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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: So are we going to have a college basketball season?

Conferences cancel tournaments
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Rob Dauster and Bobby Reagan are back to talk through … well, to talk about whether or not the Coronavirus pandemic is going to cause us to lose out on a college basketball season. Depressing, I know.

Patriot League punts on fall football as SEC leaders meet

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The Patriot League joined the Ivy League on Monday, punting on football and other fall sports because of the pandemic while holding out hope games can be made up.

The Patriot League said its 10 Division I schools will not compete in any fall sports, which include football, men’s and women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and field hockey. The council of presidents said the league will consider making up those seasons in the winter and spring if possible.

The conference is mostly comprised of private schools located in the Northeast that offer limited athletic scholarships. Pennsylvania rivals Lehigh and Lafayette have played 155 times, more than any two opponents in college football history.

Army and Navy are also Patriot League members, but not in football.

The Patriot League competes in Division I’s second tier of college football (FCS) like the Ivy League, which announced a similar decision last week. Unlike the Ivy League, the Patriot League participates in the FCS playoffs.

Meanwhile, at the top of college sports, Southeastern Conference athletic directors met in person in Birmingham, Alabama, to discuss how the SEC can have a football season as COVID-19 cases spike throughout much of the South.

No final decisions were expected to be announced, but the meeting comes just days after the Big Ten and Pac-12 said they would play conference-only schedules this fall in football and a number of other sports.

SEC football media days, the unofficial start of the season for many fans, had been scheduled to begin this week, but the coronavirus pandemic forced all FBS conferences to hold those events online this year. Even some of those – for the SEC and ACC – are now on hold.

Some programs are taking steps toward playing in and even starting their football seasons on time. Monday was the first day the NCAA allowed football players to take part in mandatory team activities with coaches, including unpadded walk-through practices.

Florida State posted a video on social media of its team hitting the field with players and coaches wearing face coverings and shields to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Pac-12 football teams will have to wait. Last week, conference presidents delayed mandatory team activities for Pac-12 athletes, acknowledging it would likely delay the start of the fall sports seasons.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard in a letter to fans posted online said the school is trying to balance the health and safety of athletes with the drastic financial repercussions of not having a football season.

“If we are unable to play sports this fall, the athletics department would incur approximately $40M in unfunded expenses in the next six months,” Pollard wrote.

College football season was scheduled to start with a handful of nonconference games – three involving Pac-12 teams – on Aug. 29, before a full slate around Labor Day weekend from Sept. 3-7.

The Patriot League has seven schools that play football: Bucknell, Colgate, Lehigh, Lafayette, Holy Cross and affiliate members Georgetown and Fordham.

Lehigh and Lafayette, located 17 miles apart in Eastern Pennsylvania, started playing in 1884, sometimes as many as three times in a season. Only in 1896 was the rivalry not played since it began.

Army and Navy play in college football’s highest tier of Division I and were exempt from the Patriot League’s decision regarding other fall sports. The Patriot League council said the service academies will be allowed to pursue competition in those sports in which they usually compete within the conference, including soccer and volleyball, as the schools’ leaders see fit.

Northwestern’s Phillips to chair NCAA men’s hoops committee

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INDIANAPOLIS — Northwestern vice president Jim Phillips was chosen Monday to chair the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee for the 2021-22 season, succeeding Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart.

Phillips, who is in his fourth year on the committee, will spend the upcoming season as vice chair.

Phillips was the first active athletic director to serve on the Board of Directors and Board of Governors, and he was elected first chair of the NCAA Division I Council in 2015. He also sits on the Fiesta Bowl Board of Directors and is vice chair of LEAD 1, an organization made up of athletic directors from all 130 schools that participate in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

The rest of the Division I Men’s Basketball committee includes Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson; Southland Commissioner Tom Burnett; Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette McGlade; Bradley athletic director Chris Reynolds; Toledo athletic director Mike O’Brien; SWAC Commissioner Charles McClelland; Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard; and North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham.

The current chairman, Duke athletic director Kevin White, will rotate off the committee on Sept. 1.

Longtime coach, executive Craig Robinson hired to lead NABC

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Longtime basketball coach Craig Robinson, who has spent time in both the college and professional ranks, was hired Monday as executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

Robinson will take over for Jim Haney, who has held the influential position for the past 29 years.

The brother of former first lady Michelle Obama, Robinson has been the vice president of player development for the New York Knicks for the past three years. That job included the title of general manager of the G League’s Westchester Knicks.

Robinson also had a similar role with the Milwaukee Bucks after spending eight years as a Division I coach, first at Brown in the Ivy League and then during six seasons with Oregon State, where he led the Beavers to four postseason appearances.

Robinson was a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton. He also has worked in the private sector in finance.

James Wiseman is the new blueprint for evaluating bluechip prospects

JAMES WISEMAN 2020 NBA DRAFT
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The closest thing one will find to a consensus No. 1 prospect in the 2020 NBA Draft is James Wiseman.

In a year where every top prospect has warts, Wiseman’s athleticism given his size and his measureables makes it easy to not only envision his role early on in his NBA career but also a path to being a perennial All-Star. This is a draft class where the trendy No. 1 pick in mock drafts can’t shoot or play defense. Risk averse GMs will love a 7-footer with a 7-foot-5 wingspan that can move his feet.

But what makes me so interested in Wiseman has less to do with who he is as a player than what he signifies as a prospect.

James Wiseman is the blueprint for what evaluating blue-chip prospects will look like if the G League’s Pathway Program manages to attract a significant number of elite players in the coming seasons.

For those unaware of Wiseman’s path to this point, in the hours leading up to the start of Memphis’ first game of the season, news broke that Wiseman was not only considered ineligible by the NCAA, but he had gone to a courthouse to file an emergency injunction to maintain his eligibility and get on the court. The program kept up this charade for three games before finally realizing that playing chicken with the NCAA over amateurism bylaws was not in their best interest. Wiseman sat out, applied for reinstatement and was given a 12-game suspension. Midway through that suspension, he quit the team.

After playing just those three games.

All told, Wiseman logged 69 minutes of college basketball, with just one of the three games that he played coming against competition worth evaluating him against. The last time we saw him on a basketball court was on November 12th of 2019. By the time the 2020 NBA Draft actually happens, James Wiseman will be more than 11 months removed from playing in a competitive basketball environment and nearly 18 months removed from the last real opportunity NBA front office types had to evaluate him in extended, competitive settings.

Preseason Top 25 | Mock Draft | Early Entry Tracker

He’s hardly an unknown, mind you. He played in the McDonald’s All-American game, the Jordan Brand Classic and Nike Hoop Summit. More importantly, at least for evaluation purposes, he participated in the typically-intense practices for those events. All of his games from the Nike EYBL heading into his senior season in high school can be found on Synergy. He’s been involved with USA Basketball dating as far back as the U-16s.

But part of the reason that the NBA instituted the one-and-done rule in the first place was because you can only get so much out of evaluating elite prospects against high school competition. While college basketball and the NBA are very different, there is value in seeing how these players pick up concepts, how they work within a structured offense and defense, how they adjust to the way defenses play them as their strengths and weaknesses show up on film, whether or not they can accept the role they are being asked to play, how they handle the pressure of competition that comes with high major college basketball.

That’s not the only reason — letting schools pick up the tab for a year of development is certainly a major part of it, as is having control over a player’s age 28 season instead of their age 18 season — but if NBA teams didn’t find value in scouting players in these settings they wouldn’t shuttle scouts and front office types all across the country to see them play live.

They didn’t get any of that with Wiseman, just like they likely won’t get any of that with Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd, Daishen Nix or anyone else that plans on taking that route. And that’s significant. Wiseman turned 19 years old on March 31st. This year of development that NBA teams are in the dark about is one of the most important periods of development for any prospect. The COVID-19 era has created a lot of unknown and uncertainty when it comes to the 2020 NBA Draft, and for my money no one will have been as impacted as James Wiseman.

As far as the actual basketball is concerned, what makes Wiseman so intriguing is his agility, mobility and athleticism given his 7-foot, 250 pound frame and 7-foot-5 wingspan. He is an elite lob target and rim runner that consistently beats defenders down the floor in transition. There aren’t many people on the planet that will be able to contest him at the rim, and when Wiseman opts to go full bully-ball, he’s dominant.

2020 NBA DRAFT PROSPECT PROFILE

The problem, however, is that Wiseman does not always go full bully-ball. One of the knocks on him is that he has a tendency to drift in and out of games, that he doesn’t always utilize the physical gifts he has. Despite the very limited minutes that he played this past season for Memphis, it is still pretty easy to find clips of Wiseman opting for fadeaway jumpers instead of powering through opponents that are half-a-foot shorter than him. One of the prevailing thoughts on Wiseman is that he envisions himself as someone in the mold of Giannis, or Pascal Siakim, or even a Bam Adebayo; that he wants to be a perimeter-oriented, ball-handling big.

And to be frank, there is some skill there. He can make shots out to about 15 feet, and that was before the 11 month layoff he’s had to improve his game. He’s a good post scorer with the ability to play facing-up. He can handle the ball a little bit and create for himself. But there is a significant difference between being capable of something and being good enough that an NBA organization is going to build a game-plan, let alone a franchise, around it.

I think the key to Wiseman’s career is going to depend on what he envisions himself to be and the way that he carries himself as a professional. I’ll start with the latter. Scouts have had questions about his competitive drive and how much he loves the game for years. He has a tendency to coast through games, playing like he’s in cruise control for stretches. The fact that he left Memphis midway through the season helped reinforce this belief to doubters.

But leaving was also completely understandable given the context of his suspension and the way the school handled it. And if you remember, Deandre Ayton had some of these same concerns coming out of high school. No one is asking those questions after he became the first player in NBA history under 22 years old not named Shaq to average 19 points, 12 boards and 1.5 blocks.

Sometimes, big men aren’t entirely motivated to play when the competition physically cannot compare.

The other part of it is something that I already mentioned. Wiseman, for years, has been intent on showcasing what he can do playing on the perimeter, and while he is certainly skilled for a 19-year old 7-footer, he is not what you would consider skilled for a basketball player. He doesn’t have a great feel away from the basket, his shooting stroke is a little wonky and he’s not a great passer.

Where he should thrive is as a defender. All the physical tools are there for Wiseman to develop into one of the best defensive centers in the NBA, and while he found himself out of position at times as a freshman, that is hardly uncommon for freshmen big men early in the season. He’ll get better on that end as he gets coached up, and his ability as a lob target means that there already is a role he can play in an NBA offense.

Put another way, if he decides that he is going to follow in the mold of Myles Turner, I think he’ll be a very, very good pro. Turner is in his fifth season in the league, has been a starter on playoff teams since midway through his rookie season, is one of the best defensive players in the league and is averaging 12.7 points, 6.7 boards and 2.1 blocks for his career.

If he embraces the defensive side of the ball and buys into being a rim runner, a lob target and a guy that punishes switches while occasionally taking opposing bigs away from the basket, I think Myles Turner is his floor. In that scenario, in the 2020 NBA Draft James Wiseman has the highest floor and ceiling combination.

But that’s a big ‘if,’ and a question only James Wiseman can give us an answer to.