Player of the Year Power Rankings: New faces are popping up in our top ten

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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: Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski made a couple of interesting comments last night regarding Okafor and his Duke team. I’m paraphrasing here, but he essentially said that Duke can’t get comfortable relying on the big fella to bail them out when they play poorly. He had 25 points and 20 boards against Elon in an uninspiring 13-point win on Monday. Hey, if you need a security blanket, it might as well be the best one in the country.

2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: I’m not ready to drop Kaminsky out of the No. 2 spot just yet, but I am ready to see him put together the kind of performances that we expect out of a Player of the Year favorite. They should start coming, too, as Wisconsin’s schedule suddenly looks quite friendly. They play at a 9-1 Cal team on Dec. 22nd, but they won’t play a ranked team until … Feb. 24th trip to Maryland? They get Nebraska and Iowa twice, Indiana and Illinois at home, and a trip to Michigan before then.

3. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: There’s only one player in the top 25 that is currently averaging a double-double, and it’s not Okafor or Kaminsky. It’s Harrell, who is currently averaging 17.0 points and 10.4 boards for the Cardinals this season after going for 21 and 11 against Indiana and posting a 19 and 17 line in an all-too-close win over UNC Wilmington.

But Harrell’s value to Louisville is about so much more than just the numbers. He’s a fountain of energy and excitement, something that the Cardinals need if their pressuring defense is going to be effective. He’s also such a versatile weapon on the defensive end. He can more or less guard any position on the floor, quick enough to switch on ball-screens and capable of being a wing or the center in Louisville’s 2-3 zone.

Rick Pitino also likes to play him at the point of their most aggressive press, a 1-2-1-1 trap that can create sequences like this:

4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: Before the season, Mike Brey told me that, in addition to Grant being his team’s “closer”, losing his star hurt because Grant was so good at getting teammates open looks. His presence — whether it’s his passing, his ability of drawing help defense or the focus that opponents have to place on him — just made things that much easier for Notre Dame.

This season, the Irish are fifth nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency. They lead the nation in effective field goal percentage, are shooting 64.7 percent on their twos and 40.6 percent on their threes. Every starter has an offensive rating of at least 123.6. By comparison, Pat Connaughton had the team’s highest offensive rating last year at 123.8, and those Irish finished 43rd nationally in offensive efficiency.

Granted, Notre Dame has played the second-worst schedule in the country, according to Kenpom, and their defense isn’t all that improved from last year. So don’t pencil them into the Final Four just yet.

5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein is not only the leading scorer and rebounder for this Kentucky team, but he’s also the best defensive player in all of college basketball. He more than anyone — and that includes Alex Poythress, who tore his ACL last week — is the reason that John Calipari is slowly but surely going away from a straight platoon system. He’s actually playing more minutes than he did last season, and in the last four games, he’s averaging 28.8 minutes compared to Marcus Lee’s 11 minutes. Against Texas, Cauley-Stein played 33 minutes. Lee played four.

6. Georges Niang, Iowa State: There’s a fair argument to make that Niang hasn’t even been Iowa State’s best player this season, I guess, but I’ll ride with Niang for now. He was terrific in the second half in the biggest win of the season for the Cyclones, as they blew out rival Iowa in Iowa’s gym. The best part? He sealed it with a kiss:

7. Ty Wallace, Cal: For my money, Wallace is the most underrated player in America right now. A rangy, 6-foot-4 lead guard, Wallace is averaging 19.4 points, 8.7 boards, 4.5 assists, 1.4 steals and shooting 45.8 percent from three in 34.2 minutes. Every one of those stats are team-highs for the Bears, who are now 9-1 on the season. Cal gets Eastern Washington, Wisconsin and Washington at home in the next two weeks. By Jan. 3rd, we’ll know if Wallace and his team are for real.

8. Justin Anderson, Virginia: Virginia hasn’t taken the court since their 74-57 win at VCU two Saturdays ago, so we don’t have much new to discuss in regards to Anderson. But I was curious anyway, because his emergence as Virginia’s leading scorer — and one of the nation’s deadliest three-point shooters through the first month — is as big of a surprise as anything this season.

source:  To the right, you can see a shot-chart for Anderson, and after watching every one of his field goal attempts this season, there really isn’t all that much different about his game. He’s not a great one-on-one player, he’s not going to beat anyone off the dribble that often and Virginia doesn’t run much for him because he’s fairly limited offensively. But he’s terrific moving without the ball, as aggressive as ever going to the rim and he’s much, much better at getting open on the perimeter, in transition and in half-court sets.

Anderson is somewhat limited on the offensive end of the floor, but he knows that. It’s not often that he forces drives or throws up heat-checks. And what he does well, he does really, really well. He’s a classic 3-and-D kind of player right now, and that fits perfectly with Tony Bennett’s system.

9. Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga: As much as I love Kevin Pangos and what he’s been able to do for the Zags this year, Wiltjer has become the most potent weapon for Mark Few (some of that has to do with Josh Perkins being out, but that’s another post for another time). His ability in the pick-and-roll, his three-point shooting and his skill on the block have made him one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the country. It remains to be seen whether issues with defense and rebounding will end up hurting the Zags this year.

10. Delon Wright, Utah: Utah has played three games in December: they beat Wichita State in overtime, they won at BYU and they lost by two in a de-facto road game against Kansas in Kansas City. Wright’s numbers in those three games: 18.0 points, 7.3 boards, 4.7 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks while playing all-but four of a possible 125 minutes. Oh, and he’s shooting 35.0 percent from three this season as the Utes look like the clear-cut No. 2 team in the Pac-12.

OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Craig Bradshaw (Belmont), Tyler Haws (BYU), LaDontae Henton (Providence), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Jonathan Holmes (Texas), Angel Rodriguez (Miami), D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State), Wesley Saunders (Harvard), Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Joseph Young (Oregon)

The Monday Overreaction podcast: Florida stinks, Tennessee doesn’t, George Papas is a legend

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We are back for another rendition of the Monday Overreactions podcast. Rob Dauster was joined by Bobby Reagan to walk through everything that happened in college basketball in the last 72 hours, including an impressive win for UConn over Florida, a dominant performance for Washington over Tennessee and Vermont’s upset win at St. John’s. They also talk through the atrocious flopping rule and how it cost Xavier as well as Monmouth’s George Papas, who set the college basketball world on fire with the most ridiculous garbage dunk of all-time.

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Duke back to No. 1 as the top reshuffles

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This week’s Top 25 is tough to put together because so many of the top teams in the country keep on losing.

The No. 1 team in the country lost at home to Evansville. That’s really all you need to know at this point. But since they had beaten the previous No. 1 team in the country in Michigan State, it makes trying to decipher the top of the sport just that much more difficult.

To be frank, I think this is going to end up being one of those seasons where there is never truly a “No. 1 team.” It’s the kind of season where there 15 teams that feel like they are good enough to be a “top ten team,” so to speak, but none of those 15 feel like they are good enough to be a “top three team.”

Put another way, there are a whole bunch of teams that feel like they are somewhere between pretty good and very good and no one that feels like they are remotely close to unbeatable.

We’ll see if that ends up being the way that everything plays out.

But for now, I think that it’s fair to say that you can have the top 10-12 teams in any order this week and it would be tough to argue against it.

So with that in mind, here is the Week 2 version of the NBC Sports Top 25:

1. DUKE (4-0, Last Week: 3)
2. LOUISVILLE (4-0, 2)
3. MICHIGAN STATE (2-1, 4)
4. KANSAS (2-1, 5)
5. KENTUCKY (2-1, 1)
6. GONZAGA (4-0, 6)
7. OHIO STATE (3-0, 24)
8. MARYLAND (3-0, 8)
9. VIRGINIA (3-0, 9)
10. TEXAS TECH (3-0, 10)
11. OREGON (4-0, 11)
12. ARIZONA (4-0, 14)
13. NORTH CAROLINA (3-0, 13)
14. SETON HALL (3-1, 12)
15. UTAH STATE (4-0, 15)
16. VILLANOVA (2-1, 6)
17. XAVIER (4-0, 17)
18. TENNESSEE (3-0, 23)
19. AUBURN (4-0, 22)
20. MEMPHIS (3-1, 20)
21. TEXAS (4-0, 25)
22. WASHINGTON (2-1, 21)
23. VCU (4-0, NR)
24. LSU (2-1, 18)
25. BAYLOR (2-1, NR)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 VCU, No. 25 BAYLOR
DROPPED OUT: No. 16 SAINT MARY’S, No. 19 FLORIDA

No. 15 Florida falls to UConn 62-59 on the road

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STORRS, Conn. — Christian Vital scored 15 points and made a key steal at the end of the game as UConn upset No. 15 Florida 62-59 on Sunday.

Tyler Polley also scored 15 points and Josh Carlton added 13 for the Huskies (2-1) who led by five points at halftime and never trailed after intermission.

A layup by Florida’s Keyontae Johnson with just over a minute to go cut the lead to 60-59, but those would be the last points the Gators scored.

Vital hit two free throws with 17 seconds left and Florida had a chance to tie. But Alterique Gilbert tipped the ball out of Johnson’s hands and Vital grabbed it and dribbled away, securing the win.

Kerry Blackshear Jr. had 15 points and eight rebounds for Florida (2-2), falling two boards shy of a fourth straight double-double. But he fouled out with 4:37 left in the game and his team trailing 53-49.

Andrew Nembhard scored Florida’s next four points, including a 3-pointer that brought the Gators within a point at 54-53.

Blackshear scored the game’s first two baskets, but the Gators made just four of their first 13 attempts from the floor.

But UConn had a tougher start, going without a basket for the first six minutes.

Vital got the UConn crowd into the game with a 3-pointer, a dunk and a jumper on consecutive trips down the court that gave the Huskies an 11-6 lead.

The Huskies held Florida to two Blackshear free throws over the final 4:17 of the first half and led 25-20 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

The loss ends a rough seven days for the Gators. Florida was No. 6 coming into the season but lost to Florida State a week ago and beat Towson by just six points on Thursday. The Gators offense came into the game averaging just 63.7 points per game, while giving up 60.7.

UConn: Highly touted freshman guard James Bouknight has finished serving his three-game suspension following his arrest on charges including evading police in a September car accident. Bouknight, who is due in court on Monday, is expected to suit up for the Huskies in this week’s Charleston Classic, where it’s possible the Huskies could again face either Saint Joseph’s or Florida, depending on how the early rounds pan out.

UP NEXT

Florida: The Gators face Saint Joseph’s in the Charleston Classic on Thursday.

UConn: The Huskies also travel to Charleston and face Buffalo in the first round of the tournament on Thursday.

Seton Hall placed on probation for three years for transfer tampering

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SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. — The NCAA has placed the men’s basketball program at Seton Hall on probation for three years, taken away a scholarship for the 2020-21 academic year and limited recruiting in each of the next two seasons as part of a negotiated resolution of a transfer tampering case started in 2016.

Under terms of the agreement announced Friday, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard was given a two-game suspension he has already served, and his former assistant and current Saint Peter’s University head coach Shaheen Holloway received a four-game suspension that has two games remaining.

Seton Hall, which is currently ranked No. 12 and dropped a 76-73 decision to No. 3 Michigan State on Thursday night, remains eligible for the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA also announced Friday Seton Hall has been fined $5,000 plus 1% of the men’s basketball budget and had its scholarships reduced to a maximum of 12 in 2020-21. Willard will have to attend an NCAA rules seminar in 2020 and the program will have a two-week ban on recruiting communication this academic year and next.

Holloway, who was Willard’s assistant at Seton Hall in 2016, is prohibited from all recruiting communication for six weeks during the 2019-20 academic year. He also is required to attend a rules seminar in each of the next two years.

The case centers around current Seton Hall forward Taurean Thompson, who transferred from Syracuse to Seton Hall in August 2017.

During the investigation, the NCAA learned Holloway had approximately 243 impermissible contacts with the prospect’s mother from Nov. 16, 2016, through Aug. 28, 2017, while the prospect was enrolled at his initial institution.

The NCAA said Holloway and the prospect’s mother had 154 phone calls without written permission from the prospect’s athletic director. After Thompson informed his original university of his intent to transfer and requested permission to contact Seton Hall, the university denied the request. After the request was denied, Holloway still had 87 impermissible calls with the prospect’s mother.

Willard, who has taken Seton Hall to the past four NCAA tournaments, was penalized for failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance within his program. He admitted to not taking adequate steps to report or stop the calls when he found out about them.

According to the agreement, Holloway did not report the calls with the prospect’s mother because they involved a personal relationship outside of the prospect and basketball, and he believed the communications were permissible.

“Seton Hall University, in conjunction with the NCAA, recently concluded a review of an infraction within our men’s basketball program,” Seton Hall said in a statement Friday afternoon. “Our department was proactive in our review and fully cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff. While the violation was inadvertent, it was nonetheless against NCAA bylaws, and for that we take full responsibility.”

The case was processed through the new negotiated resolution process. The process was used instead of a formal hearing or summary disposition because the university, the head coach, the former associate head coach and the enforcement staff agreed on the violations and the penalties.

The Division I Committee on Infractions reviewed the case to determine whether the resolution was in the best interests of the NCAA and whether the agreed-upon penalties were reasonable.

Holloway is in his second season at Saint Peter’s. He will miss games against Providence on Saturday and Wagner on Wednesday. His first game will be against St. Francis, New York, on Nov. 30.

Quinones, Achiuwa send No. 13 Memphis past Alcorn St 102-56

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Despite playing their first game without heralded recruit James Wiseman, the No. 13 Memphis Tigers had little trouble with Alcorn State.

That’s what happens when you have the top recruiting class in the nation.

Freshman Lester Quinones had 21 points and 10 rebounds and fellow freshman Precious Achiuwa added 20 points Saturday, sending No. 13 Memphis to a 102-56 romp over Alcorn State.

Wiseman was sidelined because of eligibility issues, but Memphis hardly missed him in bouncing back from its first defeat of the season, an 82-74 loss to Oregon on Tuesday night.

“His presence is huge. Seven-footer in the paint. His dominance obviously wasn’t felt,” Quinones said of not having the 7-foot-1 Wiseman. “I feel like other guys stepped up.”

“We understand James is not playing right now,” Achiuwa added, “which hurts the team in a way because he’s a big part of the team. But this is an opportunity for other guys to play.”

DJ Jeffries finished with 15 points and Tyler Harris and Lance Thomas added 11 each for Memphis (3-1). Isaiah Attles led Alcorn State (1-3) with 13 points while Troymain Crosby had 10.

Wiseman was declared ineligible because Memphis coach Penny Hardaway helped with the family’s moving expenses from Nashville to Memphis two years ago when Hardaway was coach at East High School. Wiseman’s status is in limbo while the NCAA considers disciplinary action.

“We don’t want to change too much because we know he’s going to be back earlier than later,” Hardaway said after moving Achiuwa into the center spot vacated by Wiseman. “The guys can just slide over. They already understand the rotations. They understand the offensive side and the defensive side of what we want. We’re not going to change too much.”

Alcorn State’s zone initially took Memphis out of any flow, the Tigers choosing long passes across the top of the defense and struggling to get the ball inside. That kept the Braves in the game near the midway point of the first half.

The Memphis defense eventually put pressure on the Braves, leading to 16 Alcorn State turnovers in the half. Memphis put together a 24-3 run to close the half and carry a 52-24 lead into the break. The lead would swell to 53 in the second half.

“We didn’t follow the game plan,” Braves coach Montez Robinson said. “I thought if we followed the game plan – which we did in the first four-to-five minutes of the game – and stuck to that, it may have been a different outcome. Not knowing what the outcome would be, but it would have been different.

“It wouldn’t have been a 40-to-50-point game.”

BIG PICTURE

Alcorn State: The Braves did well in staying with Memphis for a while even with the Tigers employing a fullcourt press. But the Memphis defense proved intimidating, and the Braves began overpassing inside. That led to way too many turnovers — 26 for the game.

Memphis: Without Wiseman, Memphis relied on Achiuwa inside. While his 20 points and eight rebounds were impressive, his 8 of 20 from the free throw line was a detraction. Still, overall, that wasn’t a factor as Memphis controlled the final 30 minutes of the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Certainly, a rout over the Braves, who haven’t beaten a non-conference Division I team since the 2012-13 season, is not going to enhance the Tigers’ ranking. The potential impact will come from last Tuesday’s loss to Oregon in Portland.

FOUL SHOOTING WOES

Achiuwa’s foul shooting stood out enough that even the freshman forward noticed it on the stat sheet before the postgame press conference. “I’m probably one of the few dudes that can get to the free throw line at will,” he said. “My physicality and the way I play. …I’ve just got to knock them down in the game. That just tells me I have to work on that. There’s room for improvement.”

LAST WORD

“The sky’s the limit for those guys. They’re young so they’re going to continue to get better, continue to grow. – Alcorn State coach Montez Robinson on No. 13 Memphis.

UP NEXT

Memphis: Hosts Arkansas-Little Rock on Wednesday.