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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Frank Mason is having an incredible year

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One quick note before we get into these rankings: Creighton’s Mo Watson Jr. has been dropped out of them completely.

If you’ve been living under a rock for the last week and haven’t heard, he tore his ACL and is done for the season. As of today, he deserves to be on this list somewhere – maybe even as high as No. 5 – but since he will not be returning at any point, I’ve taken him off the list.

I also dropped Luke Kennard out of the top ten. I still think that he is the best player on the Duke roster and the guy that they should be running their offense through, but the fact of the matter is that he’s just not doing that. And when a team with as much talent on it as Duke has is struggling the way that the Blue Devils are struggling, it’s hard to give anyone in that program an award for anything.

On to the top ten:

1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: By this point in the season, freaky outlier stats are supposed to have regressed to the mean, but that hasn’t happened with Mason. He’s still averaging 20.1 points and 5.4 assists for the nation’s No. 1 team, but what’s even more impressive is that he’s shooting 53.7 percent from three while attempting more than four per game. And Mason is the starting point guard for Kansas. His shooting isn’t close to the most valuable thing he does for this team, which should give you an idea of just how good he’s been.

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart was terrific last week in Villanova’s win over Providence, finishing with 26 points, six boards and four assists. Most of his heroics came earlier on in the season, which some of the folks just tuning into college hoops these days may not have seen. And if you haven’t had a chance to watch Hart play yet, make sure you do. He’s not the same player he was a season ago.

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: While I still believe that there is a clear-cut top three in the Player of the Year race, Ball trails the top two in my mind. His offensive numbers are terrific and his effect on the culture of the UCLA program is still underrated, but it’s also become very clear that the Bruins’ defensive struggles are something that could cost them a shot at a national title, and Ball has never been known for his ability on that end of the floor.

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4. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: We all got to see what Fox’s value truly is to Kentucky on Saturday. UK’s star point guard rolled his ankle midway through the first half against South Carolina, when the Wildcats held a big lead on the second-place Gamecocks. South Carolina came roaring back after Fox went out and kept things close for much of the rest of the game, before UK was able to pull away late. Isaiah Briscoe filled in for him at the point, and went scoreless with seven turnovers in the game.

5. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
6. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: The debate between Caleb Swanigan and Ethan Happ for Big Ten Player of the Year is heating up, and it’s one that will likely rage throughout the rest of the season. They are the star players on the two most relevant Big Ten title contenders, and they just so happen to play the same position and put up similar numbers.

The argument for Happ is pretty simple: He’s a better defender than Swanigan, and it’s not particularly close. One example? Swanigan and 16 steals in more than 1500 career minutes. Happ has 15 steals in 180 minutes in Big Ten play this season. Then when you factor in the pace that Purdue and Wisconsin play at and the fact that Swanigan averages six more minutes than Happ, their per-40 numbers are more or less similar. Swanigan is an improved but Happ is still a better passer and he’s not a turnover machine.

If you lean Happ, I don’t think you’re wrong.

But as of today, Swanigan gets my vote simply because of the role he plays for Purdue and the value that he has in how that team runs their offense. Happ has been Wisconsin’s best player this season, but the difference in the Wisconsin that we see now and the Wisconsin that we saw in November is that Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig have accepted their respective roles. Hayes’ has been particularly important, accepting that he needs to be a point forward for this team to reach their ceiling.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 21: Reggie Lynch #22 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers fouls Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers while shooting the ball during the second half of the game on January 21, 2017 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Ethan Happ (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

7. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: It’s hard to pick between Justin Jackson and Berry for who should be deserving of being North Carolina’s Player of the Year candidate, but I think that it’s Berry simply because he’s the guy that makes their offense run. Jackson has turned into UNC’s go-to guy, the player that seems to make every big shot and who gets his number called on critical possessions, but it’s Berry who makes the Tar Heel offense work for the other 39 minutes of the game. If you lean Jackson, I have no qualms. They’ve both been terrific.

8. Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: While everyone is celebrating the return and Allonzo Trier and the emergence of Kobi Simmons at UCLA, they are overlooking the fact that Markkanen has consistently been the best player for the Wildcats this season and spent Saturday outplaying T.J. Leaf, another potential lottery pick.

9. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss has come back to earth a little bit since putting up 19 points and six assists on Saint Mary’s in Gonzaga’s 23-point win, but he still leads Gonzaga in scoring and assists and is second in rebounding despite being a 6-foot-2 point guard.

10. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The 6-foot-10 Motley went for 32 points and 20 boards against Texas last week, backing that up with 15 points and 11 boards in a win over TCU. On Feb. 1st, we’ll get to see him go up against Kansas for the first time this season.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Luke Kennard, Duke
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Markelle Fultz, Washington
Josh Jackson, Kansas
Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Melo Trimble, Maryland

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17: Caleb Swanigan #50 of the Purdue Boilermakers dunks the ball during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Caleb Swanigan (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

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Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

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UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

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South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.

South Carolina fans raise money to send “Gamecock Jesus” to Final Four

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South Carolina fans are sending one of their most recognizable compatriots to represent them this weekend.

Gamecock Jesus is heading to the Final Four.

South Carolina super fan Carlton Thompson is following the Gamecocks to Glendale as his fellow fans have raised over $7,500 to send the man known as “Gamecock Jesus” to Arizona for the team’s Final Four meeting with Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Thompson’s long hair, beard and presence at South Carolina games, even in lean times, earned him his nickname and apparently a following fervent enough to foot the bill for quite the trip.

“I’ve always dreamed it would be like this,” Thompson said last week about fan support at Gamecock games to the Post and Courier. “For years and years, it was so sparse with the crowds at the games. But once they started winning, the crowds started coming.”

Thompson is a 63-year-old VA hospital nurse, and has been attending South Carolina games for nearly 50 years.

Maryland’s Melo Trimble declares for the NBA Draft

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Melo Trimble’s career as a Maryland Terrapin is coming to an end. The junior guard is declaring for the NBA Draft and will sign with an agent.

“I am confident and excited to pursue an opportunity to play in the NBA,” Trimble said in a release. “I am proud of what my teammates and I were able to accomplish these past three seasons at Maryland. I developed many great relationships and friendships and together we able to create some very special moments for Maryland basketball. I want to thank Coach Turgeon for all of his support. He always believed in me. He challenged me and really helped in the development of my overall game. I am a more complete basketball player because of Coach Turgeon and the coaching staff. To stay at home and attend the University of Maryland is the best decision that I ever made and it was truly special to play in front of my family, friends and our amazing fans. Maryland will always be home.”

There was no better winner in college basketball the last three years than Melo. He changed the trajectory of Mark Turgeon’s program, winning 79 games in three years and ending his career 30-8 in games decided by six points or less. As a junior, Trimble and the Terps earned a No. 6 seed to the NCAA tournament, but they lost in the first round to Xavier. It was the only time in Trimble’s career that he didn’t reach the Sweet 16.

“Melo Trimble is a winner,” Mark Turgeon said on twitter. “Humble, hard-working, dedicated. Words can’t express what he’s done for our program. Always #StayMelo!”