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College Basketball Talk’s Player of the Year Power Rankings

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1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: This is really all you need to know about McDermott: He averaged 27.5 points in wins at Marquette and over Seton Hall at home, and no one even batted an eye. How good do you have to be for 55 points over the course of two games in the Big East to barely move the needle?

2. Jabari Parker, Duke: Ironically enough, Parker found his three-point stroke against in Saturday’s win over Syracuse in the same game that he proved why he is so much more valuable than simply being a jump-shooter. In three games, he averaged 17.3 points and 11.7 boards last week, but he also committed 13 turnovers.

3. Shabazz Napier, UConn: Napier struggled the last two games, shooting 8-for-27 from the floor, 1-for-6 from three and committing nine turnovers in a closer-than-it-should’ve-been win over Temple and a loss to SMU at home. He’ll have a chance to get back on track at South Florida, who the Huskies play next.

4. Russ Smith, Louisville: The difference between Russ Smith today and Russ Smith of a year ago can be seen in two minutes of basketball at the end of Louisville’s win over Cincinnati. He erased a three-point Cincinnati lead with back-to-back assists to Montrezl Harrell, passes he wouldn’t have made last season. On the final possession, he hit the game-winner, but it came after he gave the ball up to Terry Rozier instead of forcing the shot on his initial touch:

5. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: Kilpatrick is still carrying a massive load offensively for a team that simply doesn’t have other scoring options. His offensive rating is 121.6, higher than anyone in the top ten not named Doug McDermott, and he’s doing in on a team that ranks 105th nationally in offensive efficiency with a usage rate of 28.9% and a shot percentage of 32.0%. For those that aren’t statistically-inclined, that means Kilpatrick is having a very efficient season despite playing a massive role offensively on a team that can’t score.

t-6. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse, and Nick Johnson, Arizona: Everyone goes through lulls. Jabari Parker had his in December. Julius Randle struggled a bit in January. Shabazz Napier had a couple of bad games at the start of AAC play. It’s part of being an athlete. Not every day is going to be your best day.

Both Ennis and Johnson hit their lulls in the last two weeks. Ennis was 2-for-13 from the floor in the loss at Duke and struggled in the loss to BC and the win over Maryland. Johnson had a four-game stretch where he shot 25.0% (15-60) from the floor and 1-for-18 from three, or 5.6%, after Brandon Ashley got injured.

The question now becomes how they will bounce back. Ennis had 20 points, five boards, three assists and two steals in Monday’s win over Maryland. Johnson had 20 points, five boards and six assists in Saturday’s blowout win over Colorado.

7. Julius Randle, Kentucky: Randle had 25 points and 13 boards in a win over Ole Miss on Tuesday and followed that up with eight points and 15 boards, including the game-winning bucket, in the overtime win over LSU. He’s not trying to be liked, he’s trying to win a championship.

8. Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico: It’s time to ride for Bairstow. He needs more attention nationally, and here’s the latest example: that San Diego State front line that shutdown Joel Embiid and PErry Ellis in the Aztec win at Phog Allen Fieldhouse? Bairstow went for 26 points and nine boards on 11-for-18 shooting against them. BEAR-stow.

9. Xavier Thames, San Diego State: Thames is having a similar season to Kilpatrick in that he’s putting up ridiculous efficiency numbers for a Final Four contender that doesn’t score well. He’s dropped this week thanks to a couple of off-nights in a row and said rout at New Mexico.

10. Kyle Anderson, UCLA: Anderson struggled in UCLA’s loss at Stanford — the Bruins are generally awful in the second-game of their Pac-12 road weekends — but he’s still averaging 14.9 points, 8.6 boards and 6.9 assists while shooting 49.8% from the floor and 50.0% from three.

Others: Jordan Adams, Billy Baron, Jabari Brown, Bryce Cotton, Cleanthony Early, Joel Embiid, C.J. Fair, Marcus Foster, Aaron Gordon, Gary Harris, Rodney Hood, Frank Kaminsky, Deandre Kane, Kevin Pangos, Lamar Patterson, Adreian Payne, Elfrid Payton, Marcus Smart, Juwan Staten, Nik Stauskas, Fred Van Vleet, T.J. Warren, Andrew Wiggins, Scottie Wilbekin, Chaz Williams

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.