Marcus Smart, Angel Rodriguez, Nino Williams, Le'Bryan Nash

Who should be the Preseason Player of the Year: Marcus Smart or Andrew Wiggins?

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Earlier today, we released the NBCSports.com All-American teams, which also included our pick for Preseason National Player of the Year: Marcus Smart.

We gave Smart the nod after a long argument because Raphielle Johnson and myself, and I figured that the back-and-forth was worth posting here. It’s been cleaned up a bit to make it suitable for posting:

Dauster: The way the season breaks down it seems that there are really only two logical choices for Preseason National Player of the Year: Oklahoma State sophmore point guard Marcus Smart and Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, a battle made all-the-more juicy by the fact that they represent the two favorites in the Big 12 race.

When it comes down to it, I always err on the side of talent, and with all due respect to Marcus Smart, Wiggins is the most talented player in the country. At his size with his athleticism and his mobility, there really isn’t anything that he can’t do. Throw in the fact that he’s playing on a team that actually will provide him with a supporting cast, and there’s a chance that, come March, the Jayhawks are the best team in the country. Hard to bet against the best player on the best team.

Johnson: While I certainly respect the talent Wiggins possesses, I don’t even know if he’s the most important player on his own team. I’d argue that Naadir Tharpe, the starter at a position (point guard) where the Jayhawks really don’t have a concrete answer behind him, is that guy for Kansas. While skill level and production obviously need to be accounted for when discussing Player of the Year possibilities, I think a player’s importance to his team needs to be factored in as well. That’s why I take Smart, who will once again be asked to set up guys like Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown while also scoring himself. With his skills, leadership ability and competitiveness, I think Smart’s the best choice.

Dauster: If Naadir Tharpe is the most important player for Kansas, than wouldn’t Michael Cobbins be the most important player for Oklahoma State? Decent talent looking to prove himself at a position without much depth on an otherwise loaded team?

And if we’re talking about how valuable a player is, let’s think about this: Wiggins may not actively set players up the way Smart does, but the attention that he will garner on the offensive end of the floor will make things that much easier for Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis. I’m not sure either of those guys are quite good enough yet to be the No. 1 and 2 options on a Big 12 contender. But when defenses are keyed in on stopping Wiggins, Selden and Ellis should be able to take advantage.

That said, the key word in your last email was competitiveness. Can Wiggins consistently bring the effort to dominate like he’s capable of?

Johnson: Attempting to apply my Tharpe thinking to Cobbins is apples to oranges and you know it.

As for attention, Smart won’t garner enough to take the pressure off of his teammates? I certainly believe he will, because while guys like Brown and Nash ultimately are talented enough to make things happen in their own the Cowboys have other pieces that need Smart’s presence in order to be at their best. And I think he’s going to be an improved perimeter shooter this season after making just 29% of his shots from beyond the arc in 2012-13, which will make Smart even more dangerous. I’m a big fan of Wiggins but we aren’t talking about the top pick in next summer’s NBA Draft. We’re talking about the best player in college basketball, and right now I’m taking the guy who last season led his team to their first win at Allen Fieldhouse since 1989.

Dauster: I don’t disagree with anything you just said about Smart — although there’s no questioning the validity of my Tharpe/Cobbins comparison! — but it belies a bigger point: the only thing keeping Andrew Wiggins from winning National Player of the Year is Andrew Wiggins.

We’ve all seen the early season reports, that he’s not yet competing on every possession in practice and that it’s been guys like Selden and Ellis and Joel Embiid that have drawn the rave reviews from reporters that have made the trip to Lawrence this month. We also know Wiggins reputation as a guy that coasts at times when he’s not being challenged on the court.

But there are two things to remember here: the last two times that Wiggins was really presented with some adversity, he went out and dominated Julius Randel at the Peach Jam in 2012, and he dropped 57 points for Huntington Prep on a day he was ticked off about an article that was written up on SI.com. If Wiggins decides that he wants to dominate for 40 minutes every night, I think he can dominate for 40 minutes every night. Even if Smart can now shoot like Doug McDermott, Wiggins will still be bringing home the Naismith trophy.

Johnson: But therein lies the problem with making Wiggins POY: he’s still not to the point where he’s competing on every possession in practice. That isn’t an issue with Smart currently and it wasn’t last season either. He performed well enough with the US U-19 team to be one of two college players to receive an invite to their senior team training camp this summer, and that competitiveness/leadership was a big reason why that happened. I’m a huge fan of Wiggins and expect him to have an excellent career. But I can’t label a guy as being the best player in America when we’re still talking about him “choosing” when to dominate. Give me the guy who goes at his opponent’s throat consistently.

Dauster: Fine. Well roll with Smart. But don’t think for a second I’ll let you forget about this when Wiggins goes all Kevin Durant on the Big-12.

Nigel Hayes shines against as No. 17 Wisconsin beats Marquette

MILWAUKEE, WI - DECEMBER 10:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers is fouled by Luke Fischer #40 of the Marquette Golden Eagles during the first half of a game at the BMO Harris Bradley Center on December 10, 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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What a difference a year makes.

Last season at this time, Wisconsin dropped a home game to a Marquette team that was headed to the NIT.

This year?

The Badgers put six players in double-figures as they went into Milwaukee and knocked off Marquette, 93-84.

Bronson Koenig continued his hot shooting, finishing with 18 points and six assists while shooting 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Vitto Brown chipped in with 15 points, Khalil Iverson had 16 and Ethan Happ chipped in with 11 despite battling foul trouble all afternoon.

But the really story here – hell, the story of Wisconsin’s season to date – has been the change in the way that Nigel Hayes plays.

Hayes was terrific again on Saturday. He had 17 points, nine boards, four assists and three steals. He shot 6-for-10 from the floor and attempted just a pair of threes, making one of them. He had the ball in his hands when Wisconsin was trying to kill off the game, and, more importantly, head coach Greg Gard has seem to start to take advantage of just how good Hayes can be as a facilitator.

There are a couple of points that need to be made here:

  1. When Hayes plays like this, he deserves to be in the all-american discussion. He’s averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 boards and 6.7 assists in the three games Wisconsin has played against high-major competition since the change, and the Badgers have won five straight games while playing easily their best basketball of the season.
  2. And it’s not just because of the numbers he puts up. When Hayes operates as Wisconsin’s de-facto point guard, it makes everyone else on the roster better. For starters, it allows Koenig to play off the ball, where he seems to be more effective. He’s at his best when he’s hunting shots and trying to create off the bounce, but his aggressiveness can be detrimental when he’s the only one touching the ball. It also means offense runs through Happ more often since Koenig isn’t dominating possession, and it lets guys like Brown space the floor because they’re actually able to get rhythm threes.

As of today, Wisconsin is the favorite to win the Big Ten, even if Indiana is far more likely to end up being a No. 1 seed in March.

SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Villanova, Wisconsin earn good wins

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Mikal Bridges #25 of the Villanova Wildcats fights off Martinas Geben #23 and Matt Farrell #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for control of the ball during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 1 Villanova 74, No. 23 Notre Dame 66

Josh Hart put together one of the best games we’ll see all season as he put up a career-high 37 points and 11 rebounds to will Villanova to the win. I have more on Hart’s performance and Villanova’s win here.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

No. 17 Wisconsin 93, Marquette 84: The Badgers avenged last season’s loss to in-state rival Marquette with a solid road win. Putting up 58 points in the second half, Wisconsin had six players finish with at least 11 players as Bronson Koenig led with 18 points. Another solid outing from Nigel Hayes as he ended up with 17 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

STARRED

Rodney Bullock, Providence: The Friars earned another solid win over UMass as Bullock finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Bullock was 7-for-14 from the field and he went 10-for-12 from the free-throw line.

Dedric Lawson, Memphis: The sophomore just missed a triple-double as he finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, eight blocks and three assists in a Memphis win over UAB. Lawson played all 40 minutes.

Daniel Amigo, Denver: Huge game for the junior center as he had 33 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Air Force. Amigo was 14-for-18 from the field.

STRUGGLED

Demontrae Jefferson, Texas Southern: Making his college debut against Louisville, the exciting 5-foot-7 guard showed his talent but was also very inefficient. Jefferson finished with 27 points but was 10-for-30 from the field with 11 turnovers. Watching Jefferson’s run-and-gun style is going to be fascinating this season.

TOP 25

  • No. 11 Louisville cruised to an easy win over Texas Southern as Quentin Snider led the Cardinals with 13 points.
  • Easy win for No. 15 West Virginia as they beat VMI for a home win. Daxter Miles Jr. finished with 20 points and was 5-for-6 from three-point range.
  • No. 18 Purdue raced past Cleveland State as Isaac Haas had 14 points and Caleb Swanigan had 13 points and 10 rebounds.
  • The freshman duo of Rawle Alkins and Kobi Simmons each had 19 points to pace No. 20 Arizona to a win over Missouri. The Wildcats overcame foul trouble from freshman big man Lauri Markkanen as they shot 54 percent from three-point range.

NOTABLE

  • Syracuse had a big win over Boston to snap a recent cold stretch. John Gillon led the Orange with 23 points while Taurean Thompson had 22 points.
  • Nice home win for Houston over Rhode Island as Rob Gray scored 30 points and Danrad “Chicken” Knowles added 25 points. The Rams are 0-3 on the road and have lost four of their last six games.
  • Michigan State picked up a home win over Tennessee Tech as Eron Harris led with 20 points. The Spartans struggled from the free-throw line in this one — at one point head coach Tom Izzo sat at the end of the bench in frustration.
  • Pitt was able to outlast Penn State as Michael Young finished with 29 points and nine rebounds.

Gillon, Thompson lead Syracuse over Boston University

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  John Gillon #4 of the Syracuse Orange dribbles up court against the South Carolina Gamecocks in the first half during the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim wants his bench to perform better.

He got his wish Saturday.

John Gillon and Taurean Thompson came off the bench to score a Syracuse career-high 23 points and career-high 22 points, respectively, and the Orange broke open a tight game early in the second half to defeat Boston University 99-77.

Gillon hadn’t scored in Syracuse’s two previous games.

“We want guys to come off the bench to score and that’s what happened today,” Boeheim said. “Thompson is getting better on offense. … John saved the game in the first half.”

Andrew White added 19 and Tyler Lydon 10 for the Orange (6-3). Frank Howard had 11 assists and just two turnovers.

Syracuse had lost three of four entering the game.

Cedric Hankerson led the Terriers (4-6) with 34 points, including 10 of 20 from beyond the arc. Eric Fanning chipped in with 12 points and nine rebounds.

Syracuse led 45-39 at the half but outscored the Terriers 19-5 in the first five minutes of the second half, led by seven from Thompson, to take a 64-44 lead. The Orange breezed the rest of the way, extending their lead to 88-55. Syracuse shot 55 percent in the second half, outscoring the Terriers 54-38 after intermission.

“They just got on a run and we couldn’t really bounce back from that,” said Hankerson. “They were hitting some daggers and we started turning the ball over too much.”

“They had some guys who shot better than they had been, and we helped them,” said BU coach Joe Jones. “We were really bad on offense and made some really bad decisions and you can’t do that.”

Gillon and Thompson scored 14 and 12 points, respectively, in the first half to spark what had been a lethargic Orange effort. Gillon’s first-half points included 4 of 4 from beyond the arc.

“I had a lot going on and wasn’t in the right mindset, not ready to play,” said Gillon. “That’s what happens, you get bad results. I’m getting myself together.”

Both teams exchanged baskets early on, but then the Terriers went on an 8-0 run, led by two 3-pointers by Hankerson, to take a 20-12 lead. Two 3s by Gillon and a jumper by Thompson tied the score at 23 with 8:31 to go in the half. The Orange then outscored BU 22-16 to take its halftime lead.

Hankerson, who averaged 9.3 points a game entering the game, scored 19 in the first half.

The undersized Terriers outrebounded Syracuse for the game.

Despite the win, Boeheim said there’s much work to do.

“It’s foolish for me or anybody to think this was going to happen right away. It’s a long way off,” Boeheim said. “We have glaring weaknesses and have to get better.”

BIG PICTURE

BOSTON UNIVERSITY: The Terriers hung tough for a half but the Orange’s talent took over in the second 20 minutes. BU was tough on the boards and had 18 second-chance points.

SYRACUSE: It was another decisive victory for the Orange over a decidedly inferior opponent, so you can’t really judge much from the win.

TIP-INS

Hankerson’s game was his best yet since returning from last year’s season-pending ACL. . This was the first game all year that the Terriers had been outscored in the paint.

White has scored in double figures in all nine Syracuse games. . Lydon is 3 of 17 from 3 in his last three games. .. Dajuan Coleman had just two points after two solid efforts.

UP NEXT

Boston University: Hosts New Hampshire a week from Sunday.

Syracuse: Continues its five-game homestand next Saturday against longtime rival Georgetown on what’s been designated “Pearl Washington Day” in honor of the Syracuse legend who died earlier this year.

Alkins leads No. 20 Arizona past Missouri, 79-60

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 25:  Rawle Alkins #1 of the Arizona Wildcats drives against Sean McDermott #22 of the Butler Bulldogs during the championship game of the 2016 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational basketball tournament at the Orleans Arena on November 25, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) It’s an old cliché winning on the road in college basketball is no easy task.

As a visiting opponent, having only seven players on scholarship doesn’t make it any easier.

It didn’t seem to faze No. 20 Arizona, which looked polished and poised as it defeated Missouri for the third consecutive season, cruising to a 79-60 victory Saturday in its first true road game of the season.

Rawle Alkins led the way for the Wildcats with 19 points and nine rebounds. Kobi Simmons had 19 points on 8-of-15 shooting, and Kadeem Allen added 17 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

“We’re going through a lot right now,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “How we practice and every game, it’s just really crucial for us. I think that in short time, I’m hopeful we can get some guys back, but in the meantime, this was a meaningful game. … I’m proud of our guys’ effort and approach tonight.”

The Wildcats (8-2) jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first 3:12, eventually taking a 25-8 lead with 10:29 remaining in the first half. From that point, Missouri outscored Arizona 28-16 in the half, including a 7-0 run to end the opening 20 minutes.

The Tigers (5-4) continued to chip away at Arizona’s lead, eventually cutting the deficit to 45-41 early in the second half. However, the Wildcats responded with a 26-4 run that included a Missouri scoring drought of 6:59, halting any momentum the Tigers had mustered.

“I thought we did great job of coming back,” Missouri coach Kim Anderson said. “I was really proud of our guys and the way they competed. In the second half early, we had some chances, and then they went on a great run and for all practical purposes, put the game out of reach.”

Kevin Puryear had a team-best 11 points and seven rebounds. Leading scorer Frankie Hughes was held in check by the Wildcats’ backcourt, scoring 10 points on 2-of-13 shooting. Russell Woods had eight points and six rebounds, and Cullen VanLeer added eight points, all in the first half.

A reported crowd of over 10,000 was on hand for the only currently ranked opponent on Missouri’s home schedule.

VanLeer attributed the Tigers’ comeback efforts to the home crowd energy.

“The magnitude of the crowd was really nice to have. We appreciated everyone that came out. We were upset we couldn’t get the win today, but hopefully we can continue to get bigger crowds and it’ll help us get rhythm and flow in the game,” VanLeer said.

Arizona dominated the glass, outrebounding Missouri 46-28, its worst rebounding margin of the season.

The Wildcats led wire-to-wire despite nearly doubling Missouri’s turnovers, 15-8, and committing 22 fouls to the Tigers’ 11. Missouri shot 66.7 percent from the free throw line, including 9 of 17 in the second half.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona: The Wildcats entered the game shooting 36.6 percent from 3-point range, but caught fire early against the Tigers, shooting 54.2 percent. Missouri made just 1 of 8 3-point attempts in the second half while the Wildcats made 6 of 10. Missouri was coming off a season-high 3-point output against Miami (Ohio).

Missouri: A tenacious on-ball defender, Missouri point guard Terrence Phillips has struggled with foul trouble in recent games. In Monday’s 81-55 win over Miami (Ohio) Phillips played only 10 minutes in the second half, finishing with four fouls. He picked up his third foul 3:56 into the second half, limiting him to just 16 minutes against the Wildcats.

PIVOTAL MOMENT

Woods received a bounce pass in the lane on a fast break and gathered for a two-handed slam in front of the Missouri student section that would have cut the deficit to 45-43, but missed the dunk. On the ensuing Arizona possession, Woods was whistled for a foul, leading to two free throws by Arizona forward Dusan Ristic, who finished with 12 points and six rebounds.

LET DOWN

Freshman 7-footer Lauri Markkanen entered the game as Arizona’s leading scorer and rebounder, averaging 17.8 points and 7.2 rebounds. Against Missouri, the native of Finland had a season-low eight points to go with six rebounds, and fouled out with 2:53 remaining.

Puryear discussed his approach to defending Markkanen.

“Just being physical with him,” Puryear said. “Not letting him get comfortable with where he was on the floor with the ball. He likes to operate in the mid-post area, so I tried to eliminate that.”

UP NEXT

Arizona: hosts Grand Canyon on Wednesday.

Missouri: hosts Eastern Illinois next Saturday.

Short-handed Boilermakers crush Cleveland State, 77-53

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 13: Isaac Haas #44 of the Purdue Boilermakers shoots against Gavin Schilling #34 of the Michigan State Spartans in the championship game of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 13, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (AP) No. 18 Purdue currently has only eight healthy scholarship players. At this point in the season, it hasn’t been a problem.

Isaac Haas scored 14 points, Caleb Swanigan had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Dakota Mathias added 12 points on four 3-pointers, leading the Boilermakers to a 77-53 victory over Cleveland State on Saturday.

Fifth-year graduate student point guard Spike Alnrecht (back) and sophomore forward Jacquil Taylor (foot surgery) are out indefinitely. However, Purdue is getting balanced scoring and solid defense from its eight healthy scholarship players.

The Boilermakers (8-2) finished the first half on a 12-0 run to lead 41-20 and never were threatened thereafter, leading by as many as 27 points in the second half.

“That run to close the first half was huge, especially since they had started to make shots right before that and had a little momentum going,” Mathias said. “Coming out of that last media timeout, we had to close out the first half strong, so we did. We were aggressive and got into the passing lanes.”

It was a 5:15 stretch Cleveland State would like to forget.

“The run to close the first half was big for (Purdue) after we cut it to nine,” Cleveland State coach Gary Waters said. “We made some errors, they started hitting some shots and they picked up their defense. They are a great team, and that’s what great teams do.”

Bobby Word had 14 points to lead Cleveland State (3-6), which shot only 26.7 percent (8 of 30) during the pivotal first half. Vikings leading scorers Word, Rob Edwards and Demonte Flannigan scored only 24 combined points on 9-of-35 shooting from the field.

Vince Edwards added 11 points, six rebounds and four assists for the Boilermakers, who have won each of their past three games by at least 24 points. Mathias finished with six rebounds, seven assists and no turnovers to go with his 12 points in 26 minutes.

“Vince Edwards had a lot to do with that 12-0 run to close the first half, and right now, having the balance that we have is a really good thing,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “Our guys were ready to play today, including Dakota, who really did a nice defensive job on Edwards. We relaxed a little bit once we got a 20-point lead, but sometimes that happens.”

Edwards liked the way Purdue limited the Vikings to 31.3 percent shooting (20 of 64).

“Guys did a really good job on defense and with help defense,” Edwards said. “We were really helping each other out by scrambling on the floor. I think that made a big difference. We were active, and we also were getting on the glass.”

The Boilermakers outrebounded the Vikings, 44-34.

BIG PICTURE

Cleveland State: The Vikings, who came to Purdue having won two in a row, stayed close for a while by making seven 3-pointers in the first 24:04 but had no answer for Purdue’s 7-2 Haas and 6-8 Swanigan.

Purdue: The Boilermakers once again featured a solid blend of interior and perimeter scoring to win for the seventh time in the past eight games. Purdue entered this game shooting 44.8 percent from 3-point range – second best nationally – and shot 43.8 percent from beyond the arc in the first half Saturday.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Having won three in a row by 34, 33 and now 24 points, Purdue likely has positioned itself to move up from No. 18 in the next AP Top 25. Purdue has been a Top 25 team in 24 consecutive polls.

UP AND DOWN DAY

Swanigan added another double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds but was not happy after making eight of the Boilermakers’ 15 turnovers.

“It’s not on the team, it’s on me and Vince Edwards because the last game we had a lot of turnovers, but Vince cut his down to two, and I have to try to do that,” Swanigan said.

UP NEXT

Cleveland State: The Vikings play on Dec. 17, at Ohio University.

Purdue: The Boilermakers will play No. 23 Notre Dame on Dec. 17 in Indianapolis’ Bankers Life Fieldhouse.