PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Joel Embiid, Kansas
Joel Embiid is doing his best to mimic the growth of Anthony Davis back in 2012. Davis was a no-name on the AAU circuit heading into the summer after his junior season, but he shot up the rankings, becoming the top player in the class. And as he began to develop and dominate defensively, with Kentucky’s team growing around him, the Wildcats went on to become national champions.
Could the same be happening to Embiid? It sure looks like it. In two games last week, Bill Self’s seven-footer averaged 14.5 points, 10.0 boards and 6.5 blocks while shooting 12-for-14 from the floor. He absolutely controlled the paint in wins over Iowa State and Oklahoma State, helping Kansas reach 4-0 in the Big 12, good enough for sole possession of first place. It will be interesting to see how he develops the rest of the season, but the way that he is playing right now, he’s the most dominant interior presence in college basketball.
They were good, too:
- Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke: The Blue Devils bounced back from an ugly start to ACC play by knocking off Virginia and N.C. State this week. Sulaimon was the hero in a game Duke struggled against UVA, finishing with 21 points (and the game-winning three). He chipped in with 13 points and six assists in the blowout of the Wolfpack.
- Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley, Texas: Holmes and Ridley combined for 39 points, 18 boards and seven blocks in a huge win over Iowa State on Saturday. That came after they went for 21 points and 24 boards in a win at West Virginia.
- Delon Wright, Utah: Is there a better player in the country that no one is talking about than Wright? In wins over USC and UCLA this week, he averaged 17.0 points, 7.0 boards, 5.5 assists, 4.5 steals and 2.0 blocks. He’s a 6-foot-5 guard.
- Nik Stauskas, Michigan: The Wolverines went into Wisconsin on Saturday and knocked off the Badgers. Stauskas had 23 points, including the last 11. He’s become the centerpiece of John Beilein’s offense.
- Kevin Larsen, George Washington: Larsen averaged 18.5 points and 7.5 boards this week in wins over VCU at home and at St. Bonaventure.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Michigan Wolverines
The Wolverines were written off when Mitch McGary put his season on hold to get his ailing back surgically repaired. Not by me, mind you. It would be silly to write off a team that still had Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Caris LeVert as the centerpieces of a team with a point guard that’s only going to get better and a pair of big men that, at worst, are serviceable top-of-the-rotation Big Ten bigs.
Michigan proved that on Saturday. The Wolverines won their seventh straight game, starting off Big Ten play 5-0, and they did it with a statement win over Wisconsin in Madison. And once again, it was Stauskas making all the big plays down the stretch of a close game. If Robinson stays aggressive, Stauskas and LeVert continue to manufacture open looks for their teammates and Derrick Walton can avoid turning the ball over, this can be a top three team in the Big Ten.
They were good, too:
- Kansas: It’s hard to argue with wins over Oklahoma State and at Iowa State in the same week, especially when Naadir Tharpe shoots 14-for-17 from the floor and hands out ten assists. But here’s my concern: Kansas had 43 turnovers in the two games. Tharpe committed ten of them. Joel Embiid had 11.
- Kansas State: It was a big week for the Wildcats, as they not only notched a win over Oklahoma at home, they went into West Virginia and just pounded the Mountaineers. Believe it or not, the Wildcats are in sole possession of second place in the Big 12.
- Syracuse: The Orange can now claim sole possession of first place in the ACC after beating Pitt this week at the Carrier Dome.
- Texas Tech: All of a sudden, it may be time to pay a bit of mind to the Red Raiders. After knocking off Baylor at home this week, Jaye Crockett and company went into TCU and beat the Horned Frogs.
- Providence: Ed Cooley’s club has not had an easy go of it this season, but they picked up a pair of huge wins this week, going into NYC and knocking off St. John’s before they blew out Creighton at home.
Purdue will once again be rolling out a formidable frontcourt in the 2016-17 season.
Boilermaker big man Caleb Swanigan is withdrawing from the NBA Draft to return to West Lafayette for his sophomore season, the school announced Wednesday.
“The NBA is right there and always will be,” Swanigan said in the school’s press release, “but you always have to have patience and do what’s best for you.”
Purdue is losing 7-foot senior A.J. Hammons, but will be once again teaming Swanigan with Isaac Haas (7-2) and Vince Edwards (6-8) that will allow them to roll out a supersized lineup that is sure to be a difficult one to face off against.
The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Swanigan, who likely would have landed as a second-round pick, averaged 10.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.2 assists and was a finalist for the Wayman Tisdale Award for the country’s top freshman.
“We are excited that (Swanigan) has withdrawn from the NBA Draft and will return to Purdue,” head coach said Matt Painter in a statement released by the school. “He has the potential to make a huge jump from his freshman season and will be a big part of what we do next year. He received great experience going through this process and will use the feedback he received to make him a more diverse player.”
Purdue is probably a rung down from Michigan State and Wisconsin at the top of the league, but the return of Swanigan pulls them closer to competing at the top of the league next season.
Nikola Jovanovic’s college career has come to a close.
The USC center will not withdraw his name from NBA Draft consideration by Wednesday’s 11:59 p.m., a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Jovanovic, a 6-foot-11 Serbian, averaged 12.3 points and 7.0 boards as a junior with the Trojans.
Jovanovic is not expected to be drafted, which means that Andy Enfield’s club will be losing two players to the professional ranks with eligibility to spare that likely won’t end up on an NBA roster next season. Julian Jacobs, who averaged 11.6 points, 5.5 assists and 4.9 boards, signed with an agent back in April.
The Trojans were a top 25 team last season despite many considering them to still be “a year away”. But with two starters departing, the Trojans will be a borderline preseason top 25 team as opposed to a top 15 team.
For the second time this season and just the sixth time in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky, the Wildcats are losing a player to transfer.
Marcus Lee announced on Wednesday that he will be withdrawing from the NBA Draft, but the 6-foot-9 forward will not be returning to Kentucky. He will be transferring out of the program to a new school.
“I want to thank the University of Kentucky, the basketball staff and the Big Blue Nation for supporting me over the years,” Lee said. “I’m sorry it took me so long to come to this decision, but I’m trying to do what’s right for me and my family. I’ll always think fondly of my time at Kentucky.”
Lee averaged 6.4 points and 6.0 boards this season, seeing his first major minutes as a member of the Wildcats. But he seemed destined for a bench role if he had opted to return to Kentucky this season as John Calipari has landed a recruiting class that includes five-star freshmen Bam Adebayo, Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones.
The tough part?
It does not appear that Lee will be able to finish his degree and be eligible to play immediately next season. He’ll have to sit a year at whatever school he opts to transfer to.
“Marcus Lee informed us today that he is pulling his name out of the draft but has decided he is going to transfer to a school out west to be closer to his family,” head coach John Calipari said. “We talked it through together and discussed the team next season, which he said had no bearing on his decision. I also told him he was a semester away from graduating. With that said, he was still adamant that, after the combine experience, a year off and regrouping would be the best thing. As always I support my players and their decisions.”
Lee joins Charles Matthews as members of last year’s Wildcats that are transferring out of the program. Darnell Dodson (Southern Miss), Stacey Poole (Georgia Tech) , Ryan Harrow (Georgia State) and Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga) are the other four players that have transferred.
Isaiah Briscoe announced on Wednesday that he will be returning to Kentucky for his sophomore season.
The 6-foot-3 guard had one of the more difficult decisions to make for players in this year’s draft class. On the one hand, there was a very real chance that he would go through this draft without getting picked. He was a role-playing guard on last year’s team that isn’t a point guard, isn’t big enough to be a two-guard and was a total liability shooting the ball.
But he’s returning to a team that is as loaded as the group that won their first 38 games two years ago, particularly in the back court. He’ll be playing behind De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk who both play essentially the same role that Briscoe does: playmaking guards that thrive with the ball in their hands. And since Briscoe can’t shoot, he may not be the best option at the three, where Derek Willis will likely see minutes.
In other words, Briscoe returning to school is essentially a two-year decision.
Kentucky now awaits an announcement from Marcus Lee on whether or not he will be returning to school.
James Blackmon Jr. will be returning to Indiana for his junior season, the school announced on Wednesday morning.
Blackmon missed the final 22 games of his sophomore season following surgery on his knee in December. As a freshman, Blackmon averaged 15.8 points and shot 46 percent from beyond the arc.
Indiana now awaits word on the decision that will be made by Troy Williams. A junior swingman, Williams has a shot to be an early second round pick if he opts to stay in the draft. There is a report from the Indy Star that he will keep his name in the draft, but the program has yet to confirm that news.
Losing Williams would hurt, but it’s a loss that Indiana can overcome. The emergence of O.G. Anunoby as a versatile defender means that the Hoosiers have a guy that can be a defensive stopper and can allow them to play small and fast. Anunoby also has not proven to be prone to bouts of poor decision-making, which arguably may make him a better fit.