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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Frank Mason III leads the way

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I know we’re not even two weeks into the college basketball season.

I know that conference play doesn’t start for another month and change.

I know that you may think it’s too early to start talking about National Player of the Year.

But I’m here to tell you that it’s not.

Last year, Denzel Valentine was the guy that deserved to win National Player of the Year. His hype train got rolling on the fifth day of the season, when he had 29 points, 12 boards and 12 assists to beat Kansas in the Champions Classic. Adam Morrison turned himself into a favorite to win the 2006 National Player of the Year award when he went for 43 points in a classic, three-overtime win over Michigan State in the Maui Invitational. In 2011, Kemba Walker announced his Player of the Year candidacy with a resounding performance in Maui; he won a title, but it was Jimmer-mania that cost him the individual hardware.

These things can carry over in college hoops.

Who are the guys that are top of the class today?

1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: In college football, we’re always waiting for a player to have their ‘Heisman Moment’, the play that they make that is so memorable, so ever-lasting that it gets so ingrained in the minds of voters that we cannot possibly pick anyone else to receive college football’s Player of the Year trophy. There really is no equivalent for that in college basketball, which is partially the result of the fact that there are a half-dozen college basketball player of the year awards that are given out.

Nonetheless, if we did decide to start referring to Wooden Moments or Heisman Moments, the leader in the clubhouse two weeks into the season is Mason’s game-winning jumper to beat Duke in Madison Square Garden during the Champions Classic.

That came on the heels of a 30 point performance where, like the Duke game, Kansas’ offense down the stretch was, as Bill Self put it, “Get out of [Mason’s] way and he’ll shoot it.”

On the season, he’s averaging 22.3 points, 5.5 assists, 4.0 boards and 0.25 game-winners a night.

The best part? In the video that Kansas released of the postgame locker room celebration, we get a #BIFM at the :12 mark.

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Simply put, Hart has been the best player for the Wildcats this season. He’s averaging 19.2 points, shooting 57.4 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from three. He’s one of their best weapons defensively and is one of the major reasons they are so versatile on that end of the floor. He’s attacking defenses in ball-screen actions and creating offense in the half court on his own. I’m not sure what else there is to say. He may not have the NBA upside of some of the other players on this list, but he is just a damn good basketball player.

3. James Blackmon Jr., Indiana: Blackmon has been one of the biggest surprises of the season for me. We knew about how good he was as a shooter. What I didn’t realize is what he can do off the bounce. In Indiana’s win over Kansas in Hawai’i, he was their best player on the floor, finishing with 26 points and creating offense when it looked like Indiana’s offense was stalled. That’s huge for a team that is looking to replace Yogi Ferrell.

4. Luke Kennard, Duke: If the season ended today, Luke Kennard would be a first-team all-american. Take a second and think about how crazy that is. Back in September when practice was starting, we weren’t even sure if Kennard was going to be first-team all-Duke; Grayson Allen and Jayson Tatum were projected to start on the wings while Frank Jackson was this season’s prized freshman point guard.

But with all of the injuries the Blue Devils are dealing with, Kennard has been the guy that has shined. He had 22 points, five boards and five assists in the game against Kansas at the Champions Classic. He went for 24 points in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic title game against Rhode Island. He’s currently Duke’s leading scorer at 18.6 points while also chipping in 3.6 assists. We’ve reached a point in time where Coach K has to find a way to get Kennard on the floor. I doubt he’ll find himself this high in these rankings come February, but the fact that he’s here right now tells you all you need to know about the Blue Devils.

5. Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky: I was torn on which Kentucky player belongs on this list. De’Aaron Fox has been excellent at the point guard spot. Malik Monk was sensational in Kentucky’s only big win, when they beat Michigan State. His ability to shoot is the most important skill anyone on Kentucky has.

But to me, this far into the season, Briscoe has been Kentucky’s best player. He’s impossible to stop when he gets going downhill at the rim, he’s excellent in transition and he’s one of the best defensive options on a team that is going to win because of the way that they can defend. It will be interesting to see where he goes from here, but to date, Briscoe has totally exceeded my expectations.

6. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Three games into his college career, Fultz has already gone for 30 points twice and is averaging 27.0 points, 6.7 assists, 5.3 boards, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks while shooting 67.5 percent from the floor and 50.0 percent from three.

Read those numbers again.

The problem? U-Dub already lost to Yale at home, giving up 98 points to a team that graduated their best player from last season and was without their two best players this season. They’ve been better the last two games, which hopefully means that the Huskies will, at some point, get good enough that Fultz can realistically be in the Player of the Year conversation.

7. Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State: 26.3 points, 6.3 assists, 4.0 boards and 3.5 steals.

Those are the numbers that Evans is currently averaging. Granted, the best team that Oklahoma State has faced this season is UConn, who is actually atrocious this year, so we’ll have to play the wait-and-see game with him. But it’s fair to say that this kid is probably the real deal. Brad Underwood could have done a lot worse in picking a high-major coaching gig than the one where he gets to coach that kid.

8. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: It’s hard to pick any particular player from UCLA to be on this list because there are so many Bruins that are having great seasons. Ball is averaging 16.3 points and is the fourth-leading scorer on this team. He’s also averaging 9.0 assists and 6.3 boards and is the engine of the high-powered Bruin offense. The Bruins still haven’t played anyone this season. They’ll get their first real test on December 3rd, when they pay a visit to Kentucky and Rupp Arena.

9. Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Berry has had a couple of quiet games in a row in Hawai’i, but overall, his improvement at the point guard spot is the biggest reason that the Tar Heels look like they are the second-best team in the ACC right now. Roy Williams’ best teams have always had elite point guard play, and I think it’s fair to argue that this team is getting close to that level.

10. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: We know about Swanigan’s size and his physicality and how well he can play in the post and all of that. Did you know about his passing ability? He hasn’t had less than three assists in a game yet this season. His ability to work high-low action with 7-foot-2 center Isaac Haas is what makes the Boilermakers so dangerous. On the season, he’s averaging 20.7 points, 13.0 boards and 4.3 assists, and he became the only player not named Ben Simmons or Blake Griffin to have 20 points, 20 boards and five assists in a game in the last decade.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Melo Trimble, Maryland
Mo Watson, Creighton
Deandre Burnett, Ole Miss
Monte’ Morris, Iowa State
Yante Maten, Georgia
Eric Mika, BYU
T.J. Leaf, UCLA
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

CBT Podcast: So are we going to have a college basketball season?

Conferences cancel tournaments
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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan are back to talk through … well, to talk about whether or not the Coronavirus pandemic is going to cause us to lose out on a college basketball season. Depressing, I know.

Patriot League punts on fall football as SEC leaders meet

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The Patriot League joined the Ivy League on Monday, punting on football and other fall sports because of the pandemic while holding out hope games can be made up.

The Patriot League said its 10 Division I schools will not compete in any fall sports, which include football, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and field hockey. The council of presidents said the league will consider making up those seasons in the winter and spring if possible.

The conference is mostly comprised of private schools located in the Northeast that offer limited athletic scholarships. Pennsylvania rivals Lehigh and Lafayette have played 155 times, more than any two opponents in college football history.

Army and Navy are also Patriot League members, but not in football.

The Patriot League competes in Division I’s second tier of college football (FCS) like the Ivy League, which announced a similar decision last week. Unlike the Ivy League, the Patriot League participates in the FCS playoffs.

Meanwhile, at the top of college sports, Southeastern Conference athletic directors met in person in Birmingham, Alabama, to discuss how the SEC can have a football season as COVID-19 cases spike throughout much of the South.

No final decisions were expected to be announced, but the meeting comes just days after the Big Ten and Pac-12 said they would play conference-only schedules this fall in football and a number of other sports.

SEC football media days, the unofficial start of the season for many fans, had been scheduled to begin this week, but the coronavirus pandemic forced all FBS conferences to hold those events online this year. Even some of those – for the SEC and ACC – are now on hold.

Some programs are taking steps toward playing in and even starting their football seasons on time. Monday was the first day the NCAA allowed football players to take part in mandatory team activities with coaches, including unpadded walk-through practices.

Florida State posted a video on social media of its team hitting the field with players and coaches wearing face coverings and shields to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Pac-12 football teams will have to wait. Last week, conference presidents delayed mandatory team activities for Pac-12 athletes, acknowledging it would likely delay the start of the fall sports seasons.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard in a letter to fans posted online said the school is trying to balance the health and safety of athletes with the drastic financial repercussions of not having a football season.

“If we are unable to play sports this fall, the athletics department would incur approximately $40M in unfunded expenses in the next six months,” Pollard wrote.

College football season was scheduled to start with a handful of nonconference games – three involving Pac-12 teams – on Aug. 29, before a full slate around Labor Day weekend from Sept. 3-7.

The Patriot League has seven schools that play football: Bucknell, Colgate, Lehigh, Lafayette, Holy Cross and affiliate members Georgetown and Fordham.

Lehigh and Lafayette, located 17 miles apart in Eastern Pennsylvania, started playing in 1884, sometimes as many as three times in a season. Only in 1896 was the rivalry not played since it began.

Army and Navy play in college football’s highest tier of Division I and were exempt from the Patriot League’s decision regarding other fall sports. The Patriot League council said the service academies will be allowed to pursue competition in those sports in which they usually compete within the conference, including soccer and volleyball, as the schools’ leaders see fit.

Northwestern’s Phillips to chair NCAA men’s hoops committee

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INDIANAPOLIS — Northwestern vice president Jim Phillips was chosen Monday to chair the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee for the 2021-22 season, succeeding Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart.

Phillips, who is in his fourth year on the committee, will spend the upcoming season as vice chair.

Phillips was the first active athletic director to serve on the Board of Directors and Board of Governors, and he was elected first chair of the NCAA Division I Council in 2015. He also sits on the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors and is vice chair of LEAD 1, an organization made up of athletic directors from all 130 schools that participate in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The rest of the Division I Men’s Basketball committee includes Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson; Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett; Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade; Bradley athletic director Chris Reynolds; Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien; SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland; Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard; and North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham.

The current chairman, Duke athletic director Kevin White, will rotate off the committee on Sept. 1.

Longtime coach, executive Craig Robinson hired to lead NABC

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Longtime basketball coach Craig Robinson, who has spent time in both the college and professional ranks, was hired Monday as executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Robinson will take over for Jim Haney, who has held the influential position for the past 29 years.

The brother of former first lady Michelle Obama, Robinson has been the vice president of player development for the New York Knicks for the past three years. That job included the title of general manager of the G League’s Westchester Knicks.

Robinson also had a similar role with the Milwaukee Bucks after spending eight years as a Division I coach, first at Brown in the Ivy League and then during six seasons with Oregon State, where he led the Beavers to four postseason appearances.

Robinson was a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton. He also has worked in the private sector in finance.

James Wiseman is the new blueprint for evaluating bluechip prospects

JAMES WISEMAN 2020 NBA DRAFT
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The closest thing one will find to a consensus No. 1 prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft is James Wiseman.

In a year where every top prospect has warts, Wiseman’s athleticism given his size and his measureables makes it easy to not only envision his role early on in his NBA career but also a path to being a perennial All-Star. This is a draft class where the trendy No. 1 pick in mock drafts can’t shoot or play defense. Risk averse GMs will love a 7-footer with a 7-foot-5 wingspan that can move his feet.

But what makes me so interested in Wiseman has less to do with who he is as a player than what he signifies as a prospect.

James Wiseman is the blueprint for what evaluating blue-chip prospects will look like if the G League’s Pathway Program manages to attract a significant number of elite players in the coming seasons.

For those unaware of Wiseman’s path to this point, in the hours leading up to the start of Memphis’ first game of the season, news broke that Wiseman was not only considered ineligible by the NCAA, but he had gone to a courthouse to file an emergency injunction to maintain his eligibility and get on the court. The program kept up this charade for three games before finally realizing that playing chicken with the NCAA over amateurism bylaws was not in their best interest. Wiseman sat out, applied for reinstatement and was given a 12-game suspension. Midway through that suspension, he quit the team.

After playing just those three games.

All told, Wiseman logged 69 minutes of college basketball, with just one of the three games that he played coming against competition worth evaluating him against. The last time we saw him on a basketball court was on November 12th of 2019. By the time the 2020 NBA Draft actually happens, James Wiseman will be more than 11 months removed from playing in a competitive basketball environment and nearly 18 months removed from the last real opportunity NBA front office types had to evaluate him in extended, competitive settings.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

He’s hardly an unknown, mind you. He played in the McDonald’s All-American game, the Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit. More importantly, at least for evaluation purposes, he participated in the typically-intense practices for those events. All of his games from the Nike EYBL heading into his senior season in high school can be found on Synergy. He’s been involved with USA Basketball dating as far back as the U-16s.

But part of the reason that the NBA instituted the one-and-done rule in the first place was because you can only get so much out of evaluating elite prospects against high school competition. While college basketball and the NBA are very different, there is value in seeing how these players pick up concepts, how they work within a structured offense and defense, how they adjust to the way defenses play them as their strengths and weaknesses show up on film, whether or not they can accept the role they are being asked to play, how they handle the pressure of competition that comes with high major college basketball.

That’s not the only reason — letting schools pick up the tab for a year of development is certainly a major part of it, as is having control over a player’s age 28 season instead of their age 18 season — but if NBA teams didn’t find value in scouting players in these settings they wouldn’t shuttle scouts and front office types all across the country to see them play live.

They didn’t get any of that with Wiseman, just like they likely won’t get any of that with Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix or anyone else that plans on taking that route. And that’s significant. Wiseman turned 19 years old on March 31st. This year of development that NBA teams are in the dark about is one of the most important periods of development for any prospect. The COVID-19 era has created a lot of unknown and uncertainty when it comes to the 2020 NBA Draft, and for my money no one will have been as impacted as James Wiseman.

As far as the actual basketball is concerned, what makes Wiseman so intriguing is his agility, mobility and athleticism given his 7-foot, 250 pound frame and 7-foot-5 wingspan. He is an elite lob target and rim runner that consistently beats defenders down the floor in transition. There aren’t many people on the planet that will be able to contest him at the rim, and when Wiseman opts to go full bully-ball, he’s dominant.

2020 NBA DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILE

The problem, however, is that Wiseman does not always go full bully-ball. One of the knocks on him is that he has a tendency to drift in and out of games, that he doesn’t always utilize the physical gifts he has. Despite the very limited minutes that he played this past season for Memphis, it is still pretty easy to find clips of Wiseman opting for fadeaway jumpers instead of powering through opponents that are half-a-foot shorter than him. One of the prevailing thoughts on Wiseman is that he envisions himself as someone in the mold of Giannis, or Pascal Siakim, or even a Bam Adebayo; that he wants to be a perimeter-oriented, ball-handling big.

And to be frank, there is some skill there. He can make shots out to about 15 feet, and that was before the 11 month layoff he’s had to improve his game. He’s a good post scorer with the ability to play facing-up. He can handle the ball a little bit and create for himself. But there is a significant difference between being capable of something and being good enough that an NBA organization is going to build a game-plan, let alone a franchise, around it.

I think the key to Wiseman’s career is going to depend on what he envisions himself to be and the way that he carries himself as a professional. I’ll start with the latter. Scouts have had questions about his competitive drive and how much he loves the game for years. He has a tendency to coast through games, playing like he’s in cruise control for stretches. The fact that he left Memphis midway through the season helped reinforce this belief to doubters.

But leaving was also completely understandable given the context of his suspension and the way the school handled it. And if you remember, Deandre Ayton had some of these same concerns coming out of high school. No one is asking those questions after he became the first player in NBA history under 22 years old not named Shaq to average 19 points, 12 boards and 1.5 blocks.

Sometimes, big men aren’t entirely motivated to play when the competition physically cannot compare.

The other part of it is something that I already mentioned. Wiseman, for years, has been intent on showcasing what he can do playing on the perimeter, and while he is certainly skilled for a 19-year old 7-footer, he is not what you would consider skilled for a basketball player. He doesn’t have a great feel away from the basket, his shooting stroke is a little wonky and he’s not a great passer.

Where he should thrive is as a defender. All the physical tools are there for Wiseman to develop into one of the best defensive centers in the NBA, and while he found himself out of position at times as a freshman, that is hardly uncommon for freshmen big men early in the season. He’ll get better on that end as he gets coached up, and his ability as a lob target means that there already is a role he can play in an NBA offense.

Put another way, if he decides that he is going to follow in the mold of Myles Turner, I think he’ll be a very, very good pro. Turner is in his fifth season in the league, has been a starter on playoff teams since midway through his rookie season, is one of the best defensive players in the league and is averaging 12.7 points, 6.7 boards and 2.1 blocks for his career.

If he embraces the defensive side of the ball and buys into being a rim runner, a lob target and a guy that punishes switches while occasionally taking opposing bigs away from the basket, I think Myles Turner is his floor. In that scenario, in the 2020 NBA Draft James Wiseman has the highest floor and ceiling combination.

But that’s a big ‘if,’ and a question only James Wiseman can give us an answer to.