CBT Roundtable: Midseason Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, All-Americans

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This week was the first full week on conference play, which means that today’s roundtable is the perfect chance for us to argue our way through midseason awards. Here are the picks:

ROB DAUSTER:

Player of the Year: I know that he’s struggled in his last couple of games, and I know that there are issues on the defensive side of the ball, but I’m still riding with Jabari Parker as the National Player of the Year. That said, Dougie McBuckets is nipping at his heels. How cool would it be to see McDermott win a National Player of the Year award?

Coach of the Year: Another nip-and-tuck battle between a pair of worthy candidates: as far as I’m concerned, Steve Fisher is the National Coach of the Year, but I think I could be convinced that Fred Hoiberg deserves the award over him. Is there actually a wrong answer here?

First Team All-America: There are four obvious picks, in my opinion:

Deandre Kane, Iowa State
Jabari Parker, Duke
Doug McDermott, Creighton
Julius Randle, Kentucky

The fifth spot? That could go to Shabazz Napier or Marcus Smart or Keith Appling or Tyler Ennis or C.J. Fair. The list goes on and on. I think I would lean Napier at this point.

Tell me why I’m wrong.

SCOTT PHILLIPS:

Player of the Year: I love Jabari Parker’s game as much as anyone — I covered him for four years as a Chicago Sun-Times preps basketball writer — but to not give this award to Doug McDermott would be a travesty. Doug McDermott isn’t getting benched in losses for defensive lapses and he doesn’t go into shooting slumps. There’s been one game all season in which McDermott scored under 19 points; Parker’s been 12 and under his last three games. It’s a close race, sure, but it isn’t as if McDermott is playing in the MVC this season and he’s averaging a full 4.5 points per game more than Parker right now. Parker is off to a tremendous start — especially for a freshman — but let’s not cloud our judgement of an award because it is cool to see a freshman get it. McDermott deserves it over Parker all day.

Coach of the Year: I’ll go with Villanova’s Jay Wright for this one. There’s obviously a number of worthy candidates — and, as Rob said, there’s probably not a wrong answer — but we had Villanova as the sixth best team in the Big East our preseason picks — and I supported that — and the Wildcats are back to playing really good Jay Wright ball. They’ve beaten Kansas and Iowa on neutral courts and are clearly the class of the Big East at this point in the season.

All-Americans: I’m cool with the first four picks, but for my fifth spot I’ll go with Shabazz Napier. You could make the argument for Gary Harris over Keith Appling, Marcus Smart had an odd stretch where his scoring was limited — somewhat by choice in some cases — and C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis have both been tremendous for Syracuse, but where would UConn be without Napier?

I’m not just talking the buzzer-beater, but Napier is clearly UConn’s most important player and the Huskies crumble when he doesn’t play well. Appling has played hurt and Michigan State can still win; Smart has had quiet stretches and the Cowboys have won because the sum of their parts; and Ennis and Fair still have Jerami Grant and a great supporting cast. Napier doesn’t have that much support on a nightly basis. UConn would be completely lost without him and that’s why he merits my fifth and final spot.

RAPHIELLE JOHNSON:

Player of the Year: Yeah, I’m with the McDermott pick and defense really doesn’t have much to do with it. Neither is the second coming of famed “Jordan stopper” (haha) Gerald Wilkins, so while that end of the floor does matter very rarely does an elite defender win POY unless he’s a player like a Ralph Sampson on Patrick Ewing. That being said, have you guys looked at McDermott’s percentages? 48.4% from the field, 42.9% from three and 90.6% from the foul line. Not to be biased here given our “Chase for 180” series, but that’s pretty doggone good. I like what Parker’s done overall this season, and he’s a clear-cut first team All-American (this current two-game stretch isn’t the norm for him), but for Player of the Year I’ll take McDermott.

Coach of the Year: While I’m certainly big on both Fisher and Hoiberg here’s another name to consider: Jim Boeheim. I know many will go with the “well look how good his team is, no kidding they’re undefeated” retort, but yeah let’s look at his team. Specifically a backcourt that really needed to step up given their heavy personnel losses on the perimeter, and thus far Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney have done just that. We all knew Syracuse would be good, maybe with a loss or two by this point in the season. But I’m not in favor of using that against a coach when discussing these honors.

First Team All-America: And for Rob’s fifth guy on his All-America team, might it be necessary to consider UCLA’s Kyle Anderson? He may not score at the rate of the other possibilities, and given the other options that really isn’t his job. But to be averaging 14.5 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game underlines just how versatile the sophomore playmaker is. And his percentages: 51.6% from the field, 54.5% from three and a respectable (albeit, not elite) 75.4% from the foul line. I wouldn’t be mad with any of the possibilities listed, and would likely lean in favor of Napier given how important he is to UConn, but Kyle’s name should be in the discussion.

TERRENCE PAYNE:

Player of the Year: Doug McDermott. Ironic, right? In a season that’s all about freshmen, a senior is going walk away with the player of the year honors. But McDermott’s earned it. And it’s not like this is a shocking pick by any means.

Coach of the Year: There are so many candidates halfway through the season and all of them have really good cases. I’ll go with Bo Ryan of Wisconsin. The Badgers are currently undefeated and are one of the top teams in the nation’s best conference. Is he going to remain undefeated? No. But he’s exceed expectations this so far, and he has done a great job with this group of players. Did you know Wisconsin has won games by scoring 103 points and 48 points?

First Team All-America: Again, lot of candidates with valid arguments, but I see Marcus Smart rounding out the first team. Like Napier he’s so important to his team. He had one of the season’s best single-game performances in a win over Memphis. His numbers were a bit down following the rematch against Memphis, but he bounced back for 24 points and 11 rebounds in the Cowboys last win.

KEVIN DOYLE:

Player of the Year: It’s hard to disagree with McDermott. He is the best offensive player of the country, bar none — no one can score in the variety of ways he can. However, I am going to take the contrarian route, to an extent, and side with DeAndre Kane. It’s clear, based on his play through the non-conference, that he was the most significant transfer over the summer months. Kane is the primary reason Iowa State is undefeated and has surged into the Top 10. A 6-foot-4 point guard who does it all on the floor and stuffs the stat sheet each night to the tune of 16.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 6.3 apg, and 1.5 spg. He’s hardly a proficient jump-shooter, but has a knack for getting to the rim in the Cyclones’ high octane offense. More importantly, however, he manages the Iowa State — ranked 10th in efficiency, per KenPom.com — exceptionally well.

Coach of the Year: Wisconsin graduated two of their three leading scorers from a season ago, but Bo Ryan has the Bagers back to where they seemingly always are every year — and then some. What is so impressive about this Wisconsin team is their ability to win in a multitude of ways. Whether it’s grinding a game out and playing at a snail’s pace against Virginia, or throwing up 95 points against Illinois, Ryan has Wisconsin looking as good as the 2007-08 squad that won 31 games. He’s doing all of this with players that are unique to the offensive system he has built, and would not be nearly as effective elsewhere. Truly, one of the best coaches in the business.

First Team All-America: How about Florida’s Casey Prather? Prather was nothing more than a mere role player for his first three seasons at Florida, but has developed into the Gators’ best offensive player as a senior. Florida’s roster has been in flux for much of the season with Scottie Wilbekin, Kasey Hill, and Dorian Finney-Smith all being in and out of the lineup, but Prather has been the one constant. Averaging 17 points, 5.5 rebounds and shooting 62.4% FG, Prather is the primary reason why I am so high on Florida.

Texas A&M loses third underclassmen to pro ranks

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Texas A&M left us wanting more throughout the 2017-18 season, as a team with enough talent to win the SEC title lost 13 games and finished 9-9 in league play, somehow salvaging the memory of the year with a trip to the Sweet 16.

And after a third starter opted to sign with an agent this week, it appears as if the run the Aggies made will be the last, at least for the time being.

Tyler Davis, who led the Aggies in scoring (14.9 ppg) and was second in rebounding (8.9 rpg), will sign with an agent, he told The Undefeated. He’ll follow Robert Williams and D.J. Hogg as underclassmen leaving school, while seniors Duane Wilson and Tony Trocha-Morelos graduate. Williams is the only one of that group that is expected to be drafted on June 21st.

What that means is that Billy Kennedy’s window as an SEC contender has slammed shut.

Texas A&M only returns two of their top eight from what was quite possibly the most disappointing team in college basketball this side of Arizona. They currently have just nine scholarship players on the roster, including just three front court pieces. One, Josh Nebo, is a transfer from an NEC program, while the other two combined to play in 15 games last season.

This team is going to go as far as T.J. Starks, Admon Gilder and Savion Flagg carry them, and in an SEC that could quite possibly begin the year with five top 25 teams — four of which are in the NBC Sports top 15 — it’s hard to imagine that core doing much.

It’s unfortunate that the one team that Kennedy put together with a chance to make some noise never actually found a way to get going.

Report: Western Kentucky’s Lamonte Bearden staying in 2018 NBA Draft

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Western Kentucky guard Lamonte Bearden will stay in the 2018 NBA Draft after hiring an agent, according to a report from ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-3 Bearden just completed his redshirt junior season with the Hilltoppers as he averaged 11.8 points, 3.4 assists and 2.3 rebounds per game. A slippery guard with good size, Bearden shot 47 percent from the field and 82 percent from the charity stripe while also getting in the passing lanes for 1.7 steals per game.

Although Bearden has good size and athleticism at lead guard, his perimeter jumper has been inconsistent during his college career. He was 31 percent from three-point range (a career high) this past season. Starting his college career at Buffalo, Bearden helped lead the Bulls to the NCAA tournament before opting to play in Conference USA for Western Kentucky.

The Hilltoppers will certainly miss Bearden’s presence in their backcourt as the program has seven new players signed for next season.

USC makes a statement landing Class of 2019 four-star forward Isaiah Mobley

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USC ended a strong week of recruiting with another major statement on Friday afternoon as four-star Class of 2019 forward Isaiah Mobley pledged to the Trojans.

The second major Class of 2019 commitment for USC during the week, the 6-foot-9 power forward joins five-star big man Onyeka Okongwu. The Compton Magic teammates should be able to help replace the loss of Bennie Boatwright and Chimezie Metu, with Mobley playing the skilled, floor-spacing Boatwright’s role and Okongwu providing the interior energy of Metu.

Having two highly-touted big men commit in the same week is huge for USC. And it looks like the start of even bigger things in a continually-evolving SoCal recruiting war against Pac-12 rival UCLA.

Landing both Mobley and Okongwu is significant for the Trojans for a number of reasons. As previously mentioned, both come from the famous Compton Magic grassroots program that runs on the adidas Gauntlet. While landing AAU teammates from a regional program is common for high-major programs of USC’s stature, the commitments signify that the Trojans are the ones with the biggest pull with the Magic at the current moment.

And the Magic used to get raided by UCLA.

In the past few years, the Bruins signed T.J. Leaf, Ike Anigbogu, Jaylen Hands and Jalen Hill from the Compton Magic. Now, it’s USC who looks to be in the driver’s seat recruiting the program.

The Trojans aren’t done, either.

Newly-hired USC assistant coach Eric Mobley is the father Isaiah Mobley, as well as five-star Class of 2020 big man Evan Mobley. As Rivals national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi noted in his story about Isaiah, “Barring something strange happening, look for the younger Mobley to join his brother and father by committing to USC within the next two weeks.”

That would mean the Trojans would have landed three top-30 caliber big men in the span of a few weeks. That allows the USC coaching staff to recruit other positions extremely hard. Outside of Kentucky, USC has arguably the best future recruiting status of any program in the country.

The Trojans have taken full advantage of UCLA letting go popular assistant coach David Grace. The Bruins are still pulling in top-100 prospects, as evidenced by Grant Sherfield and Jaime Jaquez’s commitments in the Class of 2019, but losing two Magic kids in a week to a rival has to sting.

Considering where USC was last fall with the FBI investigation, who saw this type of recruiting swing coming? Other programs involved in the investigation like Arizona, Auburn and Oklahoma State have landed solid recruits. They also haven’t pulled in nearly the high-level talent that the Trojans currently have committed.

Even amidst the uncertainty surrounding the FBI investigation, USC is still pulling in elite talent while beating local rivals. It’ll be fascinating to see if the Trojans can continue to recruit at this level as they try to fill out the rest of an important recruiting class.

USF signs Oklahoma State transfer Zack Dawson

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USF landed a major addition on Friday as the school announced the signing of Oklahoma State transfer guard Zack Dawson.

The 6-foot-3 Dawson is a former consensus top-100 prospect coming out of high school as he’ll have to sit out the 2018-19 season due to NCAA transfer rules. A native of the region, Dawson will have three years of eligibility remaining once he’s able to play again.

Dismissed from Oklahoma State on Dec. 14 for violating team rules, Dawson averaged 4.4 points and1.6 assists per contest as he only suited up in five games for the Cowboys. Once Dawson is eligible to play for USF, he gives the Bulls a potentially dynamic backcourt along with rising sophomore guard David Collins.

“We are excited to welcome Zack back home to Florida as a member of the Bulls family,” USF head coach Brian Gregory said in a release. “He is a dynamic and versatile guard who can impact the game in a variety of ways. Zack comes from one of the best high school programs in the state, South Miami High School, so he immediately brings a championship attitude here to the University of South Florida.”

This is a really nice pickup for the Bulls, as they utilized a local transfer to help bolster the roster. Landing top-100 kids out of high school is going to be tough until USF boosts its basketball credibility. But getting a former top-100 player on the transfer market is a solid approach to building the Bulls into a respectable threat.

Michael Porter Jr.: ‘I’m the best player in this draft’

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The more I think about it, the more that Michael Porter Jr. is becoming the most interesting prospect at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft.

As a high school senior, he was considered by many to be the top player in the class, a 6-foot-10 combo-forward with a lethal three-point shot, NBA dunk contest athleticism and the versatility to, one day, be a multi-positional defender that would seamlessly fit into fit into the modern NBA.

But his one and only season at Missouri was derailed by back surgery, and that has allowed the rest of the class of 2017 to shine while we have focused on everything else that comes with drafting Porter. The reputation that he had for the majority of his high school career of being soft. The intel that was coming out of Missouri, that he was cocky and arrogant and something of a bad teammate. Questions about whether or not he is truly a wing or a four, more like a more athletic Lauri Markkanen.

When the only thing that we’ve had a chance to see this season is an out-of-shape Porter struggling in postseason games, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that his hype train has derailed.

“I know without a doubt that I’m the — I played against all these guys, they’re all great players — but I’m the best player in this draft,” Porter told ESPN. “And I just can’t wait to show what I’m capable of.”

And therein lies the conundrum for any team drafting him.

I have little doubt that Porter is going to be able to score and score a lot in the NBA. I think he and Bagley are the safest bets to average 20 points at the NBA level before their rookie contract runs out.

But putting up points and playing on winning basketball teams are not one and the same. For a ten-year stretch after his rookie season, Rudy Gay averaged at least 17.2 points while making the playoffs once during that stretch. Is that what Porter is going to turn into at the next level? Or will be find a way to become the kind of NBA defender his athleticism says he should be and, by the time he signs his first contract extension, end up the player that Paul George is?

The mitigating factor here is that Porter is going to do a fantastic job in every interview he has. He’s an intelligent, charismatic and articulate kid that is going to be able to sell himself. The red flags that he has aren’t going to show when he’s sitting down in front of NBA general managers.

They would have shown up — or been written off — if there was a season’s worth of game-tape available, but there isn’t. What that means is that scouts are going to have to decide whether or not Porter, who by all accounts had a very impressive senior season in high school, is that player or the one that had the reputation for being soft for years before that.

And all of that is going to come after the doctor’s have a chance to examine his back to see if the surgery he underwent fixed what was wrong, or if this is the kind of situation where a recurrence is likely.

The result is the widest range for any player at the top of the draft.

He could sell someone on taking him as a top four pick. He could also slide his way down to the Knicks at No. 9 or the 76ers at No. 10.

Which is what makes him the most interesting prospect at the top of this draft.