Michigan sophomore Trey Burke sits atop CBT’s National Player of the Year rankings

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A hearty welcome to those of you just now joining the rest of us in following college basketball now that football season has ended. We’ll be running a series of posts to get all you football fans caught up on the season at-large. To read through them all, click here.

Honorable Mentions

Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State (17.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game)

Franklin has continued his upward trajectory this season for the Aztecs, who will need him down the stretch in a loaded Mountain West race.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State (20.0 points, 6.2 rebounds per game)

The most impressive part of Thomas’ performance this year is that, as the only go-to scorer on this Ohio State team, opponents gameplan to contain him, but he still puts up 20 points per game.

Cody Zeller, Indiana (16.3 points, 8.3 rebounds per game)

With the emergence of Victor Oladipo, Zeller has seemed to take a back seat, but his production is just as consistent. Without his double-double of 19 points and 10 rebounds, the Hoosiers would not have beaten No. 1 Michigan on Saturday.

Russ Smith, Louisville (18.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists per game)

Smith has worked to channel his at-time erratic playing style last season into full-on production this year. The Cardinals have hit a rough patch, of late, but he is averaging 19 points in his last two games, both Louisville wins.

Otto Porter, Georgetown (14.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.8 blocks per game)

The do-everything guy for Georgetown has stepped his game up since Greg Whittington has been out of the lineup. A huge double-double of 17 points and 12 rebounds led the Hoyas to a win over Louisville on Jan. 26.

Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse (12.6 points, 8.6 assists, 4.9 rebounds per game)

Many picked Carter-Williams to be one of the breakout stars in the country this season and he has delivered. Syracuse has been at a disadvantage without James Southerland, who is out with academic issues, but Carter-Williams is the engine of the Orange offense.

Ben McLemore, Kansas (16.4 points, 5.4 rebounds per game)

McLemore is the center of the Jayhawks’ offensive attack and is the star that coach Bill Self needed after a run to the Final Four last season.

The Countdown

5. Victor Oladipo, Indiana (14.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists per game)

Oladipo might not have the gaudy numbers to show it, but if we’re talking about value, there are few players more valuable to their teams than Oladipo is to Indiana. Not only an offensive threat, Oladipo brings energy and is one of the nation’s toughest defenders. He was key to Indiana’s ability to slow down a big-time Michigan offense and get a win Saturday.

4. Jeff Withey, Kansas (13.0 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.2 blocks per game)

Withey’s ability to affect the game on both ends of the floor is what makes him so valuable to this Kansas team. His domination around the rim changes the way Kansas is able to play defense and, in concert with McLemore on the offensive end, the inside-out combination drives the Jayhawks.

3. Mason Plumlee, Duke (17.6 points, 10.8 rebounds per game)

The weight of Duke’s NCAA tournament hopes falls heavier onto Plumlee’s shoulders after the injury to forward Ryan Kelly, but he has continued to produce. If Duke wants to make a run deeper than the Round of 64 and Kelly remains out, the way Plumlee plays will likely steer the ship for the Blue Devils.

2. Doug McDermott, Creighton (24.0 points, 7.3 rebounds per game)

McDermott has scored in double figures in all but one game for the Bluejays this season, including a 39-point outing against Missouri State, which he followed with a 31-point game against Northern Iowa. His team is 20-3, including 9-2 in a tough Missouri Valley Conference. If his production keeps up, like many believe it will, Creighton will keep winning.

1. Trey Burke, Michigan (18.2 points, 7.2 assists, 3.1 rebounds per game)

Burke is the engine of an offensive attack that features a number of weapons for the No. 3 Wolverines. He is a simultaneously a scorer and a facilitator. He has worked to become the best player in the country at his position and is showing how wise it was for him to spurn the NBA Draft and return to Ann Arbor for his sophomore season.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

No. 1 Villanova leads by 44, beats Ewing, Georgetown 88-56

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WASHINGTON — Top-ranked Villanova led by as many as 44 points — 44! — and gave Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing a rude welcome back to the schools’ rivalry, handing the Hoyas their worst loss in more than 40 years, 88-56 on Wednesday night.

Jalen Brunson led the way with 18 points and seven assists for Villanova (17-1, 5-1 Big East), which finished 17 for 33 on 3s, while Georgetown went 4 for 15.

Mikal Bridges scored 17 for the Wildcats, winners of seven consecutive games against the Hoyas, Villanova’s longest streak in a series that dates to 1922.

The last time Ewing faced Villanova in any capacity was in the last game of his college playing career at Georgetown, a surprising 66-64 victory for the underdog Wildcats in the 1985 NCAA championship game. It was quite clear, quite quickly, on Wednesday that there would be no such tight outcome —nor any chance of an upset by Georgetown (12-6, 2-5).

This is Ewing’s first season as a head coach at any level, and he opted to go with an easy-as-can-be non-conference schedule to try to build his players’ confidence. Now that league play is underway, especially against a foe like Villanova, the gap between the Hoyas and the best teams is obvious.

It was 42-20 at halftime, and Georgetown to that point had more turnovers (nine) than made baskets, shooting 8 for 26, including 0 for 8 on 3s.

Villanova just kept pushing the margin after the break, going up by 30, then 40, and then reaching the apex at 88-44 on a layup by Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree with about 3½ minutes remaining. Less than a minute later, Villanova coach Jay Wright finally sent on the subs and pulled any remaining starters.

INJURED AND ILL

Villanova: Reserves Tim Delaney and Jermaine Samuels sat out with a virus.

Georgetown: Backup PG Trey Dickerson left in the first half with a back spasm and did not return.

BIG PICTURE

Villanova: Since its only loss, 101-93 at Butler on Dec. 30, Villanova has won four games in a row, propelled by an efficient offense that gets a lot of its work done from beyond the arc.

Georgetown: This was the Hoyas’ largest margin of defeat since a 33-point loss to Maryland, 104-71, on Dec. 10, 1974.

UP NEXT

Villanova: Travels to UConn on Saturday in a matchup between former Big East rivals and the Wildcats’ first game at Hartford in five years. Villanova is 12-0 in non-conference games heading into the last one on their schedule.

Georgetown: Hosts St. John’s on Saturday, the teams’ second meeting in less than two weeks. The Hoyas won 69-66 at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 9

NCAA pushes up college hoops start date as Champions Classic will open the season

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The NCAA is pushing up the start of the college basketball regular season to begin on the Tuesday before the second Friday in November.

That means the Champions Classic will open the college basketball season in 2018-19 as announced in an official release on Wednesday. So now, we get Duke vs. Kentucky and Michigan State vs. Kansas in Indianapolis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to open the college basketball regular season?

Yes, please.

This is a very smart move for the NCAA as men’s and women’s basketball can now open the regular season a bit earlier. The made-for-TV, neutral-court spectacle of the Champions Classic is also the perfect programming to get casual sports fans to tune in for the opening night of college basketball.

There will also be a new level of intrigue for the Champions Classic with all four superpowers making their season debuts in the event next season. Instead of getting a regular-season tune-up to begin to campaign, all of these teams will get thrown straight into the fire.

Hopefully, the sport can continue to make moves like this to generate casual interest and develop more intriguing non-conference possibilities. College basketball’s regular season has suffered from too many lulls in the past. At least now the regular season will start with a bang.

Arizona State benefits from unusual timing in landing forward Taeshon Cherry

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Arizona State has been one of the biggest surprises in college basketball this season as they’re off to a 14-3 start.

The Sun Devils are also rolling on the recruiting trail as they might have landed their signature recruit on Tuesday night. With high-end, four-star forward Taeshon Cherry pledging to the Sun Devils, it gives them a top-20 class and three different four-star caliber prospects coming in next season.

Bobby Hurley has something going here.

In Cherry, Arizona State gets a 6-foot-9 forward who was previously committed to USC but decommitted in late December. Reportedly “Player-8” in the FBI’s case of college basketball bribery, according to Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times, Cherry’s relative allegedly met Christian Dawkins and financial advisor Munish Sood at a restaurant in Los Angeles on Aug. 8. The group was joined by an undercover FBI agent posing as a financial advisor as the gathering was recorded.

Dawkins and Sood were attempting to get Player-8’s relative to use their financial services for when the player eventually went pro. The FBI’s complaint also said Dawkins was given an envelope of $4,000 to give to the relative from the undercover agent.

But with Cherry not being present for the meeting, and no firsthand account of the relative actually receiving the money, it’s uncertain how the NCAA might respond to this.

So Arizona State jumped right in the mix for Cherry and started recruiting him once he decommitted from USC. The Sun Devils brought Cherry in for an official visit to campus on Jan. 11 — only weeks after Cherry’s decommitment — and were able to secure the commitment days later as he canceled a trip to Texas A&M.

This commitment is no doubt a product of unusual timing and circumstances.

When Cherry pledged to USC right after the July live evaluation period, Trojans assistant coach Tony Bland hadn’t been involved in the FBI scandal and the Trojans had a top-25 team returning this season. Arizona State was only 30-35 in Hurley’s first two seasons and they hadn’t secured the two four-star commitments they would later get in October.

Now, the Sun Devils are a darkhorse Final Four team after its surprising start this season and they were able to land a highly-touted recruit merely weeks after he left a conference rival. Things have changed quickly in the Pac-12 recruiting race in the past few weeks. And Arizona State also benefited from the unusual circumstances surrounding Cherry and his recruitment.

With commitments in each of the next three classes as well — yes, Arizona State even has a commitment from a high school freshman in the Class of 2021 — the Sun Devils are starting to sustain a presence at every level of college basketball. Arizona State will have to replace some talented seniors when Tra Holder and Shannon Evans depart after this season. The program also seems like its heading in the right direction with all of the talent that is flocking to Tempe.

Four-star recruit Joey Hauser enrolls early at Marquette

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Marquette’s top recruit in the Class of 2018 is enrolling early. According to a release from the school, four-star forward Joey Hauser has enrolled at the school and will join the basketball program.

The younger brother of sophomore forward Sam Hauser, the younger Hauser will redshirt this season and have four years of eligibility remaining.

Suffering a few injuries the past few years, Hauser had surgery on his ankle in early December as he’ll get a chance to rehab on campus while also acclimating to the team and school.

“We are really excited to have Joey join us for the second semester,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said in a release. “It’s a unique opportunity for him to recover from his recent surgery while also becoming acclimated to our basketball program and university.

“He is without question one of the top players in the class of 2018 and for him to be able to get a head start on his career is a tremendous positive.”

Hauser is regarded as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2018, according to Rivals, as he helped Stevens Point win three consecutive WIAA Division 1 state titles during his first three seasons.

While Hauser won’t be able to play and help Marquette this season, the Golden Eagles only have one senior on the roster in Andrew Rowsey. That means the entire roster gets a head start on being together for next season as Hauser should be a contributor by then.

Notre Dame freshman D.J. Harvey out four weeks with knee injury

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Notre Dame freshman D.J. Harvey will miss the next four weeks with a bone bruise in his left knee.

Harvey, a 6-foot-6 wing, played only seven minutes in Notre Dame’s loss to Louisville on Tuesday night as he’s played 18.2 minutes per contest. With senior All-American candidate Bonzie Colson going down to injury, Harvey had been playing increased minutes for the Fighting Irish, including 37 minutes in Notre Dame’s loss to North Carolina.

Harvey averaged 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game before the injury. The Fighting Irish are fighting the injury bug right now with Colson and Harvey out as their rotation gets even thinner. Notre Dame has dropped three consecutive games as they are 13-6 on the season and 3-3 in the ACC. Another tough game looms for the Fighting Irish as they face Clemson on Saturday.