While he took some time to evaluate his options, Arizona freshman forward Stanley Johnson has decided to enter the 2015 NBA Draft. Johnson announced his decision to forego his final three seasons of eligibility Thursday evening at a press conference held with Arizona head coach Sean Miller.
Named the Pac-12’s top rookie and also a first team all-conference selection, Johnson averaged a team-best 13.8 points per game in 2014-15 while also accounting for 6.5 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 Fullerton, California product, who’s projected to be a lottery pick in the June draft, shot 44.6 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from beyond the arc.
Johnson’s departure is one that the Wildcats planned for recruiting-wise, as their incoming freshman class has multiple perimeter players capable of putting points on the board. Findlay Prep product Allonzo Trier is the most highly regarded of the group, but Las Vegas native Ray Smith (who missed his senior season with a torn ACL) will also be heard from on the wing and combo guard Justin Simon can play either on or off the ball.
Arizona also returns multiple perimeter players (not counting point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright) from last season’s Elite Eight team, with Gabe York and Elliott Pitts being the most experienced and junior college transfer Kadeem Allen available after redshirting last season.
Losing a player as talented as Johnson hurts, but Arizona’s worked hard to ensure that they have the pieces needed to account for this news. Next up for them is an official declaration from center Kaleb Tarczewski, whom many believe will return to Tucson for his senior season.
Player of the Year Power Rankings: It’s essentially a two-man race at this point
1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: The Player of the Year race is, as it has essentially been all season long, a two-man race at this point. And, quite frankly, I’m not sure how much more I can say about these two beyond “I hope we get a rematch in March”.
3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Grant is one of the best point guards in the country in pick-and-roll situations and he plays in an offensive that is almost entirely built around spreading the floor with shooters and letting him, and to a lesser extent Demetrius Jackson, use ball-screen actions. Should I mention that the Irish are first in adjusted offensive efficiency, and that Grant’s ability on that end of the floor is the reason that Notre Dame has overcome a defense that ranks outside the top 150 to be 19-2 and ranked in the top ten? Yeah, I probably should.
4. Delon Wright, Utah: Wright is embracing the role that Utah needs him to play this season. He doesn’t have to be a dominant scorer or an elite shooter, he needs to be an aggressive penetrator that creates open looks for his teammates. He’s had at least five assists in every game since December 23rd and has missed just three free throws during that span. He’s protecting the ball — the Arizona loss was the only game he’s had more than two turnovers December 10th — and, most importantly, he’s shooting 40 percent from three the last four games.
5. D’angelo Russell, Ohio State: My biggest concern with D’angelo Russell early on this season was that the majority of his damage was coming against mediocre competition. When he was squaring off against high-major opponents, he was getting tuned up. Of late, that’s not true whatsoever. In his last three games, he’s averaging 27.3 points, 9.0 boards and 6.0 assists. On the season, his numbers are ridiculous: 19.4 points, 5.2 boards, 5.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 47.7 FG%, 44.4 3PT%.
You can look at a box score and realize just how productive Russell is. You can see is insane, cross-court bounce passes and his ability to beat people off the dribble to realize how skilled he is. But what impresses me more is how well he seems to understand the game. Two examples stand out from the Ohio State win over Indiana. In the first, you can see Russell create a switch and a mismatch in the post for Marc Loving with a back-screen and immediately call for the Sam Thompson to swing the ball and create a chance for a high-low entry pass:
In the second, Russell throws a pass to Jae’Sean Tate in the middle of Indiana’s zone while Tate is pointing for the ball to be passed to someone else. In other words, Russell knows you’re open before you know you’re open:
6. Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble did not have his best game of the season on Tuesday of last week, when the Terps got trucked by Indiana in Assembly Hall, but he followed that up with 27 points as Maryland came from behind to knock off Northwestern at home.
7. Georges Niang, Iowa State: I’m torn on how I should rank Niang here. His versatility is such an integral part of what makes Iowa State good. He’s a point guard in a power forward’s body, which allows the Cyclones to invert their offense; there are only three players that average 14.0 points, 5.0 boards and 3.5 assists, and Niang is one of them. But he’s also a question mark on defense, which is part of the reason that Iowa State has a ceiling when it comes to their chances of winning the Big 12.
8. Justin Anderson, Virginia: Sound the alarms: after going three for his last 11 from three, Anderson’s three-point percentage has dropped to just 51.9 percent on the season. All kidding aside, he’s a major reason that no one has broken 56 points against Virginia since that double-overtime game against Miami.
9. Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson’s last four games: 20.0 points, 8.3 boards and dominant second halves in wins over Utah at home and at Stanford, the two other teams that look like they might have a shot of making some noise in the Pac-12 race. He’s turning into the go-to guy offensively Arizona needs. T.J. McConnell may be more valuable to this team, but Johnson is Sean Miller’s best player right now.
10. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: I still think Cauley-Stein is the engine that makes this Kentucky defense run, but it would be nice to see him have another dominating performance or two. He has 17 points, 19 boards, four blocks and five steals in his last three games.
OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Tyler Haws (BYU), Montrezl Harrell (Louisville), D’angelo Harrison (St. John’s), LaDontae Henton (Providence), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Jonathan Holmes (Texas), Jarell Martin (LSU), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Ty Wallace (Cal), Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Joseph Young (Oregon)
Weekly Awards: D’Angelo Russell’s ascension, Kansas takes the next step
It took a while for Russell to find his rhythm against high-major competition, but the talented freshman is rolling these days. This week, he went for 33 points, seven boards, six assists and no turnovers in a win at Northwestern, following that up with 22 points, 10 assists and six boards as the Buckeyes got revenge on No. 23 Indiana at home. He shot 21-for-32 (65.6 percent) from the floor and 8-for-18 (44.4 percent) from three in the two wins. If you do that math, Russell missed just one shot from inside the arc in those two games.
Russell has shot his way up NBA Draft Boards of late, turning himself from a potential first round pick down the road into a guy that not only appears to be a lock to be a lottery pick, but could climb his way into the top five. The 6-foot-4 lefty is a big-time scorer that has made Sportscenter for his ability to throw mind-bending passes, and while he lacks that next-level explosiveness of a point guard like John Wall or Russell Westbrook, he’s crafty around the rim. And, more importantly for our purposes, he’s making sure that Ohio State remains relevant in the Big Ten.
THE ALL ‘THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM
Hassan Martin, Rhode Island: Rhode Island moved to 5-2 in the Atlantic 10 with wins over La Salle and St. Bonaventure this week, and Martin was the biggest reason why, averaging 12.0 points, 10.0 boards and 8.0 blocks.
Maurice Ndour, Ohio: After scoring 17 points in a win at Ball State, Ndour followed it up with 31 points, six boards, three blocks and this game-winning dunk against Buffalo.
Saah Nimley, Charleston Southern: In wins over UNC-Asheville and Gardner-Webb, Nimley averaged 34.0 points and 3.5 assists. In his last four games, he’s averaging 32.0 points and shooting 25-for-57 (!!!) from three.
Gary Payton II, Oregon State: The Beavers are a surprising 5-2 in the Pac-12 after sweeping the LA schools. Payton had 39 points, 17 boards, eight assists and seven steals in the two wins.
Stanley Johnson, Arizona: Johnson led the Wildcats to wins at Stanford and Cal this weekend, playing his best basketball while leading a second half charge in the win over the Cardinal. In his last four games, Johnson is averaging 20.0 points and 8.3 boards.
Notables: Cam Payne (Murray State), Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington), Nic Moore (SMU)
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Kansas Jayhawks
Kansas made a statement on Saturday, going into Austin and smacking around No. 17 Texas, 75-62. That came after the Jayhawks built a 19-point lead on No. 19 Oklahoma, blew that lead in 10 minutes of game time and managed to come-from-behind to win anyway.
Yeah, I don’t get it either.
I don’t think anyone does.
But the bottom-line is that the Jayhawks, with all the inconsistencies and question marks that they’ve had this season, are sitting all alone in first place in the toughest conference in college basketball. And, finally, Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre seem to be hitting their stride. This team has always had the potential to be among the nation’s elite, and they got a step closer this week.
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
Georgetown: After blowing out Villanova in Washington, D.C., the Hoyas went up to Milwaukee and survived a scrappy Marquette team in overtime. Their freshmen have been terrific of late, with Isaac Copeland, who averaged 17.0 points in the two wins, leading the way.
Duke: The Blue Devils have officially bounced back from their two losses. This week, they beat Pitt and won at St. John’s — Coach K’s 1,000th win — due in large part to the play of Tyus Jones. He averaged 22.0 points and 5.0 assists.
Davidson: Despite playing without Jack Gibbs, who has a knee injury, the Wildcats blew out Dayton at home and won at George Mason in overtime.
Murray State: The Racers have now won 15 straight after winning at SIU-Edwardsville and Eastern Illinois this week. Cameron Payne may be the best player you’ve never seen play.
Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane moved to 7-0 in the American with a blowout win over Memphis at home and a victory in a trip to East Carolina, which turned into a bittersweet homecoming for head coach Frank Haith.
Notables: Butler, Miami, Texas A&M
SET YOUR DVR
No. 17 Texas at No. 9 Iowa State, Mon. 9:00 p.m.
No. 5 Duke at No. 8 Notre Dame, Tue. 7:30 p.m.
No. 14 Wichita State at No. 20 Northern Iowa, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 15 North Carolina at No. 10 Louisville, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 5 Duke at No. 2 Virginia, Sat. 7:00 p.m.
Weekly Awards: Stanley Johnson’s takeover, and a comeback in Memphis?
In the biggest game of the Pac-12 season to date, Stanley Johnson scored all 18 of his points in the second half to help the Wildcats pull away from Utah and take home an impressive, statement win against the league’s second-best team. That came just two days after Johnson was in takeover mode against Colorado, finishing with 22 points on the night. For the week, he averaged 8.5 points, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals as well.
Johnson has not exactly had the overpowering kind of season we expected from him when we all put him on preseason all-american teams, but for the first time as a collegian, Johnson truly looked dominant this week. I’m not sure that it’s a coincidence that he played this way after the Wildcats lost to Oregon State last Sunday.
THE ‘ALL THEY WERE GOOD, TOO’ TEAM
Derrick Marks, Boise State: The Broncos picked up a pair of massive wins over UNLV and at New Mexico this week, and Marks was the catalyst, averaging 29.5 points.
Pee Wee Gardner, American: Gardner hit a pair of game-winners this week, beating Lehigh with a three with 0.8 seconds left and Lafayette with a runner with 1.0 seconds left.
Melo Trimble, Maryland: Trimble had 21 of his 24 points in the first half against Michigan State as the Terps blew out the Spartans. He also added 11 points, five boards, four assists and three steals in a win over Rutgers.
Chasson Randle, Stanford: Randle averaged 24.0 points, 3.0 assists and 3.5 steals as the Cardinal knocked off both Cal and UConn at home.
Marcus Paige, North Carolina: Paige played his best game of the season in a win at N.C. State, finishing with 23 points and nine assists.
Notables: Dallas Moore (North Florida), Darius Carter (Wichita State), Alex Hamilton (Louisiana Tech)
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Memphis Tigers
Maybe we wrote Memphis off too soon? The Tigers moved to 11-6 overall and 4-2 in the American with their third straight win on Saturday, a beat down of Central Florida in which Memphis scored 99 points. That came just two days after the Tigers knocked off Cincinnati in a game where Kedren Johnson, for the first time all season, looked like the guy that played for Vanderbilt two seasons ago.
Ever since the news became public that Johnson was going to be eligible to play this season, it was clear that he was the x-factor on a team with absolutely no experience in their back court. And he still is. But with how well some of the Memphis role players have performed in recent weeks, the Tigers don’t appear to be the pushovers that we all thought they would be this season. The American may only end up with one or two teams in the NCAA tournament, and while the Tigers likely did too much damage during non-conference play to recover and get an at-large bid, winning the automatic bid isn’t out of the question.
THEY WERE GOOD, TOO
Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish survived at Georgia Tech without Zach Auguste and then came from 12 down in the second half to beat Miami on a night where Auguste played just nine minutes.
Dayton: The Flyers continue to win, extending their winning streak to eight games since the only two players on their roster over 6-foot-6 were kicked off the team.
VCU: The Rams won a pair of A-10 road games last week, including picking off Rhode Island in a game where Treveon Graham had 26 points and eight boards after spraining his ankle. They then beat Duquesne without Graham available.
San Diego State: The Aztecs made it known that the MWC title still runs through Viejas Arenas. They handed Wyoming their first loss in league play — in Laramie — and then landed a come-from-behind win over UNLV.
Texas: The Longhorns badly needed a win and they got one in resounding fashion: by 27 points over West Virginia.
UNLV upset No. 3 Arizona, 71-67, on Tuesday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, handing the Wildcats their first loss of the season.
Christian Wood scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Rashad Vaughn added 21 points. The two combined to shoot 50 percent from the field. All five starters for Arizona scored in double figures led by T.J. McConnell with 14 points and seven assists.
With 40 seconds remaining, Arizona had three chances, and came up short each time. Stanley Johnson poked away a pass to the high post. McConnell hit the streaking Johnson on the 2-on-1, but Johnson missed the layup. After UNLV a missed free throw, the Wildcats settled for a Brandon Ashley three rather than go for the tie, which rattled off the rim.
Patrick McCaw split a pair of free throws, giving UNLV a 70-67 lead. Johnson committed a turnover before Arizona could get a shot off.
This was an important win for a young UNLV roster. The Runnin’ Rebels are in the middle of stretch where they play three ranked teams in 16 days. On Saturday, No. 14 Utah took down UNLV, 59-46. On Jan. 4, the Rebels go on the road to play Kansas. Let’s see what UNLV does with this signature, non-conference victory when the team travels to Lawrence.
For Arizona, this was the second road test in the span of five days. On Friday night, the Wildcats got a fight from a talented UTEP team in El Paso. Given the circumstances, a talented team in need of a non-conference win, and the issues the Wildcats faced — foul trouble Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski and freshman mistakes from Johnson — on Tuesday night, they were still in a position to force overtime or win in the final minutes.
UNLV has Southern Utah on Saturday. Arizona has time to regroup with its next game on Jan. 4 against Arizona State, the start of Pac-12 play for the conference favorites.
Before I get started on this, I want to make one note that I’m sure no one is going to pay attention to: We tried to build these teams into something similar to what you could actually put on a basketball court. Two guards, a wing, a couple big men, whatever.
For starters, I’ve always thought that should be the way that it’s not. It’s the “All-American Team”, not the “All-American List”. Secondly, if all you want is a list, we do weekly Player of the Year Power Rankings.
Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: We can debate all we want about what position Jerian Grant is — for what it’s worth, I will always refer to him as a lead guard — but the bottom line is this: there is no back court player in the country has played better than Grant over the course of the last month. He’s averaging 18.2 points and 6.3 assists (along with just 1.3 turnovers) for an 11-1 team. Notre Dame’s schedule has been awful, I know, but I don’t think Grant’s numbers are a product of that.
Delon Wright, Utah: The Utes are 3-1 in their last four games, beating Wichita State, BYU and UNLV, the latter two on the road. The only loss? By three, at Kansas in Kansas City. In those four games? Wright is averaging 17.8 points, 6.0 boards, 4.3 assists and 2.8 steals while playing 39.8 minutes. He’s the most indispensable player in the country.
Georges Niang, Iowa State: Niang is the centerpiece of one of the nation’s most high-octane offenses. A power forward by trade, Niang has turned into one of the nations most skilled passers, averaging 4.2 assists. It’s a luxury for Fred Hoiberg to have Niang on the roster when his point guard, Monte’ Morris, is one of the best in the country.
Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: It feels like we haven’t heard from Frank Kaminsky in forever, doesn’t it? Well, that’s what happens when Wisconsin goes 18 days between meaningful games. Trust me when I tell you that The Tank hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s still averaging 16.0 points and 7.6 boards for the No. 6 team in the country.
Jahlil Okafor, Duke: The Player of the Year to date this season, and he proved it last week. Against an Elon team that was considerably overmatched in the paint against him, Okafor went for 25 points and 20 boards as the Blue Devils struggled to beat the Phoenix. Three days later, when Duke tripped up to New Jersey to take on UConn, Okafor finished with just 12 points and 10 boards, but he facilitated everything offensively, allowing Duke to work through him and take advantage of mismatches when the Huskies sold out defensively to double-team him. He also fouled Amida Brimah out in 13 minutes. Dominance.
NBC SPORTS MIDSEASON ALL-AMERICAN SECOND TEAM
Ty Wallace, California: Listen to this stat line: 19.5 points, 8.9 boards, 4.4 assists, 1.3 steals, 50.6% 2PT, 50.0% 3PT. And Cal’s record: 11-1. Not mutually exclusive.
Ron Baker, Wichita State: No one is replacing Cleanthony Early for Wichita State, but Baker is trying his best, as he’s become a more aggressive, well-rounded scorer this year.
Justin Anderson, Virginia: Anderson is a perfect fit for Virginia, a three-and-D wing that is shooting 60.0 percent from three, plays terrific defense and gets to the offensive glass.
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: The leading scorer, leading rebounder and most versatile defender on a top three defense that struggles to score. Now only if he stopped punching people …
Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: The Wildcats are going to go as far as their defense takes them, and Cauley-Stein is the engine that makes their defense run.
NBC SPORTS MIDSEASON ALL-AMERICAN THIRD TEAM
Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington: Williams-Goss is the engine for Washington, which may be the nation’s most surprising team. The irony: He may not even be their most valuable player. Robert Upshaw is.
D’angelo Russell, Ohio State: Russell was the last to make this list. His numbers are absurd, but OSU’s schedule has been awful and Russell is 10-for-37 from the floor and 3-for-16 from three against North Carolina and Louisville.
D’angelo Harrison, St. John’s: Harrison is having the best season of his career, averaging 19.8 points and 6.6 boards. He’s not a great decision-maker, but he’s as competitive as anyone and has sparked a number of St. John’s comebacks this season.
Stanley Johnson, Arizona: The leading scorer and biggest perimeter threat for an Arizona team ranked No. 3 in the country.
Jonathan Holmes, Texas: Holmes is the leading scorer for a Texas team that has a chance to be the first team to knock Kansas off the top of the Big 12.