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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

Calipari signs two-year extension with Kentucky

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Kentucky continues to take care of John Calipari.

The Wildcats coach has received a two-year extension, keeping him under contract in Lexington through the 2024 season, the school announced Wednesday.

The contract will pay Calipari $7.75 million next season and increase to $8 million per season thereafter.

“John has achieved consistent championship-level performance at Kentucky,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “No one in America is better suited for everything that comes with being the coach here. Not only has he attained incredible success on the court, he is also a leader in our community and in college basketball.

“We have been blessed to have him and Ellen here for the last eight years and we are blessed they will continue to call Kentucky home.”

Not only does the deal extend Calipari, but it continues to keep Kentucky competitive with the NBA, which would seem to be the only outlet that would even potentially tempt Calipari away from Kentucky. An NBA franchise would have to make him among the highest-paid coaches in the league to even match Kentucky financially.

Of course, given that Calipari has spurned interest from the league since returning to college in 2000, it seems unlikely that financial considerations would be the lone or heaviest variable in making a decision to move on.

Certainly, Calipari has an excellent thing going at Kentucky as the premier recruiting program in the country that has enjoyed serious success on the court, culminating in a 2012 national title and a 38-0 start to the 2015 season before a loss in the Final Four.

“The last eight years at the University of Kentucky have been a terrific ride,” Calipari said in a statement. “This extension shows our full commitment to each other. I believe this school is the gold standard and I’m so thankful and blessed that this university has given me this opportunity at this point in my career.”

The Wildcats face UCLA in the Sweet 16 on Friday.

Louisville’s Mitchell declaring for draft, won’t hire an agent

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Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell is the latest to decide to see what the NBA might offer.

“I have decided to test the waters and not hire an agent!” Mitchell wrote in an Instagram post Wednesday. “I am excited to work out this summer for teams and hopefully participate in the NBA combine! I want it to be clear I have not decided to leave Louisville!”

Mitchell, who is expected to be joined by dozens of players, is taking advantage of new NCAA rules that allow him to work out for teams and attend the NBA draft combine before making a decision on whether to remain in the draft and return to school.

Players have until May 24 to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

Mitchell averaged 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists as a sophomore, shooting 40.8 percent overall and 35.4 percent on 3-point attempts.

The 6-foot-3 guard is projected as a potential first-round pick, but should he return, the Cardinals would project as one of the top teams in the country with nearly the entire core returning from this year’s 25-9 squad.

Moe-mentum: Wagner stands tall for Sweet 16-bound Michigan

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Ask Moe Wagner who he looked up to when he was younger, and suddenly the Michigan big man’s fiery demeanor makes a little more sense.

“Kevin Garnett was always my biggest idol, even though our play isn’t really similar. Just the way he brings intensity and energy to his team,” Wagner said. “That always was something that really impressed me.”

Now Wagner is providing his own emotional leadership to a Michigan team that has become one of college basketball’s most remarkable stories this March.

The Wolverines have won six in a row since they were involved in a plane accident on the eve of their Big Ten Tournament opener.

After winning that conference tourney, they opened the NCAAs with victories against Oklahoma State and Louisville – with Wagner scoring 26 points in the win over Louisville that sent Michigan to the Sweet 16.

The 19-year-old Wagner is in his second season with the Wolverines. He showed some promise in 2015-16, but averaged only 8.6 minutes a game as a freshman. He’s been a starter the whole way this season, teaming up with D.J. Wilson to give Michigan some unexpected production in the frontcourt.

The Wolverines entered the season with high hopes thanks to the presence of seniors Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin.

The 6-foot-11 Wagner has made them even tougher to defend. The sophomore from Berlin is averaging 12.2 points a game, and unlike Mitch McGary and Jordan Morgan – two of Michigan’s top big men of the recent past – Wagner is a threat from beyond the arc. He’s made 41 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2016-17, putting even more pressure on opposing teams.

An expressive player on the court, Wagner admits he’s still learning how to keep his emotions under control.

Coach John Beilein says Wagner can be hard on himself, but he has an upbeat attitude the Wolverines can appreciate.

“I don’t want to rob him of his energy and his passion,” Beilein said. “If you heard him in timeouts – I mean, he is really into it. And it’s encouraging things he’s saying.”

The key for Wagner is to stay on the court. He’s been whistled for 100 fouls this season – no other Michigan player has more than 80 – and he picked up two in the first 3:11 when the Wolverines faced Oklahoma State in their NCAA Tournament opener Friday. Wagner played only 14 minutes in that frenetic game, which Michigan won 92-91 .

Against Louisville in the round of 32 , Wagner went 11 of 14 from the field and kept his poise after being called for his second foul late in the first half.

“He’s always just been an excited guy – play hard and play with a lot of passion,” Walton said. “I don’t think anything has changed. I think he’s just channeling it a little better.”

The seventh-seeded Wolverines face third-seeded Oregon on Thursday night in a regional semifinal. Michigan has won seven in a row, a streak that began with the team’s last game of the regular season.

What happened next is well documented. The day before its opening game in the conference tournament, Michigan’s plane slid off the runway .

There were no serious injuries, and the Wolverines arrived in time to play. Then they won four games in four days to take the title.

Now, Michigan is two victories away from an improbable Final Four appearance. If the Wolverines actually make it that far, Wagner will be a big reason why – and he’ll probably be as excited as anyone.

“One of my youth coaches actually used to say that I was somebody who, like, sees the basketball court as a stage and really enjoys it,” Wagner said. “Last year, I started to understand what that actually means, and kind of embraced that this year. That’s just me. I really love it. I really enjoy it.”

 

California’s Ivan Rabb declares for the NBA Draft

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Ivan Rabb announced on Wednesday that he will be declaring for the NBA Draft and foregoing his final two seasons with California.

“I want to thank everybody for their support,” Rabb said in a statement. “Since the day I committed to Cal, the love from Bay Area fans was overwhelming. I could genuinely tell that people really appreciated seeing me come to Cal and succeed and do well. Haas Pavilion will always hold a special place in my heart, and I won’t forget how incredible it felt to be “Oakland’s Own” as I ran onto the court in front of my friends, family and team.”

As a sophomore, Rabb averaged 14.0 points and 10.5 boards. He’s projected as a mid-to-late first round pick in the draft a year after making the decision to return to school as a projected lottery pick last season.

Duke’s Jayson Tatum declares for the NBA Draft

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Duke’s Jayson Tatum will declare for the NBA Draft and hire an agent, the program announced on Wednesday.

Tatum is a projected top five pick in the NBA Draft. He averaged 16.8 points playing the role of small-ball four for the Blue Devils this season after missing the first month of the season with a foot injury.

“I have absolutely loved coaching Jayson Tatum,” Coach K said in a statement. “His skill set and work ethic will make him a star in the NBA. Whichever team selects him will be getting a humble, thoughtful and talented young man whom we are proud to call a member of the Duke basketball brotherhood.”

Tatum was the most talented player on the Blue Devils this season, but it was an up and down year for Duke as a whole. They were predicted by just about everyone to win the national title back in the preseason, but they eventually bowed out of the NCAA tournament in the second round.