De’Aaron Fox

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03:  Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks is reacts after making a basket during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Frank Mason III, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball stand out

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1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: The latest impressive performance from Mason came against Stanford, as he finished with 20 points, five assists and four boards in a 15-point win over the Cardinal. He’s the engine that makes that team go, averaging 19.6 points, 5.4 assists and 4.5 boards while shooting 56.1 percent from the floor and 48.4 percent from three, and he’s still the proud owner of the biggest shot of the season. Is anyone else fired up for when the Jayhawks head to Rupp Arena to take on Kentucky in January?

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Last Tuesday, we talked about how Hart has improved his three-point shooting and has added the ability to operate in ball-screens to his offensive repertoire this season. Then he went out posted a triple-double in a win over Saint Joseph’s while averaging 9.5 assists in two games. Prior to last week, Hart had never averaged more than 1.9 assists in any season in college.

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: The value that Ball brings to this UCLA team goes well-beyond the numbers that he’s putting up, and his numbers are already quite impressive. He’s averaging 14.3 points, 5.0 boards, 1.3 blocks and 1.0 steals on the season, but it’s the nation’s-best 9.3 assists that he’s averaging that makes the difference. He, quite simply, makes everyone on the court around him better. It’s a cliché that’s used with point guards too often, but no one fits that mold better than Ball.

We saw it on Saturday against Kentucky. Ball struggled early in that game, committing five turnovers in the first 10 minutes as the Bruins dug themselves a 23-14 hole. When he finally turned it on, UCLA torched Kentucky’s defense, which is one of the best in all of college basketball. His unselfishness has permeated that roster. Watching the Bruins move the ball against a set defense is a thing of beauty. Draft Express posted a terrific breakdown of just what makes Ball’s passing so difficult to deal with last week.

4. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: The Wildcats ended up losing to UCLA on Saturday afternoon, but it was no fault of Fox, who finished with 20 points and nine assists while doing the heavy-lifting in keeping Lonzo Ball more-or-less in check. Fox is a terror in transition, nearly impossible to keep out of the paint, unselfish when he draws extra defenders and an elite on-ball defender. If he can find a way to become a consistently jump-shooter, he’s going to be very, very good.

5. Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard has been Duke’s best player this season, and that did not change in the last seven days, with the return of Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden. He had 20 points in a win over Michigan State and followed that up with a career-high 35 points as the Blue Devils knocked off Maine. If Tatum turns out to be as good as advertised and Grayson Allen eventually returns to health, think about how scary a Duke back court is when Kennard is the third-best weapon offensively?

6. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Let’s put the numbers that Fultz is averaging this season – 22.7 points, 6.7 boards, 6.6 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.4 blocks – into perspective. No college basketball player since 1993 has averaged 22 points, six boards and six assists in a season before. Only 14 times in that time-frame has a player averaged 20 points, five boards and five assists, and only one of those 14 played at the high-major level – Evan Turner in 2009-10, when he averaged 20.4 points, 9.2 boards and 6.0 assists and won National Player of the Year.

Making those numbers even more impressive is that none of the 14 players on that list have A) averaged more than one block per game or B) come close to shooting 48.4 percent from three. It’s early, yes, and Fultz still hasn’t played any elite competition, but what he’s done this season is remarkable.

Washington, who is just 4-3 on the season, will get their first real test of the year when they square off with Gonzaga in Spokane on Wednesday.

7. Mo Watson, Creighton: For all the love that UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is getting this season, it’s worth noting that Watson is doing something similar for the Bluejays. He’s averaging 12.0 points and 9.0 assists, second nationally to Ball, for a Creighton team that is in the top ten and running one of the nation’s most high-powered offenses. He’s been terrific.

8. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: We saw Berry’s value last week when he struggled against Indiana in Assembly Hall and the Tar Heels played their worst game of the season to date. He’s now dealing with an ankle injury that could keep him out for the next two games. With freshman point guard Seventh Woods stepping into the starting lineup against Davidson on Wednesday, we should really get a feel for just how imporant he is to this team.

9. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: Evans was held in check for the most part in Oklahoma State’s loss at Maryland on Saturday and he still managed to finish with 16 points, five boards and five assists.

10. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan had a rough outing against Louisville last week. His finished with 14 points and 13 boards, but he also committed six turnovers and was one of the reasons that the Boilermakers had so much trouble on the offensive end of the floor in the first half.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
Yante Maten, Georgia
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

Previewing Kentucky vs. UCLA: The season’s most anticipated matchup to date

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The most impressive team in college basketball through the first three weeks of the season has been the Kentucky Wildcats.

They’re ranked No. 1 in the country for good reason. They’ve won by at least 21 points in every game they’ve played, they’ve scored at least 87 points in every games except one, they’ve cracked triple-digits in each of their last three games and they just so happen to have one of the best defenses in the sport.

What else do you need?

Critics will say they need to do this against a team with comparable talent, and it’s not unfair. Kentucky’s beaten up on five mid-major teams, Arizona State and a Michigan State team that is currently 4-4.

On Saturday, we get that matchup. The Wildcats will host No. 11 UCLA, who has an electric freshman guard of their own leading an offense that is lighting up scoreboards out west.

It will be the most-anticipated matchup on a day filled with terrific games, not only because it’s between two blue-blood programs playing elite-level basketball, but because the way these two teams play should turn this into a fast-paced, highlight-laden shootout.

Let’s break the matchup down.

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If you looked solely at the box scores of Kentucky’s games, you’d probably assume that the Wildcats are the second-coming of the Golden State Warriors, an offensive juggernaut with a roster full of players that are unguardable.

That’s not necessarily the case.

What makes this Kentucky team so special happens on the defensive side of the ball. Simply put, they are a nightmare to play against. De’Aaron Fox is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country. Isaiah Briscoe isn’t all that far behind, and Malik Monk has assuaged fears about whether or not he was a guy that cared about that side of the ball.

And I haven’t even mentioned the size and versatility along their front line yet.

Cal isn’t doing anything all that fancy with them on the defensive end, either. He isn’t reinventing the wheel. He’s not playing gimmick defenses or using any kind of full-court pressure. All he’s doing is asking his guys to play aggressive, pressuring man-to-man defense, often-times picking up the primary ball-handler for 94-feet, and his team has bought in.

Their best defensive lineup, the one that Cal has used to start three of the last four games, features Wenyen Gabriel at the four and Bam Adebayo at the five. Both Gabriel and Adebayo are athletic enough to cover point guards, so Cal will switch every exchange 1-through-5.

Kentucky plays with an unbelievable amount of effort and energy on defense. Everyone on the roster plays like they’re the walk-ons, like the only way they can get minutes is if they lead the team in floor-burns. But they’re not. They’re lottery picks, and in the case of Fox and Monk, more athletic than anyone they’re going to face this season. They make running offense a nightmare, and once they get the ball back – whether it’s off a missed shot, a turnover and, oftentimes, even a made shot – it’s off to the races.

And it’s that transition game that kills you.

Briscoe, Fox and Monk are all interchangeable. They can grab a defensive rebound and lead the break coast-to-coast. (Part of the reason that Fox is averaging such a high number of rebounds is that he doesn’t have to worry about point guards crashing the glass, so while the other four guys on the floor go find a body, Fox heads to the rim and grabs the board, the quickest way to ignite their break.) If that doesn’t work, all three of them can throw outlet passes 94 feet and drop them in the bucket like Aaron Rodgers throwing a fade route. They can be the guys running the lanes, catching those passes and finishing acrobatic layups with two guys draped all over them. They can throw the alleys and finish the oops.

But the key to their transition game?

They read each other so well. If Fox sees Briscoe is in a spot to get an outlet pass, he’s gone. If Monk is corralling a rebound, he knows Fox and Briscoe will be running the floor already. That’s why you see “possessions” for Kentucky that so often look like this:

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On the year, 28.7 percent of Kentucky’s offensive possessions come in transition, according to Synergy’s logs, which is second nationally only to a Savannah State team that has yet to record a win over a Division I opponent.

One of the criticisms of Coach Cal is that he’s only a recruiter. He doesn’t coach, he just rolls the ball out and lets the talent on his team takeover. Frankly, that’s what he’s doing this year, and it’s brilliant. He doesn’t need to micro-manage this group. All he had to do as devise a system that would play to their strengths and let their instincts takeover.

He did, and it’s working pretty well to date.


The key to beating Kentucky this season is to force them to play offense in the half-court. The closest anyone has come to doing that this season was Michigan State, and they held the Wildcats to a manageable 69 points. Kentucky has a perimeter shooting issue. Fox and Briscoe combined have made just five threes on the season and are shooting 20.8 percent from beyond the arc even after combining to go 3-for-3 against Arizona State on Monday night. Their best defensive lineup doesn’t really have a front court scoring threat while guys like Isaac Humphries and Derek Willis, upgrades offensively, limit how effective that Kentucky defense is.

The easiest way to slow down a team’s transition game is by scoring. Make them take the ball out of the net.

And the good news for Bruins fans is that UCLA not only has one of the nation’s most potent offenses themselves, but they just so happen to be able to do the things that you need to be able to do to operate against that Kentucky defense.

The biggest thing is that the Bruins, like the Wildcats, are terrific in transition. Believe it or not, UCLA actually plays at a faster tempo and has a shorter average length of possession than the Wildcats, according to KenPom.com. The best way to score on a great defense like Kentucky’s? Beat them down the floor and score before they’re set. Get uncontested layups. Get open threes before the defense can locate all of the shooters, of which UCLA has plenty.

Kentucky’s transition game is designed around getting those layups, using their speed to beat teams to the rim. UCLA’s is slightly different, geared towards getting the myriad of shooters on the roster open, rhythm threes. No one in the country is better at making that happen than Lonzo Ball, and I say that for three reasons: (1.) UCLA leads the nation in effective field goal percentage because (2.) they’re second in the nation in three-point percentage and (3.) they’re in the 88th percentile in transition points-per-possession just a year after finishing in the 21st percentile, according to Synergy, while (4.) Ball averages 9.6 assists, leading the nation.

In this case, the effect is two-fold: Not only will UCLA avoid having to run offense in the half court, it will keep Kentucky from getting out in transition at the same time.

It’s not crazy to think that UCLA’s best defense on Saturday will be fast break buckets.

But even if the Bruins are unable to get out and run, this is still a team with weapons that can break down Kentucky’s switching man-to-man defense.

Think back to the NBA Finals. The way the Cavaliers attacked Golden State’s switches was to create the mismatches that they wanted; in other words, they’d have whoever Stephen Curry was guarding set a ball-screen for LeBron James or Kyrie Irving, then sit back and let talent takeover.

You beat a switching defense by identifying the mismatch you want to take advantage of and force that switch.

Part of the reason that Kentucky’s switching has been so effective is that they haven’t run into a team who has guards that are capable of fully taking advantage of those mismatches. Is anyone really that worried about Tum Tum Nairn or Tra Holder? UCLA, however, does. Everyone should know how good Ball is at this point, but the other three pieces the Bruins have on the perimeter – Bryce Alford, Isaac Hamilton and Aaron Holiday – are talented as well. Combined, those three are averaging 46.4 points, 10.6 assists and shooting 44.8 percent from three on nearly 17 threes attempted per game.

They spread the floor with shooters, their perimeter is littered with playmakers and their bigs are skilled enough to be able to slip screens and take advantage of having a smaller guard on them.

The one thing UCLA does not do well is crash the glass, but that has a hidden benefit: keeping two or three guys behind the ball is a really good way to limit how many run-outs Kentucky can get.


Neither Kentucky nor UCLA has truly played a team that appears to be on their level this season, which is what makes this game so intriguing.

Lonzo Ball has played like the potential No. 1 pick in the draft and UCLA has looked like the hands-down favorite to win the Pac-12.

And Kentucky?

Playing them has been about as much fun as getting your hand caught in a meat grinder.

On Saturday, for really the first time this year, we’ll get a sense for whether or not their early-season hype has been justified. But more than that, we’ll see a game between two of the most entertaining teams in the country, two teams loaded with offensive firepower and future NBA players in a game where the winner will be the team that can run the floor better.

What more can you ask more?

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Frank Mason III still tops the list

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 15:  Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks in action against the Duke Blue Devils in the second half during the State Farm Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: Mason had a relatively quiet week, as the Jayhawks were able to cruise past Georgia in the CBE Classic title game and pick up a win over UNC Asheville over the weekend. On the season, the Kansas point guard is averaging 21.5 points, 5.0 assists and 4.3 boards while shooting 54.9 percent from the floor and 48.0 percent from three.

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Like Mason, Hart has had a quiet week, with his only game since the last time we checked in coming against Charleston. He’s still the leading scorer for the Wildcats and he’s still the most important player in Jay Wright’s ‘positionless’ attack. There was some talk during the offseason that Hart would be this year’s Buddy Hield or Denzel Valentine, the senior that made massive strides heading into his final season, and while Hart’s numbers aren’t all that much improved from where they were a year ago, he’s turned into a more well-rounded player.

He’s hitting 44.4 percent of his threes while shooting a career-high 4.5 threes per game while, according to Synergy, 29.5 percent of his offensive possessions come through ball-screen actions, where he’s scoring at a 1.185 PPP clip. Last season, just 12.5 percent of his offensive possessions were in ball-screens, and he scored just 0.875 PPP. His raw numbers haven’t made the same leap that Hield’s or Valentine’s did, but rest assured, Hart is a much-improved basketball player.

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: The Bruins passed their first real test of the season, as they took home the title in the Wooden Legacy with wins over Nebraska and Texas A&M. Lonzo Ball was the star of the show for the Bruins, as he’s been all season long. He’s averaging 16.0 points, 9.1 assists, 5.3 boards and 1.3 steals while shooting 57.4 percent from the floor and 48.6 percent from three. He’s been nothing short of phenomenal this season, and it’s going to be a thrill to see him square off with Kentucky and their star guards on Saturday afternoon in Rupp Arena.

4. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Last week, Isaiah Briscoe was the Kentucky guard that we had on this list. This week, it’s Fox, and while it’s hard to differentiate who in that group is the most important and the most valuable, I’m leaning Fox here because I think he’s the engine to Kentucky’s attack.

According to Synergy’s logs, 27.1 percent of Kentucky’s offensive possession come in transition. Better than 37 percent of the possessions that Fox uses are in transition. This is a team that’s built around perimeter pressure defensively creating those opportunities in transition, and Fox could be the best perimeter defender in all of college basketball. More than anyone, he is the player that makes this team go.

And for good measure, he’s averaging 15.3 points, 7.6 assists, 5.7 boards and 2.0 steals.

5. Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard was just OK in Duke’s wins over William & Mary and Appalachian State this week, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has been Duke’s best player this season and the star of the two biggest games the Blue Devils have played this season. Their head is still above water this year with Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Marques Bolden still out – and Grayson Allen dealing with a toe injury – because of how good Kennard has been.

6. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Roy Williams’ best teams are when he has a star point guard on the roster, and Berry looks like he is very much filling that role this season. He’s averaging 17.1 points, 4.3 boards and 4.3 assists with shooting splits of 55.1/47/1/93.3, and if the Tar Heels can win at Indiana on Wednesday night, I think it’s fair to say that Berry will be the best player on the team with the most impressive résumé in the country this season.

North Carolina's Joel Berry II (2) drives to the basket against Long Beach State's Gabe Levin (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
North Carolina’s Joel Berry II (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

7. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz has been magnificent through the first three weeks of the season – 23.0 points, 6.7 assists, 5.5 boards, 2.2 steals, 1.5 blocks, 55.3% FG, 43.5% 3PT. But there’s valid concern to the idea that Fultz will be the second straight No. 1 pick to miss out on the NCAA tournament. The Huskies have already lost to Yale at home and to TCU in Las Vegas.

8. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: The same thing can be said about Evans, who entered the season with no where near the same amount of hype as Fultz. He’s averaging 24.3 points, 5.3 assists and 2.8 steals right now, but the Cowboys one game against elite competition resulted in a 35-point loss at the hands of Oklahoma State.

9. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: We knew that Swanigan was going to be a monster on the block and on the glass, but what’s made him such a dangerous weapon this season – and what’s made Purdue so ruthless offensively – is his ability to space the floor. He’s making threes (5-of-8 on the year, but the threat of his jumper keeps defenses honest) and he’s become a terrific passer in high-low actions, which is part of the reason Isaac Haas has looked like Shaquille O’Neal at times this year.

10. Mo Watson, Creighton: Like Kentucky, there are a couple of players from Creighton that deserve consideration for this list, but we’ll got with Watson for now, who is the floor general for one of the nation’s most potent offensive attacks. He’s averaging 11.2 points and 8.5 assists, although his turnovers have been a bit higher than Greg McDermott would like.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
Deandre Burnett, Ole Miss
Monte’ Morris, Iowa State
Yante Maten, Georgia
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

Kentucky lands five-star 2016 guard De’Aaron Fox

Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox (Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Kentucky and head coach John Calipari landed their point guard of the future on Thursday as five-star Class of 2016 guard De’Aaron Fox pledged to the Wildcats during a televised announcement.

The 6-foot-3 Fox was one of the breakout players of the spring and summer on the grassroots circuit and many believe he’s the best guard prospect in a loaded Class of 2016. A native of Katy, Texas, Fox selected Kentucky over his other finalists of Kansas, Louisville and LSU. Fox took official visits to all four schools during the recruiting process.

A dynamic athlete who excels on both ends of the floor, Fox is one of the premier perimeter defenders in the class and he’s also made tremendous strides to become a complete guard over the last year. Equipped with a pull-up jumper and good range, Fox has also improved his ability to play point guard, as he led the Nike EYBL in assists this spring at 5.4 per game.

By adding a guard like Fox, the Wildcats will be okay if Jamal Murray, Isaiah Briscoe or Tyler Ulis opt to turn pro because it’s likely that Fox is a starter from the opening game. In 21 games this spring and summer with Houston Hoops, Fox averaged 17.5 points, 5.7 assists and 4.9 rebounds per game. Fox also averaged 2.7 steals per game and will be an impact playing passing lanes as well.

Regarded as the No. 5 overall prospect in the national class, Fox joins five-star big men Wenyen Gabriel and Sacha Killeya-Jones in Kentucky’s 2016 class. Getting Fox also puts Kentucky squarely in the conversation for the No. 1 class in the country, especially since the Wildcats are pursuing a lot of other five-star options that are still available.

Five-star 2016 point guard sets four official visits

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A couple weeks after cutting his list of schools down to seven, one of the top players in the Class of 2016 is ready to begin taking official visits.

As reported by Evan Daniels of Scout.com, five-star guard De’Aaron Fox has scheduled four official visits for this fall with LSU having the honor of hosting him first. Fox will visit LSU the weekend of September 18, with that being followed by trips to Louisville (September 26), Kansas (October 10) and Kentucky (October 17).

The visits to Kansas and Kentucky will be on important recruiting weekends for both programs, with Kansas hosting its annual “Late Night in the Phog” festivities and Kentucky having “Big Blue Madness.”

That schedule leaves Fox with one available official visit remaining, and it remains to be seen which of the other three schools on his list will win out for that trip (or if he uses it at all). Per Scout.com, Fox also has home visits set up with LSU, Kansas, Arizona, NC State and Kentucky before he takes his first official visit.

In mid-August Fox announced that he’d narrowed his list to Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, NC State and North Carolina.

Five-star guard De’Aaron Fox cuts list to seven schools

Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox (Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Five-star Class of 2016 guard De’Aaron Fox cut his list to seven schools on Friday, sources confirmed to NBCSports.com. The 6-foot-3 Fox is one of the best two-way guards in the class and he has the ability to change the game on both ends of the floor.

After a huge month of July, Fox is down to Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, LSU, North Carolina and N.C. State.

During this spring and summer with Houston Hoops in the Nike EYBL, Fox played in 23 games and averaged 17.5 points, 5.7 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game. Regarded as the No. 9 overall prospect, according to Rivals, Fox is a major impact recruit who could play a little bit of both guard spots at the next level.

While Fox has shown a comfort level off the ball as a scorer in the past, he showcased an ability to play point guard this spring by leading the EYBL in assists.

Fox has only visited Kansas on an unofficial among the schools left on his list, so things appears pretty wide open in the recruiting process.