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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

VIDEOS: Michigan State’s Miles Bridges puts on another show at local summer Pro-Am

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Watching Michigan State’s Miles Bridges throw down high-level dunks in local summer pro-ams has been a good way to pass the time the last few weeks.

The 6-foot-7 Bridges has been annihilating rims all summer as he had more ridiculous dunks on Tuesday night. Playing with former Michigan State star Denzel Valentine and some of his current Spartans teammates, Bridges had more crowd-pleasing plays to add to his summer reel.

Lansing State Journal reporter James Edwards III has been on the scene for Bridges’ games all summer as he has more dunks from the future lottery pick.

Minnesota keeps in-state three-star 2018 guard Gabe Kalscheur at home

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Minnesota is keeping a big-time shooter at home as Class of 2018 shooting guard Gabe Kalscheur pledged to the Golden Gophers on Tuesday.

The 6-foot-4 Kalscheur is the third in-state prospect to pledge to head coach Richard Pitino in the Class of 2018 as he joins three-star forward Jarvis Thomas and four-star big man Daniel Oturu. The three-star Kalscheur gives Minnesota a valuable floor spacer and a winner as he’s a three-time state champion at DeLaSalle. All three of these commitments also played together with Howard Pulley in the Nike EYBL.

During this spring and summer in the Nike EYBL, Kalscheur averaged 14.9 points and shot 39 percent from three-point range as he made 61 treys in 21 games.

Pitino has certainly done a nice job of keeping local players home as he’s hoping that trend continues with upcoming in-state five-star prospects like 2018 point guard Tre Jones and 2019 forward Matthew Hurt. The Golden Gophers will have to win national recruiting battles to keep those guys home, but they’ve done a nice job of getting the other guys that they need to keep home.

North Carolina and NCAA set August hearing

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North Carolina and the NCAA have released additional responses and set the dates for a future hearing on Tuesday amid an investigation into paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department.

The NCAA’s allegations center around UNC’s athletes — most notably members of football, men’s and women’s basketball teams — allegedly being guided to the fake classes in order to keep GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The fake classes typically had a high number of athletes enrolled each semester.

While North Carolina argued in May that this should be a school matter and not an NCAA matter, the NCAA responded to the matter in its belief that it has the right to investigate the classes. North Carolina is facing five top-level charges in the case with lack of institutional control among the charges.

A two-day hearing will be held with the NCAA in Nashville on August 16-17.

“The hearing is the next step in bringing closure to this longstanding issue by allowing us the opportunity to address the Committee on Infractions and present the facts,” said Joel Curran, vice chancellor of University communications. “The NCAA has requested certain individuals from the University attend the proceedings. It is standard practice for the current head coaches of programs referenced in a notice of allegations to attend. Therefore, Coaches Larry Fedora (football), Sylvia Hatchell (women’s basketball) and Roy Williams (men’s basketball) will accompany University representatives to the hearing.”

Potential top ten pick Robert Williams discusses decision to return to Texas A&M

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PHILADELPHIA — Robert Williams knew that his family could use the money that would come with being a lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. He also knew that he wasn’t ready — mentally, emotionally, skill-wise — to make the leap to the NBA, which is why all it took was one question from his mother, Tundra, to convince the 6-foot-9 19-year old to return to Texas A&M for his sophomore season.

“We haven’t been rich for 19 years,” Williams recalls Tundra, whom he describes as a “middle school cafeteria lady”, telling him. “What’s one more year?”

“That sealed the deal. If she’s good, I’m good,” Williams told NBC Sports as he nursed shin splints at the Under Armour All-American camp in Philadelphia last week. “My mom just wants to see me happy. I could quit basketball and go work at Burger King. If I’m happy, she’s happy.”


“Oil City made me, Vivian raised me.”


Williams may not be a household name the way that fellow members of his high school class — Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Jayson Tatum, etc. — were, but he was certainly a known quantity on basketball circles. Williams was a potential top 10 pick in last year’s draft, a 6-foot-9 big man with a 7-foot-4 wingspan and the kind of athleticism most of us can only dream about. He has elite physical tools, even by NBA standards, and his ability to protect the rim along with his versatility defensively and budding post-game makes him a tantalizing long-term project.

Casual college basketball fans aren’t going to be familiar with bigs averaging 11.9 points on a team that didn’t even get a trip to the NIT, but NBA front office personnel were well-versed in his ability.

Just a borderline top 50 prospect coming out of high school, Williams’ ranking had as much to do with where he’s from as what he can do. He was born in Oil City, Louisiana, a town of roughly a 1,000 people tucked in the Northwest corner of Louisiana, five miles from the Texas on the west side of town and 18 miles from Arkansas to the north. “There’s just really nothing there,” Williams said. Oil City was small enough that he had to move to Vivian, a town of 3,600 people nine miles away, in order to attend high school.

Glen Johnson, Texas A&M Athletics

He spent four years playing for North Caddo High, a 2A public school in Louisiana, which isn’t exactly the best high school basketball in the country, and his role on the Houston Hoops team he played with in the summer after his junior year was somewhat limited, to say the least; he was teammates with De’Aaron Fox, Jarred Vanderbilt (a top 15 player in the Class of 2017) and Carsen Edwards, who started at the point for Purdue as a freshman. Combine that with the 25 pounds of muscle that he added to his frame, and what you have is a player that went from being a pogo stick that got pushed around on a team full of studs to a grown man that did the pushing and proved himself capable of playing a role that has value in the NBA.

“I went to Nike Camp, but I wasn’t that high of a recruit,” Williams said. “I was like No. 60 I think. It’s weird because I’ve never had this much ‘fame’, I guess is the word.”

“People knew who I was [in Vivian], but just because I was a people person. I was also always bigger than everyone.”

There weren’t many that expected Williams to have the season that he had as a freshman, averaging 11.9 points, 8.2 boards and 2.6 blocks in just 25 minutes a night. Even fewer expected him to return to Texas A&M once he caught the eye of NBA scouts, but head coach Billy Kennedy wasn’t one of them.

“Only because he told us,” Kennedy said with a chuckle, as if he knew just how lucky he and his staff are to be getting a second season with a talent like this. “We felt that during the year. But you never know until the end. We wanted to see him go through the whole process, but the cool thing is the kid made a decision and he did what was best for him.”


“Mentally and emotionally, I wasn’t ready.”


For Williams, the decision to return was two-fold. He knew that he wasn’t yet the player that he wants to be, and getting drafted as a dunker, a shot-blocker and an athlete can get a player pigeon-holed. “In the NBA,” Williams reasoned, “once you get there, what you are is what you are. I don’t want to be stuck in that jumping, that dunking position. I’m not necessarily saying I want to be able to play the two or the three, but I want to expand and show that I can sometimes push it and make a jump shot.”

“Rebounding, jumping, dunking. That’s been my game. That’s gets you paid well. But I know I have more. I want to be able to knock down a corner three. I’m not saying that I need to be coming off of screens and pulling, but I want to be able to knock down that shot and prove I’m able to get a rebound and start a fast break.”

He knew that it would take a lot of hard work and time in the gym this offseason to get to that point, and that’s where the second part of this comes into the equation. Williams knew that he wasn’t ready to be a professional yet, that he wanted to be able to enjoy life and basketball as a college kid for another year.

“People don’t understand that once you get to that level, it’s a job. It’s a business,” Williams said. “It’s not high school, it’s not even college, you’re competing for your job every time you go play.”

“Mentally and emotionally, I wasn’t ready.”

Thomas Campbell, Texas A&M Athletics

That didn’t necessarily sit well with everyone in Williams’ circle — specifically, Williams says his father wanted him to go to the NBA — because they all know the risk. Blake Griffin, who went from being a projected top ten pick as a freshman to the No. 1 overall pick as a sophomore, is the outlier. The likes of Ivan Rabb, Perry Jones III and Jared Sullinger tend to be the norm. When a player doesn’t take a step forward in his second season in college, the flaws are nitpicked instead of the potential being touted, and that’s to say nothing of the potential for devastating injury. For a player like Williams, who thrives on his athleticism, a torn ACL or a ruptured Achilles’ this season could be devastating to his earning power.

He knows all of that, and, Williams says, once he made his choice, the people closest to him rallied around him. There was some negativity, people calling his dumb for passing up on the guaranteed millions that come with being a first round pick, but for the most part, the feedback he heard was reassuring.

“You gotta grind now.”

“You made your decision, you made your bed, now you have to lay in it.”

“You know what you got to do.”

And that’s part of where being ready for the NBA comes into play.

Ask Williams what he needs to do to be successful at the next level, to prove that he can be more than just an athlete, and he’ll tell you that it’s developing his perimeter skills. Making corner threes and trail threes. Improving his handle and his footwork to the point that he is a threat as a face-up four. But if you ask Kennedy what the next step for Williams is, this is his answer: “Just getting to where he’s working out more, learning how to work at a higher level, and that’s something that he’s gotten better at.”

Williams didn’t need to work all that hard to dominate in high school, not with his physical gifts and not with the level of competition that he was facing. The same can mostly be said his his time as a freshman in the SEC. As Mike Schmitz, a scout working for Draft Express and ESPN, put it, Williams “is very much living off his elite physical tools.”

As the saying goes, you don’t know what hard work is until you see someone working harder than you, and there is no better role model for Williams than junior center Tyler Davis, who has streamlined what was once a 300 pound frame into a chiseled, 260-pound rock. He has “the best work ethic I’ve ever seen,” Williams says, and that’s rubbing off on him. Williams says he’s working out two or three times a day, doing conditioning with the team at 6 am before heading off to the gym at 8 am to work on his stroke — form-shooting, making 25 shots from each spot out to the foul line; step-in mid-range jumpers; trail threes — and closing the day with pickup or more skill-work in the afternoon.

The way he sees it, he can’t control injuries — although he has taken out an insurance policy on the off-chance he does something catastrophic — but he can control the work he puts in. Put another way, he is the one that will determine where he ends up. “My mindset,” Williams said, “is as long as you put in the work, results will come.”

And maybe those results will get him some notoriety on campus at a football school.

“Some people recognize me on campus, but it’s all football at A&M,” he said. “They say hi, ask for a picture, but people actually think I’m a mean guy. They don’t understand, I’m a people person! I like people!”

So say hi to Williams if you see him this year.

You won’t have a chance to do so much longer.

Texas A&M Athletics

VIDEO: Grayson Allen, Trevon Duval get in on #DriveByDunkChallenge

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Trevon Duval, the point guard that will finally replace Tyus Jones at Duke, and Grayson Allen added their flare on the #DriveByDunkChallenge, as Allen throws a picture perfect alley-oop through the sun-roof of the car Duval is driving:

This is solid work, but I still think Scott Cross has the best #DriveByDunkChallenge performance in the collegiate ranks. John Calipari’s effort is solid, but pretty awkward. He shouldn’t be running or jumping.