Player Of The Year Power Rankings: Barrett drops, Happ rises, Culver emerges

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Every year, within the first month of the season, a leader for National Player of the Year begins to emerge.

Last season, we knew by the PK 80 that Trae Young was going to be the leader in the clubhouse for the Player of the Year awards. He was eventually caught by Jalen Brunson the same way that Buddy Hield, in 2016, was caught by Denzel Valentine. In 2017, Frank Mason more or less held the lead in the Player of the Year race from day one, and in 2015, Frank Kaminsky was either first or second — behind Jahlil Okafor — for the entire season.

This year, no one has really emerged.

The guys on Duke have been terrific, but it’s hard to decipher between the two and the guy that gets all the shots (R.J. Barrett) misses all the shots, too. Rui Hachimura was terrific in the Maui Invitational, but not to the point that he’s set himself apart form the field. Ethan Happ might be the leader if this was an MVP race, although Carsen Edwards would have a strong case, while De’Andre Hunter looks every bit the part of a lottery pick as he battles with teammate Ty Jerome for “Best On UVA” honors.

1. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga (Last Week: 4)

  • 21.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 50.0% 3PT

I’m going with Rui as the leader for National Player of the Year as of today. His numbers justify it, as do his performances against the best teams in the country. In Maui, he averaged 22.3 points and 6.0 boards while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. His best game of the season came in Gonzaga’s win over Duke, in which he went for 20 points, seven boards, five assists and three blocks and not only scored the game-winning bucket but notched a pair of game-saving blocks in the final minutes.

He’s embraced the idea that he is the alpha on this Gonzaga team, and it is sure going to be fun to see how that plays out over the course of the next three weeks; Gonzaga will play at Creighton, host Washington, get Tennessee on a neutral and play at North Carolina before Dec. 15th.

2. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke (2)

  • 20.7 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 2.2 apg, 1.5 spg

I’m slotting Williamson in as the highest-ranked Duke player due in part to his efficiency — his offensive rating is 134.6 on a usage rate of 28.6 — for those that aren’t analytically-inclined, that is an astonishingly high number — and in part to the presence that he provides Duke defensively. He is not only an elite shot-blocker that can jump passing lanes, but he’s a terrific rebounder on both ends of the floor and the sparkplug that makes their transition game operate.

We’ve all see the stat by now: R.J. Barrett has missed 74 shots this season while Williamson has attempted just 75. At some point, head coach Mike Krzyzewski will figure out that his biggest and most difficult player to guard is Williamson, and that the single-most efficient source of offensive for Duke in the halfcourt this season has been Zion Williamson in isolation. How do you stop a 280 pound man that can get to the rim in one dribble like this?:

3. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin (5)

  • 17.8 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 5.7 apg, 1.7 bpg

Happ still hasn’t developed into the shooter we all wanted him to be, but he has taken a fairly significant leap this season in his ability to read defenses and pass out of them. In previous seasons, one of the easiest ways to render Happ ineffective was to send a double-team at him in the post. He’s reading those double-teams better this season, and he’s more comfortable passing out of them. In six games, he has 34 assists this season. Against Virginia in the Battle 4 Atlantis title game, he finished with six assists and totally took the Wahoos out of what they wanted to do defensively — double the post.

Through six games, Happ has reached a double-double with more than five assists five times already, including a triple-double in the season opener. Minnesota’s jordan Murphy and Oregon State’s Tres Tinkle — three times each — are the only other players to have posted that stat line more than twice this season.

4. R.J. BARRETT, Duke (1)

  • 22.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.0 apg, 40.8% FG, 31.6% 3PT

What’s the old saying? The only person able to Michael Jordan was Dean Smith?

That’s the way it feels when talking about Zion Williamson, except the only person that can keep him from scoring on every possession is R.J. Barrett.

I talked about this on the podcast embedded above, but I don’t really have an issue with Barrett’s alpha mentality. I like that he demands the ball in big moments. I like that he wants to take game-winning shots. I like the confidence that he has in himself that even though he has missed three in a row, the next one is going to go in. Yes, he needs to be able to see and make this pass, but he’s also an 18 year old playing in the biggest game he’s ever played in. He’ll learn. I’m not worried about that.

That said, his inefficiency and, frankly, selfishness does mean that I need to drop him in these rankings. There’s nothing wrong with being a ball- and shot-dominant player, but there it when you do it as inefficiently as Barrett does on a team with as much talent as Duke has. To put it into context, there are just three high-major players with a usage rate higher than Barrett’s: Carsen Edwards, Ethan Happ and Butler’s Kamar Baldwin. Here is how their efficiency stacks up:

5. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue (3)

  • 25.3 ppg, 4.2 apg, 41.0% 3PT

The graphic above basically says it all. For comparison’s sake, Jalen Brunson had one of the most efficient seasons in memory last year, and he finished with an offensive rating of 128.5 with a usage rate of 26.0. Trae Young checked in at 112.1 with a usage rate of 38.5.

6. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia (UR)

  • 16.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 46.7% 3PT

Picking between Hunter and Ty Jerome is difficult, but I think I lean Hunter this week. He was awesome as the Cavaliers won the Battle 4 Atlantis title while Jerome struggled a bit with his shot. This is going to be a constant point of contention for me. Hunter is Virginia’s best player, but Jerome may be their most valuable.

7. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech (UR)

  • 18.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.3 apg, 50.0% 3PT

I’m not sure there is a more improved player in college basketball this season than Jarrett Culver. The Texas Tech sophomore has gone from being a good piece on Texas Tech to being a star, a playmaker that the Red Raiders can run their offense through. As a freshman, less than 10 percent of Culver’s offensive possessions came as a ball-handler in pick-and-rolls. When you include passes, the 0.746 points-per-possession that he produced in ball-screens was in the 28th percentile nationally.

This year, 24.8 percent of his possessions come in ball-screens, and he’s produced 1.351 PPP in those actions when you include assists, good for the 97th percentile nationally. Culver hasn’t replaced Zhaire Smith. He’s replaced Keenan Evans.

8. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas (UR)

  • 17.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.8 apg

Picking who the Player of the Year on Kansas is this season is tough. On the one hand, the Jayhawks might have lost at home to Vermont and/or Louisiana if Lagerald Vick hadn’t gone full Steph Curry, scoring 65 points and shooting 15-for-20 from three in those two games combined.

But Lawson has been the best player for the Jayhawks is their three games against high-major competition, and it’s really not all that close. Against Michigan State, Marquette and Tennessee, Lawson is averaging 23.3 points, 13.0 boards and 4.7 assists, and while his efficiency is not quite at a level you would like ideally, he’s the piece that Self can run his offense around and through. That earns him a spot on this list.

9. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee (6)

  • 21.6 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.2 bpg, 1.2 spg

Let’s ignore, for a second, the first game of the season, where Tennessee played a non-Division I opponent. In the four games since — against Louisiana, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Kansas — Grant Williams has averaged 23.8 points, 8.8 boards, 4.0 assists, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals. He was the best player on the floor for Tennessee in their win over Louisville. As Bill Self put it after his Jayhawks managed to dispatch Tennessee in the finals of the Preseason NIT, “we may not play a better player all year than Grant Williams. He’s a load.”

Tennessee plays Gonzaga on December 9th. Buckle up.

10. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech (7)

  • 19.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.4 apg, 2.4 spg, 53.5/40.0/92.3

Alexander-Walker has been terrific this season. Virginia Tech has looked like a team capable of finishing top four in the ACC this season, and his improvement is one of the biggest reasons why. He’s scoring at a more efficient clip, he’s become a playmaker defensively and he’s averaging 4.4 assists through five games. We’ll see if he can continue at this pace throughout the season, but there’s no doubt that he’s earned his spot on this list today.

Dropped Out: 8. Cameron Johnson (North Carolina), 9. Ty Jerome (Virginia), 10. Lagerald Vick (Kansas)

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

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CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.

Florida upends No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 behind Colin Castleton

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Colin Castleton had 20 points and nine rebounds, Kyle Lofton added 14 points and Florida used a 13-0 run late in the second half to upend No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 on Wednesday night.

The Volunteers, playing with their highest ranking in four years, lost for the first time in five games. They had won nine of 10.

Tennessee (18-4, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) looked like it had taken control midway through the second half. They outscored Florida by 10 points in the early going to take a six-point lead.

But the Gators (13-9, 6-3) stormed back behind Castleton, who scored 11 of 14 points as Florida rallied. The senior had a dunk, two free throws, a three-point play, a layup and a short jumper – essentially putting the team on his back down the stretch.

Myreon Jones and Will Richard chipped in nine points apiece for the Gators.

Zakai Ziegler led the Vols with 15 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Olivier Nkamhoua added 11 points and nine rebounds for the vistors, who also got 11 points and eight boards from Vescovi Santiago.

Florida led 27-21 at halftime, just the fifth time the Volunteers has trailed at the break this season. Tennessee rallied to win three of the previous four.

The Gators were red hot to start, making six of their first eight shots – including all three from 3-point range – while building a 17-4 advantage. But they quickly cooled against the nation’s best defense, missing nine of their next 11 as Tennessee made cut it to 22-21.

The Vols had it going coming out of the locker room, with Ziegler getting into the paint and making things happen. But it was short-lived – thanks mostly to Castleton.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Tennessee surely will drop a few spots in next week’s AP Top 25 college basketball poll.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers gave up 10 points in the opening four minutes of the games, a rare sluggish start for the nation’s best defense. Tennessee had held four of its first eight SEC opponents scoreless at the first media timeout, roughly the first four minutes of games. It was a sign of things to come.

Florida: The Gators have been resilient much of the season, and this was arguably the most impressive comeback of the season for coach Todd Golden’s team. The Gators squandered a 13-point lead early and a six-point advantage in the second half. But they rallied when it mattered.

IN THE HOUSE

Football coach Billy Napier watched the game from a few rows behind Florida’s bench alongside his two sons and receiver Ricky Pearsall. Former Florida tennis star Ben Shelton, the NCAA singles champion in 2022, also was in attendance. So was former Gators and NFL quarterback Doug Johnson.

UP NEXT

Tennessee hosts No. 25 Auburn and former coach Bruce Pearl on Saturday.

Florida plays at Kentucky on Saturday. The Gators have lost seven of eight in the series.

No. 8 Kansas avenges earlier loss to No. 7 Kansas State, 90-78

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Jalen Wilson had 20 points, Kevin McCullar Jr. added 16 points and 13 rebounds, and No. 8 Kansas avenged a loss to Kansas State just a couple of weeks ago with a 90-78 victory over the seventh-ranked Wildcats.

Dajuan Harris Jr. scored 18 for the Jayhawks (18-4, 6-3 Big 12), who built a 12-point halftime lead before coasting to their 17th straight home win over the Wildcats in the 10th matchup of top-10 teams in series history.

Kansas has rebounded nicely from a rare three-game skid that included the overtime loss to Kansas State, and made sure to avoid taking back-to-back losses in its storied home for the first time since the 1988-89 season.

Markquis Nowell scored 23 points and Keyontae Johnson had 22 to lead the Wildcats (18-4, 6-3), who were trying for their first regular-season sweep of their biggest rival in four decades. Nae’Qwan Tomlin added 11 points and David N’Guessan had 10.

In their first meeting on Jan. 17, the Wildcats raced to a big early lead and controlled the game until late in the second half, when the Jayhawks forced overtime — only for Kansas State to win on Johnson’s alley-oop dunk.

It was the Jayhawks who controlled the rematch.

They used a 16-7 run in the first half that included a technical foul on Kansas State coach Jerome Tang to build a 32-19 lead. And when Johnson answered with eight straight points for the Wildcats, and the lead was eventually trimmed to four, the reigning national champs pulled away again down the stretch.

It was 37-32 when Wilson hit back-to-back 3-pointers and Zach Clemence added one of his own. And by the time Wilson made two foul shots with about 10 seconds left, Kansas had built a 49-37 lead that it took to the break.

The Wildcats briefly got within six in the second half before the Jayhawks stretched their lead to as many as 16.

OFFICIATING OOPS

Johnson had to sit with two fouls just 2 1/2 minutes into the game. Only problem? The crew of John Higgins, Kip Kissinger and Marques Pettigrew gave one to the wrong player. By the time they corrected their mistake, the Wildcats’ leading scorer had unnecessarily ridden the bench for several minutes.

SELLOUT … AND THEN SOME

For the first time in more than 15 years, more Kansas students redeemed tickets than there was space available inside Allen Fieldhouse. The overflow had to watch the game on screens in the adjacent Horejsi Family Athletics Center, where the Jayhawks play volleyball games. Those students also got refunds and concessions vouchers.

BIG PICTURE

Kansas State’s three losses in league play have been to ranked teams on the road: TCU, Iowa State and Kansas. And with a more forgiving second half to the Big 12 schedule, the Wildcats remain firmly in the conference title hunt.

Kansas got its mojo back with its win over Kentucky last weekend. This victory over another bunch of Wildcats was crucial because the road doesn’t get any easier for the Jayhawks, who are in the midst of three straight games against teams ranked 13th or better.

UP NEXT

Kansas State returns home for another top-10 showdown Saturday against No. 10 Texas.

Kansas hits the road for the third time in four games against No. 13 Iowa State on Saturday.

BC beats No. 20 Clemson 62-54; Tigers fall into ACC tie

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BOSTON — Makai Ashton-Langford had two key driving baskets in the closing two minutes and finished with 15 points to help Boston College beat No. 20 Clemson 62-54 on Tuesday night.

Jaeden Zackery added 13 points for the Eagles (11-12, 5-7 Atlantic Coast Conference). BC held Clemson to one field goal — and that came with 18 seconds left — in the final 13:16.

Hunter Tyson led Clemson (18-5, 10-2) with 22 points and Chase Hunter had 12. The Tigers fell into a first-place tie atop the ACC with No. 6 Virginia.

The Eagles used a 5-0 spurt — with T.J. Bickerstaff hitting a free throw and getting a driving layup — to pull ahead 50-45 with just over five minutes to play.

Clemson sliced it to 50-47 before Aston-Langford made his two big baskets. He followed that by making two free throws with 32 seconds left.

Trailing by 10 midway into the second half, the Tigers went on a 10-0 spree, tying it at 45 when RJ Godfrey hit both ends of a 1-and-1.

The Eagles had opened a double-digit lead twice in the opening six minutes of the second half, the later 45-35 on Prince Aligbe’s foul-line jumper with 14:12 to play.

BIG PICTURE

Clemson: Off to a solid start in conference play, the Tigers were tested on the road for the second straight game after edging Florida State by a point on Saturday. It hasn’t been easy for them away from home with a 4-3 record and with three away matchups against North Carolina, North Carolina State and Virginia to go, they’ll need to get it straightened out of they’re going to won the ACC regular-season title.

Boston College: The Eagles proved when they play defense that they’re a tough out in coach Earl Grant’s second season. A little more offense could make them very dangerous for top ACC teams to play.

ARRIVING LATE

In the first half, Clemson’s man-to-man defense smothered the Eagles’ offense for the opening 10 minutes, holding them in single digits in scoring until just about the same time the student section finished filling up late, bringing some energy to a very quiet building.

BC’s players then responded, closing the half with a 22-4 spree that turned an 11-point deficit to a 30-23 halftime edge.

SIDELINED

Both teams were missing key players. Guard Brevin Galloway, Clemson’s fourth leading scorer at 10.6 points per game, was sidelined with an abdominal injury. For BC, guard DeMarr Langford Jr., who logs big minutes at the point, was out with a knee injury.

UP NEXT

Clemson: Hosts No. 23 Miami on Saturday.

Boston College: Hosts Syracuse on Saturday.

South Carolina tops women’s AP Top 25; Ohio State tumbles

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It was a rough week for Ohio State, which lost all three of its games and tumbled down the AP Top 25 as a result.

The previously unbeaten Buckeyes fell from second to 10th in The Associated Press women’s basketball poll released Monday after losing to Iowa and Indiana, two top 10 teams, as well as Purdue. Ohio State fell two games back in the Big Ten Conference standings.

South Carolina remained No. 1 for the 32nd consecutive week. The Gamecocks, who were again a unanimous choice from the 28-member national media panel, have the fourth-longest streak ever atop the poll. Only UConn (51 and 34 weeks) and Louisiana Tech (36) have had longer runs at No. 1.

Stanford moved back up to No. 2 in the poll and the Cardinal were followed by LSU, Indiana and UConn in the top five. LSU is the only other undefeated team in women’s basketball besides South Carolina, which visits UConn for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

Iowa jumped out four spots to sixth with Utah, Maryland and Notre Dame coming in ahead of Ohio State. The Hawkeyes started the season No. 4 in the poll.

The Fighting Irish split a pair of games last week against ranked opponents, routing Florida State before falling to N.C. State.

“There’s a lot of parity right now, which is great, great for the game,” Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey said. “The game is growing, which is what you want. But yeah, I mean, every night, especially the ACC, the ACC is the strongest league and, you know, we have just a tough stretch every night.”

One week after falling out of the rankings, Texas re-entered the poll at No. 24. The Longhorns routed then-No. 14 Oklahoma and Oklahoma State last week. South Florida also came in at No. 25. Colorado and Illinois fell out of the poll.

RISING BULLS

No. 25 South Florida continued its streak of being ranked for at least one week every season since the Bulls entered the poll for the first time in 2015.

“For us not being in a so-called football five conference, that’s a huge accomplishment,” South Florida coach Jose Fernandez said. His team has won 10 consecutive games and has 20 victories this season. The team’s four losses have all come against ranked opponents (Michigan, Villanova, Ohio State and N.C. State).

“This group has been fun to coach. We always play a great non(equals)conference schedule,” Fernandez said. “We won on the road at Texas, beat Alabama, beat Arkansas. We challenged ourselves in November and December.”

RECORD PERFORMANCES

Cameron Brink carried Stanford to a win over Oregon with a triple-double that included 10 blocks. It was the first triple-double in NCAA Division I women’s basketball featuring double-digit blocks since Tamari Key did it for Tennessee in an overtime win against Texas on Nov. 21, 2021.

No. 20 Oklahoma’s Taylor Robertson set the all-time NCAA women’s career record for 3-pointers when she hit her 498th in a loss to Iowa State on Saturday. Robertson has 503 entering this week. The all-time NCAA record, men or women, is held by Antoine Davis of Detroit Mercy, who has 534 and counting.