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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

Michigan State playing zone? It’s possible

Tom Izzo
Associated Press
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Throughout Tom Izzo’s tenure at Michigan State the team’s half-court man-to-man defense has been a staple, and the Spartans have generally proven difficult to have a high rate of offensive success against. The reliance on that defense is why Izzo’s conversations earlier this summer about using some token full-court pressure due to the shortening of the shot clock caught some people off-guard.

According to the Detroit Free Press there’s another wrinkle the Spartans may use, and it’s likely that this wrinkle will show up more often than the full-court press. During Friday’s opening practice the Spartans worked on a 2-3 zone, and Izzo wants his assistants to make sure the team works on the defense consistently throughout the season.

That’s also why zone in general isn’t going to get heavy play at MSU, but having it as a tool could be beneficial — especially in games with touch fouls on the perimeter called in droves.

“I told (my assistant coaches): ‘You hold me accountable to working on it every day some’ … I have a tendency to drift off on that, and I don’t want to drift off on it,” Izzo said of the 2-3 zone. “But we will be, rest assured, a 90-some percent man-to-man team still and hopefully take some of those principles to zone.”

As noted in the story one of the risks in using pressure is allowing quality shots, which is why it’s unlikely that Michigan State will go to it. But even with Izzo vowing that his team will work on the zone, that doesn’t mean they’ll be playing it as often as Syracuse does.

Man-to-man has been Michigan State’s staple and it will continue to be. But it doesn’t hurt to look for other ways to keep opponents from getting the looks they want, especially if teams have five fewer seconds to find those shots.

Virginia used 3-on-3 to adjust to new shot clock

Malcolm Brogdon
Associated Press
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When the college basketball rules committee made the decision to trim the shot clock down to 30 second from 35, one reason for the switch was the desire to improve offensive production. With offensive numbers at their lowest point in years, proponents of the move see the shot clock change as a necessary move if scoring is to improve.

Whether or not that winds up being the case will be seen throughout the upcoming season, but teams are still having to make adjustments during the preseason.

Virginia, which has played at a snail’s pace (and with great success, mind you) in recent years, made some adjustments to their summer work in anticipation of playing with a 30-second shot clock. One adjustment was more games of 3-on-3 with a 15-second shot clock, which forced all involved to be more decisive in their offensive decision-making.

While the pack-line defense will always be a staple of Tony Bennett’s teams, the feeling in Charlottesville is that they’ve got the offensive firepower needed to both play faster and be more efficient offensively than they were in 2014-15 (29th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy). One of the players who will lead the way is senior guard Malcolm Brogdon, who led the team in scoring and was a first team All-ACC selection, and he discussed the team’s outlook with Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

And even though Anderson’s highlight-reel shot blocking was the thing that frequently fueled fast-breaks for U.Va. last season, Brogdon and [Anthony] Gill said they expect this year’s team to actually push the tempo even more.

“I think we’re going to be a team that gets out and runs more,” Brogdon said. “I think we’ll have three guards on the floor, most of the time, will be able to handle the ball as a point guard and get out in transition. I think we’ll play a lot faster.”

Brogdon and Gill are two of the team’s three returning starters with point guard London Perrantes being the other, and the Cavaliers also return most of their reserves from last year’s rotation. That experience will help them on both ends of the floor as they prepare for a run at a third straight ACC regular season title. And in theory it also allows them to extend themselves a bit more offensively than they did a season ago.