Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

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.


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

2018 NCAA Tournament: Azubuike’s presence huge as No. 1 Kansas holds off No. 8 Seton Hall

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It turns out Kansas is a whole heck of a lot better when Udoka Azubuike is in the floor.

Who knew?

The sophomore center returned Saturday for extended minutes after being limited with a knee injury to help the No. 1 Jayhawks to a 83-79 win over No. 8 Seton Hall to earn a spot in the Sweet 16.

Azubuike had 10 points, seven rebounds and two blocks, but the strongest stat in his column was his plus-minus. When he was on the floor, Kansas bested the Pirates by 21 points. When he was off, the Jayhawks got outscored by 17, and there is noise in that number as Seton Hall continued to put them on the foul line in the last minute with Azubuike on the bench.

The 7-footer’s importance to Kansas has been apparent all season, but it was even starker against the Pirates, whose Angel Delgado feasted when Azubuike wasn’t on the floor.  Seton Hall’s double-double machine finished with 24 points and 23 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to power the Pirates into next week. Neither was Khadeen Carrington’s 28 points, all but two of which came after halftime.

Azubuike’s critical role for Kansas is three-fold. First, he’s very talented. Second, he makes the four-out offense possible. Third, the drop-off behind him – apologies to Mitch Lightfoot and Silvio De Sousa – is rather significant.

Kansas, which got 28 points from Malik Newman, has to play a very specific way offensively with guard-heavy roster. The Jayhawks have to get up a ton of 3s, and they’ve got to make a bunch of them. Without Azubuike in the middle drawing attention and making it difficult for defenders to stay hugged-up on shooters on the perimeter, the architecture of the offense can crumble in on itself.

Azubuike certainly isn’t a perfect or dominant player, but he rebounds well, blocks shots and makes about three-quarters of his shots. Which, of course, means he fits his role perfectly for maybe the most vulnerable Kansas team in Bill Self’s tenure. The Jayhawks’ margin for error, at least at this juncture against the competition they’re going to see in Omaha, is pretty small. Deviate from the plan and things can get away from them quickly. Duke and Michigan State, Kansas’ presumptive opponents in the Elite Eight, will punish them for any missteps or holes in their gameplan.

Azubuike is the linchpin. When he’s in place, things hold together. When he’s not, there’s trouble.

No. 11-seed Loyola-Chicago beats No. 3 Tennessee to advance to Sweet 16

Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Cinderella is headed to the Sweet 16!

For the second time in this tournament, trailing 62-61 on the final possession of the game, Loyola-Chicago has won.

On Thursday, the Ramblers got the benefit of a missed Lonnie Walker free throw and a game-winning three from Donte Ingram to beat No. 6-seed Miami, 64-62.

On Saturday, the situation was almost the same — the Ramblers had the ball with 10.5 seconds left on the clock — but the execution was different.

Clayton Custer hit a jumper with 3.6 seconds left to answer Grant Williams’ and-one and send Loyola-Chicago to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.

In the immortal words of Gus Johnson, the slipper still fits:

Loyola was in control of this game for the majority of the second half and led by eight points at the under-four time out, but a pair of threes from Tennessee set up Williams’ and-one on Tennessee’s final possession. Jordan Bone had a shot to win the game at the buzzer that bounced off the back of the rim.

Aundre Jackson led the Ramblers 16 points off the bench as No. 11-seed Loyola landed their second upset of the weekend, beating No. 3-seed Tennessee, 63-62, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Those 16 points that Jackson scored were the most that any Loyola player scored in either of their games this weekend. The 10 shots that Jackson took in the first round win over No. 3-seed Miami was the only time in those two games that a Rambler player had double-digit field goal attempts. They held Miami and Tennessee to a combined 116 points.

I say all that to say this: Loyola is not a typical Cinderella team. They don’t have some superstar scorer that carried them to this point in the tournament, like a Jairus Lyles from UMBC or a Jon Elmore from Marshall. They’re not a high-scoring team or a team that just-so-happened to catch fire from three at the right time. What they are is a smart, tough and extremely well-coached group that is everything you think of when you picture Missouri Valley basketball.

They aren’t going to give up penetration defensively. They are going to pound the defensive glass. They aren’t going to commit silly turnovers or take dumb shots. They’ll run their offense and trust that whatever their coach calls is going to get them the shot they need to get.

They will not beat themselves, and if you are going to beat them, you’re going to work for every possession.

And it’s worked.

Loyola will advance to Atlanta where they will face the winner of Sunday’s game between No. 2 Cincinnati and No. 7 Nevada. With Buffalo losing and either No. 10-seed Butler or No. 11-seed Syracuse counting as anything close to a mid-major, Loyola, Marshall and UMBC are the only true Cinderella teams left in the tournament. The 16th-seeded UMBC Retrievers, who became the first No. 16 seed to get to the second round of the tournament after a Friday night win over top overall seed Virginia, take on No. 9-seed Kansas State on Sunday while No. 13-seed Marshall gets a date with in-state an rival, No. 5 West Virginia.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander paces No. 5 Kentucky past No. 13 Buffalo

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Its deficit cut to five, Buffalo zipped down the floor in transition. The ball found Jeremy Harris, who stepped into his 3-point shot attempt and let it fly as the crowd in Boise was ready to blow the roof off Taco Bell Arena, hopeful they’d have the chance to will the Bulls to an upset of Kentucky. The shot barrelled toward the basket, carrying Buffalo’s Sweet 16 dreams with it.

The ball, along with control of the game, clanged off the rim and bounced into Kentucky’s hands.

The No. 5 Wildcats turned away No. 13 Buffalo, 95-75, on Saturday to advance to the NCAA tournament’s second weekend.

Buffalo got 26 points from Wes Clark and 18 from CJ Massinburg, and made the Wildcats sweat deep into the second round until things spiraled away from them. Making just 7 of 31 shots from 3-point range and your opponent shooting 56.3 percent from the floor is no recipe for an upset.

Even with a rough shooting day, Buffalo threatened Kentucky time and again, but at every turn, the Wildcats had Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The 6-foot-6 freshman was simply spectacular, scoring 27 points on 10 of 12 shooting. He added six rebounds and six assists for good measure.

Gilgeous-Alexander was an unsolvable problem for Buffalo. The Bulls were never able to find a way to corral or deny him. He just got what he wanted when he wanted it, and what he wanted was buckets. Lots of them.

Inconsistency has been the pock on Gilgeous-Alexander’s rookie campaign, but in recent weeks he’s found his groove. He’s scored in double-digits in nine-straight games. He’s either made shots or gotten to the free-throw line. Sometimes both.

For a Kentucky team without a dominant player, Gilgeous-Alexander’s emergence as a go-to and consistent scorer is huge. The Wildcats are going to have an athletic advantage in almost every game they play. If they’ve got a guy other than Kevin Knox they can count on for 15-plus, that’s going to take a lot of pressure off an offense that doesn’t have the benefit of much in the way of shooting.

The path for Kentucky to the Elite 8 looks incredibly navigable after Virginia’s stunning and historic loss Friday to UMBC. The Wildcats will have to beat a nine or 16 seed to be just 40 minutes from another Final Four.

If Gilgeous-Alexander can continue to be the offensive weapon he’s turned into over the last month, San Antonio may very well be hosting Big Blue Nation in April.

VIDEO: Buffalo’s Nick Perkins posterizes Kevin Knox

Screengrab via CBS
Leave a comment

Buffalo and Kentucky are locked in an entertaining battle on Saturday afternoon, and while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been completely dominant, the play of the day comes courtesy of the Bulls.

After Kentucky pushed their lead to 10 points with less than nine minutes left, Nick Perkins — who is known for as a three-point shooter than anything else — dunked on Kentucky’s soon-to-be lottery pick, Kevin Knox, emphatically:

Bettor wins $16,000 on UMBC wager

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The whole country became UMBC fans throughout Saturday night as the Retrievers attempted – and ultimately pulled off – the first-ever 16-over-1 upset in the NCAA tournament against Virginia.

There may have been one person at The Venetian in Las Vegas cheering a little more than most, though. They had a little more on the line. The moneyline, to be exact. 

One bettor won $16,000 on a $800 wager that UMBC would beat the Cavaliers, which is exactly what they did, 74-54, in Charlotte.

While the bet paid off this time and it makes for an all-time story, it’s probably best not to make this your betting strategy. If you would have bet 800 bucks on every 16 seed every year, you would have been $108,000 in the hole before getting your Retriever payout and riding a rough 135-bet losing streak. Can’t win without buying a ticket, though, right?

And it’s not like that the person who just cashed a $16,000 check cares about that at the moment. Also no word on how they’re betting UMBC against Kansas State, either. The Wildcats are 10.5-point favorites, if you were wondering.