Player of the Year Power Rankings: Jahlil Okafor remains on top

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Jahlil Okafor (Getty Images)

1. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: I’ve introduced you guys to my friend Rizzo before, a hardcore gambler and a Vermont-obsessed DJ. (Weird combo, right?) Anyway, a couple of weeks back, Rizzo and I got into an argument about Jahlil Okafor. I said that Okafor is a future star, that he’s the best low-post prospect I’ve seen come through the college ranks and that his ceiling is Tim Duncan. Rizzo disagrees. Rizzo think Okafor will be a massive bust, mostly because he watched Okafor get pushed around by Cliff Alexander in the McDonald’s All-American game.

I bring Rizzo up again because after Duke’s win over UConn in New Jersey, Rizzo sent me a series of texts more or less explaining how Okafor stinks because he couldn’t dominate UConn that had Amida Brimah on the floor for 13 minutes. My response?

Well, nothing.

You don’t reason with Rizzo.

So I decided to explain here, for everyone, that Okafor’s ability to pass out of the post is what makes him so good. You see, on Thursday, UConn almost always had two players running at Okafor when he got a touch in the post. Sometimes it was a big-to-big double, sometimes it was Ryan Boatright or another guard digging down, sometimes they doubled down with the guy that threw the ball into the post, whatever. What makes Okafor so good is his ability to distribute the ball out of these situations, creating shots for his teammates when he doesn’t necessarily get an assist out of it.

In this first example, you see Okafor kicking the ball out from the double-team to Justise Winslow, who swings the ball to Quinn Cook for an open three:

In the second example, Okafor throws a ridiculous cross court pass to Matt Jones, who beats a close out and finds Amile Jefferson on the baseline who, eventually, scores:

And then there are passes like this that he makes:

Regardless of how good the shooters are around Okafor, you have to double-team him. When you don’t, this happens:

2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: You got a glimpse on Monday night of what is going to plague Kaminsky all season long when it comes to his Player of the Year candidacy. Nigel Hayes finished with 17 points and 13 boards and Sam Dekker added 14 points. Kaminsky had 14 as well, but he was the third-best player on the floor for the Badgers. As talented as he is, Bo Ryan isn’t going to pound the ball inside to him. When Hayes or Dekker gets it going — which will happen quite a bit this season — they’re going to get plenty of touches. Will that limit Kaminsky’s numbers?

3. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: In the past two games, Grant has not shot the ball well, finishing with a combined 19 points on 5-for-22 shooting, including 2-of-10 from beyond the arc. But the Irish won both of those games by at least 25 points, including a 31-point beatdown of Purdue. Grant added 15 assists and just one turnover. That’s a good sign for the Irish.

4. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein is the guy that makes Kentucky’s engine run defensively. His ability to play at the top of Kentucky’s press combined with being able to switch ball-screens and protect the rim as well as anyone in the country makes him so valuable.

5. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: There may not be a more valuable player on this list than Harrell given what he provides Louisville offensively and defensively. He’s their spark, but he’s also the guy that will be suspended for Tuesday night’s game with CSUN after getting tossed for throwing a punch in a win at Western Kentucky. Even emotional leaders need to keep their composure.

6. Georges Niang, Iowa State: Niang played just 17 minutes in a 29-point win over Drake since last week. He’s still the focal point for this team offensively, especially if Bryce Dejean-Jones remains in Hoibergs doghouse.

7. Ty Wallace, Cal: Wallace has been terrific this season, and while Cal got worked over by Wisconsin on Monday night, it wasn’t Wallace’s fault. He finished with 17 points, seven boards and two assists and is now averaging 19.3 points, 8.8 boards and 4.2 assists. If you haven’t seen him play, what the athletic, 6-foot-4 point guard does best is help on the defensive glass and slash to the rim off the dribble, where he’s a lefty that finishes better with his right hand. The perfect example:

8. Justin Anderson, Virginia: I keep waiting for Justin Anderson’s shooting to come back to earth. In wins over Cleveland State and Harvard last week, he was 4-for-6 from beyond the arc and is now hitting 60.0 percent from three on the season. That’s pretty good.

9. Delon Wright, Utah: We named Wright a first-team Midseason All-American yesterday. Here’s what we had to say about him: “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.”

10. Ron Baker, Wichita State: Baker’s development as a player has continued this season, as he’s having easily the best season of his college career. He’s averaging a career-high 17.3 points, shooting a career-high 46.0 percent from three and posting a career-high 127.8 offensive rating, according to What’s interesting, however, is how much his role has changed this season. As a sophomore, Baker played more of a combo-guard role, getting used in more pick-and-roll actions and acting as more of a facilitator. This season, he’s primarily a spot-up shooter (stats via Synergy):


There’s a reason for this, I believe. With Cleanthony Early on the roster last season, the Shockers had a go-to scorer. They didn’t need Baker to be a guy hunting shots and trying to score 20 points a night. With Evan Wessel in the lineup instead, Gregg Marshall is in need of more of a scoring pop, and Baker is the guy to fill that role.

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)

Charlotte head coach Ron Sanchez resigns after winning CBI title

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ron Sanchez resigned as head coach of the Charlotte 49ers.

Sanchez took over the 49ers on March 19, 2018, inheriting a team coming off a 6-23 campaign. In five years Charlotte went 72-78 under Sanchez, highlighted by winning the College Basketball Invitational championship this past season, the Niners’ first post-season tournament title in school history.

The 22 wins this past season are the most for Charlotte since 2001.

“Ron took over a proud but struggling program and carefully rebuilt it into a 22-game winner. He has led with class, dignity and devotion to our young men,” Charlotte director of athletics Mike Hill said. “His decision to step down from Charlotte was a difficult one for him and everyone associated with our program. We wish him and his family every happiness.”

Hill said the team has already begun a national search for a replacement.

“This is a bittersweet day for me and my family as I step down to pursue other opportunities,” said Sanchez, who came the 49ers after working as an assistant coach at Virginia under Tony Bennett. “It has been a tremendous privilege to lead the 49ers basketball program over the past five years and I want to thank Niner Nation for its support. I will be forever grateful to my staff, players and the university.”

Marquette extends Shaka Smart’s contract through 2029-30 season

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MILWAUKEE — Marquette coach Shaka Smart has received a contract extension after leading the Golden Eagles to their first outright regular-season championship and tournament title in the Big East.

Smart’s contract now runs through the 2029-30 season. This is the first extension Smart has received since signing a six-year deal when he took over as Marquette’s coach in 2021.

Marquette didn’t release financial terms of Smart’s deal.

“In a very short period of time, Shaka and his staff have done a tremendous job of establishing a winning culture, both on and off the court,” athletic director Bill Scholl said in a statement. “Shaka’s vision for the program is focused on extended, sustainable success. The individuals who interact with the team on a daily basis are able to observe frequent examples of growth and the excitement around the program is contagious.”

Marquette has gone 48-20 in Smart’s two seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament each of those years.

The Golden Eagles went 29-7 and won the Big East’s regular-season and tournament championships last season after the league’s coaches had picked them to finish ninth out of 11 teams. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.