Player of the Year frontrunner.

I’ve talked about this a couple of different times before, but the simple fact of the matter is that we rarely see a player that isn’t on a national title favorite win the award. The last time a player that was on a team that wasn’t at least a top four seed that won the award was in 2005 when Utah’s Andrew Bogut was the consensus Player of the Year. Before that? You have to go all the way back to 1988, when Danny Manning and Hersey Hawkins both won three of the six major Player of the Year awards. Manning played on No. 6 seed Kansas, who went on to win the title that year. Hawkins played for No. 9 seed Bradley.

As it stands right now, Oklahoma is 16-11 overall. They’ve lost six in a row after getting mollywhopped at Kansas. They’ve dropped nine of their last 11 games. They’ve lost eight in a row on the road. They are 6-9 in the Big 12. If they go 1-2 in their final three games — which, at this rate, seems like a fairly likely scenario — they could end up missing the NCAA tournament entirely.

Seth Davis made an interesting point about this on a recent CBS broadcast, and one that I think it worth addressing: He said, and I’m summarizing here because I don’t remember the exact quote, that the award is the Player of the Year award and not the Player of the Month award, and I agree to an extent. A couple of bad games shouldn’t impact an entire season’s body of work.

My response to that is that we are talking about more than just a couple of games. Young and Oklahoma have struggled for the last 11 games. That’s more than 40 percent of Oklahoma’s season to date, and there are still three Big 12 games left before the Big 12 tournament kicks off. More importantly, the Big 12 season matters more than non-conference play. Does anyone really care that Young, say, tied the record for assists in a game against Northwestern State when he lost by 30 in the Phog?

Winning is the most important thing that a player can do. In any sport. If you are the star of a team that is not winning games, you are not having as good of a season as the star of a team that is winning games. That is a fundamental belief that I have that will not change.

And Brunson?

He’s having a historically good season from an efficiency perspective on a team that may just set the record for efficiency in the KenPom era. He can dominate a game when he needs to. He can also control a game as a facilitator, getting the ball to the guys that are cooking when he needs to. Case in point: at Xavier. Donte DiVincenzo and Mikal Bridges were on fire, so Brunson made sure they got their touches.

I love Trae Young’s game. I love the way he plays. His struggles down the stretch are not entirely his fault.

But when you are not a threat to win a national title, I do not think that you can be a threat to win National Player of the Year.

Anyway, here is my top ten:

1. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova
2. DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona
3. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma
4. MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke
5. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier
6. KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech
7. KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State
8. JOCK LANDALE, Saint Mary’s
9. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas
10. GARY CLARK, Cincinnati

ALSO CONSIDERED: MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova; MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State; JEVON CARTER, West Virginia; CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue; AARON HOLIDAY, UCLA; CHANDLER HUTCHISON, Boise State; CALEB MARTIN, Nevada; LUKE MAYE, North Carolina; LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State

Tumble continues for Oklahoma as No. 8 Kansas cruises to win

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Oklahoma desperately needed a win. Not even necessarily in the classic sense of the term of outscoring your opponent. The Sooners just needed something, anything, positive to build on in a season that’s suddenly crumbling around them.

Unfortunately for Lon Kruger and his team, Allen Fieldhouse is not the place to go when you’re in need of a pick-me-up. It’s a place more suited for realizing your worst nightmares.

Eighth-ranked Kansas eviscerated the Sooners in a 104-74 beatdown that not only exposed Oklahoma’s problems but exacerbated them to the point where the NCAA tournament no longer looks to be assured.

Oh, and it set up a potential Big 12 title game in Lubbock later this week with a 13-year streak on the line, but more on that later.

The headline here is that Oklahoma and the man who set college basketball ablaze, Trae Young, look broken. And maybe beyond repair.

Oklahoma has now lost six in a row, tumbling from burgeoning Final Four contender to potential First Four hopeful. Things are spinning out of control fast.

The person who will draw the bulk of the blame, fair or not, is Young. The freshman from Norman North looked like the college basketball’s answer to Steph Curry while carrying his hometown university to a 12-1 start to the year, leading the country in scoring, assists and jaw-dropping plays and performances. The substance of his game matched the style, which was no small feat for a guy who routinely would splash shots from 35 feet out.

He’s been a bit of a disaster during this six-game slide, however. Young is just 11 of 56 (19.6 percent) from 3-point range and 27 of 57 (47.3 percent) from inside the arc during the losing streak. He’s also turned it over 25 times. He’s still distributing at a high-rate, but that’s not enough to offset his shooting numbers. His teammates don’t score it well enough to pick up the slack. They also can’t create for Young. He’s got to do all of it himself – get looks and dole them out.

Young and Oklahoma’s issue runs deeper than just the makes and misses of their offense, though. The Sooners’ defense has become a massive liability. Kansas took a sledgehammer to it and blasted it to smithereens in front of 16,300 witnesses in Allen Fieldhouse and millions more in their living rooms.

The Jayhawks shot 60.9 percent for the game. They made 16 of 29 of their 3-point attempts. That’s 55.2 percent from deep. Nineteen of their buckets came from layups or dunks and averaged 1.444 points per possession.

It was as if the Sooners weren’t there at all, which actually might have been of some consolation to Kruger because that would at least mean no one could see their baffling lack of effort, cohesiveness and pride on the defensive end. It was really a sight to behold for the rest of us, though.

Young is as big of culprit here as anyone. Yes, he carries an incredible offensive burden with a 39.6 usage rate. No one is expecting him to be Jevon Carter, but he has to offer some resistance some of the time. Against the Jayhawks, he died on screens again and again or simply didn’t even put up a fight too often when guarding the ball.

He’s not alone, however, as the Sooners looked disconnected as a unit. They were simply incapable of even slowing Kansas. The Jayhawks got hot, sure, but Oklahoma can’t write this off as just catching a team on a night they couldn’t miss. The Sooners had as much to do with it as anything.

That’s the area that’s got to get fixed. Young may not be able to put up the absurd numbers he did for long stretches earlier this season, but his talent is so immense that it would be foolish to expect this slump to stay this bad for too much longer. Without a superhuman Young, however, they’ve got to get some stops. Without them, Young may join the ignominious list of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz as pheoms who failed to make the NCAA tournament.

Now, back to that Big 12 title game in West Texas.

Assuming Texas Tech can get in and out of Stillwater with a win over Oklahoma State – potentially without Keenan Evans – the Red Raiders and Jayhawks will be tied atop the Big 12 with matching 11-4 league records with Kansas making the trip to Lubbock.

The Jayhawks, you may have heard, have won 13 consecutive Big 12 regular season championships. It very well could be decided Saturday if there will be a 14th.

After a two-game hiccup of losses at Texas and Iowa State, Chris Beard’s team won seven-straight before falling to a resurgent Baylor on Saturday. They’re undefeated at home and possess one of the country’s best defenses. They’ve been the biggest threat to Kansas’ streak since they knocked off the Jayhawks in Lawrence in January.

The Jayhawks will go into the game with their best offensive performance of the season. Devonte Graham finally looked like he may be the Big 12’s best player – he certainly bested Young – and Svi Mykhailiuk, LeGerald VIck and Malik Newman looked like the more-than-capable secondary options this Jayhawks team desperately needs. Silvio De Sousa even looked serviceable for the first time, putting up 10 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes. Which is also to say nothing of Udoka Azubuike being one of the Big 12’s toughest matchups.

Kansas is a flawed team, but once again the Jayhawks have put themselves in enviable position and appear to be rounding into tip-top form toward the end of February. It’s their conference, and they’ll have the chance this weekend to keep it that way.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma is just trying to stay out of playing Wednesday in the Big 12 tournament. The Sooners sure could use a win. Of any kind.

Bubble Banter: Oklahoma in danger of missing tournament?

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

MIAMI (RPI: 33, KenPom: 43, NBC seed: 8): Miami added a fourth Quadrant 1 win on Monday night by going into South Bend and picking off Notre Dame. The Hurricanes are in the conversation as a bubble team for a two reasons — they have a Quadrant 3 loss to Georgia Tech, and they had lost three in a row entering Monday night. What’s interesting with Miami’s profile is that they don’t really have any elite wins. They beat Middle Tennessee State on a neutral. They won at Virginia Tech, N.C. State and Notre Dame. That’s it. Those are their four Quadrant 1 wins. Their profile is probably strong enough to get them in, but I do think there is a world where they get a lower seed than you might be expecting.

MARYLAND (RPI: 54, KenPom: 41, NBC seed: Out): The Terps, who won at Northwestern tonight, seem to be in the mix on most of the places that I go to read about the bubble, and frankly, I just don’t get it. They do not have a Quadrant 1 win. They are 0-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents. In a year where the NCAA Selection Committee showed us just how much they value quality wins already, I’m not sure that they can build a profile that is strong enough to get a bid unless they beat Michigan on Saturday and win a couple of games against the top of the Big Ten in the Big Ten tournament. They’re at least three wins away in my mind. Like I said, I just don’t see it, but I figured it was worth mentioning here on a slow night.

LOSERS

OKLAHOMA (RPI: 36, KenPom: 40, NBC seed: 8): Just eight days ago, when the NCAA tournament Selection Committee convened to release an early look at the top 16 seeds for the NCAA tournament, Oklahoma was a No. 4 seed. They were one of the top 16 teams, according to the committee, in an event that will need 36 at-large members to complete it. Going from there to the bubble is a long, long fall, and to be frank, I am not sure that the Sooners are on the bubble yet. Hell, they’re still 16-11 overall even after that embarrassing loss at Kansas. They’re still 6-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents without a hint of a bad loss to their name. They’ve still beaten USC in LA. They still won at Wichita. They beat Texas Tech. They beat TCU. Hell, they beat Kansas.

For comparison’s sake, our current last team in is Syracuse. They are 18-9 overall and 3-5 against Quadrant 1 with losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.

But we can no longer ignore the fact that this team has hit rock bottom. Tonight was their sixth-straight loss. They have lost seven of eight and nine of 11. They’ve lost eight straight on the road. If the tournament was tomorrow, they would be in the field with some room to spare, but the problem is that there is absolutely no reason for us to assume that they are simply going to be able to get the job done against the teams left on their schedule. It is, admittedly, relatively easy by Big 12 standards — Kansas State, at Baylor, Iowa State — but Big 12 standards are absolutely preposterous.

No one would be surprised if Oklahoma lost two of their last three games — hell, I would be fairly shocked if they found a way to win at Baylor at this point — and if they do happen to lose two of their last three, they’ll enter the Big 12 tournament with a 17-14 record and a 7-11 mark in the league while having to play on the first day of the Big 12 tournament in either the 7-10 or 8-9 game.

If that were to be the case, they would probably have to win two Big 12 games to get to the Big Dance.

Put another way, Oklahoma went from being a No. 4 seed in the first bracket projection to needing to win three games in the next three weeks to avoid having to sweat out Selection Sunday.

It’s crazy how far and fast they’ve fallen.

NOTRE DAME (RPI: 68, KenPom: 33, NBC seed: Next four out): The Fighting Irish are in an interesting spot. Their profile is not exactly worthy of an at-large bid. But they’ve also been decimated by injury. Bonzie Colson is still out with a foot injury. So is D.J. Harvey. Matt Farrell and Rex Pflueger have both missed tie with injuries. If Colson can get healthy before the season ends and the Irish can win a couple games at or near full strength, they will have an interesting case to make. I do, however, think that would require winning two of their last three games. One of those three games is at Virginia, so they have their work cut out for them.

Calipari defends Diallo, gives insight into own philosophy

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John Calipari was asked a question about struggling freshman Hamidou Diallo. He ended up giving an answer about his general coaching philosophy.

“Making them be responsible for who they are. In his case, I’m with Hami. He’s trying. He’s working,” Calipari said. “If he’s willing to do that and put in extra work, I’m for him. If you’re playing awful, I may not play you as much, but I’m going to play you and if you’re doing what we’re asking you to do, I’m going to encourage you.

“It would probably be easier when a guy plays poorly to say you’re out and i’m going with these seven I’m just not going to do that.”

Calipari likened the approach to what a well-intentioned parent might say to him about their son who is struggling.

“I would say (a parent) would say, ‘Coach, he’s responsible for himself, but please keep coaching him and let him know you love him and keep being there for him but hold him accountable,’” Calipari said. “‘If he’s not going to listen to you you should not play him. That’s what I think a parent that’s not trying to enable their son (should say).”

On the other hand, Calipari discussed what the opposite of that situation would look like.

“If they’re listening to an enabler, whoever that enabler is, I can’t help you,” he said. “I told you when I walked in the door, this is going to be about the players first and I’m trying to stay that course but they are responsible for themselves.

“If they can’t perform, I’m going to play you but when they’re not performing, you can’t be in there.”

Calipari can oftentimes be full of bluster – it’s an essential part of his Always Be Selling philosophy that’s won the hearts of countless five-star recruits and a national championship. But this looks to be an honest look into the way he views his job and role with his players. Give ultra-talented guys opportunity, but keep them accountable. It’s a simple thought, but one that few execute as well and as consistently as he does.