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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)

BYU guard Nick Emery announces retirement from basketball

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PROVO, Utah (AP) — BYU guard Nick Emery said Tuesday he is retiring from basketball following a college career that began with high expectations but that ended with him at the center of an NCAA investigation.

Emery used social media to announce he is stepping away with a year of eligibility still remaining.

“My time here has been rocky at times, but the good times definitely outweighed the bad,” Emery wrote in an Instagram post also shared to his Twitter account. “I’ve learned so many life lessons and this journey has been so rewarding. I am at a point in life where I am happy with what I’ve accomplished with basketball and I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life with my wife and son.”

The school confirmed the retirement.

“We are excited for Nick as he begins this next stage of his life,” BYU head coach Mark Pope said in a news release. “He has great things ahead.”

Emery made a splash right away at BYU, averaging a career-best 16.3 points per game during his first season and setting a BYU freshman record with 97 3-pointers. He helped the Cougars reach the semifinals of the 2016 NIT.

After playing for two years, he withdrew from school for the 2017-18 season, citing personal reasons. The 6-foot-2 guard returned to the program in 2018 and he began his third and final season serving a nine-game suspension following the NCAA investigation.

The NCAA last year placed the men’s basketball program on probation for two years and said it must vacate 47 wins from Emery’s freshman and sophomore seasons.

The NCAA said Emery received more than $12,000 in benefits from four boosters, including travel to concerts and an amusement park and the use of a new car. The NCAA also accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties of reducing one scholarship, disassociation of one of its boosters and a $5,000 fine. The NCAA didn’t identify Emery by name but the university said the case involved him.

Emery averaged 12.6 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.4 steals per game over his three seasons with the Cougars.

With grad transfer Jake Toolson joining BYU from Utah Valley for the upcoming season, Emery’s role with the Cougars would likely have been greatly reduced this fall. Toolson earned WAC Player of the Year honors as a junior after averaging 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for Utah Valley.

NCAA punishes DePaul for basketball recruiting violation

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CHICAGO (AP) — The NCAA suspended DePaul men’s basketball coach Dave Leitao for the first three games of the regular season Tuesday, saying he should have done more to prevent recruiting violations by his staff.

The NCAA also put the Big East program on three years of probation, issued a $5,000 fine and said an undetermined number of games will be vacated because DePaul put an ineligible player on the floor. An unidentified former associate head coach is also facing a three-year show cause order for his role in the violations.

According to an NCAA infractions committee decision, in the Spring of 2016, the associate head coach arranged for the assistant director of basketball operations to live with a prospect to help ensure the player did the work necessary to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. That arrangement violated recruiting rules. At the time, Rick Carter was DePaul’s associate head coach and Baba Diallo was the program’s assistant director of basketball operations.

“The head coach did not promote an atmosphere of compliance because three men’s basketball staff members knew about the arrangement but did not report the violation or question whether it was allowable,” the NCAA said. “Even more troubling to the committee was the director of basketball operations stated he knew the contact was a violation but did not report it because he did not want to be disloyal, cause tension, get in the way of the associate head coach or otherwise hurt his career. … According to the committee, a culture of silence pervaded the program.”

Leitao was hired in 2015 and has pushed to return the Blue Demons to respectability in his second stint as head coach at DePaul. After a pair of nine-win seasons under Leitao, DePaul went 11-20 two years ago before going 19-17 and reaching the College Basketball Invitational championship last season, falling to South Florida in three games.

Leitao is also a former head coach at Virginia and his assistant stops include Connecticut, Missouri and Tulsa.

“The head coach did not monitor his staff when he did not actively look for red flags or ask questions about the assistant director of basketball operations’ two-week absence,” the NCAA said. “The committee recognized the head coach’s efforts to require staff attendance at compliance meetings and communicate with compliance officials, but it said he needed to do more.”

DePaul said it would not challenge the decision, but called it “disappointing.”

“This infraction was an isolated incident directed and then concealed by a former staff member that resulted in, at most, a limited recruiting advantage relative to one former student-athlete,” the university said. “Since our self-report in January 2018, DePaul has cooperated with the NCAA enforcement staff to proactively pursue the resolution of this matter and has reviewed and further strengthened related protocol and practice. … Coach Leitao is a man of character and integrity, who has the support of the administration in leading our men’s basketball program.”

DePaul was among several schools mentioned at a recent federal trial involving corruption in college basketball.

Brian Bowen Sr., father of a top recruit, testified in October that DePaul assistant coach Shane Heirman paid him $2,000 a month to send his son to an Indiana high school where Heirman coached at the time. The school responded by saying it had done its due diligence on the matter and had previously investigated the allegations.

Zion Williamson signs with Jordan Brand

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Zion Williamson may not be the next Michael Jordan, but he will be the next NBA player to don the Jumpman logo.

On Tuesday afternoon, Zion announced that he has signed with Jordan Brand, ending speculation about where the Duke product and biggest brand to enter the NBA in years, if not ever, will sign his endorsement deal.

Where Zion ended up signing was never the most interesting part of this process – although the fact that he ended up under the Swoosh’s umbrella after a Nike shoe blew out on him and nearly cost him his left knee. What we all want to know, and what is yet to be reported, are the terms of this deal.

Outside of LeBron and Jordan, I’m not sure there is a more marketable player in the NBA right now. Think about it like this: When I say Zion, even non-basketball know exactly who I’m talking about. There are only a handful of basketball players that is true for, and the only active ones are LeBron and Steph with KD and Kyrie potentially thrown in that mix.

That’s elite company, and none of those guys have the social media following or ability to go viral with the next generation of basketball fans like Zion does. He already has a global following, one which is only going to grow as he becomes more mainstream.

And while we’re on the subject, it’s worth mentioning this piece on how going to college made Zion a literal fortune. We’ll see if Nike’s investment in the 18-year old pays off.

Utah State star injures knee playing in FIBA U-20 event, reportedly not an ACL tear

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Update (11:58 ET) According to a report from SPORT TV Portugal, Neemias Queta sprained and dislocated his knee, but it doesn’t appear to be an ACL tear.

The star center for Utah State suffered a knee injury while playing for Portugal’s U-20 team in the FIBA European Championships over the weekend.

Queta landed awkwardly while trying to grab a rebound and immediately reached for his left knee. He had to be carried off the floor without putting any weight on the leg, although he was eventually able to walk through handshake lines – with an icepack on his knee – after the game.

Queta did not return for Sunday’s final, and he had his knee wrapped while using a cane while watching from the bench. Portugal won the B Division championship despite his absence.

This would be a massive loss for the Aggies, who are a top 15 team in the NBC Sports preseason rankings and the clear-cut favorite to win the Mountain West. The 6-foot-11 Queta averaged 11.8 points, 8.9 boards and 2.4 blocks while shooting 40 percent from three as a freshman.

According to reports out of Portugal, Queta is due to undergo an MRI Tuesday.

 

Ex-Tar Heel Woods comfortable back home in South Carolina

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Seventh Woods can’t take a few steps around town these days without someone telling him it is good he came home. The former North Carolina player is happy with his latest choice, too.

“It’s been great,” Woods said Friday. “Family’s here, friends here. I’ve been getting along well with the players and the coaches.”

The 6-foot-2 Woods expected to be a collegiate force when he finished Hammond School in Columbia and picked the Tar Heels over Georgetown and South Carolina in 2016.

Instead, Woods was a backup during his time with the Tar Heels. He was part of North Carolina’s NCAA Tournament title team in 2017 but never averaged more than 11 minutes or three points a game during his three seasons in Chapel Hill . Woods missed 17 games with a broken foot during his sophomore season and averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 assists last season as backup to freshman Coby White.

In April, Woods posted on social media that it was time for a change. Woods will sit out next season per NCAA transfer rules and return to the court in 2020-21.

“I can focus on me getting into a groove,” Woods said. “Learning a new system and we didn’t want to rush anything.”

Woods, who turns 21 next month, gained attention during his middle school years for his ability to dunk and dominate opponents off the dribble at Hammond. He was a YouTube, basketball mixtape regular in the early 2010s, when ability like his was largely experienced in person watching youth games.

The buzz about Woods intensified the pressure for him to stay put and revive South Carolina. Woods felt differently.

“I just wanted to do what was best for me,” Woods said. “Going away was best for me at the time.”

Woods felt comfortable with the Tar Heels and believed it would be the best place for him to grow as a player and person.

“Only positives, all positive,” Woods said of his three years at North Carolina.

When Woods met with Martin to discuss is basketball future, the coach emphasized him taking some time away from games.

“Every time he dribbled, the crowd was sold out and every critic was out there criticizing everything he did wrong,” Martin said. “I have no idea how that young man has been able to keep the class he lives with under those circumstances.”

Woods looked at Gonzaga and Michigan before picking the Gamecocks this time. The relationship he built with Martin was rekindled the past few months and Woods was grateful to his new coach for this latest chance.

“I felt it was perfect timing just being able to come back home,” Woods said. “To come back to a coach who allowed me to come back home. That was big for me.”

Woods says he’ll spend his time improving his strength, consistency and outside shooting. He’ll be part of practices and knows that will help him develop chemistry with his future teammates.

His aspirations, as they were during middle school, are to play basketball professionally after college. He’s looking forward to a productive time off the court to recharge and improve.

“I feel like sitting out a year will be great for me and I’m going to try and use it to my advantage to make the most out of my senior year,” he said.