The John R. Wooden Award announced five finalists for the nation’s most outstanding college basketball player on Monday.
The group is highlighted by three players who will participate in the Final Four. Wisconsin senior center Frank Kaminsky, Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor, Kentucky junior center Willie Cauley-Stein, Notre Dame senior guard Jerian Grant and Ohio State freshman guard D’Angelo Russell are the five finalists.
The winner will be announced April 10 at 8 p.m. ET on the College Basketball Awards Show.
The Wooden All-Americans were also announced, with Wichita State junior guard Ron Baker, Northern Iowa senior forward Seth Tuttle, Virginia junior guard Malcolm Brogdon, Utah senior guard Delon Wright and Gonzaga junior Kyle Wiltjer joining the five national player of the year candidates.
No. 3 Notre Dame knocks off No. 7 Wichita State to get to the Elite 8
For the first time since 1979, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are headed to the Elite 8.
And man, did they make a statement along the way.
With 16:41 left in the game, No. 7 Wichita State completed their comeback from an early 13-point deficit, using a 6-0 spurt to take a 38-37 lead, their first of the game. It would also be their last lead of the game, as No. 3 Notre Dame hit eight straight shots and 15 of their next 17 field goals as they went on a game-winning 38-16 run over the course of the next 12 minutes.
“We got going a little bit,” head coach Mike Brey said in his postgame interview on CBS. “We guarded to get out of here, and then we got into one of those offensive rhythms.”
Demetrius Jackson was terrific for the Irish, finishing with 20 points and three assists, while Pat Connaughton added 16 points and 10 boards, but the real star of the night was Jerian Grant, who made the evisceration of a good Shocker defense seem effortless.
Grant had nine points and 11 assists while committing just two turnovers, putting on a clinic in how to run the pick-and-roll. Wichita State put Tekele Cotton on Grant, and he actually did a pretty good job in limiting the first-team all-american’s ability to score. But what the Irish do offensively is to spread the floor with shooters, which created quite a bit of space for center Zach Auguste rolling to the rim; Auguste was 6-for-6 from the floor and had 15 points. When Wichita State’s defense slid over to help, Grant picked out those shooters, as the Irish went 9-for-19 from beyond the arc.
The question that everyone is going to ask after seeing Notre Dame put on this kind of offensive clinic is whether or not the Irish can get to the Final Four, a path that, you would assume, runs through No. 1 Kentucky. The conversation is going to be dominated by talk of whether or not the Irish can actually get that win, but for now, it may be moot.
At least to Notre Dame.
Brey is a terrific basketball coach, a guy that has won more than 400 career games in his 15 seasons at Notre Dame, but his relative lack of tournament success has left him the butt of jokes. This is Brey’s first trip to the Elite 8, and it was only the second time at Notre Dame that he even reached the second weekend, the first since 2003. And given what he’s been through this week, with his mother passing away the day of Notre Dame’s win over No. 6 Butler, what choice does Brey have beyond living in the moment.
Frankly, I don’t think who they play matters to Brey, who, according to reporters in Cleveland, walked into the press room early and, when told he could wait for his turn at the podium in a back room, asked, “Is there a bar in it?”
He’s not worried about who he plays. He’s just happy to be playing another game.
As he told CBS after the game, “see you Saturday, baby.”
Kaminsky has greatly outperformed expectations he had entering the season, even though he was a preseason all-american pick. He’s been sensational, leading the Badgers in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks and steals. Not bad for a guy that averaged 10 minutes as a sophomore.
Jahlil Okafor, Duke (17.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg)
Okafor is an easy pick as well, as he was the most dominating offensive force in the country this season. To get an idea of just how good he can be, think about this: He’s not just a poor defender, he can be downright awful at times, and yet he’s going to finish the season as a consensus first team all-american and the runner-up to Kaminsky in the Player of the Year voting. Not bad.
D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State (19.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.2 apg)
If Kaminsky has been the nation’s best player and Okafor has been the most dominating offensive force, than Russell has to be the nation’s most entertaining player. He can take over a game with his ability to score, and he throws some absurd passes in transition. Can he be this year’s Shabazz Napier in the NCAA tournament?
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame (16.8 ppg, 6.7 apg)
The Irish have no business being a top ten team this season, but they are because Grant has been incredible. Notre Dame has one of the most potent offensive attacks in the country, and it all centers around Grant’s ability to make plays off the dribble and in ball-screen actions. He’s better than anyone else in the country at making his teammate’s better.
Cauley-Stein’s numbers don’t measure up to anyone else on the first team, but what he does best doesn’t necessarily show up in the scorebook. The Wildcats are downright dominant on the defensive end of the floor, and Cauley-Stein is the engine that drives them. He’s the best perimeter and the best interior defender in the country all at the same time.
NBCSPORTS.COM’S SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
Delon Wright, Utah (14.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.1 spg): Wright did so much for Utah this season, and while his numbers were impressive, it was his defense and ability to understand his strengths offensively that were most important to the Utes.
Kris Dunn, Providence (15.5 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 7.4 apg): The only reason Dunn isn’t in the conversation for National Player of the Year is that he turns the ball over too much. He was completely dominant at times this season.
Buddy Hield, Oklahoma (17.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg): Hield has a rep for being one of the nation’s best defenders, dating back to his freshman season. Now he’s also one of the best wing scorers.
Rico Gathers, Baylor (11.6 ppg, 11.7 rpg): Gathers is the nation’s best rebounder, an improving scorer on the block and a critical component for arguably the nation’s most surprising team.
Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse (17.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.5 bpg): He won’t get to showcase his ability this March, but there was not a more improved player in the country than Christmas this season.
NBCSPORTS.COM’S THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICANS
T.J. McConnell, Arizona (9.6 ppg, 6.3 apg, 2.1 spg): McConnell’s numbers are nowhere near as impressive as the other lead guards here, but if you watched Arizona play over the last two months, you understand just how important he was to that team’s success.
Melo Trimble, Maryland (16.1 ppg, 3.1 apg): Maryland is ranked 31st in KenPom. Yet, they’re a top ten team that’s going to be a top four seed because they’re 11-0 in games decided by six points or less. Trimble is their ‘closer’. He earned this spot.
Justin Anderson, Virginia (13.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 48.5% 3PT): Anderson was in the mix for first team all-american when he broke his finger. He deserves recognition despite missing time.
Bobby Portis, Arkansas (17.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg): I was called out by an Arkansas assistant coach for having Bobby Portis ranked 62nd in our top 100 players list in the preseason. That coach was right.
Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa (15.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.3 apg): I’m fully on the Tuttle bandwagon. He’s a low-post scorer with three point range, the ability to put the ball on the floor and terrific vision. He’s Frank Kaminsky 2.0.
Player of the Year Power Rankings: Why Jerian Grant, Kyle Wiltjer need more attention
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: A quick update on Kaminsky’s potentially historic season. Wisconsin has slid back a bit in recent weeks and is now on pace to be just the fourth most efficient offense in the KenPom era (2002-2015). Kaminsky is still putting up ridiculous numbers, however, with an offensive rating of 126.3 while using 27.5 percent of Wisconsin’s possessions when he’s on the floor.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: I’ve said numerous times in this space that Okafor has the offensive skill set to one day become an all-time great big man. Here are three reasons why:
That’s a 6-foot-11, 270 pound 19-year old making those moves. Are you kidding me?
3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: The Irish are 24-4 on the season and are going to finish the season as a top four team in the ACC despite having a defense ranked 165th in adjusted efficiency, according to KenPom, and playing almost half of every game with a lineup that uses 6-foot-5 Bonzie Colson as the center. It’s incredible how much better Grant makes everyone on that team. He’s still not getting enough attenion, so I’m just going to leave this right here.
5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Josh Richardson is Tennessee’s best player this season. A 6-foot-6 wing, he is averaging 15.7 points and 3.6 assists while shooting 36.5 percent from three. He also runs the point for the Vols from time-to-time. On Tuesday night, when Kentucky played at Tennessee, Cauley-Stein — Kentucky’s 7-foot-1 center — drew the assignment of covering Richardson, who finished 4-for-14 from the floor:
He also drew the assignment of covering Auburn’s K.T. Harrell. Cauley-Stein might be the best defensive center in the country. He might also be the best perimeter defender in the country. He can single-handily take any advantage an opposing team has when they run a screen-and-roll by his ability to switch out onto ball-handlers.
6. Delon Wright, Utah: The Utes fell at Oregon over the weekend, putting their Pac-12 title hopes in jeopardy, but that shouldn’t take any of the luster off of the season that Wright is having. We’ve discussed this before, but one of the things that makes Wright so efficient offensively despite the fact that he doesn’t make many threes is that he’s incredible at getting to the rim and finishing over bigger players. If you didn’t believe me, here’s some visual proof:
7. Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn had 21 points, four boards, four assists and four steals in last week’s win over DePaul, a relatively mediocre win for the guy that should be in everyone’s college basketball FanDuel lineups whenever he is suiting up. But he also had six turnovers in that game, which is not all that surprising considering that he is averaging 4.2 turnovers on the season. Is that the reason that he doesn’t show up on more Player of the Year listings?
8. T.J. McConnell, Arizona: This isn’t necessarily going to be about T.J. McConnell, but I wanted to take the chance to highlight a brilliant coaching move from Sean Miller over the weekend. With Arizona locked in a tight game at home against UCLA, Miller noticed that the Bruins had switched to a 3-2 zone late in the second half. Kevon Looney, who was killing the Wildcats in the second half, was playing at the top of the zone. He also had four fouls, so Miller called for a set play — one he likely implemented that week while prepping for the game — where Stanley Johnson and Gabe York set in-screens on the two wings, leaving Looney to guard McConnell 1-on-1. McConnell goes by him and draws Looney’s fifth foul, getting the potential lottery pick out of the game:
9. Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa: As long as the Panthers and Wichita State can get past their midweek games, they’ll head into Saturday — the final game of the regular season — tied for first place in the Missouri Valley. On a Saturday with some unreal matchups, that might end up being the best of the day.
10. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: The only reason Justin Anderson isn’t listed here is because he’s dealing with that broken finger, but don’t let that take away from the season that Wiltjer has had. He’s 17.4 points and 5.8 boards he’s averaging while shooting 46.9 percent from three is impressive in and of itself, but when you look at his efficiency numbers is when it goes from good to great. Wiltjer’s offensive rating, according to KenPom, is 132.1, an insanely high number before you even consider the fact that he’s using 26.3 percent of Gonzaga’s possessions. Only one other player since 2004, when KenPom started keeping track of these numbers, has had an offensive rating above 130 while using at least 24 percent of his team’s possessions.
If Wiltjer wasn’t such a question mark on the defensive end, he’d be much higher on this list.
OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Justin Anderson (Virginia), Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Tyler Haws (BYU), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Jarell Martin (LSU), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Georges Niang (Iowa State), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Melo Trimble (Maryland), Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Joseph Young (Oregon)
Late Night Snacks: No. 1 Kentucky, No. 20 Baylor pull away for road wins; No. 17 Oklahoma outlasts Texas
The Sooners made a late rally to pick up another solid Big 12 home win over rival Texas. The Longhorns continue to go back and worth between winning against mediocre competition and losing to top-25 caliber teams. Jordan Woodard had 13 points and Buddy Hield added 12 points as both had off-shooting nights but still found enough at the end for the Sooners. Myles Turner had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the loss for Texas.
1. No. 1 Kentucky 66, Tennessee 48
This one was close for over a half, but Kentucky had too much in the end and outlasted the Vols on the road. Devin Booker looked like a go-to scorer for the Wildcats as he scored 18 points and grabbed seven rebounds and took 16 shots on the night. Andrew Harrison added 14 points and Trey Lyles put in 10 points.
2. South Carolina 64, Georgia 58
When Georgia gets to Selection Sunday, they’ll sweat looking back at this recent stretch. The Gamecocks swept the Bulldogs this season and Tuesday’s loss also meant that Georgia has lost to Auburn and South Carolina in back-to-back home games.
3. No. 20 Baylor 54, Texas Tech 49
In a tight game that went down to the end, Baylor held on for a road win to go 7-6 in the Big 12. Taurean Prince scored 18 of his 22 points in the first half — including three 3-pointers — to get the Bears going early.
1. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant
The senior had 24 points, 10 assists, 5 steals and 3 rebounds in a win over Wake Forest. The All-American candidate was
2. Stony Brook’s Jameel Warney
Albany came into this game unbeaten in the America East and lost as Warney went for 20 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks in a huge road win. The Seawolves are now 18-10 on the season and are in good position for some kind of postseason berth along with Albany.
3. Michigan State’s Branden Dawson
The senior had 23 points, 13 rebounds and four assists in a win over in-state rival Michigan. Dawson was 10-for-12 from the field.
1. St. John’s Rysheed Jordan
When the talented junior has an off-game, the Red Storm usually struggles. That was the case in a loss to Georgetown on Tuesday night as Jordan was 1-for-6 from the field for three points to go along with three turnovers.
2. Texas’ Isaiah Taylor and Jonathan Holmes
The Longhorns needed this duo to come through on the road and Taylor went 1-for-10 and Holmes went 2-for-9 from the field in the two-point loss. Both experienced starters contributed next to nothing on the offensive end.
OTHER TOP 25 RESULTS
No. 13 Wichita State defeated Southern Illinois by double digits as Shaquille Morris had 17 points and Ron Baker and Fred Van Vleet each had 13 points.
Treveon Graham went for 16 points as No. 25 VCU beat Saint Louis, 74-54. The Rams shot 46 percent from the field and only turned the ball over eight times.
Georgetown put six different players in double figures — five of them with 12 points each — in a Big East win over St. John’s. Isaac Copeland had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Texas A&M had a big win over LSU as Danuel House had 20 points and Kourtney Roberson had 16 points and 11 rebounds.
San Diego State won on the road at New Mexico as Aqeel Quinn had 20 points and Malik Pope had 16 points.
Alabama picked up a road win over Auburn as Levi Randolph had 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Evansville outlasted Drake for a Missouri Vally win as D.J. Balentine had 24 points.
South Florida earned a win over Houston in the American as Troy Holston Jr. had 18 points.
Longwood defeated Liberty as Leron Fisher had 24 points, four points, four assists and four steals.
Cleveland State at Western Carolina was cancelled due to winter weather.
Austin Peay at Eastern Kentucky was also postponed due to weather.
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Dan Dakich, polarizing as he is, is one of the best color commentators currently working in college hoops, and he had an interesting statement early on in Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska last week. “I don’t think you should double Kaminsky,” Dakich. “The weakness of Kaminsky’s game is going to score on the block, and when you double Kaminsky you leave others open.”
It was an interesting comment, because Kaminsky is quite proficient at scoring on the block. According to Synergy’s logs, 25.5 percent of the possessions Kaminsky uses are post-ups, and he’s scoring 1.011 points-per-possession (PPP) on those post touches. But it’s also where Kaminsky is actually the least-efficient, at least according to the logs on Synergy, which goes to show you just how good of a player Kaminsky actually is.
But that’s neither here nor there, and while I can show you any number of the beautiful post moves that Kaminsky had against Illinois on Sunday, that goes against the point that Dakich is trying to make. Wisconsin has too many capable passers on their roster, too many guys that are smart, and willing, enough to make a pass when a teammate comes open, and the result of doubling Kaminsky in the post is likely going to end up being an open jumper or a Wisconsin player attacking a close out.
In other words, Dakich you’re better off taking your chances 1-on-1 against Kaminsky on the block than letting the Badgers move the ball and move your defense. But frankly, neither option is ideal, because … well, because of this:
There’s a reason Wisconsin is on pace to be the most efficient offense in KenPom’s database.
2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Okafor responded to getting bumped out of the top spot in these rankings by going for 23 points and 13 boards on 10-for-15 shooting while holding Syracuse’s all-american center Rakeem Christmas to 11 points on 5-for-17 shooting, easily his worst game of the season.
Okafor’s season has been a fascinating one to track. He’s exceeded the hype that he had coming out of high school. He’s averaging 18.2 points and 9.3 boards on a top five team. He’s the centerpiece of the nation’s second-most efficient offense. He’s a throw-back big man, a low-post player with the kind of quick feet, soft touch and back-to-the-basket arsenal that has evoked comparisons to the likes of Tim Duncan and Kevin McHale.
We haven’t seen a player with his skill set in a long, long time, but the discussion seems to always be leaning towards who is catching up to Okafor, not how good he has been and continues to be. The same way that Kaminsky has surpassed him atop Player of the Year rankings, there is talk that Karl Towns — and, potentially, D’Angelo Russell — could end up getting picked No. 1 this June. While that’s not exactly unexpected, I hope everyone can appreciate what they’re watching with Okafor. It will be a long time before we someone that can do what he does again.
3. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: The last month of Russell’s collegiate career will be interesting to watch. After a stretch where he completely dominated the sport for a solid three-week stretch, Russell has struggled in three of his last four games. Ignoring the triple-double against Rutgers — that’s a lot to ignore, I know — Russell is shooting 34.1 percent from the floor and 5-for-19 from three against Purdue, Penn State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes lost to both the Boilermakers and the Spartans on the road.
Not that he wasn’t before, but Russell is going to be the focal point of everywhere defensive scheme the rest of the season. It’s a point of pride now; no one wants to be caught playing lazy defensively on the next vine of an absurd Russell bounce-pass that gets a million loops. How will he respond to really, truly being guarded?
4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: I still don’t think Grant is getting the credit that he deserves for just how good he has been this season, and the sad thing is that he may never get it. More than any other team in the country — save, maybe, Indiana — the Irish are completely buoyed by their elite offensive attack, and Grant is the centerpiece of that offense. When he gets taken away — as Quinn Cook did in the second meeting with Duke, a 90-60 blowout loss — the Irish look lost. But if this group ends up getting bounced early in the NCAA tournament again, he’ll end up getting written off as just another overhyped star on an overrated Notre Dame team. I hope that doesn’t happen.
5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein has been paying attention to his detractors, it seems. “I feel the whole criticism is I’m soft. Or something like that,” he told reporters after Kentucky’s win over South Carolina on Saturday. “I’m just going to dunk over people. I don’t see how you can start calling me soft if I’m dunking on people. That’s my whole mentality going into games now.” That’s scary, because that quote came a week after he did this to Florida’s Devin Robinson and five days after dunking on LSU’s Jordan Mickey four times in one game. Whatever Cauley-Stein has planned next, let’s just hope he will continue to wear hats like this:
6. Delon Wright, Utah: At this point, Wright is probably somewhat underrated from a national perspective. He’s the point man for a Utah defense that is No. 7 nationally, according to KenPom, and he also happens to be one of the most efficient offense players in the country despite the fact that he doesn’t shoot a ton of threes, a difficult task for a point guard. How? He rarely makes the wrong play. He’s sports one of the nation’s best assist rates as well as one of the highest assist-to-turnover ratios. He rarely settles for jumpers, instead attacking the paint where he’s a 58.1 percent shooter from inside the arc. He finishes around the rim, he draws fouls and he makes his free throws.
In short, Wright understands what his strengths and weaknesses are as a player, and he plays to them. That’s an incredibly valuable skill for a star with a notable weakness (three-point range) to have.
7. Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn has put up some incredible numbers this season — 15.4 points, 5.8 boards, 7.6 assists — but he’s simply been a turnover machine at times. He’s averaging 4.2 giveaways on the season, and he’s committed less than three turnovers in just six of the 26 games the Friars have played. Those turnovers are the reason he rarely shows up on Player of the Year lists.
8. T.J. McConnell, Arizona: Stanley Johnson might end up being the popular pick for the All-American on this year’s Arizona roster, but I think McConnell is having a more valuable, if not better season. He’s embraced his role as point guard when Arizona is playing well, but he’s also taken over games in which the Wildcats have struggled.
9. Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa: Only two players in the country — BYU’s Tyler Haws and UC-Davis’ Corey Hawkins — have a higher offensive rating than Tuttle while using at least 28.0 percent of their team’s offensive possessions than Tuttle. He’s an unbelievable shooter — 48.6 percent from three and 65.5 percent from two — that anchors Northern Iowa’s offense. He’s can also do things like this:
Tuttle deserves to be in this conversation.
10. Justin Anderson, Virginia: We’ll get into this a little more later this afternoon, but if Virginia’s struggles over the course of the last three games have proven anything, it’s that Justin Anderson truly deserved his spot on this list. He’s Virginia’s best shooter, best perimeter defender, toughest player and leader. Replacing that was not as easy as some of us (ahem, me) originally thought.
OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse), Tyler Haws (BYU), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Jarell Martin (LSU), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Georges Niang (Iowa State), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Melo Trimble (Maryland), Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Joseph Young (Oregon)