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

VIDEO: Did South Carolina get away with a blatant travel after risky full-court pass?

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South Carolina is heading to its first Final Four in school history with a 77-70 win over No. 4 seed Florida in the East Region on Sunday

But the Gamecocks’ historic win also came with some late controversy.

With South Carolina clinging to a two-point lead with 53.7 seconds left, the Gamecocks opted to make an extremely risky full-court pass that was caught by Duane Notice.

Then Notice took about four or five steps before he was fouled by Florida’s Chris Chiozza to send him to the line.

It looks like Notice had a pretty blatant travel on the play. It’s a ridiculous catch in traffic that has to make South Carolina football fans proud but Notice is clearly walking after making the catch. Notice knocked down two free throws to make it a two-possession game as it became 72-68 with 50 seconds left.

Florida was obviously flat in the second half and didn’t deserve to win on Sunday. But it makes you wonder what might have happened if a travel was called on Notice and the Gators had a chance to tie with under a minute left instead of it being a two-possession game.

South Carolina advances to first Final Four in program history with win over Florida

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South Carolina entered this year’s NCAA tournament, their first NCAA tournament since 2004 and their fifth NCAA tournament in the last 43 years, having never won two consecutive tourney games in the history of the program.

On Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden, Frank Martin led the Gamecocks to their fourth straight win and their first trip to the Final Four.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 11 of his 26 points in the final 10 minutes, leading No. 7 seed South Carolina back from a 40-33 halftime deficit for a 77-70 win over No. 4 seed Florida. P.J. Dozier added 17 points and Chris Silva finished with a critical 13 points and nine boards, coming up with some huge offensive rebounds and hustle plays defensively in the second half.

After shooting 7-for-12 from three in the first half, Florida missed their all 14 attempts from beyond the arc in the second 20 minutes. South Carolina’s defense, which is second nationally this season, according to KenPom, and which allowed 40 points to the Gators in the first half, buckled down in the final minutes, forcing turnovers and taking the Gators out of what they wanted to do offensively. They shot just 11-for-35, or 31.4 percent, from the floor after halftime and didn’t get a clean look at the rim in the final five minutes of the game.

That’s how South Carolina plays. That’s who they are. It’s physical and it’s ugly and it’s just so effective when they’re able to make shots at the other end of the floor. And that is where this team has changed in March. The Gamecocks lost six of their last nine games heading into the NCAA tournament, failing to score more than 1.00 points-per-possession in five of those six losses.

But the story of this game isn’t how this South Carolina team has changed.

The story is how the program has changed.

The Gamecocks were a 10-win team that went 2-14 in the SEC the year before they Frank Martin away from Kansas State, a hire that was made thanks to a falling out with his athletic director, and boy, does that look like a coup now. He was responsible for leading Kansas State, which isn’t exactly a program known for basketball success, to their only Elite 8 since 1988. He’s now led South Carolina to their first Final Four in the history of the program.

South Carolina will advance to Phoenix to take on No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the Final Four.

A season of highs and lows ends for Kansas in the Elite 8 again

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For the second season in a row, Kansas was one-win shy of a Final Four appearance, falling to Oregon, 74-60, in the Elite Eight on Friday night at the Sprint Center in Kansas City.

This comes a year after Kansas, as the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, fell to eventual national champion Villanova in the Elite 8.

Just as stars such as Perry Ellis struggled in that regional final, so did KU’s freshman phenom Josh Jackson, whose quick two personal fouls that saddled him on the bench and appeared to take him out of the game mentally. Devonte’ Graham, averaging 20.0 points per game in the tournament, was 0-for-7 from the field. Frank Mason III’s first-half performance assured that Oregon would completely run away with the game before halftime.

The loss put an end to a tumultuous season for the Jayhawks.

Kansas entered the 2016-17 season as one of the favorites to win the national championship. The Jayhawks went on to win the Big 12 regular season title for an unprecedented 13th consecutive season. Frank Mason III, in the eyes of many, was the wire-to-wire national player of the year.

However, for all its accomplishments on the court, Kansas faced more than its share of issues off-the-court. Lagerald Vick, who was under university investigation for allegedly striking a female student. Carlton Bragg was arrested — and subsequently suspended — for drug paraphernalia. There was also the affidavit released a day before the start of the NCAA Tournament for the Jayhawks, detailing the incident outside a Lawerence bar from December involving both Vick and Josh Jackson. Even Devonte Graham’s arrest for an unpaid ticket made headlines during this string of non-basketball related news.

The Jayhawks downplayed talks of distraction before the start of the NCAA Tournament and backed it up by dominating opponents through the first three rounds. The average margin of victory was 30.0, and that includes victories over Michigan State and a 32-point beatdown of a Purdue team that held a massive mismatch on the interior.

It looked like Self was destined to add to his Hall of Fame résumé; a third trip to the Final Four — first since 2012 — was in front of essentially a home crowd. Instead, Oregon handed the Jayhawks their worst tournament defeat in the Bill Self era.

Seven times under Self, KU has made the Elite Eight and was sent home.

Perhaps, all would have been forgiven — or at the very least, overshadowed — had KU cut down the nets in Arizona.

Instead, its season ended in an all too familiar place.

Elite 8 Preview: Sunday’s picks, predictions, betting lines and channels

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No. 4 FLORIDA (-3) vs. No. 7 SOUTH CAROLINA, 2:20 p.m., CBS: If you’re a fan of uptempo, wide-open basketball, of teams running beautiful offensive sets, spreading the floor and using the three-point line like it should be used, this game probably is not going to be for you.

This is going to be as physical and as tough as any game you watched all season long. Both the Gamecocks and the Gators are top five teams in defensive efficiency, and both of them get out and pressure defensively, Florida in the full court and South Carolina in the half court. They shun shooters for the toughest athletes on their roster. They pride themselves in being tougher, both mentally and physically, than whoever they end up playing.

And they think that a game played in the 50s is beautiful basketball.

So bet the under if you can.

But the pick I like is Florida here. Their ability to defend is going to make it very difficult for South Carolina’s offensive renaissance to continue, and their guards will be able to make the plays offensively that South Carolina dares you to make.

PREDICTION: Florida (-3)

No. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (-2.5) vs. No. 2 KENTUCKY, 5:05 p.m. CBS: This is the rematch we all wanted, right?

Ever since that day three months ago, when Kentucky got 47 points from Malik Monk in a 103-102 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas, I don’t think there is a soul in the country that would have told you otherwise.

There are two major differences between these two teams now and those two teams then. The biggest is the presence of Theo Pinson, North Carolina’s best perimeter defender. Pinson has dealt foot injuries all season long, and when these two got together in December, he was not yet healthy enough to play. I assume that he will draw the assignment of Malik Monk, chasing around the man that had definitively been Kentucky’s most dangerous scorer. Pinson will make life more difficult for Monk than it was the first time around.

But is he going to spend the entire game on him?

Because after De’Aaron Fox’s 39-point outburst against UCLA on Friday night, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Pinson may be better suited to taking on the task of keeping Fox from getting into the paint. Whatever Roy Williams opts to do, the bottom line is pretty simple — if he needs to find a way to keep Kentucky’s back court in check.

The other difference between now and then is that Bam Adebayo has been playing up to his potential for the past six weeks. He was solid earlier in the year. He can be dominant at times now, and that is going to be critical for the Wildcats, who are going to be outsized by a significant margin by UNC’s front line. The Tar Heels lead the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and they are one of the only elite teams that thrives playing two bigs at the same time. In other words, one of Wenyen Gabriel or Derek Willis are going to have to deal with Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley. That’s a matchup that favors UNC, which is why Aebayo is going to have to play up to his size.

In the end, I think Pinson’s presence and North Carolina’s size advantage will be too much.

But if Fox and Monk play their game, they can carry Kentucky a long, long way.

PREDICTION: North Carolina (2.5)

Lawrence Police Department trolls Bill Self following Elite Eight loss

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Kansas had its season ended with a 74-60 loss to No. 3 seed Oregon.

The Jayhawks were the top seed in the South region. They were playing a de facto at the Sprint Center, which is 40 miles away from the school’s campus. As you can imagine, fans in Lawrence were likely unhappy, especially since it’s the second year in a row KU has been bounced one-game shy of the Final Four.

The Lawrence Police Department, while prepping for potential riots, couldn’t help tweeting a joke at the future Hall of Famer’s expense.

Bill Self’s teams have been eliminated seven times in the Elite Eight during his tenure at Kansas. He’s led the Jayhawks to a pair of Final Fours, winning the national championship in 2008.

Kansas finished the season 31-5.