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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Justin Jackson climbing, Ethan Happ and Lonzo Ball sliding?

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1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: Here’s the thing that makes it difficult to drop Mason out of his spot: Even when he plays poorly, he puts up huge numbers. Mason shot just 3-for-13 from the floor for the Jayhawks on Monday night, playing like his shoes were made of cement as West Virginia built a 64-50 lead on Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse with 2:45 left. Then he was the guy who helped spark the comeback, getting to the free throw line, banging a three and making a pair of critical defensive plays.

He finished with 24 points, five assists and four boards, which is awful similar to the line he had against Baylor, when he shot 3-for-12 from the floor by ended the game with 19 points, six assists and four boards in a win. The Jayhawks didn’t even suffer in his worst performance of the season, a 80-79 win over Texas Tech where he went assist-less for the first time this season, fouling out with three minutes left after shooting a paltry 4-for-13 from the floor.

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Here’s the concern with Hart’s Player of the Year candidacy at this point: When is he going to be playing games that we have to watch? Kansas and Frank Mason played in one last night. They play in one against on Saturday, when they visit Baylor. Lonzo Ball played Oregon on Thursday and will pay a visit to Arizona later this month. Caleb Swanigan went up against Indiana in Assembly Hall last week, just ten days after they squared off with Maryland.

The problem with the Big East right now is that no one in the league is going to challenge the Wildcats. Xavier and Creighton lost their star point guards and Butler went off the deep end. Villanova, as good as they are, is not the kind of team that is going to command eye balls regardless of opponent. So are we going to see enough of Hart to be able to loft him over Mason in these standings?

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 03: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in front of Lamarr Kimble #0 of the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the first half at The Pavilion on December 3, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks 88-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

3. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: 16 points, 14 boards, three assists, a win at Assembly Hall. That was Swanigan’s week last week, not bad numbers until you consider that he had averaged 25 points and 13 boards the previous week. He’s still third on this list for three reasons: He’s not on the same level defensively as the two guys above him, he’s fouled out of his last three games and, over the course of his last six games, he has 27 turnovers. That’s 4.5 per game. For comparison’s sake, only James Harden and Russell Westbrook average more turnovers than that in the NBA.

4. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: There is a bit of a gap for me between the top three and Lonzo Ball for one simple reason: defense. Ball, and UCLA, proved that they can lock up when they need to in last Thursday’s come-from-behind win over Oregon, but the fact of the matter is that the Bruins ranks 126th in defensive efficiency and it doesn’t matter how good Ball, or UCLA, is offensively. Teams that defend like that aren’t title challengers, and Ball holds as much blame for that as anyone on the roster just like he deserves as much credit for their offensive renaissance as anyone in the program, including Steve Alford.

That said, Ball leads the country in “moments”. No one has made more big plays in big spots that spread around the internet like wildfire, and that certainly was the case in Thursday night’s game. He had a ridiculous drive through the lane for a layup to give UCLA a three-point lead with under two minutes left, then buried the dagger on an absurd, 27-foot step-back three:

It may not be right, but those “moments” matter, and Ball leads the nation in them.

5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: How about this: Gonzaga is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country and they have a point guard that leads them in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. Williams-Goss may not have the NBA future that some of the other elite point guards across the country have, but his emergence has been the biggest reason why the Zags are as good as they are.

6. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: As good as Happ has been this season, it’s hard to overlook the fact that he gets taken out at the end of games because of his issues shooting free throws. Wisconsin survived overtime at Nebraska in spite of Happ. That did not happen at home against Northwestern, a game where Happ played just 26 minutes and had nine points and four turnovers.

7. Luke Kennard, Duke: For the second time in Duke’s recent five-game winning streak, the Blue Devils were bailed out by Kennard. Two weeks ago, it was a 30-point second half to lead Duke to a come-from-behind win at Wake Forest. On Saturday, he had a team-high 25 points as the Blue Devils narrowly squeaked by Clemson at home.

8. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: I had a revelation on Justin Jackson during North Carolina’s game against Duke last week, one that made me regret the error of my ways.

Joel Berry II is the guy that makes UNC’s offense run and the guy that makes the Tar Heels elite. Point guards, in general, are more valuable than scoring wings. That said, Berry has had a nasty habit of not showing up. He was 3-for-13 in UNC’s loss at Indiana. He was 3-for-13 in the loss at Georgia Tech. He was 0-for-8 with a technical foul when the Tar Heels got smoked by Miami earlier this month.

Jackson, on the other hand, has been a model of consistency all season long, particularly in ACC play. He’s scored at least 16 points in every league game and is second in the ACC in scoring during conference play at 20.1 points. He’s shooting the ball better than he ever has in his life, and he’s still utilizing a murderous floater-game that’s better than anyone in the country. He’s become North Carolina’s go-to guy and the big-time scorer that they’ve lacked for the last couple of seasons.

The Tar Heels may not have the hoss on the block that we are used to seeing from Roy Williams’ best teams, but the biggest reason that hasn’t hurt them yet is because of how good Jackson has been.

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9. Josh Jackson, Kansas: Mason is (deservedly) the Player of the Year for the Jayhawks, but it’s becoming more and more clear that Jackson is the most talented player and, arguably, the team’s best player. He had 31 points, 11 boards and four assists at Texas Tech to help the Jayhawks stave off an upset in a game where Mason fouled out with three minutes left, and last night, he had 14 points, 11 boards, five steals and three assists in that raucous, come-from-behind win over West Virginia.

In his last eight games, Jackson hasn’t scored fewer than 14 points and has hit for at least 20 four times. He has five double-doubles in that span, five games where he’s had at least three assists, five games with multiple steals and is shooting 50 percent from three in that stretch.

10. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Monday night’s loss aside, Motley has been consistently terrific all season long. Last week, he had 24 points and 11 boards against Oklahoma State and followed that up with 25 points and seven boards in a win over TCU.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Alec Peters, Valparaiso

VIDEO: West Virginia honored Andrew Jones before game vs. Texas

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The West Virginia basketball team donned burnt orange ‘Big 12 Strong’ warmup shirts with the No. 1 on the back in honor of Texas point guard Andrew Jones.

Jones was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this month.

Texas Tech also honored Jones before a game this week, and Texas has raised more than $100,000 for his medical expenses.

Saturday College Basketball Recap: No. 7 Wichita State, No. 8 Texas Tech lose

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PLAYER OF THE DAY

It’s hard to argue with the performance that J.P. Macura had on Saturday. No. 11 Xavier went into Newark and knocked off No. 19 Seton Hall, 73-64, behind 27 points, five boards and three assists from Macura.

This win was particularly important for Xavier, who remain just a game out of first place in the Big East and in great position to make a run at getting a top three seed, which would mean they likely won’t have to play Villanova until the Big East title game. The loss is the second in a row for Seton Hall and the their third loss in four games.

THE REST OF SATURDAY’S STARS

  • CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue: Edwards finished with 22 points, eight assists, two steals and no turnovers as the No. 3 Boilermakers blew out Iowa on the road.
  • MALIK NEWMAN, Kansas: Newman finished with 24 points and seven boards, including a personal 7-0 run with three minutes left to help No. 10 Kansas remain in sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with a 70-67 win over Baylor.
  • BRYCE BROWN, Auburn: Brown finished with 28 points as Auburn erased a 14-point halftime deficit to knock off Georgia 79-65 and remain within a game of first-place in the SEC.
  • DEAN WADE, Kansas State: In a win over No. 24 Kansas State, TCU’s second-straight win over a ranked team, Wade went for 20 pints, six boards, six assists, two blocks and two steals.

TEAM OF THE DAY

Houston landed themselves their first marquee win of the season as they pounded No. 7 Wichita State in Houston, 73-59. Rob Gray led the way with 24 points and four assists, putting the Cougars in a position where earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament is feasible. There is still plenty of work left to do, but this is the start they needed.

The bigger question mark, however, is Wichita State, who also lost at home to SMU this week. The Shockers are nowhere near as good as many expected them to be. Their offense isn’t good enough to make up for the fact that they aren’t guarding anyone.

GAME OF THE DAY

Trae Young went for 48 points, 34 of which came after halftime as the Sooners erased a 19-point deficit, but thanks to a Kendall Smith three at the end of regulation, this game went into overtime. Young had shots at the buzzer in regulation and in overtime to win the game and missed both, as the Pokes escaped with an 83-81 win.

Young needed 39 shots to get those 48 points. We went through whether or not that is too many shots for him here.

WTF???? OF THE DAY

Iowa State, who can’t guard anyone and is probably the worst team in the Big 12 this season, knocked off No. 8 Texas Tech, 70-52. The Red Raiders have now lost three of their last four games – all of which came on the road – after winning at Kansas. Texas Tech is also now just 1-3 in the four games since Zach Smith broke his foot, but they also beat Baylor by 24 points and won at Kansas when Smith played 10 total minutes.

So you explain Texas Tech to me. Because I don’t get it.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

The Florida Gators moved into sole possession of first place in the SEC thanks to a 66-64 win at No. 18 Kentucky on Saturday. It was hardly a pretty game – Florida shot 33 percent from the floor and 6-for-30 from three – but the Gators were able to hang on thanks to a questionable no-call in the final seconds.

No. 20 Clemson held on to beat Notre Dame at home on Saturday, 67-58, but missing out on a commitment from Zion Williamson wasn’t the only bad news of the day. Star forward Donte Grantham went down with a knee injury midway through the second half. He averages 14.3 points and 7.1 boards. Losing him would be disastrous for the Tigers.

No. 14 Arizona had to rally down the stretch, but the Wildcats did. Trailing by as many as 11 points late in the second half at Stanford, the Wildcats survived as Dorian Pickens missed a three at the buzzer. The win puts Arizona all alone in first place in the Pac-12.

Jalen Brunson scored 23 points and Donte DiVincenzo added 17 points off the bench as No. 1 Villanova blew out UConn in Hartford, 81-61.

No. 13 Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s both won, meaning that the Gaels still hold a one game lead over the Zags in the WCC. Nevada knocked off Boise State, giving the Wolf Pack a two-game lead in the Mountain West.

At this point, Pitt barely counts as ACC competition. But they are and No. 5 Duke beat them 81-54 tonight.

Jevon Carter went for 22 points and eight assists as No. 6 West Virginia knocked off Texas, 86-51. The game was closer than the final score indicates, as the Mountaineers pulled away late.

The star of the day for No. 12 Cincinnati was Gary Clark, who finished with 14 points, 14 boards, two assists, two steals and two blocks, in an 86-60 win over East Carolina.

Luke Maye went for 17 points and 11 boards to lead four players in double figures as No. 15 North Carolina held on to beat Josh Pastner and Georgia Tech, 80-66.

It ended up not being much of a game when the Big Ten invaded Madison Square Garden as No. 22 Ohio State put a beating on Minnesota, 67-49. Minnesota lost Jordan Murphy to an ankle injury in the game as well.

You Make The Call: Did Kentucky’s P.J. Washington get fouled?

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There was a controversial finish to Florida’s 66-64 win over No. 18 Kentucky in Rupp Arena on Saturday night.

Florida had taken a 45-37 lead on the Wildcats before Kentucky fought back, eventually pulling ahead before the Gators surged back in front. A pair of threes and a missed front-end set up a situation where the Wildcats had the ball, down 66-64, on the final possession of the game, leading to this play:

P.J. Washington drives to the rim and appears to get hit in the head by Jalen Hudson. Hudson initially gets his hand on top of the ball, but as Washington’s momentum carries him, Hudson rakes Washington across the face and pushes his head back with his elbow.

It’s not intentional, but the contact is clearly there.

Did the referees blow this call?

If they did, the call could end up determining the SEC regular season champion. Entering Saturday, both Kentucky and Florida were tied for the league lead at 5-1 in the conference. They play again on the season’s final weekend in Gainesville.

Norvell helps No. 13 Gonzaga bounce back to beat Santa Clara

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Zach Norvell Jr. scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, and No. 13 Gonzaga bounced back from its first conference loss of the season to beat Santa Clara 75-60 on Saturday night.

Josh Perkins added 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting, Rui Hachimura scored 16 points and Killian Tillie had 12. Johnathan Williams had nine points and eight boards for Gonzaga (17-4, 7-1 West Coast Conference), including his 400th career rebound.

Two days after a 74-71 home loss to Saint Mary’s that ended Gonzaga’s six-game winning streak, the Bulldogs had trouble shaking the pesky Broncos (7-13, 4-4) until Norvell found his stroke after halftime.

Norvell made pair of 3s, a short jumper and a layup in the first 7 ½ minutes of the second half, scored on an offensive rebound as part of a 12-0 run, and then made a fast-break one-handed dunk to put the Bulldogs up 75-41.

It was Gonzaga’s 17th consecutive win over the Broncos and improved coach Mark Few’s record to 40-4 against Santa Clara.

KJ Feagin scored 21 points for the Broncos.

Unlike the first game between the teams this season, when Gonzaga built 27-point lead by halftime on the way to a win in Spokane, Santa Clara kept it close early despite struggling from beyond the arc.

The Broncos missed eight of their first nine 3-point attempts but were tied with 8 ½ minutes left in the first half following Josip Vrankic’s driving layup that had the crowd at Leavey Center roaring.

Part of the problem for Gonzaga was the Bulldogs’ inability to keep Feagin from getting to the basket. He had 12 points in the first 20 minutes, made three layups and tipped in his own miss to help Santa Clara close within seven at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have not lost back-to-back games this season and looked good after a somewhat slow start. Norvell provided a huge boost but the Zags also got another big game from Hachimura, who has scored in double figures in nine consecutive games.

Santa Clara: Coming off a win at San Francisco, the Broncos made a splash in the first half at home to keep things interesting. They never had the Bulldogs on their heels, but it was a much better effort than their first meeting.

No. 10 Kansas rallies late to beat Baylor, 70-67

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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Kansas coach Bill Self has relied on a four-guard lineup all season, one that is designed to attack the basket aggressively, draw fouls and get to the free throw line.

He was fortunate one of those four guards stepped up Saturday night.

Malik Newman scored seven of his game-high 24 points in the final minutes, bailing out the rest of his sluggish teammates, and Baylor turned the ball over on the last inbounds play as the No. 10 Jayhawks escaped with a 70-67 victory that kept them atop the Big 12.

“We were lucky,” Self said, “to have one guy out there putting defense on its heels.”

The Jayhawks (16-3, 6-1 Big 12) trailed 67-61 with 2:05 to go before Newman went on his scoring binge, giving them the slimmest of leads again. The Bears (12-7, 2-5) had a couple of chances after that, but Manu Lecomte missed a 3-pointer and a layup attempt high off the glass with three seconds left.

Devonte Graham added a pair of free throws before Baylor squandered a chance at the final shot.

“(Newman) put us on his back and all we needed was to get those stops,” Graham said, “and we did.”

It was the Jayhawks’ 11th consecutive win over the Bears, who have never won in 16 tries in Lawrence. It was also the closest Baylor has come during any of those games.

Graham finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Udoka Azubuike had 14 points and seven boards, but he was just 4 of 11 from the foul line and missed two crucial ones late.

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr. had 14 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out for Baylor. Nuni Omot added 14 points and Lecomte had 10, though he was 3 of 12 from the floor and 1 of 8 from the 3-point arc.

“Very frustrating. We’re as good a team as them. We know we can beat them,” Lecomte said. “They’re a really good team. They never give up. Next time we have to make sure we keep that lead.”

Allen Fieldhouse has been Baylor coach Scott Drew’s personal house of horrors — the closest he had come to winning had been the Bears’ 73-68 loss last season. And when the Jayhawks opened the game by making their first seven shots and taking an 18-5 lead, it looked as if this one would be no different.

It took Drew burning through nearly all his timeouts to settle Baylor down.

Shots eventually stopped falling for Kansas as the Bears picked up their defensive pressure, and their deficit dwindled to 32-26 before a late flurry left them in a 38-27 halftime hole.

Kansas began the second half determined to get Azubuike the ball in the paint, and he made good on his first couple of chances. But when he failed to execute a few times in a row, Self greeted him during a timeout with, “Are you kidding me?” — spiced up with an extra word.

The Jayhawks still led 52-47 midway through the second half when Baylor went on a 16-4 run.

Omot started it with a bucket in the paint, but it was seven free throws by the senior forward that did the real damage. Lual-Acuil’s basket with 4:39 left gave Baylor a 61-56 advantage.

The Bears scored on nine consecutive possessions down the stretch.

Newman finally turned the momentum, though. He converted a three-point play and a nifty drive on a run-out, then knocked down another basket to give Kansas a 68-67 lead with a minute left.

“When the game is on the line, Coach always says that players make plays,” he said. “I was just trying to be aggressive and we came out with a win.”

HONORING JO JO

Kansas honored two-time All-American Jo Jo White with a video tribute before tipoff. The seven-time NBA All-Star, whose jersey hangs from the Allen Fieldhouse rafters, died Tuesday at the age of 71.

BYE, BYE BILLY

Kansas freshman Billy Preston signed with a pro team in Bosnia on Friday, ending any chance the five-star prospect will play for the Jayhawks. Preston had been held out all season while the school looked into the finances of the car he was driving during a November accident.

BIG PICTURE

Baylor has lost its last five games to the Jayhawks by a combined 20 points, no doubt adding to Drew’s frustration. Six of the Bears’ seven losses this season have come against ranked teams.

Kansas has won five straight to grab ahold of the Big 12 race, though none of them have been very comfortable. The Jayhawks’ winning streak has been by a combined 18 points.