Bonzie Colson

DURHAM, NC - NOVEMBER 26:  Luke Kennard #5 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after making a three-point basket against the Appalachian State Mountaineers during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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College Basketball’s Most Improved Players

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It really shouldn’t be all that much of a shock that Luke Kennard tops the list as the nation’s most improved player.

The 6-foot-6 shooting guard has been the best player on the roster for Duke this season, a team that is ranked in the top five by everyone with a valid a opinion and ranked No. 1 by the savvy forward-thinkers. He’s averaging 20.0 points, 6.1 boards and 3.3 assists and has been Duke’s best player in their four toughest games this season; against Michigan State, Rhode Island, Kansas and Florida, Kennard is averaging 23.8 points.

What’s surprising about Kennard’s season isn’t that he became an effective college basketball player – he was a McDonald’s All-American, he averaged 11.8 points last season, and he scored more points in high school than a guy named LeBron James – but that he’s been able to dominate like this on a team that has a chance to win a national title. That’s how good he’s been for Duke this season. Playing without Jayson Tatum for seven games, with a banged-up Grayson Allen and without Harry Giles III, Kennard’s has made Duke look like they could win the ACC and make the Final Four even if they never get back to full health.

He went from being the third-best player on a two-man Duke team as a freshman to this. Who saw that coming?

2. Manu Lecomte, Baylor: Lecomte was a good player at Miami during the 2014-15 season. Not great, but a solid piece for a good team. After sitting out last season at Baylor, he’s managed to play his way into being one of the best point guards in the Big 12 and one of the biggest reasons that the Bears are currently sitting in the top five of both polls. Lecomte’s averaging 13.9 points this year, and although his scoring has been somewhat inconsistent, he’s played well in Baylor’s big games. But the truly notable improvement has been in his ability to create offense for his teammates. Lecomte is averaging 5.3 assists after averaging 1.8 assists as a sophomore with Miami, and that playmaking was the biggest question mark that Baylor had entering the season.

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3. Semi Ojeleye, SMU: Ojeleye is a former four-star recruit that played a season and a half at Duke, so it’s not like this is a guy that never had any ability. We just never saw it featured at the college level, and now that we have, he’s proven to be worth the hype he had in high school. Having taken advantage of a season-and-a-half as a redshirt, he’s averaging 17.8 points and 7.6 boards on the year while, as a 6-foot-7 forward with elite athleticism, is shooting 41.5 percent from three. The Mustangs are still trying to find their footing after the Larry Brown fiasco this summer, but Ojeleye has turned into a really good piece to build around and one of the best players in the AAC.

4. Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: Colson is generously listed at 6-foot-6, he isn’t an elite athlete and he’s a power forward, a front court weapon who does most of his damage in the low- and mid-post. And yet, he’s turned into the best player on Notre Dame and, along with Matt Farrell (who is much-improved in his own right), is the biggest reason the Irish appear to me much better than we expected. He’s averaging team-highs of 16.5 points and 10.8 boards this season and, at the least, deserves a mention in all-american consideration. Is anyone more underrated than Mike Brey when it comes to developing talent in his program?

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Bonzie Colson #35 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish attempts a shot as Donte DiVincenzo #10 of the Villanova Wildcats defends during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Villanova defeated Notre Dame 74-66. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Bonzie Colson (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

5. Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s: Saint Mary’s has found their next great Australian, and that’s Landale. He was super-efficient in limited minutes as a sophomore, but the 6-foot-11 Landale has been playing at like all-american this season for the Gaels. He’s averaging 18.4 points and 8.5 boards while shooting 67.4 percent from the floor as the anchor in Randy Bennett’s offensive attack.

6. Kyron Cartwright, Providence: Ed Cooley has always centered his offensive attack around his point guard. That’s just how he likes to play. Whether it’s Kris Dunn or Bryce Cotton or Vincent Council, Cooley’s has always demanded that his point guards carry a heavy load. The biggest question we had with the Friars this season was who would take on that role this year. Well, we have an answer now: It’s Kyron Cartwright, a player that few outside of the Big East diehards would have heard of entering the season. Cartwright is averaging just 8.8 points on the year, but he’s fifth in the country posting 7.7 assists per night, an incredibly important number for the better-than-we-thought Friars because of the lack of weapons this team has offensively. The fact that he’s doing so while averaging significantly fewer turnovers than Kris Dunn did as a starter is notable as well.

7. John Collins, Wake Forest: Before the season, who would have predicted that Collins would develop into the best player on Demon Deacons? Playing just 24 minutes a game, Collins is posting 18.0 points and 10.7 boards and has already collected six double-doubles on the season, including five in his last five games.

8. Tacko Fall, UCF: The 7-foot-6 Fall is so much more than just a super-tall dude that found his way onto a basketball court. He’s averaging 13.8 points, a nation’s-best 13.1 boards and 2.6 blocks in just 28 minutes a night. He’s running the floor, he’s scoring on post touches and he’s doing it all while staying out of foul trouble, which can be an issue for someone his size. The next step? Improve on that 34.1 percent free throw shooting before Hack-a-Tacko becomes a thing.

9. Kyle Washington, Cincinnati: Washington is another guy who took advantage of a redshirt year and a new environment. After struggling to find minutes in his two seasons at N.C. State, Washington has turned into the best player for the Bearcats, averaging 16.1 points and 8.0 boards for Mick Cronin’s club, who appear to be the favorite in the AAC and are ranked in the top 25.

10. Obi Enechionya, Temple: Enechionya has developed into a real life NBA prospect. He’s turned into Temple’s go-to guy, averaging 18.6 points on the season, but what makes him such an intriguing player is a unique aspect of his skill-set: At 6-foot-10, he’s shooting 49.2 percent from three (while attempting more than six per game) and blocking 2.9 shots a night. No player has averaged three made threes per game and 2.9 blocks per game in a season since 1993, which is as far back as I can find data.

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 11: Isaiah Briscoe #13 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball up court against the Hofstra Pride in the first half of the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center on December 11, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Isaiah Briscoe  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

TEN MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • 11. Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky: Briscoe has been terrific this season for Kentucky, but it’s hard to rank him in the top ten of this list when the single-biggest flaw in his game – his perimeter shooting – hasn’t gotten much better.
  • 12. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: Evans has developed into one of the best point guards in the country, but it’s tough to figure out where to rank him because we saw this coming before he got injured at the end of last season.
  • 13. Ben Lammers, Georgia Tech: The bright spot in what will likely be a long Georgia Tech season, Lammers is averaging 15.8 points, 10.8 boards and 4.6 blocks, which leads the country. He averaged 3.6 points and 4.0 boards as a sophomore last year.
  • 14. Khyri Thomas, Creighton: We knew how good Mo Watson Jr. and Marcus Foster would be. I don’t think many expected Thomas to average 13.3 points, shoot 53.3 percent from three and develop into Creighton’s best perimeter defender.
  • 15. Esa Ahmad and Nathan Adrian, West Virginia: The biggest reason that West Virginia hasn’t taken a step back with what they lost last year? Ahmad and Adrian are playing at a borderline all-Big 12 level.
  • 16. Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: Thornwell has turned into one of the best non-Kentucky players in the SEC this season. Check this line: 18.7 points, 6.7 boards, 4.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.3 blocks, 48.3 percent on threes. Now he just has to get back from suspension.
  • 17. JaCorey Williams, MTSU: It’s tough to know just how much of this is opportunity and the level he’s playing at, but Williams has gone from averaging 4.5 points at Arkansas to averaging 19.0 points for one of the nation’s most dangerous mid-majors.
  • 18. Kyle Kuzma, Utah: We expected Kuzma to take a step forward this season, and while his scoring numbers aren’t quite as high as I thought they would be, his averages of 15.8 points, 10.3 boards and 3.3 assists for a young Utah team are impressive.
  • 19. Reid Travis, Stanford: Travis came off of injury to be the best player for Stanford this season, averaging 17.7 points and 9.4 boards.
  • 20. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan has played his way into all-american consideration, but he’d be higher on this list if his turnover issues hadn’t popped up of late. He has 13 giveaways in his last two games.

Player of the Week: Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

MADISON, WI - NOVEMBER 27:  Nigel Hayes #10 of the Wisconsin Badgers drives against JD Wallace #12 of the Prairie View A&M Panthers in the second half at the Kohl Center on November 27, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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Nigel Hayes had arguably the best week of his career in what might turn out to be the most important week of Wisconsin’s season.

It started on Tuesday night, when Hayes had nine points, 10 assists and 11 boards as he eviscerated No. 22 Syracuse’s zone in a dominating, 77-60 win for the Badgers. Four days later, Hayes finished with a season-high 28 points, adding six assists and shooting 10-for-13 from the floor as Wisconsin pulled away late to be Oklahoma, 90-70.

The past week was the best week of basketball that the Badgers have played this season, and so much of that credit falls on the shoulders of Hayes, who has refocused the way that he’s playing the game. The knock on Hayes during his junior year and through the first two weeks of his senior season was simply: He settled for way too many threes. As a junior, he shot 29.3 percent while shooting 3.8 threes per game. Prior to the last three games, Hayes was shooting 29.0 percent from three while taking 4.5 per game.

In other words, after a year where Hayes essentially proved that he was not a good enough shooter to be a ‘shooter’, he was shooting even more.

The last three games, however, Hayes has taken just two threes and made them both. He’s playing inside-out, he’s operating as a facilitator as much as he is a scorer and, as a result, he’s looked every-bit the part of the guy that was picked to be Big Ten Preseason Player of the Year.

When Hayes plays like this, the Badgers are right there with Indiana as the favorite to win the Big Ten title this season.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Takeaways

THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • T.J. Leaf, UCLA: Leaf was the best player on the floor for the Bruins as they went into Rupp Arena and knocked off No. 1 Kentucky. Leaf showed off his versatile skill-set, but he also played with a toughness and a defensive mettle that wasn’t exactly expected of him entering the season. We know how good the Bruins are on the offensive end of the floor, but if they’re getting stops, too? Scary.
  • Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart is playing some of the best basketball of his career, and never was that more evident than this week. He averaged 14.0 points and 8.5 boards while chipping in with 19 total assists in wins over Penn and Saint Joseph’s. We’ve already talked about how Hart has added a consistent three-point shot and how he can make plays in ball-screen actions, now he’s handing out double-figure assists? Entering the week, Hart had never averaged two assists per game for a season, including this season.
  • Rodney Bullock, Providence: It’s too early in the year to make any blanket statements about Bullock or a young Friar team, but he’s averaging 21.4 points on the season and, this week alone, had 36 points in a win over New Hampshire and followed that up with 17 points as the Friars beat No. 21 Rhode Island.
  • Kevin Hervey, UT Arlington: Hervey, who may be the best NBA prospect in the mid-major ranks, posted a pair of double-doubles in road wins this week, including 18 points and 10 boards as UTA went to Austin and knocked off Texas.
  • Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame: Colson, the 6-foot-5 power forward for the Fighting Irish, is averaging 18.7 points and 10.7 boards this season. He’s notched five straight double-doubles, two of which came this week, including a 24-point, 17-rebound, three-block performance in a win over Iowa.

Bonzie Colson continues hot streak as No. 12 Notre Dame wins at No. 16 Louisville

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With four players averaging at least 12.2 points per game and a fifth in Steve Vasturia adding 9.2, No. 12 Notre Dame isn’t lacking in the scoring department. However what this team lacked entering the season was interior depth, with Zach Auguste manning the middle and their best rebounder being 6-foot-5 senior guard/forward Pat Connaughton.

With Connaughton being a three who’s used to force mismatches offensively against bigger forwards, Mike Brey needed another interior player to step forward if the Fighting Irish are to be a major factor in the NCAA tournament. Freshman forward Bonzie Colson has emerged as that player, and he’s currently playing his best basketball of the season at just the right time for Notre Dame.

Wednesday night Colson supplied 17 points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes of action, picking up the slack for a foul-plagued Auguste in Notre Dame’s 71-59 win over No. 16 Louisville. Colson was at his best in the second half against the Cardinals, scoring 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting from the field (3-for-5 FT) and grabbing six rebounds.

His play, along with that of sophomore guard Demetrius Jackson (11 second-half points, 21 for the game), helped Notre Dame withstand a furious Louisville rally to start the second half. The Cardinals went on an 11-0 run to erase a double-digit halftime deficit, tying the score at 42-all with 16:42 remaining. Some teams would wilt in the face of the Louisville pressure, especially if their best scoring option was struggling as much as Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant was.

To Notre Dame’s credit that did not happen, as the Fighting Irish regained their composure and the tandem of Jackson and Colson stepped forward offensively. Notre Dame made its last seven field goal attempts, shooting 53.5 percent from the field of the game. With Jackson being one of the four players averaging double figures, his scoring output won’t come as a surprise.

But for Colson, who entered Wednesday averaging just over five points per contest, Wednesday’s showing is yet another step in the right direction. Colson’s averaging 16.3 points and 6.7 rebounds over the last three games for Notre Dame, which wrapped up third place and a double-bye in next week’s ACC tournament with the win.

Given Notre Dame’s offensive options there isn’t pressure on Colson to become a prolific scorer. But the Fighting Irish will need him this month, and Colson’s recent play is a positive sign for them as they move forward.

Jerian Grant, No. 8 Notre Dame erase another double-digit deficit as they beat No. 4 Duke

Jerian Grant (AP Photo)
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Jerian Grant stole the show for No. 8 Notre Dame (AP Photo)

Entering Wednesday’s showdown with No. 4 Duke, No. 8 Notre Dame trailed by double digits in five of the eight ACC games they had played. And outside of their home loss to No. 2 Virginia, Mike Brey’s Fighting Irish have successfully erased those deficits. That was once again the case Wednesday, as Notre Dame overcame a ten-point second half deficit to beat the Blue Devils 77-73 in South Bend.

And the star was none other than senior guard Jerian Grant, whose name has to figure prominently in the races for ACC and national Player of the Year. And in all honesty, given the way Grant has played all season long this should have already been the case.

Grant finished the game with 23 points, 12 assists, six rebounds, three steals and two blocked shots, and he impacted the game on both ends of the floor down the stretch as Notre Dame completed its comeback. There was the improbable floater in the middle of the lane with 1:11 remaining, and his assist to Steve Vasturia for a corner three that proved to be the dagger came about 40 seconds later.

Grant followed up that assist with a block of a Quinn Cook shot ten seconds later, with that defensive play hammering the final nail in the coffin. In a game in which both teams had areas they could exploit on the offensive end, Notre Dame won out in the end but this was just as much about what Duke couldn’t do as it was what the Fighting Irish did.

Duke missed numerous attempts around the basket, failing to take advantage of the 13 offensive rebounds they collected on the night. Add in the fact that they made just ten of their 20 free throws, and Mike Krzyzewski’s team left points on the board and that cost them in the end. Jahlil Okafor accounted for 22 points, 17 rebounds and three assists, leading four Blue Devil starters in double figures, with Justise Winslow (3-for-4 3PT, 13 points) snapping out of his five-game shooting slump.

But even with the ability to point towards those missed opportunities on the offensive end of the floor, Wednesday’s defeat showed that the Blue Devils still have work to do defensively. Notre Dame shot nearly 52 percent from the field and 8-for-18 from beyond the arc, with Mike Brey’s team finding decent looks for most of the night whether Duke was in man or zone.

Notre Dame finished the game with four double-digit scorers and on a night in which Vasturia shot 1-for-7 from the field, 6-foot-5 forward Bonzie Colson gave the Fighting Irish some valuable minutes off the bench. Colson, who played just nine minutes in Notre Dame’s overtime win at NC State on Sunday, contributed eight points, three rebounds and a blocked shot in 14 minutes against Duke. Thanks to the likes of Colson, Zach Auguste (14 points, six rebounds) and Pat Connaughton (13 points, 12 rebounds), the Fighting Irish were able to hold their own in the front court despite being the smaller team.

While this win keeps Notre Dame on the heels of Virginia in the race for the ACC title, for Duke the defeat makes their game in Charlottesville Saturday night even more important. Now three games behind the Cavaliers in the loss column, Duke’s in a spot where they have to win if they’re to make a run at winning the ACC regular season title. And in order to beat Virginia, Duke has to do a better job of converting around the basket than they did Wednesday night.

Failing to do so left the door open for a Fighting Irish comeback, and Jerian Grant and company were all too willing to take advantage.

 

Top 150 forward Bonzie Colson commits to Notre Dame

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Notre Dame added their second commitment in the Class of 2014 on Monday morning, as Bonzie Colson announced that he will play for the Fighting Irish as a collegian.

Colson, who is a three-star recruit that ranks 146th in Rivals’ top 150, was one of the more intriguing prospects in the class. Standing just 6-foot-5, Colson is much shorter than the ideal height for a four-man. He’s not an explosive athlete, either, which led to some debate about what level he could eventually play at.

And while his physical limitations will likely put a ceiling on his upside, there is a lot to like about Colson as a player. He’s smart and fundamentally sound, he’s got excellent length to counteract his height, and he understands positioning and angles. Colson may not be an early-entry candidate, but he’s a winner and a competitor, precisely the kind of program guy that will spend five years making Notre Dame better.

Colson is the second commitment that Mike Brey has earned in the class, as four-star forward Martin Geben pledged to the Irish last month.