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.
Brandone Francis-Ramirez is transferring out of the Florida program, the school announced on Wednesday.
A former top 40 recruit, Francis-Ramirez had his two seasons in Gainesville ruined by an academic issues and a loss of confidence. He was academically ineligible in 2014-15, practicing with the team during the second semester. He was granted a redshirt for the year, but he struggled to find any kind of a rhythm this past season. There was a two-month stretch in the middle of the year where he shot 6-for-58 from the floor and 2-for-31 from three.
On the season, he shot 20.2 percent from the floor and 16.9 percent from three.
“I want it to work out for him,” Gators coach Mike White said in a release. “We really appreciate what Brandone did here and wish him the best.”
The forgotten star of the national title game underwent an arthroscopic on his left knee on Wednesday.
Phil Booth, who scored a season-high 20 points in the 2016 National Title game, will be a junior next season and one of the guys called upon to help replace Ryan Arcidiacono, who graduated. He should be ready to go by the middle of the summer; according to a statement put out by the program, Booth will need 6-to-8 weeks to heal.
“Phil is as mentally tough a young man as we have had at Villanova,” head coach Jay Wright said in the release. “He continually impresses our coaching staff with his outstanding attitude. Phil will attack this recovery challenge with great determination, as he does everything in life.”
Booth averaged 7.0 points and 2.2 assists this past season.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky coach Matthew Mitchell has announced that sophomore forward Alexis Jennings will transfer, the seventh Wildcat to leave the program since last fall.
Jennings’ departure comes a week after Mitchell publicly addressed the mass exodus of players and assistant coaches and stressed the need for building stability. Jennings figured to be part of that process and the coach said in a release Wednesday night that “it saddens us that Alexis did not see a path for her at Kentucky. … She felt it was in her best interest to finish her career elsewhere and we owe her that opportunity.”
The 6-foot-2 Jennings started 18 of 33 games last season and averaged 10 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Wisconsin guard John Diener has committed to DePaul, his grassroots program announced Wednesday night.
The 6-foot-4 Class of 2018 guard ends his recruitment rather early with offers also from instate schools Green Bay and Milwaukee. He’s known as a shooter and becomes the first commit for Dave Leitao in the 2018 class.
Diener, who plays with the Wisconsin Playground Warriors in the spring and summer, commits to the Blue Demons with them coming off a disappointing campaign, Leitao’s first in Chicago. DePaul went 9-22 overall and 3-15 in the Big East, finishing only ahead of St. John’s.
DePaul has been recruiting the Midwest hard with incoming 2016 recruits from La Lumiere School in Indiana, Sagninow, Mich. and locally in Chicago.
Jamie Dixon’s presence is already being felt in the Big 12 and on the recruiting trail.
TCU received its first commitment of the Dixon era when four-star 2016 point guard Jaylen Fisher announced his decision to join the Horned Frogs on Wednesday.
“Due to how comfortable my family and I are with the coaching staff,” Fisher posted from his Twitter account, “and the emphasis the university has put on making basketball a priority, I’m committing to be a student-athlete at TCU.”
Getting a consensus top-75 prospect, who was once committed to UNLV, is a heck of a coup for being just a couple months on the job. It instantly shows the Frogs are going to be a player for some of the country’s top players, which is a necessity if you have designs on making a move up the ladder of arguably the country’s best league in the Big 12.
Maybe the most gratifying thing for TCU, though, is the reason Fisher publicly stated for making his decision, the school’s “making basketball a priority.” The hoops program has suffered immensely in the Big 12 (while the football program has flourished), winning a total of eight games in their four seasons (including a winless 2014), but the school sank $72 million into renovating its arena, made an aggressive move in firing Trent Johnson and then went out and got its dream candidate, Dixon, an alum. Fisher’s commitment is the first time those moves have shown that commitment to basketball paying off.