Bubble Update: Kentucky among those teams with work to do

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As the roller-coaster college basketball season continues, the race for at-large bids to the 2013 NCAA tournament remains unsettled.  In the span of a few hours this past Saturday, six teams projected to be on the cusp of at-large selection all lost.  Which brings us here: an estimated 11 at-large spots are still available with Selection Sunday right around the corner.

Since last week’s update, only two teams (North Carolina and California) have moved into Should Be In territory and neither are absolute locks to stay there.  It’s going to be a critical 12 days for several teams, including the Kentucky Wildcats.  With a home game against Florida this weekend and the SEC tournament just ahead, UK will have a chance to play its way into the Field of 68.  The same can be said for about five other SEC teams.  It’s been that kind of year.

As conference tournament play gets underway, keep an eye out for bid thieves.  It’s not uncommon for one or more at-large spots to be taken by a surprise conference tournament winner.  This could easily happen in the Missouri Valley – which has proven quite unpredictable over the years.

Bubble Banter highlights the teams we believe are currently on the NCAA Bubble.  To be somewhat brief, teams listed are those with a realistic chance to be considered at the time of the update.  Given the current landscape, those teams could change in the coming few days.  So stay tuned.  RPI and SOS data is credited to InsideRPI at ESPN.

RPI data is for games played through Monday, March 4.

UPDATED: Tuesday, March 5

Total Spots (68): Number of teams in the Field.

Automatic Bids (31): None at this time

  • Projected Locks (21): Teams who project to have secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
  • Should Be In (16): These teams are in solid position to receive an at-large bid.
  • Bubble: (27): Teams remaining who are projected to be under consideration for at-large selection.
  • Spots Available (11): Estimated number of openings after Automatic Bids, Locks, and Should Be Ins are considered.
  • RPI and SOS: RPI and SOS data are updated through games completed on Monday, March 4.
Atlantic 10
Locks: Butler, Saint Louis | Should Be In: VCU | Bubble: La Salle, Temple, Massachusetts
  • La Salle (20-7 | 10-4) | RPI: 39 | SOS: 95 | – The Explorers navigated through Rhode Island and Duquesne. They have one more landmine to avoid – George Washington at home. Then it’s off to Saint Louis for the regular-season finale. A significant issue for La Salle is the lack of a meaningful non-conference victory (best is Iona or Delaware). Will an impressive win at VCU and a one-point home win over Butler be enough? Hard to be certain. At 5-6 vs. Top 100 teams, La Salle has to stay on the bubble. A victory at SLU would certainly make the Explorers more comfortable heading into the A10 tourney.
  • Massachusetts (18-9 | 8-6) | RPI: 54 | SOS: 75 | – Wining at Xavier on Saturday was a must-get, because while the Minutemen are 7-7 vs. the Top 100, they are just 1-5 vs. Top 50 teams (and 9-9 overall against the Top 150). A home date with Butler is up next. UMass needs that one and must avoid a loss at Rhode Island to keep its hopes alive heading to Brooklyn.
  • Temple (21-8 | 9-5) | RPI: 42 | SOS: 51 | – The Owls rallied to beat Rhode Island and have now won five straight after a victory over Detroit last week. A tidy 9-5 mark vs. Top 100 teams is looking better all the time. Temple has also been helped by several other bubble teams losing during the same stretch. If the Owls can avoid a bad loss at Fordham, they close with VCU at home. Winning their last two will probably be enough to push them into the Field of 68. A split may require a little work at the A10 tourney.
ACC
Locks: Duke, Miami-FL | Should Be In: NC State, North Carolina | Bubble: Virginia, Maryland
  • Maryland (20-9 | 8-8) | RPI: 68 | SOS: 130 | – The Terrapins handled a had-to-have road game at Wake Forest. They had lost back-to-back road games to Boston College and Georgia Tech prior to that. Despite wins over NC State and Duke, Maryland really needs to sweep it’s last two (North Carolina, at Virginia) to improve a 3-7 mark vs. Top 100 teams. It’s also going to take a strong finish to overcome a non-conference SOS ranked around No. 300.
  • Virginia (20-9 | 10-6) | RPI: 60 | SOS: 133 | – The Cavaliers just can’t get out of their own way. They followed up a home win over Duke with yet another headscratching loss – this time at Boston College on Sunday. It’s the seventh (7th) sub-100 loss on their resume. How many such losses are too many? At the same time, Virginia has seven Top 100 wins and has put itself in position for at-large consideration with victories that include NC State, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin – the latter at the Kohl Center during the Big10-ACC Challenge. A non-conference SOS ranked No. 306 is a major sticking point, too. A mediocre finish would keep the Cavaliers in very questionable territory. It could go either way.
BIG EAST
Locks: Syracuse, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette | Should Be In: Pittsburgh, Notre Dame | Bubble: Cincinnati, Villanova
  • Cincinnati (20-10 | 8-9) | RPI: 48 | SOS: 15 | The Bearcats are breathing a little easier after holding off Connecticut this past weekend. It gave the Bearcats a fourth Top 50 win. Although UC lost at Louisville on Monday, as long as the Bearcats don’t lose to South Florida, they should feel okay heading into the BE tourney. Once they reach New York, avoiding a bad loss and/or early exit will probably be enough. UC has not lost to a sub-100 RPI team all season.
  • Villanova (17-12 | 9-8) | RPI: 55 | SOS: 30 | – Losing late leads against Seton Hall and Pittsburgh on the road have slowed the momentum gained from prior wins at Connecticut and over Marquette. Now, the closing game with Georgetown is huge. Beat the Hoyas, and the Wildcats would have Big East wins over Louisville, Syracuse, Georgetown and Marquette. Finding another bubble team with those credentials could be tough. What’s holding Villanova back is a non-conference performance that lacked much significance. Early victories over Saint Joseph’s and Purdue aren’t holding up as anticipated.
BIG 10
Locks: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin | Should Be In: Illinois, Minnesota | Bubble: Iowa
  • Iowa (18-11 | 7-9) | RPI: 86 | SOS: 118 | – Iowa has made a habit of losing competitive games. Saturday at Indiana was no exception as the Hawkeyes put up a game effort in Bloomington. But what they really needed was a signature victory. Given a very weak non-conference SOS number (321), the Hawkeyes have extra work to do. The good news: Iowa closes with Illinois and Nebraska at home. If they get both, they head to Chicago at 9-9 in B10 play. A couple of victories in the Windy City could make it interesting. The Hawkeyes best non-conference wins are Iowa State and Northern Iowa. What doesn’t look good is a 2-8 record in road games and a 7-10 mark vs. Top 150 opponents.
BIG 12
Locks: Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Baylor, Oklahoma, Iowa State
  • Baylor (16-13 | 8-9) | RPI: 67 | SOS: 31 | – The Bears absorbed a brutal defeat Saturday and followed it up with a loss at Texas on Monday. Given the above, Baylor has to find a way to beat Kansas this weekend. If nothing else, a victory over KU would put them in position to do some work at the B12 tourney. The Bears are 4-10 vs. Top 100 teams and have a troubling 9-13 mark vs. the Top 150. An early win at Kentucky isn’t what it once was. The mounting loss total has to be a concern, too.
  • Iowa State (19-10 | 9-7) | RPI: 53 | SOS: 65 | – Oklahoma put it on the Cyclones in Norman on Saturday. While that’s not what ISU needed, they have a home game with Oklahoma State up next. Win that, and the Cyclones are back to where they were a week ago – which is probably among the final few teams in the Field of 68. At the same time, there’s no escaping a 2-7 mark vs. Top 50 teams and a 3-8 record in road games. Right now, ISU has just two wins against NCAA teams (K-State, Oklahoma). And there’s the ugly loss at Texas Tech. Best idea: beat OSU this weekend and win at least one game at the B12 tourney.
  • Oklahoma (19-9 | 10-6) | RPI: 23 | SOS: 7 | – After pounding Iowa State on Saturday, the Sooners appear in pretty decent shape at this point. Their computer profile (RPI, SOS) numbers are strong and might be good enough to get OU in at this point. Especially with a 10-6 mark in the B12. Even so, we can’t completely move the Sooners off the bubble. They have two final hurdles to clear – West Virginia and TCU. Win both and it’s probably a done deal. Losing either might require at least one win at the B12 tourney to feel safe.
CONFERENCE USA
Locks: None | Should Be In: Memphis | Bubble: Southern Miss
  • Southern Miss (20-7 | 11-3) | RPI: 36 | SOS: 78 | – Other than some decent computer numbers Southern Miss doesn’t have much too offer. The Golden Eagles’ best wins are Denver, East Carolina, and UTEP, and they were swept by C-USA leader Memphis. If there is a positive, it’s that everyone around the Eagles keeps losing. At some point, that has to help.
MISSOURI VALLEY
Locks: None | Should Be In: Creighton | Bubble: Wichita State
  • Wichita State (24-7 | 12-6) | RPI: 40 | SOS: 100 | – While the Shockers are in good shape given the current landscape, it might not be wise for them to exit the MVC tourney quickly with a bad loss. If for no other reason, it leaves open the possibility of being squeezed if bids tighten between now and Selection Sunday. With a 3-1 mark vs. Top 50 teams and eight Top 100 wins, again, it’s hard to see WSU not making it. But when you break it down, the Shockers have only two wins against projected NCAA teams at this time (Creighton, VCU). Win a game in St. Louis and it’ll likely be a short stay on the bubble list.
MOUNTAIN WEST
Locks: New Mexico | Should Be In: Colorado State, San Diego State, UNLV | Bubble: Boise State
  • Boise State (18-8 | 8-6) | RPI: 44 | SOS: 89 | – Few teams had a better weekend than the Broncos. Most importantly, they beat Colorado State at home for a third Top 50 RPI win. Secondly, most of the other so-called bubble teams around them lost. The Broncos close with UNLV and San Diego State. At this point, splitting those two games might be enough. It would guarantee BSU of a winning MTW record and add another Top 50 victory to their list. A non-conference win at Creighton is a potentially nice wildcard, too. If the Broncos lose their last two, however, it may require a couple of wins at the MTW tourney to feel secure.
PAC 12
Locks: Arizona, UCLA | Should Be In: Oregon, Colorado, California | Bubble: Arizona State, Washington
  • Arizona State (20-10 | 9-8) | RPI: 92 | SOS: 132 | – A three-game road trip to end the season has resulted in two losses thus far (UCLA, USC) and really puts the Sun Devils on the outside looking in. Although ASU has four Top 50 wins (including a sweep of Colorado), their overall SOS is very suspect and they have played 16 games against teams ranked 150 or lower in the RPI (and gone 14-2 in the those games). At this point, the Sun Devils have to win at Arizona this weekend and probably grab a couple of more W’s at the P12 tourney. It’s hard to imagine ASU making it with their current profile.
  • Washington (16-13 | 8-8) | RPI: 81 | SOS: 37 | – Given a weak bubble, we’re adding the Huskies, but there’s a lot of work to do – beginning with home dates against UCLA and USC this week. They have to win both to have a fighting chance for any at-large consideration during the P12 tournament. A 7-9 mark vs. Top 100 teams is worth mentioning, but there are also four sub-150 RPI losses included three at home. UW’s best wins are Saint Louis in November and California before the Bears turned things around.
SEC
Locks: Florida | Should Be In: Missouri | Bubble: Mississippi, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee
  • Tennessee (17-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 56 | SOS: 25 | – They won’t be playing “Sweet Georgia Brown” anytime soon in Knoxville. After a very productive two weeks, the Volunteers dropped a 10-point decision at Georgia – giving the Bulldogs a season sweep. On the plus side, those two losses are the only sub-100 RPI losses on the Vols’ resume. Given the current status of the bubble and eight (8) Top 100 wins overall, Tennessee is still in position to claim an at-large bid. But … Tennessee has to beat Auburn to close the SEC season, and given the Vols’ 3-7 road mark that’s no guarantee. After that, it may come down to elimination games in the SEC tournament among several conference bubble teams.
  • Alabama (18-10 | 11-5) | RPI: 59 | SOS: 98 | – There’s no shame in losing at Florida, and the Crimson Tide put up a quality effort. But for a team that lacks a signature win, time is of the essence. Alabama lacks a Top 50 RPI win (Kentucky fell to No. 51 in this update). The Crimson Tide have a split with Tennessee and they beat Villanova. But there are also four sub-100 RPI losses – which include Mercer and Tulane. Closing games at Ole Miss and home to Georgia can set the stage for the SEC tourney. A pile of SEC wins on its own merit isn’t enough to lock up an NCAA berth this year.
  • Arkansas (18-11 | 9-7) | RPI: 75 | SOS: 79 | – Arkansas did what’s its done most of the year Saturday against Kentucky – win at home. But the Razorbacks won’t have any home games in the SEC tourney (or beyond). And the Hogs are a yucky 1-8 in road games (their lone road win is at Auburn). Other than that, the Razorbacks’ profile is decent – with victories over Oklahoma, Florida and Missouri. The one really bad loss is at South Carolina.
  • Kentucky (20-9 | 11-5) | RPI: 51 | SOS: 70 | – A good effort from the Wildcats fell short at Arkansas – which was no real surprise. Assuming UK can get past Georgia in Athens (no guarantee), this weekend’s game with Florida is huge. The Wildcats’ NCAA aspirations (at least prior to the SEC tourney) likely come down to beating the Gators. How the Selection Committee ultimately judges Kentucky without Nerlens Noel remains to be seen. In all likelihood, how UK performs at the SEC tourney will be a significant factor.
  • Mississippi (21-8 | 10-6) | RPI: 58 | SOS: 164 | – No team suffered a more damaging loss than Ole Miss on Saturday – losing at Mississippi State. It’s especially bad on the heels of a loss at South Carolina – both sub-200 RPI teams. For a team with just one Top 50 win (Missouri at home) and a non-conference SOS among the bottom third in the nation (290), those two losses are potentially devastating. Can the Rebels’ regroup? They close with Alabama and LSU. Win both and the Rebels still have an at-large chance entering the SEC tourney.
WEST COAST
Locks: Gonzaga | Should Be In: None | Bubble: St. Mary’s
  • Saint Mary’s (25-5 | 14-2) | RPI: 41 | SOS: 126 | – Saint Mary’s is playing some pretty good basketball these days. But will the “eye test” surpass the resume test? That will be huge for the Gaels. SMU took care of Santa Clara over the weekend and is poised for the WCC tournament. A potential semifinal with BYU might still be important, although the Gaels’ odds have gone up recently with other bubble losses. If they get past the Cougars, a good showing in the WCC final (assuming its against Gonzaga) could still be enough. Keep in mind, however, that SMU’s win over Creighton is their only Top 50 victory of the year, and their only win over what appears to be an NCAA team.
BEST OF THE REST
Locks: None | Should Be In: None | Bubble: Middle Tennessee, Belmont, Bucknell, Akron, Louisiana Tech
  • Akron (22-5 | 13-1) | RPI: 46 | SOS: 136 | – It’s unfair to expect any team from any conference to have to go through an entire league season without a loss. But we also know that teams like Akron tend to have a smaller margin for error and that’s why Saturday’s loss at Buffalo can’t be overlooked. If the Zips go ahead and reach the MAC title game, they’ll still be in decent position. But after Saturday, there is less room for any early exit from the MAC tourney. It also means the Zips might be more easily passed if available at-large spots shrink.
  • Belmont (22-6 | 14-2) | RPI: 24 | SOS: 72 | – The Bruins closed their regular season on a four game winning streak that included a win over Ohio in the BracketBusters game. Good scheduling and a 6-2 mark vs. Top 100 teams has the Bruins on the radar for at-large consideration. Their resume includes a victory over Middle Tennessee at home. Of Belmont’s four sub-100 losses, only the one to Northeastern at home would be considered bad. It’s fair to think that Belmont has an at-large chance if they reach the OVC title game. After that, it all depends on what the at-large field looks like.
  • Bucknell (24-5 | 12-2) | RPI: 52 | SOS: 189 | – Given a mid 50’s RPI and SOS numbers that aren’t great, the Bison might be the least likely of this bunch to garner serious at-large consideration. What they have is early wins over La Salle and at Purdue, plus a close loss to Missouri in Columbia. The rest, including an 18-2 mark vs. sub 150-RPI teams, isn’t much help.
  • Louisiana Tech (25-3 | 16-0) | RPI: 50 | SOS: 251 | – Even with a high volume of wins, the Bulldogs’ at-large chances are still questionable. The good news is this: a few of their victories have improved from an RPI standpoint, leaving Tech with a 5-2 mark vs. Top 100 teams. Of those, the best is Southern Miss, and none are against projected NCAA teams. An overall strength of schedule ranked above 250 suggests that an at-large bid is unlikely. Fair or unfair, Tech has played just one game against Top 50 teams (So. Miss). They are 18-1 against teams ranked 150 or below.
  • Middle Tennessee (27-4 | 19-1) | RPI: 25 | SOS: 131 | – A solid RPI and strong non-conference SOS ranked No. 9 in the nation are nice starting points for the Blue Raiders. What hurts, however, is a 1-3 mark vs. Top 50 teams that included losses at Belmont and Akron – two teams on this list. MTSU really needs Ole Miss to turn it around as that’s their signature win. You have to wonder if good computer numbers are enough. History would suggest they might not be.

Michael Porter Jr. to undergo surgery, expected to miss season

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Michael Porter, Jr. will undergo surgery on his spine on Tuesday that will cause him to miss the rest of the season, Missouri announced.

The procedure is a microdiscectomy of the L3-L4 spinal discs and the projected recovery period will likely end his season.

Porter is a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft but he was injured, according to the school, during warmups of his first game with the Tigers. He played two minutes but was removed from the game and did not return. He did not sit on the bench with the team in wins over Wagner and Emporia State, and he did not travel to Utah, where the Tigers were blown out by the Utes.

This is a devastating blow to Missouri, who had hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament with the elder Porter on the roster. A likely one-and-done even after the surgery, Porter’s college career will likely span all of those two minutes.

The future is still bright for Cuonzo Martin. Porter’s younger brother, Jontay, and fellow freshman Jeremiah Tilmon are not likely to be one-and-done prospects, meaning that there is a core there for Martin to build around.

But this year, losing arguably the best player in college basketball is going to be too much to overcome.

Toledo’s Taylor Adway dishes up Thanksgiving for program, gives leftovers to local church

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Thanksgiving dinner, on the road, at the team hotel, wasn’t going to cut it for Toledo junior big man Taylor Adway.

Like many players away from their families during the holidays, Adway wanted a home-cooked meal. As the unofficial chef of the Rockets, Adway hatched a plan with Toledo head coach Tod Kowalczyk: he wanted to cook Thanksgiving dinner for the entire men’s basketball program before they departed for a mid-week road trip.

Cooking for 15 players, team managers and five coaches and their families seemed like a daunting Thanksgiving feast for even the most seasoned chef.

Facing four days of cooking for over 30 people, Adway’s roommate, Deshaun Cole, a manager at Toledo, even offered the idea of a pair of HoneyBaked Hams to alleviate some of the burden. Adway shunned his roommate’s last-ditch offer for fresh-and-ready ham. The HoneyBaked Ham was the easy way out.

“I’m, like, no I want to cook these hams. When people eat it, I want them to know that it’s good and that Taylor made it. ‘That ham was good.’ Cooking relieves stress. I get joy from cooking. That’s why I didn’t want to buy nothing already made. I wanted to make everything,” Adway said to NBCSports.com.

After four days of hard labor in the kitchen, Adway put together an unbelievable spread for his coaches and teammates — all of it from scratch — including the first turkey he ever made completely on his own. The meal included:

  • smoked turkey with dressing
  • two hams — one pineapple citrus, one honey-glazed brown sugar
  • two pans of macaroni and cheese
  • sweet potatoes
  • greens
  • fried sweet corn
  • potatoes with string beans
  • cranberry sauce
  • toasted Hawaiian rolls

“A lot of the times, the guys will throw in five bucks and he’ll go and do a variety of different meals and just cook for the whole team,” Kowalczyk said of Adway. “And he just does that on his own at the spur of the moment without coaches asking him to do anything. He just loves to do it. And he’s really, really good at it. Really good at it. The meal that we had last night was amazing.”

Toledo’s players did a smaller-scale Thanksgiving on their own last year where they collected money before Adway cooked. For this year’s feast, Adway thought it would be smart to include the whole program. Not only would the meal bring more people together, it would be considered a “team meal.” The school and coaching staff could help pay for the groceries without NCAA interference.

Going grocery shopping last Wednesday with Director of Operations Justin Ingram, Adway started preparing the feast last Thursday, finishing everything up by Sunday morning. While Adway prepared everything in his kitchen, he called home to speak with his dad, Tony, for advice on handling things. Taylor learned his way around the kitchen from as young as seven years old thanks to his father’s love of cooking and grilling.

“He’s my foundation when it comes to cooking. Now that I’m older and I have my own place with my own kitchen and my own groceries, I try to do things my way. But everything kind of stems back to everything he taught me,” Adway said of his father. “When I was cooking Thanksgiving, I was constantly calling him, asking for advice. I just try to add my own spin to things. I want it to come off as Taylor’s recipe.”

Tony is so good with family recipes that he can often taste minor differences from his cooking and Taylor’s. Sometimes Tony will even point out specific ingredients his son might have used to alter the recipe. Family is a big reason why Taylor has grown comfortable making food. Adway comes from a big family that regularly spends holidays at his Great Aunt Esther’s, as everyone gathers together to eat, play games, laugh and watch football.

When his basketball career is complete, Adway wants to get into coaching, with the hope that he can also open his own restaurant. That means high school coaching is likely more feasible for achieving both goals since it involves less travel.

“I want to continue to play basketball after college, make money, and then save up and open up a restaurant called Triple T’s. Tony, which is my dad. Tyler, which is my brother. And, Tarmika, which is my mother,” Adway said.

“I get joy from making big meals and making new things. Big meals, usually I’m cooking for a lot of people. I just like cooking for people and they’re enjoying my food. And new things, like making stuff that I never made before, and it winds up being good. My confidence with cooking just gets higher and higher.”

Adway doesn’t adhere to traditional methods when it comes to cooking. While he watched Emeril Lagasse growing up, and still enjoys celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay and Guy Fieri, Adway often sees a video of a recipe and stores it away to try at another moment. Scrolling on Instagram or Facebook will lead Adway to videos of things he wants to cook. One time, Adway took white rice with broccoli, chicken and steak and cooked it inside of a carved-out pineapple. Adway has also made everything from homemade french toast to lasagna and is an expert handling a grill. During the summer on campus, Adway sent group messages to teammates, asking what they wanted to eat. After receiving responses, Adway collected the money he needed for groceries and cooked for his teammates before gatherings.

“I know he’s really good with ribs and chicken on the grill. He’s fantastic on the barbeque,” Kowalczyk said. “He’s great in the kitchen but I think his passion is probably more on the grill side of it. He learned that all from his dad.”

Kowalczyk did assist Adway with some of the Thanksgiving spread for Toledo last weekend, challenging him to see who could make a better turkey and dressing. It was the only assistance that Adway had for the general meal, which also included a dessert table.

“To make it fun, we made it a little bit competitive. We had a turkey contest between myself and him — as well as stuffing. He did everything, I just did turkey and stuffing. His stuff was a lot better than mine. And I think I’m pretty good at it,” Kowalczyk said.

“He didn’t want to give it to me for the stuffing, but I asked my teammates, and everybody was saying mine was better. So, I got him on the cook-off this time,” Adway said.

Although leftovers are one of the best parts of Thanksgiving, the team knew they’d be gone for the next five-to-six days.

While Adway and Cole might not have agreed on the preparation of the ham, the roommates were united in deciding to donate the leftovers to a homeless shelter.

They delivered their Thanksgiving food to the St. Paul Community Church on Monday evening.

Toledo’s Taylor Adway and Deshaun Cole deliver food to a homeless shelter.

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.