Player of the Year Power Rankings: How good is Grant Williams?

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After taking a one week break for the holidays, the Player of the Year Power Rankings are back in full effect this week.

The top spot hasn’t changed, but there has been some movement in the top ten after a handful of impressive performances over the course of the last fortnight. 

Here are the official power rankings.

1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

Duke has not taken the court in nearly two weeks. The last time we saw them play, Williamson put up 17 points and 13 boards in 25 foul-plagued minutes against Texas Tech in Madison Square Garden. Personally, I don’t think there really is a debate at this point. Zion is the front-runner.

2. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

We all love Dedric Lawson because he’s a double-double machine as a small-ball four whose perimeter ability and passing skill allows Udoka Azubuike to thrive in the post, and he’s doing all of that for a top five team in the country.

Well, Grant Williams is averaging 20.1 points, 8.3 boards and 4.1 assists (more than double Lawson’s output) this year. He’s a better defender than Lawson. He’s shooting the ball better from the floor and from three. He’s a more efficient player. He has a better offensive rating on KenPom. And he’s doing all of this for a team that is ranked higher in the AP Poll than Kansas is.

If you love Lawson as a Player of the Year candidate, you are mandated by law to love Williams more.

Anyway, here is a quick breakdown of his ability to pass the ball and what it does for Tennessee’s offense:

3. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

I am not the biggest R.J. Barrett fan in the world. I think he’s a little bit overrated as an NBA prospect, I get frustrated watching him dribble into three defenders in the lane when he has teammates on the perimeter waiting for a kick-out and I know he is the second-best player on his team.

He’s also averaging 23.8 points, 6.8 boards and 3.8 assists for the team that I think is going too win the national title. I’m not going to overthink this one.

4. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

As of today, Culver is my pick for Big 12 Player of the Year over Lawson. His raw numbers make it very easy to put him on the list of all-americans this season: 19.6 points, 5.6 boards, 4.3 assists and shooting splits of 60.6/69.7/45.2 on a team that ranks in the top 15 nationally. That is all really quite impressive.

For me, however, the difference comes in the advanced numbers. Culver is the nation’s third-most efficient high-usage player, according to KenPom, finishing right behind Zion and Hofstra’s Justin Wright-Foreman. His offensive rating of 124.8 on a usage rate of 30.0% is all the more impressive when put into this context: In 2014, Doug McDermott had an offensive rating of 24.4 on 32.9% usage. Those numbers will eventually come down once league play kicks off, but it shouldn’t diminish what Culver has done already this season.

What makes it all the more impressive — and the real reason I have him this high on the list — is that he is really the only threat Texas Tech has offensively. Matt Mooney is a high-volume, low-efficiency scorer at this level. Tariq Owens is not really a threat offensively beyond catching and dunking. Brandone Francis, Davide Moretti, Kyler Edwards, Deshawn Corprew — they’re fine, but they’re not something opposing coaches are going to lose sleep over. Put another way, the only reason that this Texas Tech team is not thought of as, say, Syracuse is that Culver is much, much better than Tyus Battle. The same can be said re: Kansas State and Barry Brown, Cincinnati and Jarron Cumberland and Texas and Kerwin Roach.

Carrying a bad offense is not an easy thing to do, and Culver might just carry this bad offense to a Big 12 title.

5. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

Lawson is averaging 19.6 points, 10.8 boards and 2.5 assists for a top five team. That is the stuff that first-team all-americans are made out of. If there is something standing between him and a spot on the first team, it’s Lagerald Vick. Vick has been super inconsistent, but there is an argument that he deserves the award over Lawson given just how incredible he’s been on the nights when he gets it going and saves Kansas. We’ll see if that continues throughout the season.

6. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

Howard ran into a buzzsaw in his first Big East game of the season, shooting 2-for-15 from the floor and finishing with just eight points in 26 foul-plagued minutes against a good St. John’s team in Carnesecca Arena. That’s not good, particularly when his biggest competition for Big East Player of the Year — Shamorie Ponds — went bonkers.

That said, it was the first time in nearly a month that Howard scored less than 26 points and the first time since Nov. 27th that he failed to crack 20. Prior to Tuesday night, Howard has averaged 31.8 points in his previous six games, including 45 point outbursts against Buffalo and Wisconsin, Marquette’s two biggest wins of the season. I don’t think it’s wrong to have Ponds ahead of Howard at this point, but for my money, Howard has had the better season.

And while we’re here, let’s just appreciate the incredible second half performance he had against Buffalo. 40 points in 20 minutes of basketball is unheard of:

7. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin

I still love Happ and the way that he plays, but I’m less convinced that Wisconsin is one of the elite teams in the country than I was two weeks ago — they got beat pretty solidly by Western Kentucky on the road on Saturday — which limits where he can be on this list. League commences in full for the Big Ten this week, so we shall see.

8. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

Hunter is a tough one to place on this list because it’s difficult to parse through the three best players on Virginia. Kyle Guy is leading the team in scoring. Ty Jerome might actually be the best player on the team. For my money, Hunter is the game-changing talent on the roster and the guy that allows them to play different ways.

9. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

Personally, I’m in a wait-and-see mode with Rui in terms of his Player of the Year chances. I love the player, I love the kid and I love the story, but for a team whose weakness in their issues on the defensive end of the floor, it’s hard for me to reward the guy that is as guilty as anyone on the roster.

We discussed Rui’s defensive issues last week.

10. NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

Virginia Tech still hasn’t really been pushed since the Charleston Classic. Alexander-Walker has been good against the good teams they have played — he averaged 20.5 points, 3.5 boards, 3.0 steals and 2.5 assists against Washington and Notre Dame, shooting 16-for-22 from the field — but we’ll have a better feel for where he belongs on this list as ACC play gets into full swing.

IN THE MIX: Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Ja Morant (Murray State), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s)

Miles Kelly leads Ga. Tech to 79-77 win over rival Georgia

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Northeastern at Georgia Tech
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ATLANTA – Georgia Tech’s Miles Kelly hit another winning shot against a state rival.

Terry Roberts endured a nightmarish final minute for Georgia.

Kelly hit a long 3-pointer and then a drove for the game-winning floater with 23 seconds remaining as the Yellow Jackets rallied to beat Georgia 79-77 on Tuesday night.

Kelly hit the winning shot in similar fashion against Georgia State on Nov. 12. He did it again to beat the Bulldogs, finishing with a team-high 17 points after failing to score in the first half.

“I’m going to continue to keep shooting, no matter how many times I miss,” Kelly said.

Roberts missed a 3-pointer, turned the ball over twice with bad passes, and was called for an offensive foul as he was trying to drive for the basket that would’ve sent the game to overtime.

“A tough finish for us,” Georgia first-year coach Mike White said. “We were in position to steal one on the road.”

A pair of second-chance buckets seemingly put Georgia (7-3) in control with a 77-73 lead.

The Bulldogs wouldn’t score again as Kelly led the comeback for the Yellow Jackets (6-3) – with a big assist from Roberts.

He had a chance to essentially seal it for the Bulldogs, but his jumper beyond the arc clanked off the rim.

Georgia Tech grabbed the rebound and raced down the court, where Kelly swished a 3 from well behind the stripe that brought Georgia Tech within a point with about a minute left.

Trying to work the ball inside, Roberts made an ill-advised entry pass that was deflected and stolen by Deivon Smith, setting up Kelly’s drive for the basket that put the Yellow Jackets back ahead,

Roberts tried a drive of his own, only to have it blocked by Jalon Moore. Georgia retained possession, but Roberts’ inbounds pass was stolen by Moore, who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Roberts took the ball again and hurriedly dribbled toward the basket, only to be called for an offensive foul when he sent Smith flying.

“Just sacrificing my body for the team,” Smith said.

Georgia stole an inbounds pass around midcourt, giving Karlo Oquendo one last shot to launch a 3 that still would’ve won it for the Bulldogs. It bounced off the rim.

The game was tight throughout. Neither team led by more than eight, and a sequence in the second half showed just how tightly these rivals were matched.

With both squads playing at a frenetic pace and showing little regard for defense, the lead changed hands on eight straight possessions as the teams traded baskets.

Stunningly, they combined to score on 19 straight possessions before Georgia’s Matthew-Alexander Moncrieffe missed a pair of free throws with 5:17 remaining.

FIRING UP THE CROWD

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the night came when Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key addressed the crowd at halftime.

Key, who served as interim coach for the last eight games of the season, was introduced Monday as the full-time choice for job.

He fired up the fans by getting them to chant “To hell with Georgia” over and over again. When a smattering of Bulldogs fans responded with barks, Key smiled and egged on the Yellow Jackets crowd to drown them out.

He also declared Georgia Tech to be the “greatest school in the entire state, the entire country,” following up his vow the previous day to not back down from the defending national champion and top-ranked Bulldogs.

BIG PICTURE

Georgia: This will be a tough one to swallow for Roberts, who led his team with 16 points and seven assists. The Bulldogs lost despite shooting 53.4% from the field.

Georgia Tech: Four players scored in double figures, and two others players finished with eight points. But it was Kelly, as usual, who had the ball in his hands at the end of a tight game.

UP NEXT

Georgia: After a nearly two-week break, the Bulldogs return to Atlanta on Dec. 18 to face Notre Dame at State Farm Arena in the Holiday Hoopsgiving event.

Georgia Tech: Head to North Carolina on Saturday for the Atlantic Coast Conference opener against the struggling Tar Heels.

No. 17 Illinois rallies late, beats No. 2 Texas 85-78 in OT

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NEW YORK – Terrence Shannon Jr. scored 12 of his 16 points in overtime, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:34 remaining, and No. 17 Illinois rallied to hand second-ranked Texas its first loss of the season, 85-78 on Tuesday night in the Jimmy V Classic.

Jayden Epps added 11 points, including the final five points of regulation – a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left and two tying free throws with 8 seconds remaining. Epps then blocked Marcus Carr’s jumper in the lane just before the buzzer to force overtime in an entertaining showdown at Madison Square Garden.

Matthew Mayer, who faced Texas several times at Baylor, tied a career high with 21 points as he made his first seven shots and finished 8 of 10.

Shannon, who missed eight of nine shots in regulation, took over in the extra period to help Illinois (7-2) beat a ranked foe for the second time this season. He opened overtime with a jumper after Marcus Carr was called for traveling and then hit an open 3 from the right wing over Brock Cunningham for a 73-70 lead.

Shannon then converted a reverse layup and finished off a three-point play to make it 77-70 with 2:16 left. Carr hit two free throws to get Texas within one with 1:28 remaining. Jayden Epps hit a layup, RJ Melendez sank two free throws to put Illinois ahead by five, and Shannon made two free throws with 27.7 seconds left.

Timmy Allen scored a season-high 21 points for Texas (6-1), which failed to open 7-0 for the first time since 2014-15. Tyrese Hunter added 10 points but Carr was held to nine points on 3-of-14 shooting as Texas had 12 shots blocked and shot 42%.

Texas took its only double-digit lead when Dillon Mitchell hit a layup with 8:28 left. Illinois cut the lead to 58-56 on a 3 by Melendez nearly four minutes later. After Cunningham hit an open 3 with 4:15 remaining, Si’Jabari Rice made a 3 for a 64-58 lead.

Allen found Cunningham for an open jumper that counted when officials called goaltending on Illinois’ Coleman Hawkins. That gave Texas a 65-61 lead with with 1:51 remaining.

Carr’s rainbow jumper in the lane made it 68-63 with a minute left and Illinois had a 3-pointer by Melendez waved off because it called timeout with 45.3 seconds left. After the timeout, Epps made an open corner 3 with 33 seconds remaining.

Hunter missed the front end of a 1-and-1 to set up Epps’ tying free throws.

BIG PICTURE

Illinois: The Illini continued to struggle with turnovers, committing 17. But only two of them came in the final 10-plus minutes of regulation or overtime. Illinois’ 15th turnover was an offensive foul by Mayer, which sent him to the bench with four fouls with 10:42 remaining.

Texas: The Longhorns had little offense beyond Allen and Hunter. While the duo was a combined 13 of 29, the rest of the team missed 24 of 40 shots.

UP NEXT

Illinois hosts Penn State in its second Big Ten game on Saturday. The Illini lost their conference opener to No. 13 Maryland.

Texas hosts Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the Jimmy Blacklock Classic on Saturday.

Clark, Gardner lift No. 3 Virginia past James Madison, 55-50

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Kihei Clark scored 18 points, Jayden Gardner had 14 points and eight rebounds, and No. 3 Virginia beat feisty in-state rival James Madison 55-50 on Tuesday night.

The Cavaliers (8-0), who lost starting guard Reece Beekman to a right leg injury early in the first half, prevented the Dukes (7-3) from winning a second straight December game in Charlottesville. James Madison beat Virginia 52-49 last Dec. 7.

Clark had seven assists while playing nearly 39 minutes with Beekman sidelined.

“Kihei gave everything he had and I had to, you know, ride him,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “Sure, he missed some free throws. And I know he made some mistakes, but you could just see him, you know, how tough-minded he was.”

Dukes coach Mark Byington said he told Clark – who’s playing his fifth season for Virginia – after last year’s game that he loved watching him play.

“He’s seen everything and nothing you’re going to do is going to surprise him,” Byington said. “There’s nothing Kihei Clark hasn’t seen out there, and he’s poised. I mean, you can’t rattle him. … So I told him this time I was like, `Look, I better never see you in college basketball again.’ But he’s one of my favorite players to watch just because he’s tough, talented, and he’s a winner.”

Takal Molson scored 18 of his 20 points in the second half for James Madison, including a 3-pointer that tied the game at 42-all with 7:47 to play. Gardner responded for Virginia by scoring five straight points in a 9-1 run.

The Cavaliers kept the Dukes in the game by missing eight of 13 free throws over the last six minutes.

Molson made an acrobatic layup while being fouled with 1:51 left, but he missed the free throw. He scored again with 1:01 left, pulling the Dukes within 52-50, but freshman Ryan Dunn answered with a strong move on the baseline for Virginia with 35 seconds to play.

James Madison threw the ball away on its ensuing possession.

BIG PICTURE

James Madison: The Dukes came into the game leading the nation in scoring (93.3 points per game) and having scored as many as 95 points five times. They were shooting 52.7% for the year, but made just four of their first 19 shots and finished 15 of 55 (26.9%). Vado Morse scored 11 points, the only other JMU player in double figures.

“Yeah, we knew how good they were and they showed it in spots tonight,” Gardner said. “But I think you saw a lot of resiliency tonight on the defensive end getting crucial stops.”

Virginia: The Cavaliers played the final 36 minutes without Beekman and gave extensive minutes to freshman Isaac McKneely. Virginia will hope Beekman, its third-leading scorer and a primary ballhandler and defender, recovers in time for its showdown with No. 1 Houston on Dec. 17.

UP NEXT

The Dukes return home to play Gallaudet on Saturday night.

Virginia has a 10-day break before hosting the top-ranked Cougars.

No. 25 Villanova women beat American University 83-42

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VILLANOVA, Pa. – Maddy Siegrist had 24 points and seven rebounds, Lucy Olsen added 14 points and No. 25 Villanova beat American University 83-42 on Tuesday night.

Siegrist scored 15 points in the opening 13 minutes as Villanova led 34-15. The Wildcats extended it to 46-23 by halftime before starting the second half on a 9-0 run for a 32-point lead.

Villanova added an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter for its largest lead of the game at 79-36. The Wildcats held American to 15-of-50 shooting (30%) and scored 21 points off 19 turnovers.

Christina Dalce scored 13 points for Villanova (8-2), which plays Saint Joseph’s on Saturday before taking a week off for final exams. Siegrist, who was coming off a 29-point performance on Sunday, made 10 of 17 shots as Villanova shot 56%.

Emily Johns scored 12 points for American (0-8), which hosts Marist (3-5) on Saturday.

No. 6 UConn star Azzi Fudd out 3-6 weeks with knee injury

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STORRS, Conn. — Sixth-ranked UConn’s top scorer, Azzi Fudd, is expected to be out three to six weeks because of a right knee injury she suffered during her team’s weekend loss to No. 5 Notre Dame, a university athletic spokesperson said.

The sophomore guard was injured in the first half of the game when a teammate collided into her. She returned midway through the second period to play four hobbled minutes, but sat the rest of the way.

“I think she’ll be all right,” coach Geno Auriemma said afterward.

Fudd entered the game averaging 24.0 points but finished scoreless on two shots over 13 minutes in the team’s first loss of the season.

The athletic spokesperson didn’t specify the type of knee injury Fudd sustained.

She underwent evaluation and an MRI confirmed the injury, the spokesperson said.

The Huskies host Princeton next.