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

1 Comment
source: AP
AP Photo

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)

Kansas transfer Grimes receives waiver, eligible immediately at Houston

Patrick Smith/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Maybe we now know why Houston was picked to win the AAC over Memphis.

On Tuesday, news broke that Quentin Grimes had won his appeal and received a waiver to gain immediate eligibility this season. Grimes was a top ten prospect in the Class of 2018, but after going for 21 points in the season opening Champions Classic, he struggled. In 36 games, Grimes averaged just 8.4 points and 2.0 assists while failing to prove himself a lead guard and struggling with consistency as a shooter.

Part of the reason why Grimes eventually was ruled eligible for this season was that Kansas did not have a scholarship available for him. The Jayhawks supported his eligibility throughout the process.

Grimes will get a chance at starting over with Houston, where Kelvin Sampson has proven to be exceptional at getting the most out of his backcourt. He’ll join DeJon Jarreau, one of this year’s breakout stars, and Nate Hinton in Houston’s perimeter.

With Grimes in the mix, Houston has the making of a top 20 team.

Grimes released the following statement on twitter:

Michigan State’s Langford out until January with ankle injury

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The joy of being named the No. 1 team in the AP preseason poll lasted for a matter of hours for Michigan State.

Because that’s when the Spartans found out that Joshua Langford, who missed the second half of last season, would be out for another three months after suffering a setback in his attempt to return from that ankle injury.

“It breaks my heart,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo told reporters on Tuesday. “I love Josh Langford. He’s given me everything on the court, off the court, in the classroom.”

Langford started the first 13 games last season before the ankle injury kept him out, but he was cleared to practice in full in September. But Izzo said on Tuesday that Langford’s ankle had limited him of late and that he did not play when the Spartans scrimmaged Gonzaga in Denver on Saturday.

College Basketball’s Breakout Stars: Who will be this year’s most improved players?

Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Leave a comment

One of my favorite things to do heading into a season is to put together a list of the season’s Breakout Stars. 

Sometimes, the picks are just too obvious – think De’Andre Hunter, or P.J. Washington, or Nickeil Alexander-Walker. 

Sometimes, those obvious picks just don’t pan out – like Herb Jones, or M.J. Walker, or Cane Broome.

Sometimes, a guy needs to be on the list for a couple years before he actually reaches said breakout – hi Jermaine Samuels!

Some people have strictly-defined parameters for putting together a list like this. I do not, beyond the basic principle that the player will be going from playing a role to being a star, whether that means he was a starter that will become an all-american or a bit-player slated to be a key cog on a potential Final Four team matters not.

Anyway, here are the 17 players that will be household names by the end of the year:



JERMAINE SAMUELS, Villanova

There’s an argument to make that Samuels’ breakout already happened.

It happened on February 28th of last season. Samuels popped off for a career-high 29 points, hitting five threes, as Villanova snapped a three-game losing streak by knocking off Marquette at home. During that three-game losing streak, Samuels had gone scoreless while attempting just two shots. Over the final seven games of the season, he averaged 11.0 points, cracked double-figures five times and helped lead the Wildcats to their fifth Big East regular season title and fourth Big East tournament title in the last six years.

And now the Wildcats are entering a season without Phil Booth and Eric Paschall to carry the offense while Bryan Antoine, their five-star freshman guard, is out with a shoulder injury. Someone needs to provide Villanova with some scoring. Samuels is a former top 40 recruit that picked Villanova over Duke and Kansas, that has proven the ability to put up big numbers and is a perfect fit for what Villanova’s offense has been over the course of the last half-decade. He’s a junior now. This is the year that players make the leap on the Main Line, and I’ll be ready for it.

ANDREW NEMBHARD, Florida

Everyone wants to talk about Kerry Blackshear and what his arrival will mean for Florida. What people seem to be forgetting is that Andrew Nembhard is a former five-star recruits that averaged 8.0 points and 5.4 assists as a freshman for the Gators and will be helping to fill the “role” vacated by uber-inefficient gunners Jalen Hudson and Kevaughn Allen. I think Blackshear ends up being the best player on the Gators this season, but Nembhard may end up being their MVP and their leader. On a team that projects to finish in the top ten and contend for SEC titles and the Final Four, that’s going to put him in the All-American conversation. That, to me, counts as a breakout star.

TRE JONES, Duke

This all hinges on what Jones becomes as a shooter this season. We’ve talked about this ad nauseum. I put together an entire video about it. Jones may just be the most influential player in all of college basketball this season.

TYRESE HALIBURTON, Iowa State

I’m torn about having Haliburton on this list because I’m not exactly sure how much better he can play than he did over the first three months of last season. That said, Iowa State is going to be one of the better teams in the Big 12 this season, and after a terrific performance playing for Team USA in the U-19 World Cup, Haliburton returns to Ames to play for an Iowa State team that lost pretty much everyone in front of him in the offensive pecking order.

The thing to note here is that I am not expecting Haliburton to suddenly become a guy that averages 18 points. That’s not who he is or how he plays. But I do think that there is a chance that he puts up a stat line that is somewhere around 12 points, six boards, six assists and two steals while shooting better than 40 percent from three. Put another way, we’re going to know that he is a star without having to look at the counting numbers to confirm it.

JAY HUFF, Virginia

We have talked plenty about Jay Huff and Virginia’s big guys in this space, but I think that he is in line for a massive jump this season. On the one hand, he’s actually going to be playing. Huff was in the same recruiting class as Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy. He redshirted his first year in Charlottesville, he played just twelve games as a freshman and managed to see the floor for roughly 10 minutes a night last year. With so much of Virginia’s frontcourt depth gone, he is going to be getting 30-35 minutes a night this year.

But as we talked about in the video below, it’s not just the added minutes that changes things. It’s how good Huff is as the big guy in ball-screen actions and the fact that Virginia ran a more ball-screen heavy offense last season. Huff is a 7-foot-1 rim-running, lob-catching, shot-blocking menace that also shoots threes at a 45 percent clip while being able to put the ball on the floor. He’s going to have a massive year.

ISAIAH LIVERS, Michigan

With Iggy Brazdeikis gone after his one-and-done season, Livers is going to be the guy that steps up for the Wolverines. A hyper-athletic, 6-foot-7 combo-forward, Livers is a good, versatile defensive weapon that shot 42.6 percent from three last year. Someone is going to have to step up and fill the scoring void that has been vacated by the departures, and Livers seems to be the obvious fit. I would not be shocked to see Livers showing up in NBA mock drafts at some point during this season.

DEJON JARREAU, Houston

This one is simple, really. Jarreau played just 18 minutes per game last season and still managed to put up 8.7 points and 3.3 assists despite sharing the backcourt with the likes of Corey Davis, Armoni Brooks and Galen Robinson. This year, those three are gone, which means that Jarreau is going to be the guy that the offense runs through. I think that he is up for the task, and considering Kelvin Sampson’s track record of finding a way to figure things out with his lead guards, all the dots connect.

NOJEL EASTERN, Purdue

Matt Painter has been as good as anyone in the country at finding ways to get his best players into positions where they can succeed, and I think that this year is the year that he figures out how to take advantage of the things that Eastern does well. He’s a skilled passer that has terrific size at the point and has proven the ability to take smaller guards into the post. I think that Aaron Wheeler and Trevion Williams are candidates for this list as well, but I tend to lean towards the veterans when it comes to Painter working his magic.

OCHAI AGBAJI, Kansas

This pick is not actually as easy as it may seem, and that’s because Agbaji’s emergence last season came after Udoka Azubuike went down with his wrist injury. So while Kansas is losing Dedric Lawson, among other, Azubuike is coming back and is going to demand a very large market share of the Jayhawks offense. Throw in Devon Dotson’s continued development, and the added opportunities for Agbaji may not be there. That said, I think that he is clearly the most talented perimeter player on the Jayhawks roster this season, and given his size, athleticism and ability from the perimeter, I think there is a real chance that he ends up playing major minutes as the four in this Kansas system.

Put another way, he’s definitely going to be better than he was when his redshirt was pulled midway through his first season in Lawrence, and he is definitely going to be a useful weapon for Bill Self, I just don’t see him emerging as a guy that scores 15 points per game.

COREY KISPERT and FILIP PETRUSEV, Gonzaga

These decisions somewhat hinge on whether or not Killian Tillie is back and fully healthy this season. If he is, then I think that Kispert is the guy that takes the biggest step forward for the Zags. He’s an underrated talent that has been hidden by the likes of Zach Norvell and Rui Hachimura, but he’s a guy that has the potential to be an all-WCC performer if given the opportunity. If Tillie ends up being banged up all season long, than Petrusev is the obvious pick. He’s a really talented big that will carry even more of the load without Tillie’s presence.

REGGIE PERRY, Mississippi State

After getting off to a relatively slow start to his freshman season, Perry was absolutely dominant for long stretches of SEC play. He averaged 11.2 points and 8.2 boards during conference play, posting eight double-doubles. After an offseason to develop, he should end up being the focal point of Ben Howland’s offense as a sophomore.

KIRA LEWIS, Alabama

The way that Nate Oats played at Buffalo, he gave his lead guards quite a bit of responsibility. Lewis is going to be his lead guard this season. As a 17-year old in the SEC, he averaged 13.5 points and 2.9 assists. He’s heading into his sophomore season at the same age as the kids in the Class of 2019 heading into their freshmen year.

JOE WIESKAMP, Iowa

As a freshman, Wieskamp was one of the best shooters in the Big Ten, averaging 11.1 points and shooting 42.4 percent from three. Then Iowa lost Tyler Cook to the draft and lost Isaiah Moss to transfer and look like they may have lost Jordan Bohannon for the season. Someone is going to have to score, and Wieskamp is certainly capable of that.

OSUN OSUNNIYI, St. Bonaventure

Osunniyi was one of the best defensive players in all of college basketball last season, averaging 2.7 blocks to go along with his 7.5 points and 7.6 boards. With three of the Bonnies’ top four scorers graduating, he is going to be asked to play a much bigger role this season.

NATE REUVERS, Wisconsin

There is always someone waiting in the wings in Wisconsin’s frontcourt, and this year it is Nate Reuvers. As a sophomore, playing on a team that ran their offense through Ethan Happ, Reuvers averaged 7.9 points, 3.9 boards and 1.8 blocks while shooting 38.1 percent from three. If the Badgers are going to get back to the NCAA tournament, they are going to need Reuvers to have a monster junior season.

JALEN HILL, UCLA

Hill is a bit of a reach, but someone is going to have to step up and be Mick Cronin’s frontcourt anchor, and Hill makes sense. He’s long and athletic, he can rebound and he can block shots, he can do all of the things that Cronin got out of his big men for the last 13 years in Cincinnati. There is more talent in Westwood than people realize. Hill is the perfect example of that.

Michigan’s Franz Wagner out 4-6 weeks with fractured wrist

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan freshman Franz Wagner is expected to miss four to six weeks with a fractured right wrist.

The school said Monday a full recovery is anticipated. The 6-foot-8 Wagner is the younger brother of former Michigan standout Moe Wagner. He’s expected to be a key newcomer in the basketball team’s first season under new coach Juwan Howard.

The Wolverines open Nov. 5 against Appalachian State. They face Creighton on Nov. 12 and Louisville on Dec. 3, and play in a tournament in the Bahamas in late November. Those are all games Wagner could conceivably miss if he ends up on the long end of his recovery timeline.

Michigan opens Big Ten play Dec. 6 against Iowa.

Kansas-Missouri hoops series to resume next season in KC

Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LAWRENCE, Kan. — The Border War is returning to college basketball.

The acrimonious rivalry between Kansas and Missouri, once the longest continually played series west of the Mississippi River, will resume next season in Kansas City. The schools have agreed to play six times, with four of those matchups taking place on their respective campuses.

“Having coached a lot of games versus Missouri in my time in Kansas, I could not be more excited to start this series up again,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self, who had been among the biggest reasons the teams never played, said in a statement announcing the series Monday night.

The series began in 1907 with a pair of wins by Missouri in Lawrence. The schools went on to play 269 times over 105 years. The last meeting was on Feb. 25, 2012, when the No. 4 Jayhawks rallied from a 19-point second-half deficit to beat the No. 3 Tigers in overtime at Allen Fieldhouse.

The reason the series ended can be traced to Missouri’s decision to depart its longtime home in the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference. During a period of chaotic conference realignment, the Tigers moved to what they considered a more lucrative league — even though it made far less geographic sense — and in doing so left the Big 12 scrambling for its very survival.

Many coaches and administrators at Kansas not only took umbrage with their decision but held a grudge for years. Among them was Self, who was asked periodically over the years if he could envision playing the Tigers again, and was usually steadfast in his refusal to schedule them.

Tensions finally cooled enough that on Oct. 22, 2017, the schools agreed to play an exhibition game in Kansas City dubbed “The Showdown for Relief” to raise money for hurricane relief efforts.

Kansas won 93-87 in their first meeting in five years.

The thousands of fans who turned up for the game, coupled with the buzz it generated on both sides of the Kansas-Missouri border, piqued the interest of new Kansas athletic director Jeff Long. He was not part of the conference realignment mess and harbored no ill will toward Missouri, making him the ideal figure to help patch up relationships and ultimately resume the rivalry.

“One of the best aspects of college athletics is rivalries,” Long said. “We have quietly sought input from fans and supporters on the renewal of this series and we believe the overriding sentiments are that this historic rivalry should resume.”

After the initial game scheduled for Dec. 12, 2020, at the Sprint Center in downtown Kansas City, the schools will alternate between Allen Fieldhouse and Mizzou Arena for the next four games. The final scheduled matchup will return to Sprint Center, though it’s possible the series continues.

It’s also possible that the basketball matchups are just the beginning.

“Hopefully, this renewal on the hardwood will lead to more opportunities down the road in other sports,” Tigers athletic director Jim Sterk said. “Rivalries make college sports great, and there is no question that when Missouri and Kansas face off in any sport, it’s important to a lot of people.”