Andrew Wiggins. Jabari Parker. Julius Randle (basically Kentucky’s entire incoming class). Those were the headlining freshmen entering the 2013-2014 season.
Through the first two weeks they haven’t disappointed. Last week, Wiggins led KU to a win over Parker and Duke in the Champions Classic in Chicago. Parker went over 20 for the fifth time this season on Tuesday night and Randle has posted double-doubles in his first five collegiate games.
Tuesday night, No. 7 Oklahoma State welcomed No. 11 Memphis to Stillwater, and Marcus Smart reminded the nation that he, a sophomore, should be receiving just as much attention as the heralded freshman, as the reigning Big 12 Player of the Year delivered a statement, 39-point performance in the Cowboys’ 101-80 thrashing of Memphis.
Twice during the first half, Smart scored 12 consecutive Oklahoma State points. The first bunch occurred in the opening minutes. When Memphis trimmed the lead to 17-16, Smart again went for a dozen straight Cowboy points, hitting three threes — the knock on him is that he can’t shoot, by the way — and the other trio coming from the foul line after being fouled behind the arc.
Oklahoma State held an 18-point lead heading into the break. It didn’t get much better for Memphis in the second half. The rout was on.
This was the No. 11 team in the nation, featuring arguably the best perimeter attack in the country with four experienced and talented guards. Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford combined for 21 points of 8-of-34 shooting. Smart had 26 of 8-of-16 shooting after 20 minutes.
He posted a career-high (previous was 28) without forcing it, and went to the line 16 times, where he sunk 12 of his attempts. He also lead the defense with five steals and two blocks and brought energy that livened the Gallagher-Iba Arena. He didn’t do it alone, Markel Brown was great with 20 of his own and Brian Williams added 15, while the rest of the Cowboys played an incredible team defense, challenging everything the Tigers put up.
But it was clear, this was Smart’s game. His way to reassert himself among the best players in college basketball today.
Smart faced questions and criticism about returning to OK State for his sophomore campaign. He had unfinished business after an early exit to Oregon in the NCAA tournament and even more fuel was added to his fire with all the hype surround the freshmen, which led him to call out his top contender for the preseason Big 12 player of the year crown.
He was a Conference Player of the Year, an All-American, and an overlooked star heading into this season. On Tuesday night, he set the bar for Wiggins, Parker, Randle and any of the other player of the year candidates.
1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: For my money, Mason solidified his standing as the National Player of the Year front runner, the guy whose award it is to lose, this week. He was the spark of a comeback from 14 points down in the final three minutes against No. 12 West Virginia and led the Jayhawks back from 12 points down – six in the final three minutes – at No. 9 Baylor on Saturday, the win that solidified what will very shortly be the 13th straight Big 12 title for Bill Self.
Against West Virginia, he had 24 points, five assists and four boards. Against Baylor, Mason played arguably his best game of the season, finishing with 23 points and eight assists in a game where the Jayhawks struggled to find offense for long stretches.
But more to the point, what Mason provides this team is more than the numbers. There’s a competitiveness and a toughness that he brings. At the risk of being too cliché for my own good, he’s a winner and a leader that will drag his teammates along with him even when they aren’t playing well. He’s not the best player on Kansas — that would be Josh Jackson — and he’s probably not even the most valuable — hello, Landen Lucas — but there is no one that is more responsible for the fact that Kansas has won nine of their 12 Big 12 wins by seven or fewer points and seven of those nine by less than five points.
Mason’s numbers are sensational — 20.3 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.2 rpg, 50.4 percent 3PT — but his numbers simply do not tell the whole story here.
2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Last week, I tried to make the point that Josh Hart’s Player of the Year bid was going to die on the vine because his season was devoid of moments. That happened before Frank Mason led Kansas to wins in two thrilling comebacks, both of which were games between top ten teams that were the most important matchups of that day. Hart? Played at the same time as Kansas-Baylor on Saturday. He’ll play at the same time as Louisville-North Carolina on Wednesday. Saturday’s matchup with No. 23 Creighton would’ve drawn every eyeball in the sport … if Mo Watson Jr. hadn’t gotten hurt.
He’s a terrific player having a career-year for an awesome team. I don’t think he’s going to be the Player of the Year.
3. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan had one of his best games of the season, going for 24 points, 15 boards and five assists as the Boilermakers beat Michigan State on Saturday. I’m not sure what else there is to say about Swanigan at this point in the season. He’s the best big man in the country, and I’m not quite sure it’s all that close.
4. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Ball has changed the culture of the UCLA program, at least for this year, and he’s done it with his unselfishness and his ability to create offense out of nothing. But more important than that, since the comeback against Oregon, the one where UCLA game up 0.65 points-per-possession in the final 14 minutes of the game, the Bruins have allowed 0.915 PPP in wins over Oregon State and USC. They become a real title contender again when they are consistently buying in defensively like that.
5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss averaged 24 points and seven assists in two wins last week, including a 30-burger against San Francisco. He’s the star and the go-to-scorer of the only undefeated team in the country.
6. Luke Kennard, Duke 7. Justin Jackson, North Carolina 8. Donovan Mitchell, Louisville: I wrote about the ACC Player of the Year race in my weekly takeaways column on Monday, but I wanted to elaborate on it.
With all due respect to Bonzie Colson, John Collins and everyone else in that league, I think there is a pretty clear-cut top three for the ACC Player of the Year race. And if I had to pick ACC Player of the Year, it would probably be Justin Jackson over Donovan Mitchell by a whisker — depending on what happens Wednesday night — with Luke Kennard in third.
But if we’re ranking for National Player of the Year, I think that Kennard is first, Jackson is behind him and Mitchell is third out of that group. Hell, having Mitchell ranked eighth overall is somewhat debatable; that’s how poor he played, at least compared to his ACC counterparts, before the start of ACC play.
9. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ ranks fifth in KenPom’s Player of the Year rankings. My only issue with that: It doesn’t factor in that his foul shooting is a real problem, one that has, at times, forced him off the floor in crunch-time. That’s a pretty big concern for a guy that, in all other facets of the game, is criminally-underrated.
10. Josh Jackson, Kansas: What can’t Jackson do on a basketball court? He’s a pro shooting guard that is playing the four for Kansas. He blocks shots at the rim and gets steals on the perimeter. He’s lethal in transition. He’s a spot-up three-point shooter, he can make plays off the dribble and he’s a talented, albeit at times careless, passer. He’s tough, he’s competitive, he’s not afraid of a big moment or a big game.
It’s hard to argue against the fact that he’s been the best player for Kansas over the course of the last month or two. That’s the same Kansas team that Frank Mason III plays for.
JUST MISSED THE CUT
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
West Virginia raced out to a big lead and rode out a late Texas rally as the No. 12 Mountaineers captured a 77-62 home Big 12 win on Monday night.
During a weird night that featured West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins going to his knees after his defibrillator activated during a first-half timeout, the Mountaineers shot the ball well and held on for the win. Huggins went to his knees late in the first half as his team approached him on the floor during a timeout. He returned to the sidelines to finish the first half and coached the second half with no further incident.
As for the action on the floor, the Mountaineers (22-6, 10-5) shot 42 percent from three-point range as junior guard Jevon Carter continues a solid stretch of play as he finished with 24 points. Reserve wing Lamont West also provided a great boost off the bench for the Mountaineers by dropping in six three-pointers and finishing with 23 points in 21 minutes. Elijah Macon added 10 points as well for West Virginia, continuing his strong play over the last three games.
Texas (10-18, 4-11) tried to make a late push to get back in this one but they ultimately didn’t have enough after getting down double digits. Freshman center Jarrett Allen finished with a team-high 17 points while also throwing down a huge poster dunk.
Eric Davis Jr. (14 points), Kerwin Roach Jr. (13 points) and Andrew Jones (11 points) also finished in double-figures for the Longhorns but they were only 3-for-13 from three-point range.
West Virginia has two out of three on the road for the rest of the Big 12 schedule as they have to play at TCU, at Baylor and at home against Iowa State.
If the Mountaineers can take two of three they’ll be in great position for a potential top-four seed as long as they don’t bow out early in the Big 12 tournament.
Bacon leads No. 19 Florida State to rout of Boston College
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) Dwayne Bacon had 16 points and 13 Florida State players had at least four points, helping the 19th-ranked Seminoles bounce back from two straight losses with a 104-72 victory over Boston College on Monday night.
Bacon went over the 1,000-point mark for his career on a 3-pointer early in the second half after going scoreless in last Saturday’s loss at Pittsburgh.
PJ Savoy added 15 points and the Seminoles’ bench accounted for 59 points. Jonathan Isaac (14 points) and Jarquez Smith (10) also scored in double figures, and FSU (22-6, 10-5 Atlantic Coast Conference) never trailed and led by 34 (75-41) six minutes into the second half.
Kai Bowman had 24 points and Jerome Robinson 21 for Boston College (9-19, 2-13), which has lost 11 straight and 13 of its last 14.
Boston College: The Eagles have lost 16 straight conference road games, including eight by 20 points or more. The game against Florida State started a stretch when BC plays three of its final four regular season games on the road.
Florida State: The Seminoles have reached double-digit wins in conference play for the first time since going 12-4 in 2011-12. FSU won the ACC Tournament that same season, and it was also the last time it made the NCAA Tournament.
This was the fifth time this season the Seminoles have scored 100 or more points in a game, which is the first time that has happened since 1992-93.
It is the third time they have had two or more 100-point games in ACC play and the first since 1992-93.
Boston College: The Eagles host Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Hokies won the first game on Jan. 25, 85-79.
Florida State: The Seminoles travel to Clemson on Saturday. They beat the Tigers by 48 points (109-61) on Feb. 5.
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins needed some medical assistance during Monday night’s Big 12 home game against Texas as he went to one knee during a timeout late in the first half.
The 63-year-old Huggins grabbed a bit at his chest as he was on the floor on both knees as he went to meet his team on the floor during a timeout. Huggins regained his composure and finished up the first half before going to the locker room with his team. In one closeup shot, the camera appeared to catch Huggins mouthing over to Texas head coach Shaka Smart that he was okay to continue.
Huggins has previously had heart issues before as he suffered a heart attack in Sept. 2002 that nearly killed him. The first hospital Huggins went to after the heart attack was not equipped to handle the seriousness of his condition and he had to travel 15 miles via ambulance for emergency surgery.
According to ESPN’s Holly Rowe, Huggins said his defibrillator went off and he was having issues with it. Huggins said that it has since been corrected and he returned to coach in the second half. Mike Casazza of the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that West Virginia said that Huggins was, “lightheaded.”
Hopefully this sort of thing doesn’t happen again and Huggins can continue to coach like normal.
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins needed help off the floor and medical attention late in the first half against Texas. He appears to be ok. pic.twitter.com/qSOd4nMgxj