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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Justin Jackson climbing, Ethan Happ and Lonzo Ball sliding?

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1. Frank Mason III, Kansas: Here’s the thing that makes it difficult to drop Mason out of his spot: Even when he plays poorly, he puts up huge numbers. Mason shot just 3-for-13 from the floor for the Jayhawks on Monday night, playing like his shoes were made of cement as West Virginia built a 64-50 lead on Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse with 2:45 left. Then he was the guy who helped spark the comeback, getting to the free throw line, banging a three and making a pair of critical defensive plays.

He finished with 24 points, five assists and four boards, which is awful similar to the line he had against Baylor, when he shot 3-for-12 from the floor by ended the game with 19 points, six assists and four boards in a win. The Jayhawks didn’t even suffer in his worst performance of the season, a 80-79 win over Texas Tech where he went assist-less for the first time this season, fouling out with three minutes left after shooting a paltry 4-for-13 from the floor.

2. Josh Hart, Villanova: Here’s the concern with Hart’s Player of the Year candidacy at this point: When is he going to be playing games that we have to watch? Kansas and Frank Mason played in one last night. They play in one against on Saturday, when they visit Baylor. Lonzo Ball played Oregon on Thursday and will pay a visit to Arizona later this month. Caleb Swanigan went up against Indiana in Assembly Hall last week, just ten days after they squared off with Maryland.

The problem with the Big East right now is that no one in the league is going to challenge the Wildcats. Xavier and Creighton lost their star point guards and Butler went off the deep end. Villanova, as good as they are, is not the kind of team that is going to command eye balls regardless of opponent. So are we going to see enough of Hart to be able to loft him over Mason in these standings?

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 03: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in front of Lamarr Kimble #0 of the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the first half at The Pavilion on December 3, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks 88-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

3. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: 16 points, 14 boards, three assists, a win at Assembly Hall. That was Swanigan’s week last week, not bad numbers until you consider that he had averaged 25 points and 13 boards the previous week. He’s still third on this list for three reasons: He’s not on the same level defensively as the two guys above him, he’s fouled out of his last three games and, over the course of his last six games, he has 27 turnovers. That’s 4.5 per game. For comparison’s sake, only James Harden and Russell Westbrook average more turnovers than that in the NBA.

4. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: There is a bit of a gap for me between the top three and Lonzo Ball for one simple reason: defense. Ball, and UCLA, proved that they can lock up when they need to in last Thursday’s come-from-behind win over Oregon, but the fact of the matter is that the Bruins ranks 126th in defensive efficiency and it doesn’t matter how good Ball, or UCLA, is offensively. Teams that defend like that aren’t title challengers, and Ball holds as much blame for that as anyone on the roster just like he deserves as much credit for their offensive renaissance as anyone in the program, including Steve Alford.

That said, Ball leads the country in “moments”. No one has made more big plays in big spots that spread around the internet like wildfire, and that certainly was the case in Thursday night’s game. He had a ridiculous drive through the lane for a layup to give UCLA a three-point lead with under two minutes left, then buried the dagger on an absurd, 27-foot step-back three:

It may not be right, but those “moments” matter, and Ball leads the nation in them.

5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: How about this: Gonzaga is undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country and they have a point guard that leads them in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. Williams-Goss may not have the NBA future that some of the other elite point guards across the country have, but his emergence has been the biggest reason why the Zags are as good as they are.

6. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: As good as Happ has been this season, it’s hard to overlook the fact that he gets taken out at the end of games because of his issues shooting free throws. Wisconsin survived overtime at Nebraska in spite of Happ. That did not happen at home against Northwestern, a game where Happ played just 26 minutes and had nine points and four turnovers.

7. Luke Kennard, Duke: For the second time in Duke’s recent five-game winning streak, the Blue Devils were bailed out by Kennard. Two weeks ago, it was a 30-point second half to lead Duke to a come-from-behind win at Wake Forest. On Saturday, he had a team-high 25 points as the Blue Devils narrowly squeaked by Clemson at home.

8. Justin Jackson, North Carolina: I had a revelation on Justin Jackson during North Carolina’s game against Duke last week, one that made me regret the error of my ways.

Joel Berry II is the guy that makes UNC’s offense run and the guy that makes the Tar Heels elite. Point guards, in general, are more valuable than scoring wings. That said, Berry has had a nasty habit of not showing up. He was 3-for-13 in UNC’s loss at Indiana. He was 3-for-13 in the loss at Georgia Tech. He was 0-for-8 with a technical foul when the Tar Heels got smoked by Miami earlier this month.

Jackson, on the other hand, has been a model of consistency all season long, particularly in ACC play. He’s scored at least 16 points in every league game and is second in the ACC in scoring during conference play at 20.1 points. He’s shooting the ball better than he ever has in his life, and he’s still utilizing a murderous floater-game that’s better than anyone in the country. He’s become North Carolina’s go-to guy and the big-time scorer that they’ve lacked for the last couple of seasons.

The Tar Heels may not have the hoss on the block that we are used to seeing from Roy Williams’ best teams, but the biggest reason that hasn’t hurt them yet is because of how good Jackson has been.

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9. Josh Jackson, Kansas: Mason is (deservedly) the Player of the Year for the Jayhawks, but it’s becoming more and more clear that Jackson is the most talented player and, arguably, the team’s best player. He had 31 points, 11 boards and four assists at Texas Tech to help the Jayhawks stave off an upset in a game where Mason fouled out with three minutes left, and last night, he had 14 points, 11 boards, five steals and three assists in that raucous, come-from-behind win over West Virginia.

In his last eight games, Jackson hasn’t scored fewer than 14 points and has hit for at least 20 four times. He has five double-doubles in that span, five games where he’s had at least three assists, five games with multiple steals and is shooting 50 percent from three in that stretch.

10. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Monday night’s loss aside, Motley has been consistently terrific all season long. Last week, he had 24 points and 11 boards against Oklahoma State and followed that up with 25 points and seven boards in a win over TCU.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Malik Monk, Kentucky
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina
Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s
Alec Peters, Valparaiso

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

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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.