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Player of the Year Power Rankings: It’s Frank Mason III’s award to lose

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1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: Mason capped off his career in Phog Allen Fieldhouse in fitting fashion on Monday night, scoring 23 points and handing out six assists as he led the Jayhawks back from a 12-point second half deficit in a win over Oklahoma. At this point, Mason is the clear-cut favorite for National Player of the Year, and barring some insanity in the final week of the season, I just don’t see that changing.

He leads the Big 12 in scoring at 20.3 points while also averaging 4.9 assists and 4.0 boards. He’s still shooting 50 percent from three. He’s the leader, the heart and soul of a team that is going to win the Big 12 regular season title by at least two and probably three full games. The Big 12, if you didn’t know, is rated as the best conference in the country, according to KenPom.

He’s sparked comebacks this season. He’s make game-winning shots. He’s played his best in the biggest games. I just can’t see how you would lean another direction.

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Villanova is right back in the mix for a national title this season despite losing Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu to graduation, Phil Booth to injury and Omari Spellman to an academic issue. They start Darryl Reynolds at center and might repeat as national champs. Hart is the reason why, and this quote from a Sports Illustrated story on Hart sums up what he means to this team:

“Now that I’m the guy at the top of the scouting report,” Hart said, “the guy every team wants to stop, I have to make sure that I make the right play. It’s not just about scoring. It’s about making sure my teammates are getting the ball. Trying to minimize the tough shots that I take. It’s about who is dialed into the details.”

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Ball is coming off of an 11-point, eight-assist performance on Saturday as UCLA landed their second elite road win of the season, going into the McKale Center and picking off Arizona to keep themselves in the running for a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday. We’ve talked plenty about what Ball has done to change the culture and the dynamic of this UCLA roster, and I think it is also worth noting that he doesn’t chase stats. He’s averaging 14.8 points, 7.6 assists and 6.2 boards on the year, and there are games where it feels like he is happy to simply be a distributor when the Bruins are comfortably ahead.

4. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: As good as Swanigan has been this season, I just cannot pick a player from the Big Ten as the National Player of the Year this season. The league is just not that good, and while Purdue is probably the best team in the league, they’ve been anything-but dominant down the stretch.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Takeaways | Top 25

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5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: I’m not ready to drop Williams-Goss out of the range of first-team all-american, but it was concerning about, in Gonzaga’s loss to BYU on Saturday night, he was unable to create against a set BYU defense down the stretch.

6. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: His performance against Virginia aside, Jackson has been the star for the Tar Heels this season, the ACC Player of the Year and one of the biggest reasons they’re a win against Duke away from being the outright ACC regular season champs.

7. Luke Kennard, Duke: With Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson once again battling injuries that might hold them out this week, don’t be surprised Kennard has to start putting up numbers that he did at the start of the season again. Duke closes the regular season with Florida State at home and at North Carolina.

8. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The Bears have struggled a bit down the stretch of the season, but it’s not Motley’s fault, as he’s been playing some of his best basketball of late. In his last three games, Motley is averaging 23.3 points, 11.7 boards, 3.7 assists and 1.7 blocks.

9. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: Oklahoma State has one of the nation’s top two offenses despite having just one guy with anywhere near the talent to play in the NBA, and that’s Evans. The Pokes lost their first six Big 12 games, but have since reeled off nine wins in their last 10 games and are comfortably in the NCAA tournament in Brad Underwood’s first season.

10. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: Happ has struggled late in the year as teams start to focus in on him more. As a team, Wisconsin has now lost four of their last five and look like they will not be winning the Big Ten title.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Josh Jackson, Kansas
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville
Monte’ Morris, Iowa State
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Dillon Brooks, Oregon
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Alec Peters, Valparaiso

Seven identified after threats made against referee John Higgins following Kentucky Elite Eight loss

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College basketball referee John Higgins received threats to his home and business in late March after some controversial calls in North Carolina’s win over Kentucky in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.

Seven people have now been identified for making threats against Higgins, according to an Associated Press report. The FBI’s Omaha, Nebraska field office said that information on the seven people will be referred to authorities in their jurisdictions.

An investigation over the last few months helped find the culprits, as the Omaha-based Higgins received emails, phone calls and voicemails to his personal home and roofing company following Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament departure. Wildcat head coach John Calipari might have ignited some of the anger in Kentucky fans by criticizing the officiating following the North Carolina loss.

“Based on the investigation’s findings, our office has determined that no local charges will be filed and that pursuit of any criminal charges would be best served by deferring to authorities in the appropriate jurisdictions,” Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The length of the investigation was drawn out due in part to the large volume of potential evidence requiring analysis, and the multi-jurisdictional issues arising from the multiple states in which the communications originated.”

Polikov also said that at least two media outlets were exposing and promoting Higgins’ contact information.

“This information has been referred to the Federal Communications Commission for further investigation of the potential violations related to applicable federal communications regulations,” Polikov said.

Higgins received about 3,000 phone calls at his office in the two days following the game. Sheriff’s investigator Matt Barrall told the AP that an estimated 75 percent of the calls were from Kentucky area codes.

The roofing business that Higgins owns was also flooded with bad online reviews and negative star ratings, causing his Google rating to fall while also forcing Higgins to take down the Facebook page for his business.

Beilein still upbeat after Michigan loses another to NBA

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) — For a major program, Michigan is a somewhat unlikely candidate for this kind of NBA-induced attrition.

The Wolverines have fielded some very good teams under John Beilein, but they haven’t been relying on prospects expected to jump to the pros as soon as they can.

“We’re not depending all our success on one-and-dones,” Beilein said. “Given that, our numbers right now are extraordinary.”

Beilein was referring to the number of players Michigan has sent to the NBA, particularly as early entrees. The Wolverines lost D.J. Wilson to the draft this offseason with two years of eligibility remaining, and now they’ll go through the familiar process of trying to replace a key player who turned pro.

The most significant early exodus occurred in 2013 and 2014, when Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all went pro before their eligibility was up. Michigan won a lot of games with those players, reaching the Final Four and Elite Eight those two years, but their development made them attractive to NBA teams and shortened their college careers.

Wilson’s rise followed a similar pattern. He averaged only 2.7 points per game in 2015-16, and then increased to 11.0 this past season and became Michigan’s leading rebounder. His efforts helped Michigan win the Big Ten Tournament and reach the Sweet 16, and now he’s off to the NBA draft. The entire sequence of events would have seemed highly improbable a year ago.

The Wolverines won’t receive much sympathy from their Big Ten opponents, especially since Michigan will still have big man Moe Wagner, who tested the NBA waters but ultimately decided to stay in school. The 6-foot-11 Wagner averaged 12.1 points last season and shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range, showing huge improvement in much the same way Wilson did.

After losing senior point guard Derrick Walton, it will be interesting to see how Michigan’s offense operates if Wagner becomes even more of a focal point. When Beilein was at West Virginia, the Mountaineers achieved success behind center Kevin Pittsnogle, whose skill set and 3-point shooting ability was at least somewhat similar to Wagner’s.

“We’re not going to put him in that category yet,” Beilein said. “Let’s just say, having a big man who can shoot the ball like that changes a lot of things.”

Michigan was also able to add a new point guard recently in Jaaron Simmons, a graduate transfer from Ohio. Simmons is eligible immediately in 2017-18 and will move up from the Mid-American Conference to the Big Ten.

“A lot of the mid-majors are having this happen to them, and I don’t like it at all, but the fact is if Jaaron doesn’t come here, he ends up probably somewhere else in the Big Ten,” Beilein said. “He’s just fundamentally so sound. He’ll be here this summer. Just as a person, I just wanted to coach the kid after spending an hour with him — just the leadership, the desire to win.”

Simmons could help the Wolverines withstand the loss of Walton, and Beilein indicated he could serve as a bit of a mentor to players like point guard Xavier Simpson, who is entering his sophomore season.

“We went all-in with (Simmons), knowing we had that scholarship,” Beilein said. “We felt that was a huge need for us, is to just have a little bit more experience in the backcourt next year.”

Follow Noah Trister on Twitter @noahtrister

LaVar Ball having ‘zero’ interaction with UCLA team bodes well for next season

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With the NBA Draft looming in less than a month, the biggest talking point has been just how much of an impact LaVar Ball is going to have on his son, Lonzo’s, NBA career.

It’s a question worth asking given the, ahem, outspoken nature of the eldest Ball.

But in the collegiate ranks, that’s a question that’s been asked about UCLA regarding next season. While Lonzo and LaMelo, who is finishing up his sophomore season in high school, are the stars that get the majority of the attention, there is another Ball brother that will be enrolling at UCLA next season: LiAngelo.

LaVar has already said that he expect Gelo to be a one-and-done player, which may not jibe with how good Gelo actually is. He’s not Lonzo and he’s not LaMelo. He’s not a dynamic athlete or a lead guard. He’s a 6-foot-5, 200 pound shooter with limitless range but limited upside. There’s a reason Rivals ranks him as a three-star prospect.

What’s going to happen when UCLA, a top 15 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25, doesn’t give Gelo Lonzo-esque minutes or shots next season? How will LaVar handle it if his second son is coming off the bench for the Bruins?

Steve Alford doesn’t seem concerned about it, telling a reporter from the LA Times that LaVar was “never at practice, never called me” and was around the team “zero.”

“I think all parents probably should know that moving on to the collegiate level anyway,” Alford said. “It’s not high school, it’s not AAU. Your son’s on scholarship; your son’s at UCLA getting an incredible opportunity academically and athletically.

“Playing time, shots, that kind of stuff — we don’t entertain some of those phone calls anyway. I never had any issues at all with LaVar.”

It will be interesting to see if that continues next season.

The Bruins have a chance to be pretty good. Maybe not quite as good as last season, maybe not a Pac-12 title favorite or even the best team in LA — USC is loaded — but I wouldn’t be shocked to see them end up as a top four seed in the NCAA tournament with Aaron Holiday and Thomas Welsh returning and Jaylen Hands headlining the recruiting class.

Will LaVar be able to handle UCLA’s success if it comes at the expense of his son’s?

NCAA: Former USF assistant provided extra benefits, lied to NCAA investigators

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The NCAA has alleged that former South Florida assistant coach Oliver Antigua provided roughly $500 in impermissible benefits and initially lied to NCAA investigators about it, according to the Tampa Bay Times, who obtained the NCAA’s summary disposition report.

Oliver Antigua is the younger brother of Orlando Antigua, who was the head coach at USF until he was fired in January. Now an assistant on Brad Underwood’s staff at Oklahoma State, Orlando was not alleged to have committed an NCAA violation in the report.

Oliver is alleged to have provided the extra benefits to two student-athletes while they were being tutored by the sister-in-law of Gerald Gillion, a special assistant to Orlando who resigned last fall, four months after Oliver did. USF has already self-imposed a $5,000 and reduced their scholarships from 13 to 12, according to the report.

“The University of South Florida and the NCAA continue to work together to resolve the inquiry into violations of NCAA bylaws and university standards by a USF intercollegiate athletic program,” according to a statement released by the school. “USF anticipates having a final resolution with the NCAA sometime this fall. Until the process concludes and the matter is fully resolved, USF cannot provide further comment.”

Villanova lands four-star 2018 guard

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Villanova added its first recruit in the Class of 2018 on Wednesday night.

Jay Wright and his staff landed a verbal commitment from Paul VI Catholic High School’s Brandon Slater, a four-star guard by Rivals as the No. 42 overall prospect in the rising senior class.

The 6-foot-5 Slater announced his decision via Twitter.

Slater, according to Jeff Borzello of ESPN, picked the Wildcats over Maryland, Miami, South Carolina, and Virginia.

He is currently playing the Nike EYBL with Team Takeover, the same grassroots program that produced current Villanova guard Phil Booth.