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Player of the Year Power Rankings: There is no favorite this year

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This is as difficult as it has been since I have been doing the Player of the Year power rankings to pick a frontrunner a month into the season.

Generally speaking, at this point in the year, we have some idea who is the frontrunner for the award, whether it’s Trae Young, or Frank Mason, or Buddy Hield, or Frank Kaminsky.

There is no frontrunner this year, and that’s because so many of the best teams in the country don’t have a favorite for Player of the Year on their own roster, let alone National Player of the Year.

For example, take Michigan. The Wolverines are a top five team that have put together the most impressive start to the season of anyone in the sport, but they probably don’t have anyone on their roster that will end up being an all-american. At Kansas, Dedric Lawson has put up the best numbers but Lagerald Vick has been the guy that’s hit big shots and saved Kansas from losing games. Are you rolling with Zion Williamson or R.J. Barrett from Duke? De’Andre Hunter or Ty Jerome from UVA? There’s even an argument to be made that Brandon Clarke and Josh Perkins have been more important to Gonzaga this season. Hell, it was Zach Norvell that sparked the come-from-behind win at Creighton.

I am having trouble deciding if this is a good thing or a bad thing, and I think I’m leaning towards it being a good thing. 

There is plenty of star power in the sport — particularly on Duke — and the fact that there aren’t many teams with just one defined superstar means that there are other teams talented enough to take Duke down. 

Anyway, here are the updated Player of the Year Power Rankings:

1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

For my money, Williamson still tops this list.

The simple reason is that Williamson is the best player on what I still believe is the best team in the country. That’s enough to earn him a spot at the top of a list like this.

But there’s more to it than that. Williamson currently averaging 20.8 points, 8.8 boards, 2.4 assists, 2.3 blocks and 2.0 steals this season. No one in college basketball has put up that stat line over the course of an entire season since 1992, which is as far back as the database on Basketball Reference goes. This is fun with small sample sizes eight games into a season and with three of those eight games coming against totally overmatched competition, but it is something to keep an eye on as we move forward.

(As an aside, the only other player in the database that that has averaged 20 points, eight boards, two blocks, two steals and two assists is Lamine Diane, a freshman at Cal St.-Northridge who is currently averaging — get this — 25.6 points, 10.8 boards, 2.1 blocks, 2.0 steals and 2.0 assists. Not bad.)

2. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

The difficult part about ranking Rui this high is that you can make the argument that he wasn’t the best player for Gonzaga in either of their biggest wins. Zach Norvell Jr. was the best player on the Zags, scoring 22 second half points in a come-from-behind win on the road, while Josh Perkins and Brandon Clarke thriving in the roles they’re asked to play is what allowed Gonzaga to beat Duke.

That said, Rui probably has the best “Heisman Moment” this season. It was his bucket that gave Gonzaga an 89-87 lead over the Blue Devils in Maui, and it was his rim protection — along with Clarke — that ensured the win, even if he missed the two free throws that left the door open.

3. LAGERALD VICK, Kansas

No one has made more big shots this season than Vick. No one has saved their team from losing games they have no business losing than Vick. He had 32 points and made eight threes in a game against Vermont where Kansas was trailing in the second half. He had 33 points and hit seven threes in a game against Louisiana where the Jayhawks trailed by 12 points. He scored eight straight in a Kansas win over Tennessee in New York in a game where Udoka Azubuike couldn’t stay on the floor and Quentin Grimes forgot he was a basketball player.

And then this weekend, he scored 27 points to help Kansas avoid an upset home loss to Stanford. That included a three he hit at the end of regulation to force overtime and the first eight points of the overtime period.

Dedric Lawson is averaging 18.8 points, 11.2 boards and 3.5 assists. In four games against high-major competition, he’s averaging 23.5 points, 13.5 boards and 4.0 assists. And there is no question in my mind that Vick, not Lawson, is the Player of the Year candidate from the Jayhawks at this point in the year.

4. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin

I’m sure there are going to be plenty of stories written about how Happ has made a leap this season and it is why the Badgers are going to be relevant nationally again this season. I don’t necessarily believe that to be true. Yes, Happ is having a terrific year, but he’s basically doing the same things he’s done in the past. Maybe at a higher level, but he is just as good as he has been for the last three seasons.

The difference?

He has a supporting cast this year. D’Mitrik Trice has been sensational; I’m not sure he’s missed a shot this season. Brad Davison is what we all expected him to be. That’s where the improvement has come for the Badgers, and the result is we’re all starting to see just what we were missing with Happ.

Oh, and it’s worth nothing this: He’s averaging 17.7 points, 10.8 boards and 5.0 assists. That hasn’t been done since 1992, which is as far back as the Basketball Reference database goes.

5. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

The concern with Barrett was how much he was shooting and how inefficient he had been after going 9-for-25 against Gonzaga. In the last two games, Barrett is 21-for-28 from the floor and 4-for-8 from three. One of those games was against Stetson, so it doesn’t count, but he also went 9-for-18 and 2-for-4 from three against Indiana. Is he figuring it out?

6. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

Hunter has been terrific this season, impressive enough that he’s climbed into the top five of some mock drafts. The 47.6 percent shooting from three matters, as does his ability to do things like this:

7. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

Another come-from-behind win for the Red Raiders, another monster performance from Culver in that win. He had 20 points, six boards, six assists, two steals and two blocks as Texas Tech rallied from a double-digit second half deficit to beat Memphis. They trailed against both Nebraska and USC, and Culver was terrific in leading those comebacks as well.

8. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue

Purdue has lost three of their last four — all to teams ranked in the top 15 — and Edwards has seen his efficiency plummet as teams have started to figure out just how good he is, especially when compared to the rest Purdue’s roster. Edwards is going to continue to put up massive numbers this season, but it is going to be hard for him to get into a position where he has a real chance to win this award because Purdue seems destined to end up as something closer to a borderline top 25 team than a true contender.

9. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

Williams hasn’t had to do much since the loss to Kansas, a game that he took over in the second half before fouling out. The Vols face off with Gonzaga on Sunday. Buckle-up.

10. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

Alexander-Walker has seen his scoring come back to earth a bit in the last three games, but two of those contests were blowouts and the other came in a loss in Virginia Tech’s first true road game of the season. The difference between this year and last year for Alexander-Walker has been how much Buzz Williams has trusted him as a playmaker in ball-screens, something that he rarely had the opportunity to do last year:

CBT Podcast: ESPN’s Myron Medcalf on Jahvon Quinerly, Quade Green, Kentucky

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Rob Dauster was joined by Myron Medcalf from ESPN.com on Friday morning to talk through all of the week’s biggest college basketball stories, from Jahvon Quinerly and the fake Instagram hack to Quade Green’s transfer to whether or not Kentucky can still recruit basketball players that matter.

No. 16 Wisconsin overwhelms Savannah State 101-60

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Brad Davison scored a season-high 24 points and No. 16 Wisconsin had a school-record 69 first-half points to overwhelm Savannah State 101-60 on Thursday night.

Davison was 6 of 9 from 3-point range. Preseason All-American Ethan Happ had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and freshman Tai Strickland added a career-high 14 points for Wisconsin (9-2).

The Badgers shot 71 percent in the first half to take a 69-32 lead in their first 100-point game since 2013. Savannah State (3-9) is the only team in Division I allowing 100 points a game.

Jaquan Dotson had 20 points to lead the Tigers, a team that likes to shoot 3s. Second in the NCAAs in hitting 13 3s a game, Savannah State managed to shoot 11 of 39 (28 percent) from the arc at the Kohl Center.

Wisconsin put on a first-half clinic, hitting 24 of 34 from the field, including 69 percent (11 of 16) from 3-point range.

Strickland’s night exemplified the Badgers’ early fortune after two of his three 3s banked off the backboard.

It was just the kind of breather that Wisconsin needed after 74-69 loss in overtime last week to in-state rival Marquette.

This game was decided in a hurry, especially with the way that Savannah State liked to run and put up deep 3s

At one point, Davison was trapped in the corner in the frontcourt by two defenders before jumping and slinging a pass to Kobe King at the opposite wing. King hit a bucket and drew a foul for a 39-20 lead with 9:25 left in the first.

Later, Wisconsin’s Charles Thomas blocked Romani Hansen’s layup attempt from behind. At the other end, D’Mitrik Trice punctured the undersized Tigers’ zone with a diagonal pass to a cutting Davison for an easy layup and 21-point lead with 8:13 left in the first.

TIP INS

Savannah State: In the middle of a 12-game trip, coach Horace Broadnax dressed just eight players. Their tallest player is 6-foot-8 Romani Hansen, but 6-6 guard Adam Saeed faced the 6-10 Happ for the opening tip. Allowing foes to shoot 50 percent on the season, the Tigers were routed, as expected. They were also outrebounded 45-20.

Wisconsin: F Khalil Iverson sat out with a lower left foot injury. Coach Greg Gard didn’t really need one of his best defenders anyway. … The 11 3s in the opening 20 minutes were a school record for a first half. …. Wisconsin finished the night shooting 47 percent.

UP NEXT

Savannah State: At Tennessee Tech on Dec. 20.

Wisconsin: Hosts Grambling on Dec. 22.

Freshman Luguentz Dort shining for No. 20 Arizona State

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Luguentz Dort is a freshman in name and age only.

At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he’s built like linebacker on the Arizona State football team, not some scrawny teenager disdainfully bumped out of the lane on a basketball court.

The Sun Devils’ 19-year-old guard is supremely confident and has already taken on a leadership role on a team filled with older players, like he’s been in Tempe all along,

Dort’s default is to play with aggression, attack at all times without concern, not look to the bench for coaches’ approval every time he makes a mistake.

“He doesn’t play like a freshman,” Arizona State junior guard Rob Edwards said. “And he’s certainly not built like one.”

Duke’s trio of NBA lottery picks garnered most of the freshman attention heading into the 2018-19 season, with players like North Carolina’s Nassir Little, Oregon’s Bol Bol and Indiana’s Romeo Langford also mentioned well ahead of Dort.

Through No. 20 Arizona State’s first eight games, Dort has proven he belongs in the elite freshmen spotlight and, possibly, on a much bigger stage beyond his college playing days.

Dort fired out of the gate in his first game, overcoming some early jitters to score 28 points against Cal State Fullerton, an Arizona State freshman debut record.

Able to initiate contact in the lane or shoot from the perimeter, he leads the Sun Devils (7-1) with 22 points per game on a team full of capable scorers, including 33 against Utah State, and is second on the Sun Devils with 6.3 rebounds as a guard.

When point guard Remy Martin went out with an injury — along with Edwards and forward Mickey Mitchell — Dort adeptly took over primary show-running duties. Known for his defensive aggressiveness before arriving in Tempe, Dort has lived up to those expectations, leading the Sun Devils with 16 steals and in frustrating opposing guard.

“As soon as he got here in our workouts, he got the players’ respect,” Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley said. “We knew what we had. I kind of knew before he got here, but he validated that real quick.”

Dort’s parents were born in Haiti and moved to Montreal when they were 21. He’s been to Haiti once, though he doesn’t remember much, outside of being scared, because he was so young.

Dort hears from Haitians on social media and someday plans to visit his parents’ homeland.

“I want to go there so bad. I just need to find the time in the summer or whenever,” he said. “I’m proud to say I’m Haitian Canadian.”

Dort’s sport early on was soccer and he was good at it — first as a goalie, then as a midfielder — but he was the only kid among his friends playing it. They played basketball and convinced Dort to start playing with them.

Wise move.

Dort took to basketball quickly and later started getting the attention of American coaches while playing on the AAU circuit.

Wanting to broaden his game and his almost non-existent English-speaking skills, Dort made the difficult decision to play high school ball in the United States. Turned down by one team, he ended up at Arlington Country Day in Jacksonville, Florida, his sophomore year in high school.

It was not an easy transition.

“I was sad when I left home and couldn’t really speak English,” Dort said. “I was lonely at first.”

Dort’s transition to American life was made easier by a group of French speakers in Jacksonville and the next year he moved to Orlando, playing at Conrad Academy. Wanting to spend his senior season back in Canada, Dort returned home and played at the Athlete Institute in Ontario, where he garnered attention from major U.S. colleges like Oregon, Baylor, Indiana, Michigan State, Miami and Arizona State.

He chose the Sun Devils and Hurley. Dort liked the campus and the players, the direction of the Arizona State program and Hurley’s pitch to help him transform from shooting to point guard.

Dort’s best chances for playing professionally are as a point guard and who better to learn from than Hurley, a two-time national champion at Duke and former NBA point guard.

“He was one of the coaches who really put in my head that I could be a professional player one day,” Dort said. “He told me what I needed to do to get better and get ready for the next level. That’s something I really fell in love with.”

It’s worked out so far and Sun Devil fans have quickly fallen in love with the bruising-but-athletic freshman guard.

Kevin Durant: Zion Williamson is a “once-in-a-generation athlete”

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Count Kevin Durant as a fan of Zion Williamson.

The former MVP and Golden State star was plenty complimentary of the Duke standout freshman while making an appearance on making an appearance on The Bill Simmons podcast.

“I believe he’s special,” Durant said. “He’s a once-in-a generation-athlete. I’ve never seen somebody like that before.

“Zion WIlliamson, I’ve never seen somebody that’s lefty that can dunk with this right hand like that and cock the ball back so far and jump so high off two feet. I’ve seen people jump high, but not that way.”

Durant certainly has an opinion worth listening to when it comes to once-in-a-generation athletes as one himself. He’s a 7-footer (despite being listed at 6-foot-9) that has shot 38.3 percent from 3 for a career and has one 50/40/90 season under his belt. He’s already a sure-fire Hall of Famer though he just turned 30 years old a couple months ago. His size, athleticism and shooting is a paradigm shift in what’s possible on a basketball court. He also had a transcendent freshman season at Texas, though he didn’t have the supporting cast that Williamson is working currently with at Duke. Just like Durant became appointment television while with the Longhorns, Williamson is becoming in what is assuredly his only season with the Blue Devils before he becomes a top-five NBA draft pick.

If Durant is wowed by Williamson’s athleticism, that is a major statement.

Williamson, at 6-foot-7 and 285 pounds, has few workable comparisons given his size and athleticism as well. He is, simply, unique. He’s also averaging 20 points and 9 rebounds per game for the Blue Devils, who are 9-1 and ranked No. 2 in the country.

“He knows he’s a beast,” Durant said of Williamson.

 

Film Room: Why is Jahvon Quinerly struggling to get minutes for Villanova?

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After losing to Penn on Tuesday night, snapping a streak of 25 consecutive wins against Big 5 opponents, Villanova — winners of two of the last three national titles — fell to 8-3 on the season with a trip to Phog Allen Fieldhouse coming up on Saturday.

Penn was the second mid-major opponent that Villanova has lost to this season. They fell at home against Furman in overtime. That came just days after they were absolutely humiliated by Michigan in a national title game rematch as they unveiled the newly-renovated Finneran Pavilion.

And while there is plenty to discuss about how and why the Wildcats are now in the midst of what could end up being their worst season since missing the 2012 NCAA tournament, the major talking point for this team has become Jahvon Quinerly. Through the first month of the season, the No. 29 prospect in the Class of 2018 has been easily the most ineffective freshman ranked in the top 30 of the class that is healthy and in school. Ranked between potential lottery picks Kevin Porter Jr. and Luguentz Dort, according to 247 Sports, Quinerly has taken three DNP-CDs through 11 games. The only reason he’s in the box score as logging one minutes in the loss to Penn is because Collin Gillespie fouled out with six seconds left; Quinerly didn’t even play the entirety of the last six seconds. He played two minutes against La Salle. He played three minutes against Oklahoma State. He hasn’t played more than eight minutes in a game that didn’t come against totally overmatched competition.

As you can imagine, it’s been frustrating.

After the loss to Penn, Quinerly hopped on Instagram and posted on his story a black screen with white lettering that read “Was my 2nd choice for a reason;” if you recall, he was initially committed to Arizona before the FBI investigation into corruption in college hoops uncovered information that former Arizona assistant Book Richardson may have funneled as much as $20,000 to Quinerly’s family. Quinerly quickly deleted the post before attempting to make it seem as if his account had been hacked. A friend of his from New Jersey, LSU freshman Naz Reid, even tweeted that Quinerly had been hacked.

Turns out, to the surprise of absolutely no one, Quinerly was not hacked. He just was frustrated about the way the start of his Villanova career has gone and said something on social media that he shouldn’t have said. Villanova head coach Jay Wright said that this was just “the normal frustration of a young kid that’s used to playing a lot, and not playing” and that Quinerly had already apologized to the team. He issued a statement on Thursday on his twitter account apologizing as well.

The story of a frustrated freshman popping off on Instagram isn’t all that interesting to me. Neither is the speculation that this could lead to Quinerly transferring out of the program; I don’t see it happening during the season, and if it happens in the offseason we can talk about it then and there.

What’s more interesting to me is the why: Why has Quinerly been limited to 69 minutes on the season? Why hasn’t he earned Jay Wright’s trust? Why has Wright opted to go with Gillespie who, as one scout put it to me earlier this year, is “playing above his level”?

It starts with the defensive side of the ball.

What Villanova wants to do defensively is not easy for freshmen to pick up. They’re not strictly a man-to-man team, but when they play man, they rarely do it without a lot of switching. They’ll mix in some zone and some 1-2-2 pressure as well, and that often results in players being forced into guarding mismatches.

I cannot speak to what happens in practice. The word coming out of the program is that Quinerly “worked hard” and “continues to work” and is “a great teammate”, which is exactly what you would expect to hear a head coach say about his five-star freshman.

I can, however, see what happens when Quinerly is on the floor during games. I watched every minute that he has played this season, and this is what I am seeing.

The biggest reason that Quinerly has been forced to the bench is that he has had some real issues defensively.

He’s not identifying who he is supposed to be guarding in transition. He’s falling asleep when he is supposed to be boxing out. He simply isn’t strong or good enough as an individual defender to handle the assignments he’s been given — in the last clip you see him getting easily beaten off the dribble. To his credit, it doesn’t appear to be an effort issue as much as a ‘he’s not quite ready’ issue.

The biggest cause for alarm here is the third clip below.

This isn’t a complicated action that Michigan is running, as Zavier Simpson cuts between Jordan Poole and Isaiah Livers right before Livers sets a ball-screen for Poole:

When Livers sets the screen, Quinerly should switch onto the bigger defender as Saddiq Bey, another freshman, switches onto Poole. But Quinerly gets confused and goes to guard Simpson, leaving Livers a free run to the rim:

Joe Cremo is forced to rotate over to help, and actually forces a miss at the rim, but Quinerly falls asleep, doesn’t box out Charles Matthews and watches as the Michigan star throws down a monster dunk:

You can see the entire play below:

Quinerly was never going to come into the program and be the best on-ball defender on the roster. We knew that. The problem is simply that he has not been good enough offensively to justify putting him on the floor when he’s a defensive liability. Trae Young couldn’t guard a mailbox last season, but Oklahoma had to have him on the floor because of how good he made them offensively. Ashton Hagans has been a mess offensively through the first month of the season, but Kentucky has been giving him Quade Green’s minutes because he is just so good on the defensive side of the ball.

Quinerly?

He has all of these issues defensively, and on the season he is averaging just 2.4 points with eight assists to 11 turnovers while shooting 26.9 percent from the floor and 17.6 percent from three. Yes, some of that is a result of the fact that he’s been strapped to the bench and unable to develop any kind of rhythm or confidence. I get that. But he also hasn’t quite learned, or bought into, the principles and concepts that Jay Wright drills his players on.

I’ve written long and detailed stories on Villanova’s offense twice in the last year, but the tl;dr version is this: Villanova doesn’t run plays, they teach concepts and reads and develop the kids in their program as basketball players that can function in any environment more than turning them into robots that run set after set after set. It’s takes every freshman time to learn these things. There’s a reason that Villanova has so many redshirts.

Here’s an example: One of the core principles of Villanova’s offense is the jump-stop. It sounds simple, but it’s true. Wright wants his guys to get into the paint, come to a jump-stop and then see what opens up. Maybe they’ll have a layup. Maybe they’ll have room to get a floater off. Maybe they pivot a couple of times before finding an open shooter. Maybe those pivots will create enough space for a turnaround jumper. Half Court Hoops put together an entire video package on this last year.

Quinerly, far too often, has his drives to the paint end like this:

I think Quinerly is going to be fine.

The talent is there. He was never going to be a one-and-done point guard — I’m not sure he is an NBA player, period — but he is good enough to be a really good guard at the college level. He’s also not the only freshman struggling to acclimate on this Villanova roster. Cole Swider, a top 40 recruit, is averaging less than 12 minutes. Brandon Slater, a top 75 prospect, has played just 26 minutes in six games.

But Quinerly is the five-star with all the hype.

He’s Jelly-Fam. He’s the one that Book Richardson tried to buy, according to the FBI.

That brings with it expectation, and when you fail to live up to that expectations, people talk, especially if your failure is spotlighted by a fake Instagram hack.

Quinerly is in a tough spot. You can’t hide a point guard offensively. When you make a mistake with the ball in your hands, everyone knows it. If Swider makes a mistake off the ball, no one outside of the coaching staff notices. And unlike Swider, Quinerly doesn’t have physical tools that can help make up for the times the ends up out of position defensively.

He’ll get there soon enough, but until he’s good enough offensively to make himself a net-positive, or until he figures out what he’s doing defensively, it’s going to be a struggle to take minutes from Gillispie, a veteran that Wright trusts.