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1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
I can’t believe some of the things that came out of my mouth last week.
Like, for example, how I said, over and over again, that Tre Jones was the most important player on the Duke roster. Yes, Jones does things that no one else on this Duke team can do. Yes, he is an elite on-ball defender that allows R.J. Barrett to slide into a role that is more suited for him offensively. Yes, he provides leadership and takes pressure off of their halfcourt offense with the transition opportunities that he creates.
All of that is true.
But the idea that I said, and actually believed, that anyone other than Zion Williamson — and, to a lesser extent, R.J. Barrett — is the most important player on this Duke team is just laughably absurd.
This is how I know I need better friends.
Because anyone that truly cared about me as a human being would never, ever, let me say what I said last week with such conviction.
If you need me, I’ll be taking an L.
2. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee
I’ve made this point over and over this season, but it bears repeating after the performance that Dedric Lawson had on Monday night: We fawn over the Kansas star because of his size, his efficiency, his passing ability and the way he can space the floor with his shot. Here are their numbers, side by side:
Should I mention that Tennessee is currently the No. 1 team in the AP Poll as well?
3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette
Howard the best shooter in the country. He the second-leading scorer in the high-major ranks and the nation’s fifth-leading scorer overall. There no high-major player in college hoops that has been more efficient with a higher usage rate. All of those things are true and wildly impressive for a player that is six months younger than Trae Young, but we also need to consider this: Howard’s assist rate is on par with the likes of Ty Jerome, Jarrett Culver and Justin Robinson. He’s been unbelievable this year.
4. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas
It has been a weird two games for Lawson. On Saturday, in the loss at West Virginia, Lawson was unable to get a touch in a dangerous spot in the last 2:30 of the game as the Jayhawks stumbled through four ugly possessions while blowing a six-point lead. On Monday, Lawson finished with 29 points and 15 boards on 13-for-17 shooting, coming up with a huge block and an ever bigger three in the final minute to help seal the win. He carried Kansas for long stretches early in the game as the rest of Bill Self’s roster found a rhythm. He was nothing short of sensational.
I’m sure Kansas fans are hoping that, over the course of the final three months of the season, we see more of that Lawson and less o the player that couldn’t get a big bucket when they needed it in Morgan town.
5. JA MORANT, Murray State
I know it was only SIU-Edwardsville, but Ja Morant went for 40 points and 11 assists on Saturday. He was 21-for-21 from the foul line and, in his last two games, is now shooting 7-for-14 from three. He’s not a great shooter yet, but he’s getting there. Top five picks.
6. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech
After a sterling start to the season, Texas Tech is starting to get figured out. This is what happens when your offense is, essentially, the Jarrett Culver Show. He hasn’t been good enough to carry the Red Raiders in their last two games, a home loss to Iowa State and a loss at Baylor. He was 7-for-21 from the floor against the Cyclones and had seven turnovers in the loss at Baylor.
7. R.J. BARRETT, Duke
We were all up in arms about Barrett’s performance in the loss to Syracuse, finishing with just 23 points on 8-for-30 shooting, he turned around and put up 30 points on an efficient 11-for-19 shooting against Virginia, one of the nation’s very best defensive units.
8. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State
No one in college basketball deserves more and is getting less All-American hype than Michigan State’s star point guard Cassius Winston. What he is able to do in transition is a difference-maker for a team that likes to run far more than anyone realizes. He’s been better defensive as well, and in the absence of Josh Langford, he’s picked up the scoring slack when needed. He had 29 points and six assists at Nebraska. He had 23 points and five assists against Purdue. He had 25 points and five assists at Ohio State.
Sparty won all of those games, and after soundly knocking off Maryland on Monday night, they have now won 11 in a row and sit all alone in first place in the Big Ten. Michigan State is dangerous, and Winston is the reason why.
9. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin
Happ had one of the most dominating performances of the season on Saturday, as he posted 26 points, 10 boards, seven assists and two steals as the Badgers handed Michigan — one of the top five defensive teams in the sport — their first loss of the season. Wisconsin has struggled of late, and Happ’s inconsistency from the free throw line is going to cost the Badgers a big game at some point, but what he did on Saturday was special.
10. SOMEONE, Virginia or Gonzaga
These two teams play drastically different styles — Gonzaga is one of the fastest teams in the country while Virginia is the slowest team — but the one thing that they have in common is that there is no clear-cut “best” player on either roster. De’Andre Hunter is the best pro prospect for Virginia, but Ty Jerome might actually be their best player this year while Kyle Guy is the team’s leading scorer. We can say the same thing with the Zags, who are infinitely better thanks to the defense that gets played by Brandon Clarke but who run their offense through their Japanese star Rui Hachimura.
IN THE MIX: Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Virginia Tech), Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s)
Kansas earned a huge Big 12 home win on Monday night as the Jayhawks outlasted Iowa State for an 80-76 win. Following a Saturday road loss at West Virginia, there were questions about the Jayhawks’ ability to close tight games following some recent late-game mishaps. But thanks to a key defensive adjustment and a strong performance from a Player of the Year candidate, the Jayhawks stayed right in the mix in a crowded Big 12 race.
Here are three takeaways from the Kansas win on Monday night.
Defense was a huge part of the Kansas comeback and eventual win
By switching in the second half, and adjusting to Iowa State’s movement-heavy offense, Kansas was able to go on a 14-0 second-half run and take a solid lead in the second half before eventually going on to win.
The first half, Kansas looked sluggish on the defensive end, as they couldn’t seem to stay with the Cyclone offense. When head coach Bill Self adjusted in the second half by switching at all positions in some smaller lineups, it changed the game for the Jayhawks.
Gaining confidence by getting stops in the second half, Kansas translated that into offense. That run eventually helped them gain control of the game. Making plays on the defensive ended also started to get slow-starting guys like Marcus Garrett (16 points) and LaGerald Vick (14 points) when they didn’t have a lot fall for them early.
Kansas didn’t have the start they wanted. They looked hungover from the road loss two days before. But the halftime adjustments and renewed commitment to the defensive end ignited the Jayhawks on both ends of the floor. A team that has struggled to close some games got some key stops when they needed them.
If Kansas can defend like that, and get some timely stops, then they can stay at the top of the Big 12 race.
Iowa State’s remains a dangerous team despite the loss
The Cyclones might have fallen on Monday night. Looking at things long-term, Iowa State held a halftime lead in this game, rallied to tie the game in the second half once they fell behind, and still ended up with a 1-1 season-series matchup with Kansas after a blowout win at Hilton.
The Cyclones haven’t shown nearly enough reliability to be considered a major top-10 team. They also haven’t been fully healthy enough to figure things out for this season. All of that being said, the Cyclones still remain one of the nation’s most dangerous teams because of their offense. Iowa State’s ability to have four or five guys in every lineup who can score is a huge help.
Marial Shayok (26 points), Talen Horton-Tucker (16 points) and Michael Jacobson (12 points) all made some key shots in this one. And Lindell Wigginton (three points) and the rest of the rotation outside the starting five provided next to nothing.
If the Cyclones get a night where more than a few guys are clicking, then they could be a terrifying team to face in a tournament-style scenario.
Kansas forward Dedric Lawson closed this game like a Player of the Year candidate
On a night where many of their key players struggled, the Jayhawks got a huge, potentially signature, performance from junior forward Dedric Lawson. Coming up with 29 points and 15 rebounds on 13-for-17 shooting, the forward looked simply unstoppable while displaying ruthless efficiency.
But most importantly: Lawson came up with clutch plays on both ends of the floor for a Kansas team that desperately needs help closing.
Making a huge block on a Wigginton dunk attempt with under a minute left, Lawson stopped Iowa State from closing the game to within one point as the play also ignited the home crowd. Following that, on the offensive end, Lawson’s three-pointer with a little under 30 seconds left made it a five-point game and proved to be a major difference in a tight game.
Kansas needed this type of performance from Lawson on a sluggish night and he delivered in a huge way. While others like Zion Williamson and Grant Williams are ahead of Lawson in the Player of the Year race, if he keeps playing like this, he’ll quickly re-join the top conversation.
Monday was a slow night in college basketball. There were three games between ranked teams to keep it interesting though. With major battles in the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12, the night started slow, but closed with a good back-and-forth game.
No. 9 Kansas outlasts No. 24 Iowa State in back-and-forth contest
The Jayhawks avenged that first Iowa State loss with a solid comeback win in Lawrence against the Cyclones on Monday. Playing very much like a Player of the Year candidate, Jayhawk junior forward Dedric Lawson had a monster game with 29 points and 15 rebounds — making critical plays on both ends of the floor. Lawson knocked down a key three-pointer to make it a five-point difference with under a minute left while also making a huge block of a Lindell Wigginton dunk attempt that could have pulled Iowa State to within one.
With all of the Kansas woes late in games, this was a solid win for them after Iowa State mounted a late rally to tie the game.
First-half run propels No. 11 North Carolina past No. 10 Virginia Tech
The Monday ACC undercard to Saturday’s memorable Duke vs. Virginia clash, the Tar Heels used a huge 20-2 run at the end of the first half and eventually run past the Hokies. Getting stops after a hot start for Virginia Tech’s offense, the North Carolina defense looked much improved after some bad stretches at times during the season.
Freshmen also played a giant part in the win for the Tar Heels as Coby White (27 points) and Nassir Little (23 points) combined for 50 points while Luke Maye (14 points) and Garrison Brooks (12 points) had solid games on the interior.
Since North Carolina has to play a difficult remaining ACC schedule that includes two games against Duke and a tilt with Virginia, this is a critical home win for them to get against a team as good as Virginia Tech.
Cassius Winston, No. 6 Michigan State control game against No. 13 Maryland
In the Big Ten, the Spartans maintained control of the league with a solid double-digit win the Terps. Playing without junior guard Joshua Langford, and with big man Nick Ward (0 points) struggling for consistent offense, the Spartans still pretty easily took care of a top-15 thanks to defense, toughness and the steady play at point guard of Cassius Winston.
Soundly outplaying his counterpart in Maryland’s Anthony Cowan Jr., Winston (14 points, seven assists) led a balanced effort for Michigan State as five double-figure scorers led to a solid offensive night. Kenny Goins (14 points, 12 rebounds) finished with a double-double for the Spartans while Xavier Tillman (10 points, five blocks) and Aaron Henry (12 points, six rebounds, four assists) gave great role efforts.
The Spartans remain unbeaten through eight games in a very deep Big Ten as they’re quietly looking like one of the most consistent teams in the country. This team doesn’t have a headline-making star like Miles Bridges, but Michigan State is playing together and playing hard on both ends of the floor.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina went from being unable to hit a 3-pointer to seemingly unable to miss. And its touted freshmen rolled to big nights against a highly ranked Atlantic Coast Conference opponent.
This is more what coach Roy Williams envisioned — or hoped for, anyway — from his 11th-ranked Tar Heels.
Freshman Coby White scored 27 points while UNC hit a season-high 16 3-pointers to beat No. 10 Virginia Tech 103-82 on Monday night, cracking the 100-point mark for the first time in league play.
Fellow rookie Nassir Little added a season-high 23 points for the Tar Heels (15-4, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference), who struggled out of the gate to fall behind by nine while making just 1 of their first 12 3s. But it wasn’t long before just about everything started falling from behind the arc, an avalanche that sparked a game-turning 20-0 run that pushed UNC to a 45-31 lead by halftime.
“I’ve seen us play like that but not in enough spurts this year in games,” Williams said.
It was the Tar Heels’ best showing since scoring 103 points in a December home win against No. 4 Gonzaga. There have been clunkers since, though namely suffering the worst home loss in 16 seasons under their Hall of Fame coach against Louisville on Jan. 12.
“I think the key factor for us was we had won two games and then played terribly against Louisville,” Little said. “And we didn’t want that to happen this time. … We just wanted to keep going, keep that energy going, keep that win streak going.”
UNC made 15 of its last 22 3-pointers, shot 54 percent for the game and led by 27 points.
Ahmed Hill scored 20 points for the Hokies (15-3, 4-2), who made 6 of 7 3-pointers in a fast start only to end the half by going nearly 6 minutes without a basket while dealing with foul trouble.
“I thought we tried to manage it the right way,” Hokies coach Buzz Williams said of the 20-0 run. “Obviously we didn’t get any stops. It was kind of a mix-match group that we were trying to survive with, and offensively we were for sure out of sorts.
“It kind of compounded on us fairly quick over those last four minutes.”
Virginia Tech: This was the Hokies’ second road game against a ranked opponent in the past week. Things went poorly in the first at No. 3 Virginia, with the Hokies struggling at both ends in a woeful first half en route to a 22-point loss. Williams sounded happier with his team’s response this time around.
“I think collectively we feel different tonight in the locker room than we did (after the Virginia loss),” he said, adding: “The scores are similar but I think the energy and the effort and the fight tonight was different.”
UNC: The Tar Heels were coming off a win at Miami that pushed them to 3-0 on the road in ACC play, then shook off that slow start by putting five players in double figures — even with season-leading scorer Cameron Johnson managing just eight points.
“It just shows how deep our team is,” White said. “Our depth is crazy.”
WHITE LEADS THE WAY
White finished with seven rebounds, six assists and four steals to go with his game-high 27 points, becoming the first Tar Heel to lead his team in all four categories since Joseph Forte had 24 points, 16 rebounds, six assists and three steals in a February 2001 win at Duke.
UNC’s 16 3-pointers are tied for the No. 2 total in program history, one shy of the program record set in 1995.
The fouls added up in the first half for the Hokies. First starting point guard Justin Robinson headed to the bench with his third foul on a charge at the 9:52 mark, then season-leading scorer Nickeil Alexander-Walker picked up his third with 1:26 left in the first half.
Hokies reserve P.J. Horne (4.8 points) didn’t play, with Buzz Williams saying he would be out indefinitely due to an undisclosed injury.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies host Syracuse on Saturday night.
UNC: The Tar Heels visit Georgia Tech on Jan. 29.
This story has been corrected to show UNC’s game at Georgia Tech is Jan. 29, not Saturday.
EAST LANSING, Mich. — Aaron Henry made the most of his opportunity to play in place of injured starter Joshua Langford.
The freshman forward had a season-high 12 points, helping No. 6 Michigan State beat No. 13 Maryland 69-55 on Monday night with balanced offense and stifling defense.
“The Henry kid, he’s really good,” Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said. “Great defender, hard to box out. And, he makes shots. That was a key.”
The Spartans (17-2, 8-0 Big Ten) have won 12 straight this season and are in sole possession of first in the conference. They have won a school-record 20 consecutive Big Ten regular season games dating to last year. The run ties the fifth-longest winning streak in Big Ten history and is conference’s longest since Illinois won 25 straight during the 2003-04 and 2004-05 seasons.
“I don’t think they give a trophy for it,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said.
Cassius Winston and Kenny Goins each scored 14 points while Matt McQuaid and Xavier Tillman had 10 points apiece for the Spartans.
The Terrapins (16-4, 7-2) had a shot to move into first place in the conference, but couldn’t extend their seven-game winning streak.
“We couldn’t guard them,” Turgeon said. “We went a few possessions with zone, but that’s not who we are.
“We let our offense affect our defense.”
Maryland’s leading scorer, Anthony Cowan, was held to a season-low seven points.
“That was huge,” Henry said. “We looked at him on film and said, `He’s the guy we’ve got to lock down.’ I felt we did that.”
The Terrapins connected on just 34.4 percent of their shots and matched their season low against the Spartans. They shot 58 percent of in their previous game, a 14-point win at Ohio State.
Bruno Fernando had 12 points and 13 rebounds, freshman Aaron Wiggins had a season-high 15 points and Darryl Morsell added 10 points.
The Spartans missed their first six shots then surged to an 18-6 lead while holding Maryland to 3-of-18 shooting.
Maryland started making shots to pull into 20-all tie.
“I thought we could win at that point,” Cowan said. “We just didn’t get enough stops.”
Michigan State closed half with an 11-0 run to lead 31-20.
Winston, who had just five points in the first half, opened the second half with a 3-pointer to put the Spartans ahead by 14. He had a three-point play a couple minutes later, giving Michigan State a 43-26 lead. Goins made a 3-pointer to push the lead to 22 with 15:28 left.
The Terrapins rallied to cut their deficit to 11 with 5:42 remaining, but couldn’t get closer.
“I didn’t think it was the prettiest game, but I was really impressed by our defense,” Izzo said.
Maryland: Cowan crumbled against Michigan State’s defense, which included a player guarding him closely while a post player lurked nearby in case he got into the lane. He had scored 20-plus points in four straight games and was averaging 17.9 points entering the game before being held nearly 11 below his average on 3-of-12 shooting. Cowan made a shot early in the game then was held scoreless for 26-plus minutes.
“They really did a good job of closing the gaps,” he said. “And, we just didn’t make plays and that made their defense look a lot better.”
Michigan State: In its only home game during a five-game stretch, the Spartans showed they can win without Langford and basically without struggling starter Nick Ward. Langford missed his sixth straight game with an ankle injury. Ward was held scoreless for the first time in his career, limited to 14 minutes at least in part because he was in foul trouble. Kyle Ahrens, who has started seven games this season, returned from a two-game absence with a back injury and made a reverse layup to help hold off Maryland in the second half.
Izzo said Langford will miss at least one more game.
“He shot some (Sunday) and that was encouraging,” Izzo said. “Now that the boot has been taken off periodically, now that he can work out a little bit, we’re starting to see some progress.
Langford averaged 15 points in 13 games this season, including an 18-point performance in the opening loss to No. 9 Kansas and a career-high 29 points in a win over Texas later in November.
BRIDGES COMES BACK
Charlotte Hornets rookie Miles Bridges , who left Michigan State after his sophomore season, returned to the Breslin Center to kiss the school’s logo on the court before the game. The program’s departing seniors have done that since Shawn Respert did it in 1995. Izzo wants his former players, who enter the NBA draft early, to come back to be a part of the tradition.
Maryland: Gives up home game to play Illinois at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
Michigan State: Plays at No. 19 Iowa on Thursday night and at Purdue on Sunday afternoon.