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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Frank Mason III still tops the list

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1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: Mason had a relatively quiet week, as the Jayhawks were able to cruise past Georgia in the CBE Classic title game and pick up a win over UNC Asheville over the weekend. On the season, the Kansas point guard is averaging 21.5 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 boards while shooting 54.9 percent from the floor and 48.0 percent from three.

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Like Mason, Hart has had a quiet week, with his only game since the last time we checked in coming against Charleston. He’s still the leading scorer for the Wildcats and he’s still the most important player in Jay Wright’s ‘positionless’ attack. There was some talk during the offseason that Hart would be this year’s Buddy Hield or Denzel Valentine, the senior that made massive strides heading into his final season, and while Hart’s numbers aren’t all that much improved from where they were a year ago, he’s turned into a more well-rounded player.

He’s hitting 44.4 percent of his threes while shooting a career-high 4.5 threes per game while, according to Synergy, 29.5 percent of his offensive possessions come through ball-screen actions, where he’s scoring at a 1.185 PPP clip. Last season, just 12.5 percent of his offensive possessions were in ball-screens, and he scored just 0.875 PPP. His raw numbers haven’t made the same leap that Hield’s or Valentine’s did, but rest assured, Hart is a much-improved basketball player.

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: The Bruins passed their first real test of the season, as they took home the title in the Wooden Legacy with wins over Nebraska and Texas A&M. Lonzo Ball was the star of the show for the Bruins, as he’s been all season long. He’s averaging 16.0 points, 9.1 assists, 5.3 boards and 1.3 steals while shooting 57.4 percent from the floor and 48.6 percent from three. He’s been nothing short of phenomenal this season, and it’s going to be a thrill to see him square off with Kentucky and their star guards on Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena.

4. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Last week, Isaiah Briscoe was the Kentucky guard that we had on this list. This week, it’s Fox, and while it’s hard to differentiate who in that group is the most important and the most valuable, I’m leaning Fox here because I think he’s the engine to Kentucky’s attack.

According to Synergy’s logs, 27.1 percent of Kentucky’s offensive possession come in transition. Better than 37 percent of the possessions that Fox uses are in transition. This is a team that’s built around perimeter pressure defensively creating those opportunities in transition, and Fox could be the best perimeter defender in all of college basketball. More than anyone, he is the player that makes this team go.

And for good measure, he’s averaging 15.3 points, 7.6 assists, 5.7 boards and 2.0 steals.

5. Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard was just OK in Duke’s wins over William & Mary and Appalachian State this week, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has been Duke’s best player this season and the star of the two biggest games the Blue Devils have played this season. Their head is still above water this year with Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden still out – and Grayson Allen dealing with a toe injury – because of how good Kennard has been.

6. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Roy Williams’ best teams are when he has a star point guard on the roster, and Berry looks like he is very much filling that role this season. He’s averaging 17.1 points, 4.3 boards and 4.3 assists with shooting splits of 55.1/47/1/93.3, and if the Tar Heels can win at Indiana on Wednesday night, I think it’s fair to say that Berry will be the best player on the team with the most impressive résumé in the country this season.

North Carolina's Joel Berry II (2) drives to the basket against Long Beach State's Gabe Levin (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
North Carolina’s Joel Berry II (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

7. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz has been magnificent through the first three weeks of the season – 23.0 points, 6.7 assists, 5.5 boards, 2.2 steals, 1.5 blocks, 55.3% FG, 43.5% 3PT. But there’s valid concern to the idea that Fultz will be the second straight No. 1 pick to miss out on the NCAA tournament. The Huskies have already lost to Yale at home and to TCU in Las Vegas.

8. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: The same thing can be said about Evans, who entered the season with no where near the same amount of hype as Fultz. He’s averaging 24.3 points, 5.3 assists and 2.8 steals right now, but the Cowboys one game against elite competition resulted in a 35-point loss at the hands of Oklahoma State.

9. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: We knew that Swanigan was going to be a monster on the block and on the glass, but what’s made him such a dangerous weapon this season – and what’s made Purdue so ruthless offensively – is his ability to space the floor. He’s making threes (5-of-8 on the year, but the threat of his jumper keeps defenses honest) and he’s become a terrific passer in high-low actions, which is part of the reason Isaac Haas has looked like Shaquille O’Neal at times this year.

10. Mo Watson, Creighton: Like Kentucky, there are a couple of players from Creighton that deserve consideration for this list, but we’ll got with Watson for now, who is the floor general for one of the nation’s most potent offensive attacks. He’s averaging 11.2 points and 8.5 assists, although his turnovers have been a bit higher than Greg McDermott would like.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
Deandre Burnett, Ole Miss
Monte’ Morris, Iowa State
Yante Maten, Georgia
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.