Player of the Year Power Rankings: Kaminsky’s postgame, Okafor’s ‘regression’

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1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin: Dan Dakich, polarizing as he is, is one of the best color commentators currently working in college hoops, and he had an interesting statement early on in Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska last week. “I don’t think you should double Kaminsky,” Dakich. “The weakness of Kaminsky’s game is going to score on the block, and when you double Kaminsky you leave others open.”

It was an interesting comment, because Kaminsky is quite proficient at scoring on the block. According to Synergy’s logs, 25.5 percent of the possessions Kaminsky uses are post-ups, and he’s scoring 1.011 points-per-possession (PPP) on those post touches. But it’s also where Kaminsky is actually the least-efficient, at least according to the logs on Synergy, which goes to show you just how good of a player Kaminsky actually is.

But that’s neither here nor there, and while I can show you any number of the beautiful post moves that Kaminsky had against Illinois on Sunday, that goes against the point that Dakich is trying to make. Wisconsin has too many capable passers on their roster, too many guys that are smart, and willing, enough to make a pass when a teammate comes open, and the result of doubling Kaminsky in the post is likely going to end up being an open jumper or a Wisconsin player attacking a close out.

In other words, Dakich you’re better off taking your chances 1-on-1 against Kaminsky on the block than letting the Badgers move the ball and move your defense. But frankly, neither option is ideal, because … well, because of this:

There’s a reason Wisconsin is on pace to be the most efficient offense in KenPom’s database.

2. Jahlil Okafor, Duke: Okafor responded to getting bumped out of the top spot in these rankings by going for 23 points and 13 boards on 10-for-15 shooting while holding Syracuse’s all-american center Rakeem Christmas to 11 points on 5-for-17 shooting, easily his worst game of the season.

Okafor’s season has been a fascinating one to track. He’s exceeded the hype that he had coming out of high school. He’s averaging 18.2 points and 9.3 boards on a top five team. He’s the centerpiece of the nation’s second-most efficient offense. He’s a throw-back big man, a low-post player with the kind of quick feet, soft touch and back-to-the-basket arsenal that has evoked comparisons to the likes of Tim Duncan and Kevin McHale.

We haven’t seen a player with his skill set in a long, long time, but the discussion seems to always be leaning towards who is catching up to Okafor, not how good he has been and continues to be. The same way that Kaminsky has surpassed him atop Player of the Year rankings, there is talk that Karl Towns — and, potentially, D’Angelo Russell — could end up getting picked No. 1 this June. While that’s not exactly unexpected, I hope everyone can appreciate what they’re watching with Okafor. It will be a long time before we someone that can do what he does again.

3. D’Angelo Russell, Ohio State: The last month of Russell’s collegiate career will be interesting to watch. After a stretch where he completely dominated the sport for a solid three-week stretch, Russell has struggled in three of his last four games. Ignoring the triple-double against Rutgers — that’s a lot to ignore, I know — Russell is shooting 34.1 percent from the floor and 5-for-19 from three against Purdue, Penn State and Michigan State. The Buckeyes lost to both the Boilermakers and the Spartans on the road.

Not that he wasn’t before, but Russell is going to be the focal point of everywhere defensive scheme the rest of the season. It’s a point of pride now; no one wants to be caught playing lazy defensively on the next vine of an absurd Russell bounce-pass that gets a million loops. How will he respond to really, truly being guarded?

4. Jerian Grant, Notre Dame: I still don’t think Grant is getting the credit that he deserves for just how good he has been this season, and the sad thing is that he may never get it. More than any other team in the country — save, maybe, Indiana — the Irish are completely buoyed by their elite offensive attack, and Grant is the centerpiece of that offense. When he gets taken away — as Quinn Cook did in the second meeting with Duke, a 90-60 blowout loss — the Irish look lost. But if this group ends up getting bounced early in the NCAA tournament again, he’ll end up getting written off as just another overhyped star on an overrated Notre Dame team. I hope that doesn’t happen.

5. Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky: Cauley-Stein has been paying attention to his detractors, it seems. “I feel the whole criticism is I’m soft. Or something like that,” he told reporters after Kentucky’s win over South Carolina on Saturday. “I’m just going to dunk over people. I don’t see how you can start calling me soft if I’m dunking on people. That’s my whole mentality going into games now.” That’s scary, because that quote came a week after he did this to Florida’s Devin Robinson and five days after dunking on LSU’s Jordan Mickey four times in one game. Whatever Cauley-Stein has planned next, let’s just hope he will continue to wear hats like this:

source:
@BDawsonRivals

6. Delon Wright, Utah: At this point, Wright is probably somewhat underrated from a national perspective. He’s the point man for a Utah defense that is No. 7 nationally, according to KenPom, and he also happens to be one of the most efficient offense players in the country despite the fact that he doesn’t shoot a ton of threes, a difficult task for a point guard. How? He rarely makes the wrong play. He’s sports one of the nation’s best assist rates as well as one of the highest assist-to-turnover ratios. He rarely settles for jumpers, instead attacking the paint where he’s a 58.1 percent shooter from inside the arc. He finishes around the rim, he draws fouls and he makes his free throws.

In short, Wright understands what his strengths and weaknesses are as a player, and he plays to them. That’s an incredibly valuable skill for a star with a notable weakness (three-point range) to have.

7. Kris Dunn, Providence: Dunn has put up some incredible numbers this season — 15.4 points, 5.8 boards, 7.6 assists — but he’s simply been a turnover machine at times. He’s averaging 4.2 giveaways on the season, and he’s committed less than three turnovers in just six of the 26 games the Friars have played. Those turnovers are the reason he rarely shows up on Player of the Year lists.

8. T.J. McConnell, Arizona: Stanley Johnson might end up being the popular pick for the All-American on this year’s Arizona roster, but I think McConnell is having a more valuable, if not better season. He’s embraced his role as point guard when Arizona is playing well, but he’s also taken over games in which the Wildcats have struggled.

9. Seth Tuttle, Northern Iowa: Only two players in the country — BYU’s Tyler Haws and UC-Davis’ Corey Hawkins — have a higher offensive rating than Tuttle while using at least 28.0 percent of their team’s offensive possessions than Tuttle. He’s an unbelievable shooter — 48.6 percent from three and 65.5 percent from two — that anchors Northern Iowa’s offense. He’s can also do things like this:

Tuttle deserves to be in this conversation.

10. Justin Anderson, Virginia: We’ll get into this a little more later this afternoon, but if Virginia’s struggles over the course of the last three games have proven anything, it’s that Justin Anderson truly deserved his spot on this list. He’s Virginia’s best shooter, best perimeter defender, toughest player and leader. Replacing that was not as easy as some of us (ahem, me) originally thought.

OTHERS THAT WERE CONSIDERED: Ron Baker (Wichita State), Ryan Boatright (UConn), Kyle Collinsworth (BYU), Rakeem Christmas (Syracuse), Tyler Haws (BYU), Buddy Hield (Oklahoma), Stanley Johnson (Arizona), Jarell Martin (LSU), Jordan Mickey (LSU), Larry Nance Jr. (Wyoming), Georges Niang (Iowa State), Kevin Pangos (Gonzaga), Bobby Portis (Arkansas), Juwan Staten (West Virginia), Melo Trimble (Maryland), Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Brad Waldow (St. Mary’s), Kyle Wiltjer (Gonzaga), Joseph Young (Oregon)

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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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.