Player of the Year Power Rankings: Ja Morant moves into the top five

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1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

Zion did it again on Monday night.

He finished with 35 points — a record for freshman at Duke — to go along with 10 boards and four blocks, but it wasn’t enough for Duke to take down Syracuse at home. (More on that in the R.J. Barrett section.) With all due respect to the other players on this list, I really don’t think the race is all that close at the moment.

2. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

Tennessee went into Florida, found themselves in a dogfight and left with a win. Grant Williams had 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting, nine boards, four assists, two blocks and two steals in the win.

Then he gator-chomped his way back to Knoxville. If you can’t appreciate how good this young man is, you don’t know basketball.

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

Howard had 26 points, six boards and six assists in a win over a good Seton Hall team on Saturday, and no one paid any attention to it. That’s a career game for like 99.8% of the players in college basketball. It was less than half the number of points he scored on Wednesday.

Just soak this in.

4. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

After a relatively slow night in a win over Kansas State, Culver bounced back with 23 points and 13 boards in a over Oklahoma and 14 points, nine boards and six assists as the Red Raiders won in Austin.

5. JA MORANT, Murray State

After going for 17 points and 14 assists in a win over Southeast Missouri State on Saturday, Morant is now averaging 23.1 points and 10.7 assists on the season. He is gong to end up being a top five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, and it’s hard to think that he is anything other than a star in waiting. Enough of the nonsense, it’s time to get him into the top five.

6. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

Lawson continues to be the anchor for the Jayhawks offensively, although the last two games has seen his offensive output somewhat limited. He did have five blocks and five steals against Baylor, but only attempted eight shots in 26 minutes in a win over Texas.

7. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

I dropped Barrett down because, after seeing Duke play without Zion Williamson, Tre Jones and Cam Reddish over the course of the last three days, I think that it is safe to say that Barrett is the third-most valuable player on this Duke team.

Zion is clearly at the top of that list, but at this point, I am of the mindset that Jones is more important to Duke’s success than Barrett is because Jones provides something that no one else on Duke — and very few players around the country — are capable of doing.

For starters, there is what he can do as a point guard with the ball in his hands. He’s a leader and a distributor that is not worried about his numbers or his stats beyond his team’s record. All of those cliches that coaches love to spout about point guards define who Jones is as a player, but more importantly, his presence on the floor means that Barrett is able to slide into a position that better suits his skill-set.

Barrett is a scorer first and foremost, and while he can play with the ball in his hands and is capable of finding assists, what he does best is attack to score. When Jones was out last night and Barrett was forced to play the point, not only did it take a true point guard off the court, but it forced Barrett to play his second-best position.

I think Barrett’s 8-for-30 shooting performance with a crisp 4-for-17 from three speaks for itself here, but it is also important to put those numbers into context. Not only was Duke playing without Jones, they were playing without Cam Reddish, who is the best shooter and the second-most talented offensive weapon on the roster behind Barrett. Combine all of that with the fact that Syracuse sold out in the second half, essentially enveloping their zone around Zion Williamson and daring Duke to beat them from the perimeter — they just stopped guarding Jack White, who was 0-for-10 from three — and what you got was a situation where Barrett’s only real option was to try and win that game himself.

Put another way, I’m far more concerned with the fact that Barrett missed 22 shots and 13 threes than I am with the fact that he took them. It’s a bad sign that he is not a good shooter. It’s not a bad sign he tried to take over a game he needed to take over for Duke to have a chance to win.

And I still haven’t gotten to the point that I need to make about how good Jones is on the defensive end of the floor.

Duke is never going to be a great perimeter shooting team, and frankly, they can be a bad halfcourt team against teams that can keep them in front and rebound the ball. That issue is somewhat mitigated when Jones is on the floor because of how disruptive he can be defensively. It starts with the simple pick-six buckets that he creates off of turnovers, but there is more to it than that. His ball pressure forces offenses to start further out, he makes it a nightmare for an opposing team’s point guard to initiate a set and that, in turn, creates more missed shots. Missed shots lead to fast breaks, and fast breaks mean that Duke does not have to try and score against a set defense.

Can Barrett truly be a first-team all-american if he is the third-most valuable player on his team?

Maybe, but with the number of worthy candidates this year, it’s a tough sell for me.

8. SHAMORIE PONDS, St. John’s

Ponds finished with 23 points and six assists in a loss at Villanova, but when the Johnnies needed him to make some big plays down the stretch, he wasn’t there. He then missed a home game against DePaul, which St. John’s lost 79-71 and reemphasized just how valuable he is.

9. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga

I think I am back on the bandwagon of Brandon Clarke being Gonzaga’s best, and more important, player. He was terrific in their win at San Francisco, leading the team with 24 points and nine boards and coming up with a crucial block in the final minutes. He’s the best defender in college basketball.

10. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

Quietly, Michigan State is starting to look like they might push Michigan for the title of the Big Ten’s best. The Spartans now rank ahead of the Wolverines on KenPom and are one of just three teams that are in the top ten in both adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency. The reason why is Cassius Winston, who is having a phenomenal season and may be the best pure point guard in college basketball. It’s time to pay attention to him.

IN THE MIX: Nickeil Alexander-Walker (Virginia Tech), Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin), De’Andre Hunter (Virginia), Charles Matthews (Michigan)

Michigan’s Jaelin Llewellyn out for season with knee injury

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan point guard Jaelin Llewellyn is out for the rest of the season with an injured left knee and is expected to have surgery next month.

Wolverines coach Juwan Howard made the announcement three days after Llewellyn was hurt in a loss to Kentucky in London.

Llewellyn transferred to Michigan from Princeton last spring and that seemed to lead to Frankie Collins transferring to Arizona State after a solid freshman season for the Wolverines.

Llewellyn averaged seven points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.8 assists in eight games at Michigan. He was an All-Ivy League player last season and averaged nearly 16 points over three seasons at Princeton.

Miles Kelly leads Georgia 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.