Player of the Year Power Rankings: Jahlil Okafor the favorite, Delon Wright top three?

2 Comments
source:
Delon Wright (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: Duke lost their first game of the season on Sunday, succumbing at N.C. State, 87-75, despite Okafor’s 23 points, 12 boards, three blocks and three steals. The key numbers there? Three blocks and three steals. What did the Blue Devils in against the Wolfpack was the dynamic play of guards Trevor Lacey, Ralston Turner and, to a point, Cat Barber. The Blue Devils play a style of man-to-man defense that requires guards to pressure out to half court, with off-ball defenders pushing out and cutting into perimeter passing lanes. The goal is to take a team out of their offense, but one of the by-products of that is that it creates driving lanes for ball-handlers.

Against ACC opponents, there is going to be pressure put on Okafor as a rim protector, which can potentially be a problem given the fact that he’s not exactly known for being the second-coming of Tim Duncan. That said, eight blocks in three ACC games is a good start.

2. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: The Badgers lost their last game, succumbing to Rutgers — I know, right? — in a road game where Wisconsin played without Kaminsky (concussion) and without Trae Jackson for much of the second half (broken foot). At this point, we’re in a holding pattern. Just how long will this concussion keep Kaminsky off the floor, and just how much will the absence of Jackson hurt them?

3. Delon Wright, Utah: There’s an argument to be made that Wright is the single most valuable player in the country. He’s a defensive menace against opposing ball-handlers, the spark for a team that currently ranks sixth-nationally in defensive efficiency, according to Kenpom. His turnover rate is down and his assist rate is up playing on a team that has, at times, struggled to score. Perhaps most importantly, Wright has not spent his senior season in college trying to prove to NBA scouts that he can shoot.

The biggest concern for Wright as a pro prospect is that he’s a career 23.8 percent three-point shooter. But in his last five games, he’s only attempted five three-pointers. He knows his strengths and he knows his weaknesses, and he knows which of those things will help Utah win games. The Utes look like they’re in the discussion for being the best team in the Pac-12, and they’ll get a chance to prove it on Saturday: at Arizona.

4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: We diagrammed Jerian Grant’s importance to Notre Dame’s No. 1-ranked offensive attack (according to Kenpom) last week. He’s been terrific all season long, but in their two games last week — at North Carolina and against Virginia — Grant finished with just 14 points combined, shooting 3-for-16 from the floor. He’s missed all nine of his threes in ACC play and, if you discount the 6-for-8 he shot from deep against Coppin State, is shooting just 28.4 percent from three on the season. And despite Grant’s (relative) struggles, the Irish are still playing like one of the ACC’s elite, having won at North Carolina and taken Virginia down to the wire.

source: Getty Images
Montrezl Harrell (Getty Images)

5. Montrezl Harrell, Louisville: Harrell had six points and was 2-for-5 from the floor as Louisville struggled to beat Clemson on Wednesday night. He was 4-for-10 from the floor with just nine points as the Cardinals lost at North Carolina on Saturday, although that was a game that Louisville led by 13 midway through the second half.

6. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein is still a major part of what Kentucky wants to do on the defensive end of the floor, but his struggles on the offensive end are becoming more apparent. He was 4-for-12 from the floor and had just 11 total points as the Wildcats needed three total overtimes to beat Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

7. Justin Anderson, Virginia: Anderson’s hot start this season hasn’t slowed down yet. Through three ACC games, Anderson is shooting 44.4 percent from beyond the arc and averaging 14.3 points. His numbers will never be eye-popping — eventually, that 56.3 percent three-point shooting will come down, and with it the 14.9 points that he is averaging — but that’s part of Tony Bennett’s mantra as a coach. Virginia shares the wealth. They work the ball offensively until they get a great look, and they lock up as well as anyone on the defensive end. It’s why they’re 15-0 and No. 2 in the country, and no one on the roster has been better at it through two months that Anderson.

8. Georges Niang, Iowa State: Niang hasn’t quite had the season that we’ve expected from him, as he continued his up-and-down play against quality opponents with a poor performance in a win over Oklahoma State and impressive play in a win at West Virginia. Niang is now shooting just 33.3 percent from three and averaging 3.6 assists and 2.6 turnovers.

9. Melo Trimble, Maryland: It feels weird putting Trimble on this list. He’s a point guard, but he’s averaging 2.9 assists and 2.5 turnovers this season. He’s Maryland’s leading scorer, but through four Big Ten games he’s shooting 28.6 percent from the floor and 5-for-25 from three. But there’s two things that he does that have gotten him on this list: 1. He’s finally provided Mark Turgeon with an effective ball-handler, a guy that can get them into offensive set, and 2. He gets to the foul line and does not miss when he’s there. He shoots 7.8 free throws per game and is hitting them at an 88.6 percent clip. The difference between Maryland being good and Maryland being “second-best in the Big Ten” good is free throws. According to Kenpom, they’re top 15 nationally in free throw rate and defensive free throw rate.

10. Bobby Portis, Arkansas: Arkansas is looking more and more like the second-best team in the SEC this season, and Portis is the biggest reason why. The 6-foot-11 forward is now averaging 18.1 points and 7.8 boards while shooting 58.2 percent from the floor and hitting nine of his 15 threes this season. In two wins to kick off league play last week, Portis averaged 26.5 points, which included 21 points in a come-from-behind win at Georgia and 32 points and 11 boards — nine on the offensive end — in a win over Vanderbilt and star big man Damian Jones.

OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Tyler Haws (BYU), D’angelo Harrison (St. John’s), LaDontae Henton (Providence), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Jonathan Holmes (Texas), Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Jarell Martin (LSU), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), D’Angelo Russell (Ohio State), Wesley Saunders (Harvard), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Ty Wallace (Cal), Nigel Williams-Goss (Washington), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Joseph Young (Oregon)

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

billy packer
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
1 Comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

brevin galloway
John Byrum/Getty Images
0 Comments

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

purdue basketball
Junfu Han/USA TODAY NETWORK
6 Comments

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.