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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Mason, Hart still have an edge over Happ, Swanigan

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1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: Mason churned out one of his best performances of the season on Saturday, pouring in 32 points and dishing out six assists to help the Jayhawks get to overtime against an Iowa State team that hit roughly 100 – or 18 – threes in Phog Allen Fieldhouse. That came three days after he had 19 points and six assists in a win over Baylor and two days before he had 21 points in a win at Kansas State.

The game at Kansas State was the one that really stood out. Mason did not play well at all, at least not to his standards, and still managed to make a handful of critical shots and one of the best plays you’ll see this season all way looking like Michael Jordan during the flu game after playing 117 minutes in the last six days.

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart closed the gap on Mason a little bit this week, going for 17 points in a win at Providence and backing that up with 26 points, nine boards and five assists as the Wildcats knocked off St. John’s. I think the biggest thing standing in Hart’s way at this point is that he is playing in a conference where the other three contenders have all run into a wall. Butler seemingly lost their ability to play basketball well while Creighton and Xavier both lost star point guards. How many big, statement games is he going to have the rest of the season? How many chances will he have to put up 30 points in the biggest game of the day, the game that everyone is watching?

Hart had his Player of the Year moments early on this season. I wonder how many more he’ll have this year.

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 28: Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers celebrates their 61-54 overtime win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in an NCAA college basketball game at Madison Square Garden on January 28, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
(Getty Images/Getty Images)

3. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
4. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Happ vs. Swanigan remains the most interesting subplot in the Player of the Year race. Swanigan was unbelievable this week, averaging 25 points and 13 boards as Purdue beat two of the teams ahead of them in the Big Ten standings, Northwestern and Maryland. Happ averaged 17 points and 10 boards, but also added five steals and three blocks in wins over Indiana and Illinois.

To be frank, I don’t think there is a wrong answer here. Personally, I think Happ has the edge because of the player that he is on the defensive end of the floor. Swanigan is a better shooter, yes, and Happ’s struggles from the free throw line are an issue, but I think that the way Wisconsin plays nullifies some of Happ’s shooting woes and his ability to defend is much more important for a team that plays a fewer number of possessions.

That said, Swanigan was just so, so, so good this week. If you lean his way, I don’t really have an argument to make against it.

5. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: The Bruins snapped a two-game losing streak this week, going to the Washington schools and sweeping them without breaking much of a sweat. On Saturday, in a 41-point win at Washington, Ball outplayed the likely No. 1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Markelle Fultz.

6. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: Williams-Goss has become the go-to guy for Gonzaga. I explained his importance to that team here.

7. Luke Kennard, Duke: The Blue Devils look like they’re starting to put the pieces together this season, as their offense is now running through Kennard and Grayson Allen. We’ve been saying all along that as more players get involved in Duke’s attack, Kennard’s spot on this list is probably going to start to slide, but given just how important he’s been this season to the Blue Devils, he absolutely deserves to be in the mix for first-team all-american.

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8. Lauri Markannen, Arizona: It was not a good week for Markkanen, who had just 12 points in two games as Arizona struggled to get past Oregon State and then got humiliated by Oregon on Saturday.

9. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Motley and the Bears did not have the best week last week, going 0-2 with an understandable loss at Phog Allen Fieldhouse and a headscratching loss at home against Kansas State. The one thing that was abundantly clear in both of those games, however, is that the Bears, who are a legitimate national title contender, are at their best when they are running everything through Motley.

10. Josh Jackson, Kansas: Kansas just went through one of the toughest five-game stretches you’ll see anyone play this season – at West Virginia, at Kentucky, Baylor at home, Iowa State at home, at Kansas State, all in the span of 13 days. Jackson in those five games: 19.8 points, 7.4 boards and 1.6 steals while shooting 11-for-19 from three. He’s the best player on Kansas, and that includes Mason.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Markelle Fultz, Washington
Justin Jackson, North Carolina
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Alec Peters, Valparaiso

Michigan lands four-star 2018 forward Ignas Brazdeikis

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Michigan added to an already strong Class of 2018 recruiting haul on Friday night as four-star forward Ignas Brazdeikis pledged to the Wolverines on Twitter.

The 6-foot-8 Canadian was one of the premier scorers in the Nike EYBL this past spring and summer playing with CIA Bounce as Brazdeikis averaged 21.1 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the floor. Well-rounded outside of his scoring, Brazdeikis also put up 7.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game while also showing a workable jumper that was 26 percent from three-point range.

With the job that Michigan head coach John Beilein has done developing forwards, most recently with the rapid improvement of players like D.J. Wilson and Moritz Wagner, it’ll be fascinating to see how Brazdeikis will look at the college level after some time on campus. Beilein’s offense is favorable for skilled forwards with a penchant for scoring and Brazdeikis could end up being a tremendous fit for the Wolverines.

Brazdeikis becomes the fourth member of Michigan’s Class of 2018 recruiting haul as he joins four-star forward Brandon Johns, four-star guard David Dejulius and three-star forward Taylor Currie.

Sex assault count dropped against ex-Creighton player Watson

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Prosecutors have dropped a first-degree sexual assault charge against former Creighton point guard Maurice Watson after questions arose about the accuser’s story.

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine announced Friday that his office had dropped the felony charge, filed earlier this year when a 19-year-old woman accused Watson of assaulting her early Feb. 4 at a party in an Omaha home. Watson has denied that allegation.

The 24-year-old Watson pleaded no contest Friday to misdemeanor assault for an encounter the same night with a different Creighton student, who said Watson touched her thigh and tried to make her touch his genitals. Watson was sentenced to the five days he’d already served in jail.

Watson was a senior when he suffered a season-ending knee injury in January, just days before the party.

Storm damage forces Paradise Jam out of Virgin Islands

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MIAMI (AP) — The Paradise Jam basketball tournament will not be played in the U.S. Virgin Islands this year because of damage caused by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

The tournament will be played in the U.S., with a new site expected to be announced by Sept. 29.

The Paradise Jam field this year includes Wake Forest, Colorado, Drake, Drexel, Houston, Liberty, Mercer and Quinnipiac, and each of those schools was given the chance to bid for the right to host the tournament.

Tournament officials say they looked at multiple other options, such as moving to another island and using a cruise ship for accommodations, before deciding to move the event to the U.S.

For now, the tournament is scheduled to be played from Nov. 17-20.

Kentucky lands commitment from five-star point guard

Immanuel Quickley (USA Basketball)
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Kentucky landed a commitment from Immanuel Quickley on Friday night, a top ten prospect and arguably the best point guard in the Class of 2018.

Quickley picked the Wildcats over Kansas, who he visited earlier this month, and Miami, who he was scheduled to visit before Hurricane Irma struck south Florida.

The 6-foot-3 point guard is the first commitment in the class of head coach John Calipari, and it really comes as no surprise. He’s been considered a Kentucky lean for months, and Quickley played for Calipari on the USA U19 team during the 2017 FIBA World Cup.

While Quickley has the size and the build – he’s 180 pounds with broad shoulders and long arms – of some of Kentucky’s former elite point guards, he’s not the same kind of point guard as, say, De’Aaron Fox or John Wall. He’s more of a smooth athlete than an explosive one, and while his long strides allow him to get out into transition, he’s not the finisher at the rim that those two were. What he is, however, is an intelligent player. He’s good in ball-screens, he’s an excellent passer and facilitator and he is a good enough shooter that he forces defenses to stay honest. He also has the potential to be a plus defender given his physical tools and the fact that he’ll try on that end of the floor.

Where this commitment gets interesting is the current point guard in Kentucky’s back court, Quade Green. Green was a five-star recruit in his own right, but he’s not quite built as a potential one-and-done prospect. Calipari has maneuvered through two point guards in the past, and each of the last five national champions have played major minutes with two point guards on the floor at the same time, but if Green is back next season that will be something to monitor.

That, however, is a long ways away.

What matters now is that Kentucky has gotten this commitment out of the way, and it paves the way for them to also receive a commitment from Zion Williamson. There has long been talk of those two attending college together, and with Quickley on the board, that likely keeps Kentucky in the driver’s seat as they pursue the South Carolina native.

If Kentucky can also wrangle a commitment out of R.J. Barrett, the No. 1 player in the 2018 recruiting class, that would likely be the end of the discussion of whether or not Duke has surpassed the Wildcats on the recruiting trail.

Five-star forward King picks Oregon

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Oregon has nabbed one of the top players in the 2018 class.

Louis King, a top-20 forward, committed to Dana Altman and the Ducks on Thursday via a video on social media.

“It’s been a tough, strenuous process,” King said, “but today makes all of that worth it. I’ve been blessed with great opportunities.”

The 6-foot-8 New Jersey native selected Oregon over other finalists Seton Hall, NC State, Purdue and Kansas.

“I would like to thank each of them for all the time and effort they put into my recruitment,” King said. “I would like to thank my coaches and my teammates that have pushed me and helped get me to this point in my career. My friends for all their love and support, but most of all I would like to thank my family, who has been by my side through it all.”

King is Altman’s second commit in 2018, joining four-star big man Miles Norris, a top-75 recruit in the class. It’s the beginning of what could be an absolutely dynamic class for Oregon, which still has two scholarships remaining.

“Out of all of my schools I felt like it was best for me and my family,” King said to MADE Hoops. “Coach Altman said that I would have the ball in my hands throughout the season. When I get there, it will be an easy adjustment for me with how I handle rock and get my teammates open. Our goal is to win a national championship next year.”