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College Basketball Talk’s Player of the Year Power Rankings: Shabazz tops the list again

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The 2013-2014 season is sure to be a thrilling Player of the Year race, so to keep track of it, we will be posting weekly Player of the Year Power Rankings for your reading goodness.

Who’d we miss? Who’s ranked too high? We love to overlook your team’s best player and overrate your rival’s superstar.

1. Shabazz Napier, UConn: Napier’s already made countless big shots in big moments this season, shining in UConn’s wins over Florida, Indiana and Boston College. His numbers on the season are good — 15.3 points, 7.0 boards, 5.9 assists and shooting 57.1% from three — but in those three wins, Napier’s averaged 24.3 points with a usage rate that was at least 30%. He’s taken over when UConn needs him to take over, opting to distribute and get his teammates involved at other times.

2. Jabari Parker, Duke: Parker scored 21 points against Gardner-Webb on Monday night, the first time he’s gone for 20 in a game since the day before Thanksgiving. The most versatile offensive weapon in college basketball, Parker’s still at his best with his back to the basket. Per Synergy, 19.9% of his offensive possessions have come on post-ups, and he’s scoring 1.205 PPP.

Rush The Court via CBSSports.com

3. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: Has Marcus Smart actually changed his game and improved his perimeter stroke? He’s missed 16 of his last 19 threes. Take a look at his shot chart (right) from the last four games.

More concerning? During that stretch, Smart has 17 assists and 16 turnovers. Keep in mind this is a small sample size, and that in the three games prior he shot 10-for-21 from three and averaged 31.3 points, scoring at least 23 points in the first half of all three games.

On the season, Smart is shooting 32.1% from three, up from 29.0% last season.

4. Chaz Williams, UMass: Williams has been the best player on one of the nation’s most impressive and exciting teams to date. The Minutemen love to get out and run the floor, sitting 11th in the country in tempo, per KenPom. 29.1% of the possessions that Williams has used have come in transition, and UMass is scoring 1.318 PPP on those possessions.

5. Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott had seven points on 2-for-12 shooting in Creighton’s loss to George Washington. The last time he scored seven or fewer points? November 14th, 2012, when he had five points on six shots in a 17 point win over UAB. The only time he’s shot worse than 2-for-12 from the floor was an 0-for-5 performance in a win against St. Joseph’s … as a freshman.

6. Julius Randle, Kentucky: Kentucky went away from pounding the ball inside to Randle in their loss to North Carolina over the weekend. He finished with just 11 points and five boards as the Harrison twins spent the entire second half going one-on-one. UK’s bread-and-butter needs to be post touches for Randle.

7. Russ Smith, Louisville: With Peyton Siva gone, Smith has been making a concerted effort to play more as a point guard. Rick Pitino has been using his in pick-and-roll actions more often. Here are the Synergy breakdowns of Smith’s 2012-2013 pick-and-rolls:


and his 2013-2014 pick-and-rolls:


8. Nick Johnson, Arizona: For my money, Johnson is still the most valuable Arizona Wildcat. With Gabe York struggling, he’s really the only player on Arizona that can create his own shot on the perimeter in the half court, and he just so happens to be a tenacious on-ball defender.

9. Keith Appling, Michigan State: At this point, it’s difficult to judge Appling based on the last two weeks of basketball. Not only is he dealing with a wrist injury stemming from an ugly fall in Michigan State’s loss to North Carolina, but four of Michigan State’s starters have missed practice and/or game time with injuries and illnesses. Don’t let one injury-impaired game blind you to how good Applng has been.

10. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: Wiggins gets an awful lot of criticism for a guy averaging 15.9 points and 5.9 boards that just so happens to be the nation’s best perimeter defender. Consistency of assertiveness is the name of the game for Wiggins.

Others: Kyle Anderson, Ron Baker, Cameron Bairstow, Jahii Carson, Jordan Clarkson, Aaron Craft, C.J. Fair, Rodney Hood, Roberto Nelson, Marcus Paige, Lamar Patterson, Elfrid Payton, Casey Prather, Juwan Staten, T.J. Warren, Joseph Young

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.