College Basketball Talk’s Player of the Year Power Rankings

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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. Doug McDermott, Creighton: McDermott is the National Player of the Year right now. You won’t find much debate from anyone on that subject. And while McDermott is awesome around the basket and deadly when he gets his feet set and a look at the rim, what makes him such a great scorer is how he moves without the ball.

I found a perfect example from Creighton’s win over Xavier. In the first frame, once the ball is swung to Austin Chatman on the wing, McDermott (red circle) has two screens set for him. He cut to the block off of Jahenns Manigat’s back-screen or use Ethan Wragge at the top of the key to try and find space for an open three:

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McDermott gets a decent look, but Xavier’s Justin Martin closes out hard:

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Instead of forcing a three, he swings the ball to Manigat and sets him a ball-screen, popping to the corner afterwards:

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The ball eventually winds up in Wragge’s hands on the other side of the floor, and McDermott makes his favorite cut, curling off a screener at the foul line and running right at the rim:

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Here’s the full possession:

2. DeAndre Kane, Iowa State: An ankle injury didn’t slow Kane down against Kansas, as the Cyclone point guard finished with 21 points, eight boards, three assists and four steals. Since Boise State dared him to shoot threes on national TV on Christmas day, Kane is 9-for-19 from three. Two straight losses — at Oklahoma and against Kansas, keep that in mind — sullies this a bit, but Kane’s earned this spot. For now, at least.

3. Jabari Parker, Duke: Parker has struggled in the last five games, averaging just 10.5 points and shooting 32.2% from the floor and 14.3% from three during a 3-2 stretch for the Blue Devils. His numbers on the season are still impressive, but he needs to buck this slump and turn Duke back into an ACC contender.

4. Julius Randle, Kentucky: Kentucky got away from pounding the ball into Randle over the course of the last two games — he finished with a combined 15 points on just 17 shots — but the big fella still did his damage on the backboards, finishing with 25 rebounds in wins over Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.

5. Marcus Smart, Oklahoma State: The battle for Big 12 Player of the Year may end up being more fun to follow than the National Player of the Year award. Kane and Smart both belong at the top of that conversation, while Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will certainly stake their claim to the award before the season’s over. Smart’s turnovers and perimeter shooting are still a concern, but it’s worth noting that without Michael Cobbins in the lineup, Smart’s averaged 10.o rebounds in three games. No guard can dominate the game on both ends of the floor the way that Smart is capable of.

6. Nick Johnson, Arizona: There may not be a player in the country that is as underrated as Nick Johnson. He is the No. 1 team’s leading scorer and best perimeter defender. He’s there best outside shooting threat as well, and in a win against UCLA, he also just so happened to be the guy asked to take big shots down the stretch. There isn’t a better off-guard in the country right now, save for maybe a healthy Gary Harris.

7. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: We’ve been over and over Ennis’ importance to Syracuse on the offensive end of the floor, but he’s a pretty good defender as well. Ennis is averaging 2.8 steals after snagging six against Boston College on Monday night. Not bad at the top of that Syracuse zone.

8. Keith Appling, Michigan State: Adreian Payne could easily be on this list in this spot, but I’m rolling with Appling. His development as a lead guard — 16.4 points, 4.6 assists, 3.5 boards, 48.3% 3’s — and numerous big shots for the Spartans this season make all the difference.

9. Casey Prather, Florida: Prather’s been injury-plagued during his tenure at Florida, which is why it’s concerning that he’ll miss his second consecutive game today with a bone bruise in his knee. Hopefully he can get healthy. 

10. Shabazz Napier, UConn: Napier’s fallen out of favor in some other Player of the Year rankings, but look at these numbers: 16.4 points, 6.4 boards, 6.0 assists, 2.1 steals, 47.3% 3’s. UConn is not as good as we thought they were a month ago, but they’re a tournament team and Napier’s penchant for late-game heroics is the biggest (only?) reason why. He deserves to be on this list.

Others: Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Cameron Bairstow, Jordan Clarkson, Aaron Craft, Joel Embiid, C.J. Fair, Aaron Gordon, Rodney Hood, Marcus Paige, Lamar Patterson, Adreian Payne, Elfrid Payton, Russ Smith, Fred Van Vleet, T.J. Warren, Andrew Wiggins, Chaz Williams, Joseph Young

Tennessee tops No. 18 Purdue 78-75 (OT) in Battle 4 Atlantis

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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Tennessee kept attacking the glass and playing aggressive defense on No. 18 Purdue’s shooters.

Once Grant Williams got going, the Volunteers had enough scoring punch, too.

Williams scored all 22 of his points after halftime and hit the go-ahead shot with 14.5 seconds left in overtime to lift Tennessee past No. 18 Purdue 78-75 in Wednesday’s opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Volunteers (3-0) trailed by 11 points in the first half, needed to make a late 3-pointer to force overtime and fell behind by five in the extra period before rallying for the win.

“I thought we really showed the toughness we’ve been looking for from them,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said, adding: “I thought our guys just kept finding ways to fight back.”

After P.J. Thompson missed a jumper for the lead, James Daniel hit two free throws with 2.0 seconds left to push the margin to three. The Boilermakers had one more chance to tie, but Kyle Alexander intercepted Dakota Mathias’ long inbounds heave to end it.

Williams, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, missed both of his first-half shots and had one rebound while playing eight scoreless minutes with two fouls. But he made 8 of 16 shots with seven rebounds from there while the Volunteers kept running their offense through him at the top of the key and in the post.

“Just keep playing, because when you’re in foul trouble you tend to get out of your mind a little bit,” Williams said. “You’ve just got to stick to it and be yourself, because I knew guys were going to hit shots.”

Tennessee shot just 36 percent but dominated the boards (50-41), finished with 21 second-chance points and scored 20 points off turnovers.

The Volunteers also got a huge lift when Lamonte Turner buried a tying 3-pointer from near his bench with 5.1 seconds left in regulation. Purdue called a timeout, but Carsen Edwards’ 3 for the win hit the front rim as the horn sounded.

Edwards scored 21 points to lead the Boilermakers (4-1), who never got their high-scoring offense rolling.

“We have a skilled team, but we’ve got to win the possession wars,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said. “We’ve got to outrebound our opponent. We have to have fewer turnovers. When you do, now that skill is really going to help you. I thought tonight we gave Tennessee a lot of help.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers were trying for their first 3-0 start since the 2010-11 season, along with earning their fourth win against a ranked opponent under their third-year coach. They certainly found a thrilling way to do it, from Turner’s 3 to Williams’ huge effort after a scoreless first half.

Purdue: Offense sure didn’t come easily for a team that entered as one of the nation’s best offenses. The Boilermakers were averaging 102 points per game and shooting nearly 57 percent from the field. They also were shooting roughly 49 percent from 3-point range after making a school-record 19 3s against Fairfield on Saturday. But Purdue shot just 37 percent and had 18 turnovers.

“We’ve got to do a better job with decision-making,” Painter said. “We’re a good offensive team, we’ve got to allow ourselves to be a good offensive team. When we go too quick or we force things and we turn it over, now we’re not rewarding ourselves.”

BIG SHOTS

Tennessee came up with two huge 3s late, the first from Turner to force overtime.

“Up until that point, I felt like I was losing the game for us,” Turner said.

Then Alexander hit one after Purdue had raced out to a 70-65 OT lead. The 6-11 junior was 1 for 6 from behind the arc in his career before that shot.

LATE REVIEW

There was a bit of end-game confusion and a review with Alexander’s steal and whether he traveled just before the horn. Ultimately, it stood as the final play.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers will play the Western Kentucky-Villanova winner Thursday.

Purdue: The Boilermakers will play the Western Kentucky-Villanova loser Thursday.

Vanderbilt lands five-star forward Simi Shittu

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Vanderbilt continues to build a monster recruiting class under head coach Bryce Drew as five-star 2018 forward Simi Shittu pledged to the Commodores on Wednesday.

The second five-star commitment for Vanderbilt in the Class of 2018, Shittu joins top point guard prospect Darius Garland to form one of the best freshman combinations in the country for next season. The Commodores also have a top-150 forward in Aaron Nesmith.

The 6-foot-9, 220-pound Shittu is coming off of a monster summer in which he became a major problem and top-ten recruit. The No. 8 overall prospect in the Rivals national Class of 2018 recruiting rankings, Shittu is a huge get and an instant starter for Vanderbilt next season.

By landing prospects like Garland and Shittu, Drew is also becoming a major player in a short amount of time as a high-major coach. Always a noted recruiter at the mid-major level at Valparaiso, now Vanderbilt is seeing Drew’s hiring workout as he’s bringing top talent to the program.

If Drew can continue to recruit like this then Vanderbilt could be in position to be in the top half of the SEC as the league has seen some of its rebuilds go poorly over the last few years.

Kansas still without freshman Billy Preston

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Kansas freshman Billy Preston has yet to make his debut for the Jayhawks and it appears he’ll have to wait a bit longer before that happens.

Head coach Bill Self met with media earlier this week to discuss the Preston situation, saying that nothing has changed about his status quite yet. Preston was previously suspended for violating a team rule when he missed the game against Tennessee State. Before Preston was set to debut against Kentucky in the Champions Classic he was also withheld from the contest after the revelation that Preston had been in a single-vehicle accident the previous weekend.

“I have actually been out, until I just pulled back in, so as of this morning, there was no movement. The last time you guys asked me was Friday and so you don’t work on Saturday or Sunday, so there is nothing new on that situation,” Self said.

“Sure, I’m worried,” Self also added. “I’m concerned and I do think that it can work itself, based on what I’ve been told. I also think that it obviously hadn’t happened yet.”

It’s uncertain when the next step in any of this will play out but Self doesn’t appear to be too concerned over it. Kansas has won without Preston so far but they could definitely use his size, scoring punch and overall depth to a team that isn’t very deep right now.

A matchup nightmare, Preston could help the Jayhawk offense while also giving Udoka Azubuike additional help on the glass and protecting the rim.

(H/t: Jesse Newell, Kansas City Star)

Brian Bowen not allowed to play at Louisville

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Louisville announced on Wednesday that freshman wing Brian Bowen will not be allowed to play at the school. The former McDonald’s All-American will be allowed to remain on scholarship but he can’t participate in any team activities.

Bowen was tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball this fall as an adidas company executive is alleged to have been part of a scheme to deliver $100,000 to Bowen’s family, according to court documents.

Bowen hired attorney Jason Setchen to fight the case and seek reinstatement as Setchen had experience dealing with college basketball scandals before. When DeQuan Jones was suspended from Miami after the Nevin Shapiro case in 2011, Setchen helped Jones re-gain his eligibility as Miami.

With this case, Bowen was not allowed back at Louisville as the school has fired head coach Rick Pitino and most of his previous staff. Athletic Director Tom Jurich also lost his job, so the Cardinals are definitely cleaning house and trying to detach themselves from anyone involved.

It will be interesting to see what Bowen opts to do in light of this news. He’s talented enough that other schools could want him, if he’s eligible, but he’s also a former five-star prospect who could have pro aspirations. But since Bowen won’t be playing this season, he also hasn’t had a chance to spotlight his game to potential pro suitors.

 

President Trump fires back at LaVar Ball on Twitter

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The never-ending war of words between President Donald Trump and LaVar Ball escalated to another level on Wednesday morning.

Starting his early-morning tweets with some messages aimed at Ball, President Trump continued to double down on his insistence that he helped play a role in the safe return of three UCLA players arrested in China for shoplifting. LiAngelo Ball, LaVar’s middle son, was one of the three players involved in the international incident as fellow Bruins Jalen Hill and Cody Riley were also arrested. The trio returned to the United States last week after UCLA left China without them following a win over Georgia Tech in the Pac-12 China Game.

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LaVar has drawn the ire of President Trump for downplaying the President’s role in the return of the UCLA trio as Ball maintains that others had more to do with the release. All three UCLA players publicly thanked President Trump and the United States government during their return press conference on Nov. 15. The three players remain suspended indefinitely from all activities with the men’s basketball team.

In an interview with CNN earlier this week, LaVar was critical of Trump’s role in the whole ordeal while also questioning why the President would spend so much time bothering for a thank you from the father of one of those arrested.