College Hoops Week in Review: Five Thoughts

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Is the CAA now overrated?: ‘Overrated’ might not be a fair term to use here, as most expected the CAA to take a hit with VCU leaving for the Atlantic 10 this season. ‘Incapable of getting two teams to the tournament’ is probably the better descriptor here. Only three teams in the league having winning records, and none of them have fewer than three losses less than a month into the season. The two favorites in the conference, Drexel and Delaware, are a combined 4-11, and while a number of those losses have come against good competition — Delaware made it to the semifinals of the Preseason NIT, but they’ve lost five in a row, including a game at Lafayette, while Drexel recently lost to Rider, the fifth school outside the BCS leagues they’ve dropped a game against — simply playing a tough schedule won’t get you a trip to the Big Dance.

George Mason may now be the one team that can potentially carry the torch for the conference, but they failed to follow up their season-opening win over Virginia with wins against Bucknell, New Mexico or, on Sunday, against Maryland. With Northern Iowa being the only quality non-conference opponent left on the schedule, there likely isn’t going to be enough there for the Patriots to earn an at-large bid. League play will only hurt, as the CAA is currently 1-20 against RPI top 100 teams.

Two years ago, three CAA teams made the NCAA tournament. But two of those three — VCU and Old Dominion — have left the conference. We knew there was a chance this would happen, but that doesn’t reduce the sting of one of the nation’s most entertaining mid-major leagues losing some of their pluckiness.

What’s up with Kentucky?: After losing two straight games last week, which included the first loss at Rupp Arena in the Calipari era, the Wildcats are going to likely see themselves fall out of the top 25. And that’s probably fair; they lost to two unranked teams, including one that was coming off of a loss at home to Charleston. But I must stress to you that how good Kentucky ends up being is still a complete unknown. This team is very, very young and in the midst of trying to find an identity and pinpoint individual roles while getting on-the-job training for how to play college basketball. Most importantly, Ryan Harrow is still a long way from 100%. The Wildcats ceiling is simply unknown at this point.

But that’s not necessarily a positive thing, because the simple fact of the matter is that this team could end up simply OK. What happens if Harrow never figures out how to play the point for Coach Cal? And what happens if Kyle Wiltjer never learn how to play defense, or Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein can’t figure out a way to share the front court without being massive liabilities offensively? What if Alex Poythress never becomes ‘The Man’? Most importantly, what happens if this team simply doesn’t have the mental toughness and leadership to perform under the pressure of Big Blue Nation’s expectations?

At the end of the day, my point is this: for better or for worse, Kentucky is still a complete question mark at this point.

The nation’s most underrated freshman: Xavier is 6-1 on the season, including a dominating win over Butler and a win at Mackey Arena over Purdue, which is a far cry from what was expected of these Musketeers heading into the season. The biggest reason for their improvement has been the play of freshman Semaj Christon. After sitting out the opener and despite scoring just two points in the win over Butler — his first game of the season — Christon is now averaging 16.0 points and 6.2 assists on the season. An athletic, 6-foot-3 freshman, Christon excels at using a crafty handle, long strides and an explosive first step to get to the rim. Did Chris Mack have a feeling that Christon would be this good? I wonder if that played a role in Mark Lyons’ departure.

In San Diego State the best team in California?: At this point, there really is no way to argue that fact. It’s certainly not UCLA, who not only was beaten by SDSU on Saturday, but who lost to another California school in Cal Poly. It’s not USC, either, as the Trojans lost at home to the Aztecs despite the absence of Deshawn Stephens and Chase Tapley. And to think: this team is only going to get better when James Johnson gets eligible.

If someone can figure out Florida State, do share: Nothing surprises me about Florida State anymore. Is there a program in the country that is more capable of pulling off thrilling upsets and head-scratching, you-gotta-be-kidding-me losses? Last season, Florida State lost to Harvard, Princeton and Clemson (by 20!) while going 4-1 against North Carolina and Duke. That included a 33 point home win over the Tar Heels, a win at Cameron and the ACC tournament title. This season, they won the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center, but have now lost to South Alabama, Minnesota and, on Sunday, Mercer.

The Seminoles are at their best offensively when they have Ian Miller, Michael Snaer and Devon Bookert on the floor together at the same time, but that takes away from their ability defensively. Leonard Hamilton is still trying to figure out his rotations — Where does he fit in Montay Brandon? How many minutes should Terrence Shannon play? — so that might have something to do with it. Regardless, this group has proven to be Team Schizophrenic.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Grayson Allen takes the early lead

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Today, we are rolling out the first installment of the annual NBC Sports College Basketball Player of the Year Power Rankings.

As always, these rankings are quite subjective and based on a consensus of all of my opinions.

Things that are relevant in this discussion:

  • Is the player on a team that can win? Whether it’s getting to the Final Four or winning their league, I can’t nominate a player for a postseason award if they are on a bad team.
  • Does that player put up impressive numbers, whether they are counting stats or advanced metrics?
  • How did he play in big games? Were there any moments that stand out from his season? College football has a Heisman moment. College basketball has about 284 Player of the Year awards, but the principle remains the same.

If your favorite player doesn’t check those three boxes, it’s hard for me to justify putting him on, or ranking him higher, on this list.

Take Allonzo Trier, for example. He’s been on fire for three games. He’s also chewed up three teams that have no business being on the same court as the Wildcats. The three guys above him? They all went nuts in one of the five most impressive wins we’ve seen this season.

Hopefully, that will help dissuade some of the anger lists like this create, (Ha! Right.) o let’s commence with the small sample size fun!

PLAYER OF THE YEAR POWER RANKINGS

1. GRAYSON ALLEN, Duke: Through five games this season, Allen is averaging 18.4 points, 3.4 boards and 3.2 assists. His last two games have been fairly unimpressive; 15 points combined against Furman and Southern while shooting 5-for-18 from the floor and 1-for-10 from three. He’s come back down to earth after the performance he had against Michigan State, when he went for 37 points – 23 in the second half – and hit seven threes as the Blue Devils picked off the Spartans without Marvin Bagley III healthy.

The last two years, a performance in the Champions Classic has vaulted a player atop the National Player of the Year race, and he remained there throughout the year. In 2016, it was Denzel Valentine’s triple-double against Kansas, and while he briefly ceded his lead to Buddy Hield when he got injured early in league play, Valentine did eventually earn a split of the Player of the Year awards; he was the NBC Sports Player of the Year.

Last season, it was Frank Mason that put together a run like that. He hit the game-winner to beat Duke in Madison Square Garden and never looked back. After he did this, is Allen next?:

2. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier: Monday night’s 36-point win over Hampton was the first time this season that Bluiett failed to score at least 25 points in a game; he had 21 on 7-for-9 shooting. It was also the first time that he didn’t make at least three threes in a game; he only shot three and hit two of them. On the season, Bluiett is now averaging 24.3 points while shooting 62.5 percent from the floor, 55.6 percent from three and 22-for-23 from the free throw line.

That’s efficiency.

But the biggest reason Bluiett is No. 2 on this list is for his performance at Wisconsin. He struggled to find a rhythm in that game but still managed to score 25 points and make some massive shots in the second half, including a pair of threes within the span of a minute that broke a tie and sealed Xavier’s win.

3. JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota: We’re only four games into the season, but Murphy is emerging as the guy that might be able to challenge Miles Bridges for National Player of the Year. He has four double-doubles this season, has yet to score fewer than 18 points in any games, is averaging 24.8 points and went for 23 points, 14 boards, three blocks and two assists as the Golden Gophers went into the Dunkin Donuts Center and knocked off a good Providence team by 12 points.

If you thought that Murphy was going to be Minnesota’s best player and the strength of that team was going to be their front court, you are a lying liar that’s full of lies.

4. ALLONZO TRIER, Arizona: No player in college basketball has had a hotter start to the college basketball season than Trier. Through three games, he’s leading the nation in scoring at 30 points while shooting 70 percent from the floor and 58.8 percent from three. He has 90 points in three games and it’s taken him 40 shots to get there. It’s early, but his offensive rating is 150.9, according to KenPom. That’s insane.

5. MILES BRIDGES, Michigan State: So this is how tough it is to be Miles Bridges this season: The Spartans are 2-1 on the season with a pair of blowout wins and a loss to the No. 1 team in the country when the No. 1 player in these rankings went for 37 points. Bridges, in those three games, is averaging 19.7 points, 7.0 boards, 2.7 blocks and 2.0 assists while shooting 41.2 percent from three on nearly six 3PAs per game.

And it feels like he hasn’t done much of anything through the first two weeks of the season. Sometimes the burden of expectation can be heavy.

Miles Bridges (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

6. MANU LECOMTE, Baylor: In a league that suddenly looks very deep in the back court, Lecomte has been the Big 12’s best player to date. He’s averaging 21.5 points and 3.8 assists through four games and just had his best performance on Monday night, putting 24 points and five assists on Wisconsin to advance to the Hall Of Fame Classic title game.

7. KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have a bonafide star in senior lead guard Keenan Evans, who was the best player on the floor as Texas Tech knocked off Boston College (Jerome Robinson and Ky Bowman) and Northwestern (Bryant McIntosh and Scottie Lindsay) to win the Hall Of Fame Classic at Mohegan Sun this weekend. He averaged 27 points in the two games while the three players  mentioned combined to shoot 11-for-34 from the floor.

8. JORDAN MCLAUGHLIN, USC: The USC program has struggled early on this season, as they are trying to find a way to get minutes for the 10 guys on their roster that deserve minutes while navigating the waters of an FBI investigation. They are still without De’Anthony Melton, who plays a role on that team that no one else can play. And when it looked like that would cost them a win at Vanderbilt, McLaughlin stepped up and ended any talk of that nonsense.

If the 37 points that Allen put on Michigan State wasn’t the most impressive individual performance of the season, McLaughlin’s 35 points in Memorial Gymnasium was. He put his team on his back and willed them to a win they weren’t going to get any other way:

9. BONZIE COLSON, Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish are 4-0 on the season and Colson is averaging 20.8 points, 10.8 boards and 3.0 blocks. They still haven’t really beaten anyone yet. Here’s to hoping we get to see Colson go up against Wichita State in the Maui finals.

10. KHYRI THOMAS and MARCUS FOSTER, Creighton: It’s hard to pick between the two here, so for now I’ll just list them both. Creighton has been one of the most surprising teams in the country, winning games at Northwestern and against UCLA on a neutral floor already this season. Thomas is the better defender of the two and has clearly improved his ability to play on the ball; in the past he’s been nothing but a 3-and-D guy. But Foster has been Creighton’s best scorer and is their most dangerous offensive weapon. One will emerge as their Player of the Year candidate before too long, but for now they both deserve the mention.

LSU rallies late for 77-75 win over Michigan in Maui

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LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Tremont Waters hit a step-back jumper, got back into his defensive and poked the ball free near midcourt. He dove to the floor, grabbed the ball and, in one motion, heaved it blindly over his head toward teammate Skylar Mays, alone at the other end.

Impressive stuff from a freshman, even one considered among the nation’s top point guard.

Waters scored 21 points and set up the go-ahead basket with his spectacular no-look assist, helping LSU rally for a 77-75 victory in the Maui Invitational on Monday night.

“Tremont Waters just made some incredible plays,” Michigan coach John Beilein said.

LSU (3-0) trailed by nine with about 5 minutes left, but chipped away at the lead to get within reach. Waters tied it with a step-back jumper and followed with his highlight-reel, steal-and-assist to Mays for a dunk and a 76-74 lead with 1:14 left.

Waters hit 1 of 2 free throws with 5.8 seconds after Michigan’s Charles Matthews went 1 for 2 at the line, giving the Wolverines (3-1) a final chance. Matthews, who had 28 points, got a shot from the wing off, but it came up short, sending LSU’s players racing off the bench in cheers.

Aaron Epps had 14 points for the Tigers, who move on to face No. 13 Notre Dame in Tuesday’s semifinals.

Moritz Wagner had 24 points for Michigan.

“Obviously, you could tell by the way we reacted, that was a huge win for us, huge,” LSU coach Will Wade said. “I’m so proud of our players. We turned the page on our program tonight.”

LSU and Michigan are in rebuilding years, the Tigers after Wade replaced Johnny Jones, the Wolverines after losing a trio of stars.

LSU opened the season with a pair of walkover victories against Alcorn State and Samford. Michigan had a pair of lopsided wins sandwiched around a tight victory over Central Michigan.

The Tigers struggled defensively a year ago under Jones, but were more active early in their Maui opener, harassing the Wolverines into difficult shots.

Wagner and Matthews were able to find some holes in LSU’s defense, helping the Wolverines to keep it close in the first half.

The Tigers shot well — 12 for 22 — but struggled holding onto the ball, turning it over 11 times. LSU led 31-29 at halftime on a buzzer-beating finger roll by Mays.

Once the tight first half ended, the second turned into an offensive show, with the Tigers and Wolverines trading made baskets nearly every trip.

LSU’s Brandon Sampson had a thunderous dunk over a defender and Waters followed with a power-spinning, how-did-he-do-that layup as he was falling to the floor.

Wagner and Matthews kept dropping in jump shots for Michigan to stay close.

LSU went up seven, but Michigan went on a 10-0 run to go up 58-53. Michigan tried to run away with it, but the Tigers kept hanging around, pulling within 73-72 on Epps’ 3-pointer with 2 minutes left to set up Waters’ final flourish.

“He’s a great player, great team,” Matthews said. “Felt like we had great defensive execution, so I give credit to them, but I feel like we did a good job.”

THE TAKEAWAY

LSU showed a lot of determination for a young team, rallying late against a solid Michigan team when it could have folded.

The Wolverines had a trip to the semifinals in their grasp, but didn’t make enough plays down the stretch.

UP NEXT

LSU faces No. 13 Notre Dame in Tuesday’s semifinals

Michigan plays Chaminade in the loser’s bracket on Tuesday.

Berry scores 29 points as No. 9 UNC beats Stanford 96-72

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STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Joel Berry II had no intentions of repeating his poor shooting performance from the last game.

He showed up at Maples Pavilion more than a half-hour before his teammates for Monday’s shootaround, putting up some 200 extra shots from all over the floor — and it worked wonderfully.

Berry scored 29 points, Kenny Williams posted career highs with 20 points and six 3-pointers, and No. 9 North Carolina beat Stanford 96-72 on Monday night in a matchup of Roy Williams against his former player-turned coach, Jerod Haase.

“I just wanted to bounce back from not shooting as well last game,” said Berry, who shot 1 for 11 last week against Bucknell. “That’s why when I hit the shots I was just smiling just because I expected to hit those shots.”

Luke Maye added 12 points, nine rebounds and five assists for the defending champion Tar Heels (3-0), who improved to 11-0 against the Cardinal.

Reid Travis scored 21 points to lead Stanford (3-2), while Isaac White added 20.

Second-year Cardinal coach Haase played for 15th-year UNC coach Williams at Kansas and also coached under him at North Carolina from 2003-2012. They were all smiles together in recent days leading up to the sold-out, nationally televised game and reunion at Maples Pavilion.

“It was a lot of personal things today. This was an emotional day for me, this morning talking about Jerod,” Roy Williams said. “It was emotional when I got up on the bench and started down here and then I saw Jerod. I don’t think I looked at him a single time during the game.”

Berry shot 10 for 19 with five 3-pointers and Williams went 7 of 11 and 6 for 8 on 3s. Williams made North Carolina’s first five field goals on seven shots as the rest of the team missed its initial six attempts until Brandon Huffman’s dunk at the 12:54 mark of the first half.

After falling behind 11-6, the Tar Heels answered with a 24-4 run to take control and led 50-36 at halftime.

Stanford was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 and held its first four opponents to an average of 67 points while scoring 75.3. The Tar Heels topped 90 points for the second time in three games.

“Once the game starts I do think I kind of lose myself in the game and Coach Williams probably does, too,” Haase said. “Having Carolina in the building is a special deal.”

Stanford is short-handed as Dorian Pickens and Marcus Sheffield nurse foot injuries, putting three freshmen in the starting lineup.

Berry and Williams shouldered the load after the North Carolina bench contributed 26 points in a 93-81 victory against Bucknell last Wednesday.

MISSED FREE THROWS

Stanford’s struggles at the free-throw line contributed to the Cardinal losing this one.

His team down 55-44, Travis missed two free throws with 16:09 remaining in the game, Theo Pinson immediately hit a jumper on the other end, and Stanford wound up 17 for 28 (60.7 percent) from the line.

“It’s disappointing when we’ve got a run like that,” Travis said.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: The Tar Heels hadn’t visited Stanford since Dec. 3, 1983, earning an 88-75 victory in the championship game of the Stanford Invitational despite Michael Jordan fouling out in just eight minutes and scoring four points in Dean Smith’s 500th win. … UNC improved to 2-0 in games vs. Stanford at Maples Pavilion.

Stanford: The Cardinal faced their first ranked opponent after going 0-8 in such games last season. No. 3 Kansas also is on the schedule for a Dec. 21 game at Sacramento’s second-year Golden 1 Center. Haase dropped to 2-17 against ranked opponents as a coach. He is one of only three to play for Williams and later coach against him. Williams is now 3-1 coaching against Haase — previously at UAB — while also having coached against former players Wes Miller and Rex Walters. … This marked the first men’s basketball sellout at 7,233-seat Maples since Oregon’s visit on March 1, 2015.

UP NEXT

North Carolina: Plays Thursday against Terry Porter’s Portland team at the PK80 Invitational for Phil Knight’s 80th birthday in Portland.

Stanford: The Cardinal face another tough task in No. 7 Florida at the PK80 event Thursday.

LaVar Ball questions Trump’s role in son’s release

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Outspoken basketball dad LaVar Ball questioned the extent of President Donald Trump’s involvement in securing his son’s release from the custody of Chinese authorities during a combative 20-minute CNN interview on Monday night.

The president, in tweets Sunday, said he should have left LiAngelo Ball and two other UCLA basketball players accused of shoplifting in jail because LaVar Ball “is unaccepting of what I did for his son” and “very ungrateful!” LaVar Ball has refused to thank Trump.

ACTUAL BASKETBALL TALK: Player of the Year Power Rankings

LaVar Ball didn’t back down during the CNN interview, telling host Chris Cuomo that Trump has more important things to do than ask for his gratitude.

“That’s on your mind, that a father didn’t say ‘Thank you’? And you’re the head of the U.S.? Come on,” Ball said. “There’s a lot of other things that’s going on. Let him do his political affairs and let me handle my son, and let’s just stay in our lane.”

Ball suggested that he and Chinese president Xi Jinping had more to do with securing his son’s release than the president.

REAL BASKETBALL COVERAGE: Top 25 | Player of the Week | Feast Week Preview

“Did (Trump) help the boys get out? I don’t know. If I was going to thank somebody, I probably would thank President Xi. He’s in China. He’s the president of China,” Ball said, later adding: “I helped my son get out of China. I had some people that had boots on the ground that knew the situation.”

Ball also pushed back against Trump’s suggestion that shoplifting “is a very big deal in China.”

“It wasn’t a big deal because being raised in South Central LA, I’ve seen harsher things. I’ve seen 16, 17-year-old kids that have had to go to jail for life, that were my friends,” Ball said. “He wasn’t physical. He returned it. He fessed up to it.”

MORE REAL BASKETBALL COVERAGE: Creighton’s good | Is Wichita State? | Power Rankings

LiAngelo and fellow UCLA freshmen Jalen Hill and Cody Riley have been suspended indefinitely. They were arrested and questioned about stealing from high-end stores next to the team’s hotel in Hangzhou, where the Bruins stayed before leaving for Shanghai to play Georgia Tech. All three apologized for their actions and thanked Trump for his role in securing their release, which occurred while the president was traveling in Asia.

The trio isn’t allowed to suit up, be on the bench for home games or travel with the team. Without them, No. 23 UCLA lost to Creighton on Monday night in the Hall of Fame Classic.

LaVar Ball is attempting to build an empire around the basketball skills of his three sons — Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo, LiAngelo and prep prospect LaMelo — and his own bombastic personality. He started an apparel company, Big Baller Brand, with shoes that retail for $500 or more, and he got in several plugs for his products during the CNN interview.

No. 6 Notre Dame beats Chaminade 83-56 in Maui

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LAHAINA, Hawaii (AP) — Matt Farrell scored 27 points and Bonzie Colson added 23, helping No. 13 Notre Dame open the Maui Invitational with an 83-56 rout over Division II Chaminade on Monday night.

Notre Dame (4-0) was sharp from the start at the offensive end, building a nine-point halftime lead and gradually extending it in the second half by making 14 of 26 shots.

The Irish shot 54 percent and made 9 of 20 from 3-point range to earn a spot in Tuesday’s semifinals against the Michigan-LSU winner.

Chaminade (2-1) kept it close early with its perimeter shooting before wearing down against the bigger Irish.

Erik Scheive had 17 points to lead tournament host Chaminade, which made 7 of 29 from 3-point range and shot 35 percent overall.

The Silverswords have made a name for themselves by slashing down giants, starting with their 1982 home victory over giant Ralph Sampson and top-ranked Virginia. Chaminade has picked up more upsets through the years at the Maui Invitational, taking down powers like Texas, Oklahoma, Villanova and Stanford with their ability to work the ball around quickly and knock down long-range shots.

The Silverswords opened this season with victories over Alaska and Alaska Anchorage, but the Irish are like a five-headed monster of length, athleticism and shooters.

They also have Colson, a do-it-all, preseason All-America Irish coach Mike Brey complimented by saying he has no neck and is a beautiful basketball player in the same sentence.

Chaminade, as usually is the case in Maui, kept it close early with its shooting, hitting 4 of 8 from 3-pont range.

Once Notre Dame expanded its defensive net, the Silverswords were unable to move without an Irish in their face, leading to a scoreless drought of more than 5 minutes.

Notre Dame created its own room to shoot, zipping around or rising above the Silverswords while hitting 14 of 26 shots to lead 38-29 at halftime. It would have been bigger, but Chaminade’s Brett Reed hit a running 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Farrell had 16 by halftime and kept shooting, scoring five quick points to put the Irish up 46-34, well on their way to the rout.

THE TAKEAWAY

Notre Dame played the way it needed to against a DII school, but will get a much bigger test in the semifinals.

Chaminade had some good moments before wearing down, but come away with another game of experience against a top-tier program, something that should help later in the season.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame faces the Michigan-LSU winner in Tuesday’s semifinals

Chaminade plays the Michigan-LSU loser.