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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)

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.