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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:

Careers of all-time great scorers Mike Daum and Chris Clemons come to a close

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The spots for Mike Daum and Chris Clemons in the NCAA record book are now in place.

Both players’ teams lost in NIT openers on Tuesday, with Clemons and Campbell falling to UNC Greensboro, 84-69, while Daum’s Jackrabbits lost at Texas, 79-73.

Clemons finishes third all-time in scoring with 3,225 career points while Daum slots in at sixth with 3,067. Doug McDermott (3,150) and Alphonso Ford (3,165) separate them in fifth and fourth, respectively. LSU great Pete Maravich is first with 3,667.

Daum came to the Jackrabbits as a no-name recruit out of Kimball, Neb. that would ultimately redshirt his first year on campus. He went on to score 518 points as a freshman in the only season he failed top 800. He played in three NCAA tournaments with the Jackrabbits, who lost in the first round of the Summit League tournament as a one-seed, a fate Daum knew was a possibility when he opted not to graduate transfer out of Brookings this past spring. Daum scored 25 in his final game.

Clemons, a North Carolina native, scored at least 1,200 as both a sophomore and a senior, averaging 30 per game during his final collegiate season and nearly 25 for his career, which never featured an NCAA tournament appearance. In his last game, Clemons went out scoring, putting 32 on Greensboro.

Both players spent their careers in relative anonymity at mid-majors, but their legacies will loom large for years to come as two of the most prolific scorers the college game has seen.

Belmont pulls away in second half to beat Temple

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Rick Byrd is on the board.

The Belmont coach, in his 33rd years with the Bruins, has his first NCAA tournament win.

Belmont is moving on after defeating Temple, 81-70, on Tuesday in the First Four, notching that first tournament victory against another coaching fixture, Fran Dunphy, in the latter’s final game with the Owls.

Temple led by as many as five in the second half after erasing an 11-point deficit, but Belmont ripped off a 16-3 run to take an eight-point advantage with under 7 minutes to play that would prove more than enough to move on to the Round of 64.

Temple shot 39.4 percent from the floor and 31.8 percent on 22 attempts from 3-point range while committing 11 turnovers as Dunphy’s accomplished career came to a close in Dayton.

Dunphy is a Big 5 lifer. He played at La Salle, coached at Penn for 17 years and then took over the Temple program in 2006. He finished with 580 career wins in 30 years as a head coach. Assistant Aaron McKie is set to take over the Owls job in Dunphy’s stead in a move that was announced last offseason.

Shizz Alson, Jr. scored a team-high 21 points for the Owls, who finish the season 23-10.

Belmont shot at a blistering 52.8 percent from the floor and got 29 points from Kevin McClain on 8 of 14 shooting that included four triples.  Nick Muszynski, returning from injury, had 16 points (making 8 of 12 shots) along with four rebounds, three assists and two blocks.

The Bruins will now fly south to Jacksonville, where Maryland, a six seed, awaits them for a Thursday tip in the first round of the South region. The Terps went 22-10 and finished fifth in the Big Ten with a 13-7 conference mark. Belmont went 1-1 this season against Power 5 opponents with a win at UCLA and a loss in West Lafayette against Purdue in December.

Fairleigh Dickinson comes from behind for First Four victory

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The first game of the NCAA tournament provided the event’s customary drama.

Fairleigh Dickinson came from 13 down to defeat Prairie View, 82-76, on Tuesday night at the First Four in Dayton to join the rest of the field later this week with a matchup against the West regional’s No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Thursday.

Prairie View built an early double-digit lead thanks to a monster first-half effort from 3-point range in which they connected on eight of 12 shots from distance while also collecting six offensive rebounds. Fairleigh Dickinson, though was able to halve the deficit in time for half to go into the locker room down just seven.

The Panthers once again pushed their lead to 13 in the second half’s opening minutes, but Knights tied the game with 7:33 left and subsequently took the lead only to give it back to Prairie View. The Knights, though, wrestled the lead back on a 3-pointer from Jahlil Jenkins that kickstarted an 8-0 run that put Fairleigh Dickson up six. Prairie View cut the lead to two in the final minute but couldn’t close the gap.

Darnell Edge scored 33 to lead the lights while Jenkins had 22. Gary Blackston had 26 for the Panthers.

Fairleigh Dickinson shot 54.5 percent from the field for the game after converting at a 68 percent clip after halftime to win the program’s first-ever NCAA tournament game.

The Knights will now have to jet west to take on Gonzaga (30-3) in Salt Lake City on Thursday. The Zags figure to be huge favorites but just a year removed from UMBC upending Virginia, 16 seeds will likely be imbued with an extra dose of confidence this March.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Kansas State’s Dean Wade doubtful for tourney

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Kansas State is going to have difficult replicating its NCAA tournament success from a year ago. Unless it can once again survive the loss of its marquee forward.

Dean Wade, the Wildcats’ top player and Big 12 preseason player of the year, is unlikely to play in the tournament due to a lingering foot injury, coach Bruce Weber said Tuesday evening, per Kellis Robinett of the Kansas City Star.

The Wildcats, a four seed, are slated to meet UC Irvine on Friday in San Jose.

Injuries have cost Wade, who played minimally in K-State Elite Eight run last year because of injury, much of his senior season as it sidelined him for six games starting in December and carrying on into Big 12 play. He then aggravated the injury Feb. 16 in a home loss to Iowa State, but returned to beat Baylor. He did not miss any additional time during the regular season as the Wildcats tied for the Big 12 championship with Texas Tech as Kansas was shutout from a league title for the first time in 14 years.

The injury, though, forced Wade out of both Kansas State’s Big 12 tournament games, including a semifinal loss to eventual champion Iowa State.

“We’ve grown. We went through it, been through it without Dean, which is always tough,” Weber said after the loss to the Cyclones last weekend. “But we survived and advanced last year and we were able to get some experience under our belt. Obviously, it’s not last year. It’s going to be different teams. The ball is going to bounce different. The shots are going to fall different, but it gives us the self-confidence that it’s able to be done.”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game this season while shooting 49.8 percent from the floor.

2019 NCAA Tournament: Which high seeds are on upset watch?

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The best part about the NCAA tournaments are the upsets.

It’s the thrill of seeing the team that you — and nobody else — picked to win knock off one of the big boys, especially when it comes courtesy of a buzzer-beater.

Here at College Basketball Talk, we like to inform you of the upsets before they happen.

So we guarantee that these six lower-seeded teams will win these games.

No. 14 YALE over No. 3 LSU, Thu. 12:40 p.m.

I am all in on the Elis taking down the Tigers on Thursday afternoon.

The biggest reason for this is that LSU is playing without their head coach. Will Wade has been held out by LSU after he refused to speak with the administration following the reports that he was caught on a wiretap by the FBI discussing a payment for a player. That’s big, because Wade is a terrific coach that is terrific when it comes to make in-game adjustments, and I do think there is something to the idea of substitute teacher syndrome setting in.

But beyond that, I just believe in this Yale team. They got dudes. Miye Oni is going to be an NBA draft pick, potentially a first rounder, as a 6-foot-6 combo-guard. Jordan Bruner is a do-it-all, 6-foot-9 forward that should be playing in the SEC, not the Ivy League. Alex Copeland proved that he can take a game over at the point. I also think it’s important to note that LSU does a lot of their damage on the offensive glass, and while Yale is going to be physically outmatched against LSU, they are top 25 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage.

There’s talent on Yale, they matchup well with LSU and the Tigers will be missing their coach. I like it when the dots connect.

No. 12 OREGON vs. No. 5 WISCONSIN, Fri. 4:30 p.m.

There may not be a hotter team in the country right now than Oregon, who rolled through the end of the Pac-12 season before winning the Pac-12 tournament, beating Washington in impressive fashion twice in the process. The question is going to be how Wisconsin goes about breaking down Oregon’s zone, and while I do think that Ethan Happ can really pick it apart, it is important to note that the Ducks will be running out Kenny Wooten. He is as good of a defender as there is in the paint, and I would not be surprised to see him slow Happ down. Also worth noting: The line is this game has moved from Wisconsin (-4) to Wisconsin (-1).

No. 13 UC IRVINE vs. No. 4 KANSAS STATE, Fri. 2:00 p.m.

This changes if Dean Wade plays, but without Dean Wade on the floor, Kansas State is a team that is going to rely on penetration and the ability of their guards to get into the paint. The problem with that is that UC Irvine is a really good defensive team that is built around the concept of forcing teams to drive and finish around the rim, where they do have some size and talented shot-blockers. The Anteaters are really, really good and might be underseeded as a No. 13, and with the Wildcats banged up, this is a matchup that Russell Turner can get the best of.

No. 13 NORTHEASTERN vs. No. 4 KANSAS, Fri. 4:00 p.m.

Kansas is not the Kansas we are used to seeing. They start four freshmen this year, and while two of them are five-star — one of whom has not exactly played like a five-star this year — the other two are the Jayhawks third-string center and a guy that was supposed to redshirt this season. I also think Kansas is overseeded relative to the team they have now based on some non-conference wins they earned with Udoka Azubuike and Lagerald Vick healthy.

Northeastern is a really, really well-coached team that doesn’t beat themselves. They don’t turn the ball over, they shoot it well from three, they control tempo, they don’t give up second chance points and they have a couple of high-level shot-makers, namely Vasa Pusica. The Huskies are dangerous.

No. 6 VILLANOVA vs. No. 3 PURDUE, Sun. TBD

Villanova has to get past St. Mary’s in the first round for this to happen — and that will be no easy feat — but if they do I think that Purdue is about the best possible matchup they could have asked for. Purdue is a team that runs a lot of really great offense to create looks for the shooters they have, but Villanova switches everything. The Wildcats are going to make Purdue beat them one-on-one to get good shots, and I don’t know if the Boilermakers have the guys to be able to do that in this game.

No. 4 FLORIDA STATE vs. No. 1 GONZAGA, Sweet 16

If there is one thing that Gonzaga point guard Josh Perkins struggles with, it is defenders with length and athleticism pressuring him all over the floor. That is what Florida State is going to do in this matchup. It worked the last time these two played — in the 2018 Sweet 16 with No. 9 seed Florida State picked off No. 4 seed Gonzaga.

And I also guarantee that these upsets will not happen.

No. 12 MURRAY STATE over No. 5 MARQUETTE, Thu. 4:30 p.m.

I just cannot seed the Racers getting this done against Marquette. For starters, I think that they will be able to hide Markus Howard defensively on some random wing. Then, I think that Sacar Anim will be able to go a good enough job on Ja Morant to keep him from having one of his 40 point nights. And finally, I think Theo John’s presence at the rim will help prevent Morant from having an absolute blow-up game. I didn’t necessarily envision myself going all-in on Marquette in the first round, but here we are.

No. 12 NEW MEXICO STATE vs. No. 5 AUBURN, Fri. 4:30 p.m.

I just think that the Tigers have enough talent — they got dudes! — to beat a good New Mexico State team that has a lot of success because they just play harder than people. I also fully expect the Tigers, who have beaten Tennessee twice in the last 10 days, to continue to run hot. Bruce Pearl will have those guys motivated.