Player of the Year Power Rankings: We have a new leader!

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Jahlil Okafor, Frank Kaminsky (AP Photo)

Every Tuesday, we will be providing you with a breakdown of the top ten candidates for National Player of the Year. You can read through the older posts here.

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke
2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin

Jahlil Okafor and Frank Kaminsky went head-to-head last Wednesday as Duke and Wisconsin squared off in the Kohl Center. Okafor’s team got the best of the Badgers, as Duke won 80-70, but it was Kaminsky that ended up with the better line, finishing with 17 points, nine boards and two assists to Okafor’s 13 points and six boards.

We wrote plenty about the different ways that Mike Krzyzewski and Bo Ryan utilize their all-american big men in the lead-up to the game, but the irony of it all was that the way that Coach K schemed basically took the two out of it and turned this into a battle of the guards. Duke switched all exchanges defensively, meaning that anytime there was a screen — or even two players running by each other — Duke would switch, regardless of size.

This meant that Wisconsin couldn’t invert their offense, that they couldn’t run what they wanted to run and couldn’t take advantage of their size relative to Duke. But it did mean that Wisconsin’s bigger, slower defenders had to try and cover Duke’s quick, talented perimeter players.

The upper image shows you an example of what a typical Wisconsin possession devolved into. The bottom image is a screen grab of power forward Nigel Hayes, matched up with Justise Winslow, reaching instead of moving as a help defender, allowing Quinn Cook a lane to drive and find Okafor for a layup:

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Screengrabs via Synergy

The irony of it all.

The two best individuals matchup in the best game of the season and it was decided by coaching and maximizing the ability of role players.

And Duke won out.

I can’t be the only one hoping for a rematch in March, can I?

3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Mike Brey has harped, over and over again, on the fact that Grant’s return is so important because Grant is this team’s “closer”. The Irish lost nine games by single digits after Grant was suspended last season, and that would have changed seeing as he’s the guy they go to down the stretch of games. Notre Dame has played two close games this year. In the final eight minutes of regulation in a win against Michigan State, Grant had ten points and an assist and, had the refs called a foul on this … :

[youtube=http://youtu.be/LxrO9LSK7Xo?t=2m3s]

… likely would have been the hero as well.

In the final 12 minutes of a loss to Providence, Grant had 12 points and four assists, setting up all of the final 25 points the Irish scored in that game. Notre Dame lost by one. Grant did not take the final shot, but it did look like he got fouled on a drive a few seconds before that.

4. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: Like I said earlier, we talked last week about just how good — and efficient — Pangos has been for the Zags this season, but he learned the hard way that Tucson is where efficiency goes to die. Pangos was 3-for-10 from the floor with four turnovers in an overtime loss to Arizona. He did hit a big three in overtime to cut a deficit to 64-63, but he wasn’t that effective down the stretch. He turned the ball over in a tie game in the final minute of regulation, down by one with 1:15 left in overtime and then, down by one on the ensuing possession, was stripped and lucky to get the ball back on held possession.

5. Caris LeVert, Michigan: LeVert is averaging 18.6 points, 5.6 boards and 4.4 assists this year, and while the Wolverines did just lose to NJIT at home, LeVert did his best to make sure that didn’t happen, finishing with 32 points and making big shot after big shot late. He’s demanding the ball at the end of games, which is something that he hasn’t done before.

6. Georges Niang, Iowa State: You see how versatile Niang is as a scorer by the numbers, this is a quintessential Georges. Slip a high-ball screen (1) and receive a pass on the right wing, using a pump-fake (2), a nasty behind-the-back move (3) and another pump-fake (4) to get all the way to the block and score over a shot blocker that’s bigger and much more athletic:

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Screengrabs via ESPN

http://instagram.com/p/wXcGlRHw1a/

7. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: All that talk about Montrezl Harrell adding a three-point shot during the offseason appeared to be supported by the 6-foot-8 center hitting three threes in the season-opener against Minnesota. In the six games since, he’s 0-for-9 from beyond the arc.

8. Justin Anderson, Virginia: The most surprising development of the early part of this season has been the development of Anderson into a knockdown three-point shooter for the ‘Hoos. He’s 20-for-34, or 58.8 percent, through nine games, and in two road wins against VCU and Maryland last week, Anderson was 11-for-16 from the floor, 4-for-7 from three and averaged 18.5 points.

9. Angel Rodriguez, Miami: Rodriguez has come crashing down to earth after a scorching start to the season. In his last three games, he’s shooting 6-for-31 from the floor and 3-for-13 from three with nine turnovers and nine assists during that stretch. The Hurricanes did beat Illinois last Tuesday, but they lost to Green Bay at home by 13 in that game. Rodriguez finished 2-for-15 in the loss.

10. LaDontae Henton, Providence: In his last three games, Henton is 11-for-40 from the floor and 3-for-15 from three in a trio of losses for the Friars. One of those losses was at Kentucky, which is understandable. The second was at Boston College, which is not. The third was at home t0 in-state rival Brown. The fact that he’s still on this list should tell you just how good he was to start the season.

OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Craig Bradshaw (Belmont), Quinn Cook (Duke), Tyler Haws (BYU), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Jonathan Holmes (Texas), D’angelo Russell (Ohio State), Wesley Saunders (Harvard), Robert Upshaw (Washington), Tyrone Wallace (Cal), Delon Wright (Utah), Joseph Young (Oregon)

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.