College Basketball Midseason Awards: Josh Hart, Scott Drew head the list

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MIDSEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Josh Hart, Villanova

Every week, we break down the Player of the Year race and who is the favorite to win the award. And at this point, Hart has put himself in a position to be more or less the consensus pick as the National Player of the Year should the season end today.

There are, essentially, three reasons for this:

  1. Let’s put the numbers – 20.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.5 apg, 41 percent 3PT – aside for a second: The most notable thing that Hart has done this year is carry Villanova in crunch time. It seems like every night he’s making big shots and taking over games in ‘winning time’. Those are the moments that people remember. Those are the plays that win you Player of the Year awards.
  2. Hart is not only the best player on the No. 1 team in the country, but he is the guy that makes Villanova’s style of play possible. Hart is a 6-foot-6 wing, but his versatility is almost unparalleled at the college level. He’s an elite defender that can hold his own against pretty much anyone in college, and when you add in his ability to rebound the ball, he’s the guy that lets Villanova play small-ball.
  3. Last season, Hart was an all-american. He entered this year as a preseason first-team all-american. We thought he was going to be good entering the year, but he’s proven to be better than anyone expected. He’s a better passer. He’s turned himself into one of the best shooters in the Big East. He’s working as the dribbler in ball-screen actions. He has, essentially, turned himself into a first round pick.

The race is far from over, but Hart has moved into the lead.

Baylor head coach Scott Drew smiles during practice at the NCAA college basketball tournament, Wednesday, March 18, 2015, in Jacksonville, Fla. Baylor plays Georgia State in the second round on Thursday. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Baylor head coach Scott Drew (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

MIDSEASON COACH OF THE YEAR: Scott Drew, Baylor

Baylor did not get a single vote in the AP preseason poll. As of today, they’re sitting at 14-0 and No. 2 in the AP poll, ahead of conference rival Kansas and behind only the reigning national champs.

This isn’t a fluke, either. Baylor has beaten, in order: Oregon by 17 points, Michigan State, VCU, Louisville despite being down by 22 points, Xavier by 15 points and Oklahoma, on the road, by 26.

Who saw this coming? If you say you did, I’m calling you a liar.

And the most impressive part of it all is that the Bears’ success this season is totally a result on development within the program. Baylor starts three guys that are 21 years old and two that are 22. None of them were five-star recruits or considered potential program-changing talents. Johnathan Motley was developed into an all-american caliber player. Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil both improved during sit-out seasons last year. Ish Wainwright, Al Freeman, Terry Maston. These are guys that slowly-but-surely got better throughout their college careers.

The result is a team that looks to be the favorite to push Kansas for the Big 12 regular season title.

All from a guy who has been a long-standing joke in the college basketball community. Guess he’s not all bad…

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SIXTH-MAN OF THE YEAR: Aaron Holiday, UCLA

As a freshman, Holiday, the younger brother of NBA players Jrue and Justin, was a starter for the Bruins. He was “demoted” this season with Lonzo Ball arriving, but he’s been arguably the most important player on the UCLA roster this side of Ball. He can fill in for any of UCLA’s three starting perimeter players, he’s their best on-ball defender and he is not only a playmaker off the bounce but he’s a knock-down three-point shooter. Most importantly, however, he’s embraced being the sixth-man. Accepting that role is the hardest thing for a starter to do.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Lonzo Ball, UCLA

This is a loaded freshman class with a number of guys that have been playing out of their minds, but Ball is the guy that deserves this award. He’s the only freshman that earned a nod as a first-team all-american. Ball has completely changed the culture surrounding the UCLA program, which wasn’t an easy thing to do. He has hit a rough patch in the last couple of weeks, however, so it will be interesting to see how he bounces back.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky

This one was tough. The best defensive teams this season are great because of how well they work as a team; there isn’t really just one great individual defender on Virginia, or Louisville, or West Virginia. For me, it came down to Fox or Baylor’s Jo Lual-Acuil – who is second nationally in blocks-per-game and block percentage on the nation’s seventh-best defense, per KenPom – but I went with Fox. He’s one of, if not the best on-ball defender in college hoops and he’s the point man for a Kentucky defense that has been exploitable this season. Put another way, I think his presence as an on-ball defender disrupting offense is why only UCLA and North Carolina have been able to execute against the Wildcats. He covers up some of their flaws, and that’s before you consider his ability to turn defense into offense with his speed in transition.

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks is reacts after making a basket during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Frank Mason III (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICA

  • Frank Mason III, Kansas: Mason’s case for National Player of the Year has been severely underrated at this point. He’s averaging 19.8 points, 5.9 assists, 4.6 boards and just 2.2 turnovers while shooting 56.9 percent on 2’s and 48.2 percent on 3’s, posting an offensive rating of 130.9 as the go-to guy, leader and most important player on a top five team. He made the biggest shot of the season to date as well, beating Duke in Madison Square Gardon in the Champions Classic.
  • Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Ball has been phenomenal, and while his numbers alone are impressive – he’s averaging 14.3 points, second-nationally averaging 8.1 assists while shooting 43.4 percent from three – it’s the impact he’s had on UCLA has a whole that earns him this spot. Not only does his presence bump everyone into their more natural position, but he’s turned them into one of the nation’s most entertaining and unselfish basketball teams.
  • Luke Kennard, Duke: Kennard has been the best player for Duke this season, and frankly, it’s not all that close. He’s been their best player in every one of their biggest games, he was the guy that kept them from losing to Elon and Tennessee State, and he was the only player that showed up against Virginia Tech. It’s weird to think about it like this, but on a team with four potential first round draft picks, the Blue Devils would be in serious trouble if it wasn’t for Kennard.
  • Josh Hart, Villanova: He’s our pick for Player of the Year. Of course he’s a first-team all-american.
  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan has been the best big man in college basketball this season, and it’s not all that close. He’s averaging 18.1 points and 13.0 boards at this point, and he’s already posted four games with at least 20 points and 20 boards. He draws 6.6 fouls-per-40 minutes – second on his team to Isaac Haas, who is at 8.1 fouls – and his ability to pass, out of double-teams and in high-low actions, is part of what makes Purdue’s offense so good this year.
LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07: John Calipari the head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats gives instructions to De'Aaron Fox #0 and Malik Monk #5 during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICA

  • Maurice Watson Jr., Creighton: Watson is the engine that makes Creighton’s high-powered offense run. He leads the nation in assists and he’s the reason why guys like Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas and Cole Huff consistently get so many good looks from three.
  • De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: We also talked about what Fox brings defensively, but he’s also averaging 15.8 points and 6.8 assists with a nearly 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. If only he was shooting better than 14.3 percent from three.
  • Malik Monk, Kentucky: Monk is the most electrifying scorer in the country. He’s had the iconic performance of the season to date, popping off for 47 points in the win over North Carolina, but he also went for 34 points at Ole Miss in his first-ever SEC game. He’s averaging a ridiculous 22.4 points this year.
  • Kelan Martin, Butler: Martin is averaging 18.1 points and 5.8 boards as the most dangerous scorer on a Butler team that has proven to be quite dangerous this season. He’s the reason the Bulldogs have a chance to make some noise in March this year, and yet there are so many people that have no idea he exists.
  • Jonathan Motley, Baylor: Motley has been the best player on Baylor, the still-undefeated No. 2 team in the country. His development into an all-american from a guy that was an afterthought on an AAU team with the Harrison twins has been impressive to watch. He’s the posterboy in Scott Drew’s career-defining coaching performance.
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)
Maryland guard Melo Trimble (AP Photo/Matt Hazlett)

THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICA

  • Matt Farrell, Notre Dame: It’s tough to pick between Bonzie Colson and Farrell for this spot, but I lean towards Farrell. Notre Dame’s offense has always operated around having a point guard that can handle being the focal point of an offense, and Farrell’s ability to be able to do that was the biggest question mark entering the year.
  • Melo Trimble, Maryland: The collapse against Nebraska aside, Trimble has been a terrific leader for a very young Maryland team. They’re 13-2 on the season and, now, 6-1 in games decided by six points or less. Trimble has the winning points in the final minute of four of those games. The Terps are 26-6 in games decided by six points or less in his Terp career.
  • Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz may be the best player in college basketball this season. Until Fultz showed up at Washington, no one since 1993 – which is as far back as I can find stats – has averaged 22 points, six boards and six assists. Fultz is averaging 22.3 points, 6.7 assists and 6.4 boards as well as 1.6 blocks and 1.4 steals while shooting 45.5 percent from three. It’s too bad Washington is horrible, which is why Fultz is on our third team. If you can’t get your team into the NCAA tournament, I can’t really consider you for first or second team all-american.
  • Lauri Markkanen, Arizona: Despite playing on a team whose point guard is somewhere between mediocre and injured, Markkanen is averaging a team-high 15.8 points, 7.3 boards and shooting better than 44 percent from three. He’s been the consistent presence for a team that, to date, has been overachieving.
  • Yante Maten, Georgia: Maten is the best player in the SEC that doesn’t reside in Lexington, but it looks like the Bulldogs are going to be headed to the NIT. So like Fultz, Maten is locked into being a third-teamer.
SPOKANE, WA - DECEMBER 07: Markelle Fultz #20 of the Washington Huskies controls a rebound against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center on December 7, 2016 in Spokane, Washington. Gonzaga defeated Washington 98-71. (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)

No. 22 Tennessee beats No. 3 Kansas 64-50 for Atlantis title

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Tennessee’s players proved to be determined defenders and relentless rebounders, along with having the kind of toughness to ensure the reigning national champions would have little chance to get comfortable.

It was all enough to give the 22nd-ranked Volunteers a title of their own, along with the blueprint that coach Rick Barnes hopes they follow the rest of the year.

Santiago Vescovi scored 20 points while Tennessee locked down on third-ranked Kansas in a 64-50 win Friday night in the championship game at the Battle 4 Atlantis, snapping the Jayhawks’ 17-game winning streak.

Vescovi hit five 3-pointers as the tournament’s most valuable player for the Volunteers (5-1), who dominated the glass, overcame their own turnover troubles and made the Jayhawks work for clean looks. And for the third time in as many days, Tennessee won without leading scorer Josiah-Jordan James (knee soreness).

Perhaps that’s why reserve guard Zakai Zeigler, who had 14 points and four steals, showed up wearing sunglasses to the postgame news conference after the Volunteers had danced and hollered through the on-court trophy ceremony.

“We know if you can’t stop the man in front of you, then you’ll have no shot at winning the game,” Zeigler said, adding: “We just like to play defense, and we just happen to be good at it.”

The Vols held the Jayhawks to 32.1% shooting, bothering them with size and length around the rim. They also took the ball right at the Jayhawks with 5-foot-9 Zeigler leading the way, down to him refusing to let go of a jump ball and trading words with 6-8 forward Jalen Wilson.

Zeigler’s night included a 3-pointer to beat the shot clock at the 7-minute mark to push Tennessee’s lead to 56-38. He followed with another big one from the right wing with 4:42 left after Kansas had closed within 11.

Wilson and Joseph Yesefu each scored 14 points to lead the Jayhawks (6-1), who shot 28.6% in the first half and never warmed up. They made 5 of 21 3-pointers in what was an all-around rough night, from losing starting guard Dajuan Harris to fouls with 9 minutes left to failing to keep the Vols off the glass (45-27).

“We played a team tonight that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers opened the tournament with a win over Butler, then grinded through an overtime win against Southern California in Thursday’s semifinals. This time, Tennessee played in front the entire way en route to its first title in three tries at the Atlantis resort.

“I think the main thing from the whole week was stay together through tough times, that’s what you’ve got to do,” Vescovi said.

Kansas: The Jayhawks didn’t have an easy first two days in the Bahamas. First came a battle to the final minutes with North Carolina State. Then came Thursday’s overtime win against Wisconsin on Bobby Pettiford Jr.’s last-second putback. But they never looked in any type of offensive flow this time with their smaller lineup.

“I feel like if we were able to get them out of place and not just have them standing there, waiting to contest a layup, that could’ve gave us some better chances at finishing at the rim,” Wilson said.

STRONG RUN

Tennessee held its three Atlantis opponents to 36.9% shooting and 15 of 59 (25.4%) from 3-point range. The Volunteers also averaged a +9 rebounding margin, ending with having Jonas Aidoo (nine) leading five players snagging at least six rebounds against Kansas.

“You can be a good defensive team but if you can’t be a great one if you give them second and third shots,” Barnes said.

SIDELINED

Beyond Harris’ foul trouble, the Jayhawks played most of the way without Pettiford, who exited midway through the first half grabbing at his right leg.

Afterward, Self said he would be out “for a while” with a hamstring strain.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The Volunteers return home to host McNeese State on Wednesday.

Kansas: The Jayhawks host Texas Southern on Monday.

BYU erases 23-point deficit, beats Dayton in overtime 79-75

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NASSAU, Bahamas – Gideon George scored 21 points and combined with Jaxson Robinson and Rudi Williams for BYU’s 15 overtime points as the Cougars came back from a 23-point deficit to beat Dayton 79-75 in overtime Friday.

BYU’s victory came in the seventh-place game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

George’s 3-pointer with 2:19 left in regulation gave BYU (4-3) its first lead after Dayton scored the first 10 points of the game and led 32-9 with six minutes left in the first half.

Mike Sharavjamts’ basket gave the lead back to Dayton but George’s free throw with a minute left sent the game into overtime.

Dayton got the first points in overtime but Robinson’s 3-pointer gave BYU the lead for good halfway through the extra period.

Robinson had 14 points, Dallin Hall 12 and Williams 11 to join George in double figures for BYU.

DaRon Holmes II scored 21 points and Sharavjamts 15 for Dayton (3-4). The Flyers lost starting guards Kobe Elvis and Malachi Smith to lower-body injuries in the second half, Smith with with just seconds left in regulation.

Portland beats Villanova 83-71 in Phil Knight Invitational

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Moses Wood scored 16 points and Portland beat Villanova 83-71 on Friday in the Phil Knight Invitational.

Villanova (2-4) has lost three straight games, including an overtime loss to Iowa State on Thursday to drop below .500 for the first time since March 7, 2012.

Vasilije Vucinic’s layup with 4:16 remaining in the first half gave Portland the lead for good. The Pilots had an eight-point lead at halftime and scored the first 10 points of the second half.

Wood added six rebounds and three blocks for the Pilots (5-3). Tyler Robertson scored 15 points while shooting 6 for 12 (1 for 5 from 3-point range) and added seven rebounds and eight assists. Kristian Sjolund recorded 14 points and shot 5 for 7 (2 for 3 from 3-point range).

Caleb Daniels finished with 18 points and seven rebounds for the Wildcats. Villanova also got 14 points from Jordan Longino. Brandon Slater had 11 points.

Caleb Grill, Iowa State topples No. 1 North Carolina 70-65

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PORTLAND, Ore. – Caleb Grill has followed T.J. Otzelberger from South Dakota State to UNLV and now back to Iowa State hoping the pair could share a moment like they did Friday.

Taking down the No. 1 team in the country was another bookmark moment in a long journey for the pair.

“I’m actually really enjoying sitting next to him from this moment right now just thinking about how long we’ve known each other and how cool this really was,” Otzelberger said.

Grill hit seven 3-pointers and scored a career-high 31 points and Iowa State rallied in the final five minutes to stun No. 1 North Carolina 70-65 in the semifinals of the Phil Knight Invitational.

Iowa State (5-0) picked up just its third win over a team ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25. The Cyclones are 3-22 against No. 1 teams, with the other wins coming against Kansas in 1957 and Oklahoma in 2016.

The Cyclones can now add North Carolina (5-1) to the list.

“I was just staying the course of the game. I never really thought about it and the game just kind of came to me,” Grill said.

Grill was averaging 7.3 points and had made just 4 of 24 3-point attempts for the season entering Friday. But he couldn’t be stopped from beyond the arc, hitting a pair of big 3s to spark Iowa State’s late rally. His deep fadeaway jumper just inside the 3-point line with 1:40 left gave Iowa State a 63-61 lead and the Cyclones did just enough at the free throw line in the final minute to close out the upset victory.

Grill’s previous career high was 27 points while playing for UNLV in the 2020-21 season against Alabama. He also hit seven 3-pointers in that game.

Grill originally signed with South Dakota State when Otzelberger was the coach there. He was released from his commitment when Otzelberger took the head job at UNLV and started his career at Iowa State before deciding to join his coach in Las Vegas.

When Otzelberger returned to Ames, Grill followed again.

“Just having him be the first person that really had belief in me, it’s just really special what he’s done for me and my family and everything we’ve done,” Grill said.

Jaren Holmes added 22 points and the Cyclones withstood off shooting games from Aljaz Kunc and Gabe Kalscheur, who combined for three points and missed all eight of their shot attempts. Both were averaging double figures scoring for Iowa State.

RJ Davis led North Carolina with 15 points, Armando Bacot added 14 and Caleb Love scored 12. But the Tar Heels will lament a series of mistakes in the closing minutes that allowed Iowa State to rally.

“We had wide open threes. We were able to get to the basket. We were able to get whatever we wanted, we just didn’t make those shots,” North Carolina coach Hubert Davis said.

North Carolina led 57-49 after Leaky Black’s layup with 5:43 left, but missed four of its final six shots and had four turnovers during that span.

“We turned the ball over a couple of times and you just can’t do that in late-game situations,” Davis said. “You have to be sound and discipline and you have to do that on both ends of the floor and we just didn’t do it.”

NO. 1 LOSSES

North Carolina lost as the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since Nov. 21, 2015 when it lost 71-67 at Northern Iowa. The Tar Heels also lost as No. 1 to UNLV in 2011 at a Thanksgiving tournament.

BIG PICTURE

North Carolina: Pete Nance wasn’t able to contribute in the same way he did in Thursday’s opening round. Nance, who tied his career high with 28 points against Portland, didn’t score for the first 27 minutes and finished with seven points.

Iowa State: The Cyclones were playing a No. 1 team from outside their conference for the first time since 1999 when they faced Cincinnati in the championship game of the Big Island Invitational.

UP NEXT

Iowa State will face either No. 18 Alabama or No. 20 UConn in the championship game while the Tar Heels will face the loser for third place.

No. 8 Duke locks down late, holds off Xavier 71-64

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PORTLAND, Ore. – After a shaky offensive performance in the opening round of the Phil Knight Legacy tournament, Duke coach Jon Scheyer wanted to see Jeremy Roach get back to playing more instinctively, especially at the offensive end of the floor.

Roach responded with a season-high 21 points, Mark Mitchell added 16 and No. 8 Duke withstood Xavier’s second-half comeback for a 71-64 win on Friday.

The Blue Devils (6-1) advanced to the championship game thanks to the play of their standout guard and another strong defensive effort. Roach came one point shy of matching his career high, and the Blue Devils rebounded after an unexpectedly tight victory over Oregon State in the opening round of the event.

Roach was 3 of 14 shooting against Oregon State as the Blue Devils scored a season-low 54 points. He made 9 of 15 shots and had five assists against Xavier.

“There’s a lot that falls on your shoulders so you can end up overthinking it a little bit,” Scheyer said. “The thing that I love for him today is he just was him. And when he’s that way, he is to me the best guard in the country.”

The Musketeers (4-2) were held to two points over the final five minutes and missed their last four shot attempts. Souley Boum scored 23 points and Adam Kunkel had 13. Kunkel didn’t play the last 11 minutes after taking a hard fall committing a foul.

Xavier leading scorer Jack Nudge was 1 of 13 shooting and finished with five points.

“Jack played a great effort. He really did. He was ready for the game. He just had one of those nights where the ball didn’t go in the basket,” Xavier coach Sean Miller said.

At the same time, Miller was disappointed in what he called the “fracturing” he saw from his team.

“There were spurts and segments of the game where I thought we reflected our style, how we’re trying to play, whether it be defense and offense. But there were way too many segments of the game, if not most of the game, where we were at times in our own way,” Miller said.

Mitchell scored seven points in the opening minutes of the second half, including a pair of layups, and he hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave Duke a 49-36 lead, its largest of the game.

That’s when Xavier’s comeback started. The Musketeers pulled within three points on several occasions, but Duke answered each time. Desmond Claude’s driving layup pulled Xavier within 63-60 with 5:51 left, but Ryan Young scored for Duke and Xavier didn’t make another basket.

Roach’s jumper with 2:40 left pushed Duke’s lead to 69-62.

“We like to play inside out but I mean, when guys are hitting shots it just opens up for everybody else,” Roach said. “Just try to continue to be consistent hitting shots and I think we’ll be fine.”

Kyle Filipowski had 12 points and was not Duke’s leading scorer for the first time in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Duke: The Blue Devils’ dominance on the backboards finally came to an end. Duke had outrebounded each of its first six opponents by double figures, the longest such stretch in school history. But Xavier’s interior size limited Duke to a 33-32 advantage on the glass. The Blue Devils had 12 second-chance points.

Xavier: The Musketeers played an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the first time since beating Virginia Tech in last year’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Xavier dropped to 0-2 against ranked opponents this season, having lost to Indiana last week. The Musketeers will play another ranked foe in Sunday’s third-place game.

UP NEXT

Duke will face the Gonzaga-Purdue winner in the championship game on Sunday, while Xavier will play the loser.