1. Doug McDermott, Creighton: For the first 72 minutes that Doug McDermott played St. John’s this season, he lit the Johnnies up for 64 points, with 39 — and the game-winner — coming in the first matchup in Omaha and 25 coming in the first 32 minutes of the rematch in New York.
But down the stretch, Steve Lavin changed how his team defended McDermott. At first, he tried to just go one-on-one against the Player of the Year, putting JaKarr Sampson or Orlando Sanchez on an island and taking away every other Bluejay option. But down the stretch on Sunday, St. John’s changed their strategy and began running two guys at McDermott on his touches.
Sometimes even before he got a touch.
Here are two examples. In the first game, McDermott runs off of an in-screen and gets an isolation in the post:
On Sunday, here’s that same in-screen. This time, both St. John’s defenders run with him, leaving Austin Chatman wide-open for a three from the top of the key:
That was one of four open threes that Creighton missed down the stretch of that game.
2. Jabari Parker, Duke: Remember when Jabari was in a slump? Yeah, me neither. Since the Virginia game — which caused me to write this — he’s been on a tear, averaging 20.0 points and 11.4 boards in the last seven games. Duke is 6-1 in that stretch, the lone loss being the overtime thriller at Syracuse. Parker’s struggles stemmed from the fact he was settling for jumpers. The last seven games, he has taken just 15 threes, getting to the line at least seven times in every game except for the foul-plagued 26 minutes he played against the Orange. Even then, he wasn’t settling. He just got his shot blocked at the rim.
3. Shabazz Napier, UConn: The way I see it, there is a clear favorite to win Player of the Year and there is a two-player battle for second-place between Jabari and Shabazz. Napier got dropped a spot this week after an uninspiring performance against Cincinnati where his poor shot selection helped contribute to UConn blowing a double-digit lead on the road against the No. 7 team in the country.
4. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: 11.8 points, 5.7 assists, 2.2 steals, and 1.4 turnovers. Those aren’t exactly numbers that will get you put onto Player of the Year lists, but just watch Ennis for an entire game and you’ll realize why he’s here. It’s by far the most valuable player on a team that’s undefeated on February 11th.
5. Xavier Thames, San Diego State: Thames is averaging 18.2 points as the only real offensive weapon for a team that hasn’t lost in three months. He’s not just scoring a lot of points, either. He’s making big plays on a nightly basis. The latest example? Taking over down the stretch as SDSU came back from 13 down at Boise State last Thursday.
6. Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati: In that game against UConn I talked about earlier, Sean Kilpatrick was awesome, finishing with 26 points, 12 boards and six assists. He’s been awesome all year, really. It’s time we took notice.
7. Nick Johnson, Arizona: Johnson is in a bit of a shooting slump, hitting just 10-for-40 from the field the last three games and shooting 0-for-12 from three during that stretch. But he’s still playing great defense and, in Arizona’s two-point win over Oregon, he had 18 points, five assists and no turnovers.
8. Russ Smith, Louisville: The Russdiculous fad has seemingly passed, but that has more to do with the fact that Smith is actually making better decisions this season. He was KenPom’s Player of the Year last season, and his efficiency numbers are up this year. His raw numbers? How does 18.3 points, 4.7 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 39.7% from three suit you?
9. C.J. Fair, Syracuse: The leading scorer and second-leading rebounder on the No. 1 team in the country that just so happens to remain undefeated in mid-February? Yeah, that deserves a mention on this list even if he’s not the best player on his team.
10. Cameron Bairstow, New Mexico: Bairstow is averaging 20.7 points this season and starring for a New Mexico team on which he was supposed to be an afterthought. He’s one of the rare guys that figures it all out his senior season. Shame on New Mexico fans for not turning him into Cameron BEAR-stow.
Others: Jordan Adams, Kyle Anderson, Bryce Cotton, Sam Dekker, Cleanthony Early, Joel Embiid, Marcus Foster, Aaron Gordon, Gary Harris, Rodney Hood, Deandre Kane, Kevin Pangos, Lamar Patterson, Adreian Payne, Elfrid Payton, Jayvaughn Pinkston, Casey Prather, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Juwan Staten, Nik Stauskas, Fred Van Vleet, T.J. Warren, Andrew Wiggins, Chaz Williams