Rakeem Christmas

Jerian Grant (AP Photo)

NBCSports.com’s College Basketball All-Americans

Frank Kaminsky (left, AP Photo), Jahlil Okafor (center, AP Photo) and Willie Cauley-Stein (right, UK Athletics)


Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin (18.4 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.6 apg, 41.0% 3PT)

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.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky (8.9 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.6 bpg)

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.


  • 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.


  • 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.

Jim Boeheim uses classic rant about Gerry McNamara to praise Rakeem Christmas

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Syracuse is in a rebuilding mode.

Several players expected to be around for this season declared for the NBA Draft last spring. The front court depth took a hit with Dajuan Coleman having to redshirt while star freshman Chris McCullough tore his ACL in mid-January. And in February, with an on-going investigation for alleged NCAA violations, Syracuse self-imposed a postseason ban on a season that wasn’t likely destined for the NCAA tournament.

The bright spot during the 2014-15 year has been the emergence of Rakeem Christmas. The 6-foot-9 senior forward, who started 109 games entering this season, has put together an All-American caliber season with his scoring average jumping from 5.8 points to 18.1, in addition to his 9.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

On Thursday night, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, during a radio interview with TK99, recycled a classic rant to describe Christmas’ importance to this team.

The interview was transcribed by Chris Carlson of Syracuse.com:

“I can make the same statement this year,” Boeheim said. “Without Rakeem we wouldn’t win 10 games. That’s pretty much for sure. Gerry [McNamara] might have been a little bit of an exaggeration, but Rakeem Christmas, no. Without him we wouldn’t have won 10 games. He’s been such a force for us all year, right from the beginning.”

Boeheim’s reference to McNamara is in regards to a 2006 poll of Big East assistant coaches, who voted McNamara, a senior at the time, as the most overrated player. That sparked this rant (begins at 1:01 mark):

“Without Gerry McNamara, we wouldn’t have won 10 f***ing games this year, ” Boeheim said at the time. “OK? Not 10. The other guys just aren’t ready. They needed him. Without him there, not 10.”

Of course, McNamara responded to that poll leading the Orange on a memorable charge through the Big East Tournament. However, Christmas won’t get the opportunity this March, but after his senior campaign he will get an opportunity to play at the next level, slotted as a second-round pick by DraftExpress.com.

What if today was college basketball’s trade deadline?

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In honor of today’s NBA trade deadline, where far too many people will spend the day obsessing over where Goran Dragic, Enes Kanter and Reggie Jackson will end up, we give you college basketball’s deadline deals. 

If teams at the collegiate level were allowed to swap players, what are some moves that could help turn pretenders into contenders, or contenders into favorites? Here are six trades that would fill holes on the roster of both teams:

1. North Carolina’s Isaiah Hicks for Cal’s Jordan Mathews

  • UNC makes this trade because: The Tar Heels have plenty of bodies up front. What they need is another player on their perimeter that can knock down jumpers. Mathews is shooting 45.0 percent from three on the season, meaning he is a guy that would allow Marcus Paige to play on the ball more.
  • Cal makes this trade because: They need help on the interior. Badly. Losing Mathews is not exactly ideal, but with Jabari Bird on the perimeter as well, they have the depth to be able to make a change. The Bears are not as far out of the bubble picture as you might think, and adding this piece for the stretch run could be the difference.

2. Ohio State’s Kam Williams for Texas’ Prince Ibeh

  • OSU makes this trade because: Ibeh is as big, as physical and as athletic as any front court player in the country. He can block shots, he can run the floor and he can go blow-for-blow in the post with anyone. Texas can spare him because he plays essentially the same role as Cameron Ridley, who is worlds better offensively, but Ohio State would make use of him as the shot-blocking presence that allows them to extend their defense.
  • Texas makes this trade because: One of the issues for Texas this season is that they have too many big bodies and not enough scoring pop in their back court. Williams is a streaky shooter, but he’s a guy with a reputation for being a big-time scorer that can provide scoring pop off the bench or from a starting role.
source: AP
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3. Washington’s Nigel Williams-Goss for Louisville’s Shaqquan Aaron

  • Washington makes this trade because: This season is a bust for Washington, who watched as their chances to make the NCAA tournament disappeared when Robert Upshaw got the boot. They need to start over, and what better was to do that than by bringing in a former top 30 recruit from Seattle. Aaron was lambasted by Pitino after the loss to Syracuse on Wednesday, meaning he may be out the door already. Why not try and get something in return?
  • Louisville makes this trade because: The biggest issue for Louisville this season? They don’t have a lead guard on their roster that makes everyone else better. Terry Rozier is extremely talented, but he’s a scorer first, second and third. Chris Jones is an elite defender, but he’s a gunner that wants to be Russ Smith. Nigel Williams-Goss is not an ideal fit defensively for Rick Pitino, but he’s one of the nation’s most underrated point guards, a guy that will get easy shots for some of his new, offensively-challenged teammates.

4. BYU’s Skyler Halford for San Diego State’s Angelo Chol

  • BYU makes this trade because: The Cougars need some physicality in the paint, and Chol will provide that. He’s not really a low-post scoring threat, but he blocks shots, he rebounds, he plays hard and he’ll provide a big, physical body in the paint to help deal with guys like Brad Waldow and Gonzaga’s front line. He can be to BYU what Jameel McKay is to Iowa State.
  • SDSU makes this trade because: The Aztecs cannot score. They lack elite shooting and they don’t have enough playmakers on their roster to help breakdown a defense. Halford is a knock-down jump shooter and a better creator than he gets credit for, and he’s an expendable piece for the Cougars given how many talented perimeter players are on that roster.

5. Syracuse’s Rakeem Christmas for Kansas’ Svi Mykhailiuk

  • Syracuse makes this trade because: The Orange literally are not playing for anything this season beyond pride, thanks to the ludicrous decision that the school made to self-impose a postseason ban for this year. That means that Christmas, a senior having an all-american caliber season, is a valuable piece. Mykhailiuk is a freshman, but he’s only 17 years old. He’s long, he’s athletic and he can shoot, meaning he’ll fit in the Orange zone, and he needs at least one, maybe two more years in college before he’s ready to go pro.
  • Kansas makes this trade because: The one thing the Jayhawks are missing this season is a true low-post scoring threat, and that’s precisely what Christmas is. He’d take the pressure off of their perimeter players, and while giving up Mykhailiuk means giving up a terrific prospect, it would make Kansas a real national title contender versus being a streaky shooting team with a shot at the Final Four.

6. Indiana’s Stanford Robinson for Louisiana’s Shawn Long

  • Indiana makes this trade because: Indiana has been forced to play small-ball this season because of their lack of size in the paint. They spread the floor, they jack up threes and they are as entertaining as any team in the country when those threes are going down. But they’re also the worst power conference team on the defensive end of the floor, and Long should help that. He’s a 6-foot-9 shot-blocker that can score on the block and has three-point range.
  • Louisiana makes this trade because: Losing Long hurts, but adding Robinson might end up being more valuable. Remember, this is the program that turned Elfrid Payton into a lottery pick, and while Robinson is a different player than Payton, the former top 30 recruit can still be a dynamic slasher from the wing. He’s fallen out of favor at Indiana, averaging just 11 minutes.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: It’s time for Frank Kaminsky to get his due

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1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: I went in-depth on this topic last week, but Frank Kaminsky is statistically having one of the greatest seasons in recent history. Wisconsin is on pace to finish the season as the most efficient offense in the KenPom era, which dates back to 2002. And Kaminsky is the biggest factor in that offense, notching an obscene 126.7 player rating while using 27.8 percent of Wisconsin’s possessions. The only player to have a rating that high while using that many possessions since 2004 was Utah State’s Spencer Nelson back in 2005. That same season, Travis Diener posted a 126.6 offensive rating while using 30.5 percent of Marquette’s possessions. For comparison’s sake, in 2008, Kevin Love finished the season with an offensive rating of 126.6 while using 27.7 percent of UCLA’s possessions.

That’s a lot of numbers to throw at you, but where Okafor was a clear front-runner for the Player of the Year award for much of the first three months of the season, at this point, I think Kaminsky has overtaken him at this point. That’s less of a knock on Okafor than it is recognition for the season that Kaminsky is having.

So while you chew on that, let’s watch Frank Kaminsky pass out when he hears that he’s the No. 2 pick in Gameday’s college basketball draft:

2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Okafor’s limitations on the defensive end of the floor were on full display on Monday night, as the seven-footer was on the receiving end of a brutal Mozgoving at the hands of Florida State’s Phil Cofer. Despite his size and his wingspan, Okafor couldn’t get up high enough to do anything other than foul Cofer on his way to the rim.

That said, I’ve watched a lot of tape on Duke defensively over the last two days, and I actually think Okafor is getting better on that end of the floor. He’s never going to be a defensive menace the likes of Anthony Davis or, say, Tyson Chandler, but I think that his issues this season have had just as much to do with, A) Inexperience when it comes to his ability to defend outside of the paint, specifically in ball-screen actions, and B) An effort by the Duke coaching to keep him out of foul trouble and on the floor. He’s been much better on that end in the wins over Notre Dame and Florida State, but he also missed extended minutes in both first halves with two fouls.

Anyway, Okafor had some funny words about the poster last night:

If you’ve never been dunked on, you’ve never played basketball at a high level.

3. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: I’m running out of things to say about Russell this season, so instead of be bombarding you with stats and number proving how good he is, why don’t you just watch every highlight from his 23-point, 11-assist, 11-rebound triple double against Rutgers. The passes he throws are on another level:

4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Jerian Grant struggled mightily in Notre Dame’s ugly loss at Duke on Saturday, finishing with just seven points and four assists. It wasn’t the kind of sterling performance we’ve come to expect from the All-American, but credit needs to be given to Quinn Cook, who face-guarded Grant from the tip and forced Notre Dame to essentially play four-on-four.

5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Karl Towns has been Kentucky’s best player over the course of the last week, but after watching the Wildcats move past both Georgia and Florida this week, I was reminded why Cauley-Stein ranked so high on this list earlier in the season. He’s arguably the most important piece in Kentucky’s historically good defense. He doesn’t log as many blocked shots as Towns, but that’s because Cauley-Stein is typically guarding the more perimeter-oriented big man, the just most likely to be used in ball-screen actions. And it’s his ability to switch onto ball-handlers that has made the Wildcats so good in that area. According to Synergy, Kentucky allows just 0.652 points-per-possession against pick-and-rolls, which is second nationally to Rhode Island. Oh, and this:

6. Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn doesn’t get the hype that guys like D’Angelo Russell and Delon Wright do, but he’s having just as good of a season running the show for a Providence team that may very well be the second-best in the Big East. He’s averaging 15.1 points, 7.5 assists, 6.0 boards and 2.6 steals, and while the knock on him his entire career has been his ability to shoot from the perimeter, but he’s 10-for-20 from three in the last six games. He’d be higher on this list if it wasn’t for the 4.3 turnovers he averages.

7. Delon Wright, Utah: Wright has been terrific this season, but it’s hard not to notice just how much he as struggled in Utah’s losses to Arizona and UCLA. Against the Wildcats, he started hot but finished with just 10 points. Against UCLA, his final stat line was decent enough — 15 points, six boards, two assists on 6-for-9 shooting — but the Bruins took him away from 36 minutes in a game that Utah trailed by a large margin for the entire second half.

9. Justin Anderson, Virginia: Anderson went down with a broken finger on his left (shooting) hand that will require surgery and keep him out until the postseason. Anderson wasn’t necessarily a go-to guy for Virginia, but he is their best perimeter defender and was shooting just under 50.0 percent from three.

9. Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: I’m going to give the man they call Rak some love here because it seems like it’s the only place where anyone will give him the respect that he’s due. Christmas is one of the greatest stories in college basketball this season, going from a three-year bit player for the Orange to a center averaging 18.5 points, 9.6 boards and 2.3 blocks, the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal Syracuse season. Christmas won’t be playing in the postseason this year thanks to the utterly shameful, self-imposed ban that the university put into place, but that shouldn’t take any of the luster off of what has been a phenomenal year for him.

10. T.J. McConnell, Arizona: Stanley Johnson may actually be a more deserving Player of the Year candidate, but McConnell deserves some love as well. Outside of Delon Wright, there may not be a more important player in the Pac-12 this year. McConnell is the quintessential point guard for Sean Miller, a guy who has no issue distributing the ball but has proven he can take over a game when his team needs him to.

OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), 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), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Joseph Young (Oregon)

The top 15 most improved players in college basketball

Ty Wallace (AP Photo)
Ty Wallace (AP Photo)

 MORE: The rest of our New Year’s Resolutions | Midseason catchups

Ty Wallace, Cal: I’m firmly entrenched on the Ty Wallace bandwagon, having said repeatedly that there is no player in the country as underrated as Cal’s star point guard. Look at this stat line: 19.3 points, 8.8 boards, 4.2 assists and 46.9 percent shooting from three.

Justin Anderson, Virginia: Anderson’s emergence into Virginia’s leading scorer has been the biggest surprise of the season for me. Always known as a great athlete and teammate, Anderson is now averaging 15.1 points and shooting 60.0 percent from three. He’s not a go-to guy, but he’s been Tony Bennett’s most valuable weapon thus far.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein is starting to live up to his potential this season, becoming the nation’s most versatile defender while anchoring on college basketball’s best defense. A 7-foot-1 center, he can switch ball-screens and has been tasked with stopping an opponent’s best wing scorer at times this season.

source: Getty Images
Robert Upshaw (Getty Images)

Robert Upshaw, Washington: Washington’s emergence as a top three team in the Pac-12 can almost entirely be credited to Upshaw, who has become the nation’s premiere shot-blocking presence. He’s averaging 4.6 blocks in just 20 minutes and has completely changed the way that Washington is able to defend. I’d argue he’s one of the ten most valuable players in the country right now.

Christian Wood, UNLV: Wood is playing like a first round draft pick, averaging 13.9 points, 9.6 boards and 3.0 blocks for the Rebels. He had 24 points and 10 boards in UNLV’s win over No. 3 Arizona on Tuesday night.

Terry Rozier, Louisville: Rozier has done much of what was expected of him this season. His scoring is up to 16.5 points from 7.0 as a freshman, and while he’s not shooting quite as well from the perimeter this season, his percentages are up overhaul and he’s turned into one of the nation’s best, and most important, secondary options.

Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse: Someone had to become a scorer for Syracuse this season, and thus far in the year it’s been the senior big man that’s done it. He’s averaging 16.5 points and 8.7 boards, a bright spot in an otherwise frustrating season for the Orange.

Zach Auguste, Notre Dame: Auguste has always had the potential to be a big-time scorer in the paint for the Irish, and he’s finally reaching it this year. Auguste’s averaging 14.8 points through the first month, although it will be interesting to see what happens when the Irish start to play some tougher competition.

Levi Randolph, Alabama: Randolph has become a go-to guy for Alabama as a senior, as he’s now posting some impressive numbers: 16.5 points, 4.9 boards and 3.1 assists for the 8-3 Tide.

Dylan Ennis, Villanova: Who saw this coming from Ennis? He’s Villanova’s leading scorer, their most dangerous three-point shooter and one of the best defenders on the roster.

Stefan Nastic, Stanford: With so much of Stanford’s front line graduating, Nastic’s role has been dramatically increased this year, and it’s paying off. Nastic is averaging 14.5 points and has become one of the better low-post scorers on the west coast.

Justin Moss, Buffalo: As a sophomore, Moss averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 boards playing behind Javon McCrea. As a junior, those numbers have bumped up to 17.3 points and 10.2 boards. Oh, and he did this.

Malcolm Hill, Illinois: Hill started a handful of games as a freshman, but as a sophomore he’s moved into a major role for John Groce. His scoring has bumped up to 12.8 points this year, as the Illini look like they could contend for a spot in the NCAA tournament.

Damian Jones, Vanderbilt: Jones has developed into the star we expected him to be as a sophomore, averaging 16.5 points and 7.1 boards.

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: The Spartans have been a disappointment through the season’s first month, but Valentine has been terrific. These numbers are nothing to joke about: 14.5 points, 5.5 boards, 4.3 assists, 50.0 percent from three.

No. 7 Villanova’s wild rally forces OT, where they beat Syracuse (VIDEO)

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Syracuse was rolling. They were up by as much as 14 points in the second half, having held the lead for the entire game despite the fact that Chris McCullough had basically done nothing for 40 minutes.

The Orange were about to put away the most important performance of their season — a win over No. 7 Villanova in Philadelphia — when disaster struck:

In the extra frame, McCullough, Rakeem Christmas and Michael Gbinije all fouled out as the Wildcats held on for an 82-77 win in the battle between old Big East rivals.

Credit where credit’s due: Villanova really played well in the second half, forcing turnovers, getting to the offensive glass and making big plays when big plays needed to be made. JayVaughn Pinkston led the way with 25 points and 10 boards while Darrun Hilliard added 23 points and four steals, including a stretch of eight straight that he had early in the second half to spark the comeback.

Villanova beat the Orange on a day where they didn’t play anywhere near their best game. Syracuse is not exactly an ACC title contender, but they’re a pretty good team that played exceptionally well on Saturday, and Villanova won despite having an off night and making some uncharacteristic mistakes.

That’s a great sign for the Wildcats.

But that won’t make Jim Boeheim feel any better about the way his team dropped this game.

Because they finally looked like the Syracuse team that everyone (except me, it seems) had slotted in the preseason top 25. Rakeem Christmas was playing great in the paint, finishing with 18 points. Michael Gbinije had easily the best game of his basketball career, finishing with 18 points, eight boards and five assists, all career-highs. Kaleb Joseph had 10 points and 10 assists, making a number of tough, crucial plays — and more importantly, correct decisions — down the stretch.

It looked like everything was starting to come together, like all it took was a chance to beat Villanova for the Orange to figure it out.

But a late turnover and some foul trouble in overtime ruined that.

This was the last chance for the Orange to notch a marquee non-conference win. If they end up on the bubble in March, this game will be the reason why.