Malik Monk

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Has this become a two-horse race?

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1. Josh Hart, Villanova
2. Frank Mason III, Kansas: At this point, I think that the National Player of the Year award has turned into a two-man race between Hart and Mason. Hart is the leader at this point. Villanova is undefeated, the No. 1 team in the country and, as it stands, looking like a team with a very, very real chance to repeat as national champions. He’s improved on the floor as a player and is putting up numbers on par with anyone else on this list in addition to the fact that he seemingly makes every clutch play for the Wildcats in every big game.

That said, I’m going to keep beating this drum: Frank Mason is not far behind Hart when it comes to his Player of the Year standing. He’s the go-to guy, the leading scorer, one of the most efficient high-usage players in the country and the leader of a top five team. People seem to have forgotten about his performance against Indiana in the season-opener and his game-winner against Duke in Madison Square Garden because they happened so long ago, but they happened.

Mason is every bit a deserving Player of the Year choice, and I expect that he’ll only add to his résumé this season, but as of today, Hart is the more deserving pick.

Bottom-line: This is going to be a fun race to follow.

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Ball has seemingly hit a little bit of a slump here in the last couple of weeks. He was just OK against Ohio State and Western Michigan. Outside of a three-minute stretch in the second half where he banged home three threes he wasn’t all that good in the loss at Oregon. He was terrific in a win at Oregon State, but Oregon State is Oregon State. He’s still clearly a first-team all-american, but as of today, he’s not in the same conversation as Mason and Hart when it comes to Player of the Year.

4. Luke Kennard, Duke: In the one game that Duke played last week, Luke Kennard scored 34 points and shot 11-for-18 from the floor … in a 14-point loss at Virginia Tech that never felt like it was in doubt. It feels really weird to say this, but think about where Duke would be right now if they didn’t have Kennard. Grayson Allen and Coach K would be out – one via suspension, the other via back surgery – and the pressure would be rising on Harry Giles III, Marques Bolden and Frank Jackson to figure it out as Jayson Tatum struggled to find his footing as Duke’s star. They certainly wouldn’t be a top ten team at this point in the season, and I don’t think anyone could have predicted that to be the case.

5. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan’s Boilermakers lost on Sunday afternoon, falling to Minnesota in overtime at home, but Biggie was as good as he’s been at any point this season. He had 28 points and 22 boards against the Gophers, his fourth 20-20 games of the season. He’s had a double-double in 13 of 15 games this season and hasn’t had less than eight boards in any game. He’s currently averaging 18.1 points and 13.0 boards, the latter of which is second-nationally.

6. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox is still my pick for the MVP of Kentucky this season. He’s the guy that gets that makes that transition game work and he’s the point man for Kentucky’s defense, which has been a nightmare for the majority of their opponents to deal with. Monk’s been terrific. Fox has been better.

7. Mo Watson, Creighton: Watson was unbelievable in Creighton’s win over Seton Hall in their Big East opener, finishing with 21 points, 10 assists and five boards, but he struggled mightily in their loss to No. 1 Villanova. Watson was 2-for-7 from the floor, finished with six points and five assists and, most importantly, fouled out while trying to slow down Jalen Brunson, who finished with 27 points, five assists and four boards.

8. Malik Monk, Kentucky: Monk shook off a rough night against Louisville last week with a 34-point performance in his first career SEC game, a trip to Oxford to take on Ole Miss. His ability to score in transition combined with hot he can get shooting the three makes him the most dangerous and explosive scorer in the country.

9. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The beauty of Baylor this year is that they don’t really have one guy that they totally rely on, which makes it hard to pick out one player as their MVP or Player of the Year candidate. Motley is their leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. And he’s probably the player that can least afford to play without, mainly because he’s really, really good. So he’s the easy choice to make this list.

10. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz’s one season in college can be summed up by what happened in his one game last week. Fultz finished with 26 points, 11 assists, nine boards and two blocks in his first career Pac-12 game, but he shot 11-for-26 from the floor, turned the ball over six times and, most importantly, lost at home to Washington State.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Yante Maten, Georgia
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Kelan Martin, Butler
Amile Jefferson, Duke
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
T.J. Leaf, UCLA
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

VIDEO: Malik Monk with a ridiculous coast-to-coast bucket

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Kentucky’s Malik Monk might go for 40 again tonight. He has 24 first half points against Ole Miss, including this ridiculous, coast-to-coast bucket:

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Malik Monk climbs as top five is intact

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1. Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart is now averaging 20.1 points on the season after a 26-point outburst in Villanova’s win over Temple. The Wildcats likely won’t be challenged again until a New Year’s Eve trip to Omaha to take on Creighton, followed by a visit to Indianapolis for Butler four days later. That that means is that, barring a catastrophic injury, Hart is going to enter league play as the favorite to win National Player of the Year.

2. Frank Mason III, Kansas: Mason’s numbers this season are ridiculous: he’s averaging 20.3 points, 5.6 assists and 4.6 boards while shooting, as a point guard, 56 percent from the floor and 52.3 percent from three. His two best games came in the two biggest games of the year for the Jayhawks. But what I think is the most remarkable about Mason’s season has been his consistency. He’s scored 18 points or handed out at least eight assists in every game this season. He’s finished with fewer than 18 points just once and fewer than five assists just twice. Only twice has he turned the ball over more than three times. After starting the season 2-for-10 from three, he’s shot 60.5 percent from beyond the arc in the last eight games.

In a year with arguably the best crop of point guards we’ve ever seen in college hoops, Mason has been the best of the bunch. Considering some of the other names on this list, that should tell you something.

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Ball was just OK, by his standards, in two UCLA wins last week. He had 13 points, 10 boards and seven assists in a 40-point win over UCSB and eight points, nine boards and nine assists in a 13-point win over Ohio State. Imagine being so good that averaging 10.5 points, 9.5 boards and 8.0 assists in two games is considered “just OK”.

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins brings the ball up the court against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UCLA won 86-73. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Lonzo Ball (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

4. Luke Kennard, Duke: He did it again on Monday night. With the Blue Devils caught totally out of rhythm against Tennessee State, a game in which they trailed 36-34 midway through the second half, Kennard was the savior. He finished with a team-high 24 points. At one point in the second half, Kennard had 22 points on 7-for-9 shooting while his teammates, combined, had 23 points on 6-for-29 shooting.

5. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
6. Malik Monk, Kentucky: What can be said about the 47 point outburst that Malik Monk had over the weekend that hasn’t been said yet? For me, the most important part of that performance was that head coach John Calipari showed a willingness to run set plays specifically designed to get Monk shots, and Monk showed the ability to score when those plays were run for him. This is big because, as we’ve said many times before, the way to attack Kentucky is to try and force them to play a half court game. Monk looks like he could be the antidote to that ailment.

But while Monk is getting all the accolades after the outburst that he had in Kentucky’s win over North Carolina, but I would make the argument that De’Aaron Fox has been the better player this season. He’s averaging 15.9 points, 7.2 assists and 1.7 steals as the guy that ignites that Kentucky transition game and the point man for their defense that, with the exception of games against UCLA and UNC, has been overwhelming. Put another way, I think Kentucky would be able to survive Monk getting in foul trouble or spraining an ankle better than they would if Fox was dealing with the same injury.

That said, I think it’s clear that those two work in tandem and have quite clearly become the most dangerous 1-2 punch in college hoops. Think about this: Kentucky scored 103 points in that win over North Carolina. Monk and Fox, who finished with 71 points and 12 assists combined, were responsible for (at least*) 87 of those points.

*(That does not include free throws where Monk and Fox ‘assisted’ in creating the foul.)

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7. Mo Watson, Creighton: Creighton flirted with disaster over the weekend, nearly losing to an Oral Roberts team that entered the game at 2-9 on the season and rated 274th on KenPom. I’m going to chalk that one up to the Bluejays overlooking an opponent during finals week. Moving on.

8. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: The Tar Heels lost a thriller to Kentucky on Saturday, a game that literally came down to the final possession. If it wasn’t for that eruption from Malik Monk – truthfully, if it wasn’t for a three he hit with 15 seconds left – we would have spent the last 72 hours talking about how we need to consider North Carolina as a potential ACC and national title contender.

Now think about that performance and what happened against Tennessee last Sunday. The difference in those two games? The presence of Joel Berry II on the floor for the Tar Heels. That should tell you all you need to know about how good he has been this season.

9. Amile Jefferson, Duke: Jefferson dropped a spot this week because there was no justification for keeping Malik Monk out of the top six. But if Monday’s debut from Harry Giles III showed us anything, it’s that the freshman that hasn’t played basketball in 14 months is going to need some time to get up to speed. Jefferson’s job anchoring that Duke front line isn’t over yet.

10. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz is still doing ridiculous things on basketball courts. He came within two assists of posting Washington’s first-ever triple-double over the weekend and is now averaging 23.2 points, 7.0 boards and 6.5 assists this season while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 50 percent from three. The raw numbers that Fultz is putting up are one thing – whoever the lead guard is in Lorenzo Romar’s system is always going to put up numbers – but what is more impressive is the efficiency with which Fultz is doing it.

Fultz is top 40 nationally in usage rate playing on a team that is top 15 in pace while playing 34 minutes a night for a program that is talent-deficient around him. And yet, he’s shooting 50 percent on twos and 50 percent on threes with a better-than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and an offensive rating of 121.2, an insanely good number given the circumstances.

It’s so disappointing that Fultz is doing this on a team where his relevancy didn’t even last until Christmas.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
T.J. Leaf, UCLA
Yante Maten, Georgia
Johnathan Motley, Baylor
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

Five Things We Learned This Week: Malik Monk, Justin Jackson and Aaron Holiday

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1. Malik Monk is the most dangerous scorer in college basketball: We all saw the 47 points that he scored, right?

And if you didn’t see it you’ve at least heard about it by now, correct?

On Saturday, squaring off against No. 7 North Carolina, Monk went 18-for-28 from the floor and 8-for-12 from three en route to a 47-point eruption, which included a pair of threes in the final two minutes to give the Wildcats a 103-100 win. I honestly cannot remember an individual performance as impressive – I’m sure there’s been one – and it’s critical for the Wildcats for two reasons:

  1. That vaunted Kentucky defense doesn’t look so scary all of a sudden. In the two games they’ve played against elite competition, the Wildcats have now given up 197 points in 162 possessions, or 1.216 PPP, which is a pretty bad number. If this group is going to make a deep tournament run, they’re going to be playing in games where they will need to score in the 90s to win, and I think Monk has proven that he’s capable and unafraid of being the guy to carry this team.
  2. Monk is far and away the most effective player this Kentucky team has in half court settings. Coach Cal knows this, which is why he put in set plays to run specifically to ensure that Monk would get the ball in a spot where he can do some damage. They worked. The key to beating this Kentucky team is keeping them out of transition, where they are just too fast to defend. Forcing them to execute in the half court is the better option given some of the issues they have with perimeter shooting and floor-spacing, but if Monk is going to consistently be able to score when plays are run for him, it makes UK that much more effective offensively.
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 17: Justin Jackson #44 of the North Carolina Tar Heels drives to the basket against De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats during the CBS Sports Classic at T-Mobile Arena on December 17, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Kentucky won 103-100. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Justin Jackson. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

2. UNC’s stars gave us reason to believe in them: We learned just how valuable Joel Berry II was last week, when North Carolina struggled at home with Davidson and Tennessee as Berry nursed an injured ankle back to health. If that didn’t prove it to you, then his 23 points and seven assists on Saturday against Kentucky should have.

Berry was terrific.

He was also the second-best player on North Carolina that day, as junior wing Justin Jackson went for a career-high 34 points and kept the Tar Heels within striking distance while their front court seemingly spent the entire game battling foul trouble. That matters, because it is really the first time against competition like this that Jackson has shown that he’s capable of throwing the Tar Heels on his back and carrying them. He damn near led them to a win, too; his three with two minutes left to give UNC their first lead since the opening seconds will go down as one of the biggest shots he’ll ever make even if it doesn’t matter at this point.

The bottom line is this: I’m not sold on UNC’s front court. I think that the Tar Heels were a bit overrated after the way they started the season. But Jackson and Berry very nearly dragged this team to a come-from-behind win over a really good Kentucky team that had a star player going all NBA Jam. That’s notable even in a loss.

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3. Aaron Holiday is the best sixth-man in the country: There are 351 Division I programs in college basketball. There are, at most, five or six programs where Holiday wouldn’t step in and immediately start in their back court. There probably aren’t 20 teams in America where he wouldn’t be the best player on the roster. And yet, Holiday – the younger brother of NBA guards Jrue and Justin – is content working as UCLA’s sixth-man as a sophomore after starting his freshman season.

In fact, he’s more than content. He’s thriving, averaging 14.4 points, 4.1 assists and 1.4 steals. He’s shooting 53.3 percent from three, which leads the team. He’s playing more than 26 minutes a night. He had a team-high 20 points in UCLA’s win over Ohio State. He had 13 points and four assists in the first half of the win at Kentucky, his play changing the course of the game.

It works because of his versatility. He can replace any of Lonzo Ball, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton and do what they do. He is a point guard by trade, but he’s also capable of playing off the ball as a shooter and can score when he puts the ball on the floor. He’s also a very good on-ball defender, which isn’t necessarily the case for the rest of UCLA’s perimeter. He’s clearly not this team’s MVP, but the Bruins would not be where they are right now without him.

Not just because of his skill set.

But because he embraced the “demotion” of coming off the bench.

4. Can Notre Dame close out games?: Two Saturdays in a row now we’ve seen the Fighting Irish jump out to big first half leads against two of the best teams in the country, and two Saturdays in a row we’ve seen them give those leads right back. The Irish blew an 11-point first half lead against Villanova two weeks ago, following that up by losing to Purdue after holding a 14 point lead at the break.

Point guard Matt Farrell, who has starred in both of those games, was blunt when he asked what happened.

“I think it’s just toughness,” he said. “This is two times now we’ve had double-digit leads and it’s come down to defensive rebounding and we haven’t done that. That’s just toughness.”

“I feel like we got comfortable at halftime just like we did in the Villanova game. We can’t get comfortable, especially if we’re up by 15, we gotta make that jump, extend the lead. It’s all about toughness and winning close games.”

The Irish watched Josh Hart put together the best performance we saw this season pre-Malik Monk. They then let Caleb Swanigan get loose against them on Saturday. On a team without much proven size and with a star big man that tops out at about 6-foot-6 on a good day, it’s worth wondering whether Notre Dame has the physicality inside to be able to handle games against teams like that.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 17: Matt Farrell #5 of Notre Dame shoots the ball during the game against the Purdue Boiermakers in the Crossroads Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on December 17, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Matt Farrell Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

5. The Big East is as good as it has been since the split: I think that this is the best that we’ve seen the Big East since it split off from the AAC. Villanova, the reigning national champs, are a threat to repeat. Creighton is still undefeated and find themselves ranked in the top 15. The Bluejays have usurped Xavier’s title as Villanova’s biggest threat in the league, although that may change when Myles Davis is allowed to play again. Then there’s Butler, who is the proud owner of the best résumé in the conference, with wins against Indiana, Arizona, Cincinnati, Northwestern and at Utah.

There is a valid argument to make that that top four may actually be better than the top four teams in the ACC.

There also appears to be more depth in the conference than in recent years. Seton Hall is a tough, veteran group that landed a brand-name win last week, handing South Carolina their first loss of the season. Providence is 9-2 on the year with a win over Rhode Island. Georgetown had some struggles early on in the year but just won at Syracuse over the weekend. Marquette probably isn’t looking at a tournament trip this season, but they certainly aren’t going to be pushovers this year. DePaul is DePaul and St. John’s is a tire fire, but overall, there is a lot to like about the league this season.

Player of the Week: Kentucky’s Malik Monk

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In the history of players and weeks and awards, has there ever been an easier pick for someone to receive a Player of the Week award than Malik Monk this week?

In case you spent the last 48 hours under a rock, Monk set a Kentucky freshman scoring record and a season-high nationally by dropping 47 points on Saturday as No. 6 Kentucky knocked off No. 7 North Carolina. Think about it like this: Of all the players that have ever played at Kentucky – including, but certainly not limited to, Karl Towns, Anthony Davis, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins – here is the list of players that have scored more points in a single game than Monk did on Saturday: Jodie Meeks, Dan Issel, Cliff Hagan and Bob Burrow.

And Monk did it on national television against one of the biggest brands and best teams in the country.

Not only did he score 47 – you can see each of those 47 points right here – but Monk also ensured that the Wildcats didn’t throwaway a game they controlled for roughly 38 minutes.

With two minutes left, North Carolina took their first lead in forever on a three from Justin Jackson. Monk immediately responded with a contested three of his own. Then 90 seconds later, after UNC again took a lead, Monk buried another contested three from the same spot, this one with 15 seconds left to give the Wildcats a 101-100 lead.

But that’s not my favorite part of Monk’s Saturday.

This is: during the halftime interview on the broadcast, John Calipari called Monk’s threes “fool’s gold”. He didn’t want his trigger-happy freshman to start settling for 22-footers just because he had hit a few 22-footers. Which brings us to that game-winning jumper.

“Coach Cal told me to drive,” Monk said. “But I was hot. So I didn’t.”

“I said, ‘Drive the ball! Drive the ball!’ And he shot a three and it went in,” added Cal. “So I said, ‘Great shot, kid. Way to shoot the ball.'”

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THEY WERE GOOD TOO

  • Justin Jackson, North Carolina: De’Aaron Fox and Joel Berry II were both terrific on Saturday as well, but it was Jackson whose performance was the most notable. He finished with a career-high 34 points, doing everything he could to keep the Tar Heels within striking distance of Kentucky. No one will remember it, but the three he hit with two minutes left to give the Tar Heels the lead was as big of a shot as he’s made in his career. UNC fans are allowed to be disappointed with the final result, but someone had to lose. The Tar Heels proved something on Saturday.
  • Kelan Martin, Butler: Speaking of proving something, the Bulldogs thrust themselves into the conversation of Big East contenders with a win over Indiana on Saturday. Martin was the star of the show, popping off for 28 points and helping lead the Bulldogs to a 14-point halftime lead that Indiana could never fully recover from.
  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: The Boilermakers erased a 17-point first half deficit to knock off No. 21 Notre Dame in the Crossroads Classic on Saturday, and it was Swanigan that did the heavy lifting in their comeback. He finished with 26 points, 10 boards and four blocks as Notre Dame couldn’t handle Purdue’s small lineup.
  • Yante Maten, Georgia: Is there a more underrated player in college basketball than Maten? He went for 30 points and six boards in a win over Charleston Southern just six days after he had 18 points, 15 boards and five blocks against Louisiana. On the season, the 6-foot-8 Maten is averaging 21.5 points, 8.7 boards and 1.9 blocks.

VIDEO: Watch all of Malik Monk’s 47 points vs. North Carolina

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RELATED: Five Things We Learned From Kentucky 103, UNC 100

RELATED: Malik Monk proved he can carry Kentucky. He also proved Kentucky cannot survive as a two-man team.