1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke
We’ve all seen the block heard ’round the world by now, but I think that what we should be talking about after Duke’s win at Virginia on Saturday evening, at least when it pertains to Zion, is this: He did not play all that well, particularly on the offense end of the floor, yet he still finished with 18 points, five boards, five assists, three steals and three blocks while shooting 6-for-8 from the floor.
That’s his floor.
That’s about as bad as it’s going to get when Zion plays, at least at this level.
2. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee
Tennessee has not lost a game this year since the day after Thanksgiving, when they blew a lead and lost in overtime to Kansas on a night where Grant Williams fouled out late. Since then, they’ve beaten Gonzaga in a thriller on a neutral court, but that was really the only good team that they have played. Since the loss to Kansas, the only win that the Vols have landed against a tournament team is at home against Alabama; both Arkansas and Florida, the latter of whom Tennesse has beaten twice, are currently on the wrong side of the bubble.
Put another way, that battle on Saturday between the Vols and Kentucky is going to tell us a lot about just how good this Tennessee team is.
3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette
We got the full Markus Howard experience this week. On Tuesday night, Howard struggled in a 70-69 loss at home against a St. John’s team that is just an awful matchup for the Golden Eagles. They have the length and athleticism to slow Howard down, and Marquette does not have a bully inside that can take advantage of the fact that the Johnnies have a bunch of perimeter players on their roster.
So I don’t take too much from that.
The more interesting game, to me, came on Saturday against Villanova. Howard finished with 38 points on 13-for-24 shooting — which, believe it or not, is like his fifth-most impressive performance this season — but late in the game we got a glimpse at exactly what makes Howard an iffy NBA draft prospect. First, there was Saddiq Bey picking his pocket, as the lanky, 6-foot-7 forward forced a turnover with Marquette leading by one in the final seconds. That set up the last play of the game, where Howard left Phil Booth on a switch and created a driving lane that Booth — a potential all-american that will play in the NBA and has made maybe one bad decision in his life — really should have taken more advantage of:
I know we’ve gotten a bit off topic here, but Phil, what are you doing? Shoot!
4. JA MORANT, Murray State
Morant continues to cruise along, scoring 20 likes it’s nothing and averaging an NCAA-best 10.2 assists while doing it. I just wonder, at this point, if the Racers are going to have a real chance at getting to the NCAA tournament. They play in one of the tougher mid-major leagues in the country and will have to get through both Belmont and Jacksonville State to get the automatic bid.
5. ETHAN HAPP, Wisconsin
Happ was shut down for the final 35 minutes in Wisconsin’s loss at Michigan on Saturday, as Jon Teske got a measure of revenge for the performance the Wisconsin center had when the Badgers ended Michigan’s unbeaten season.
And Happ still finished with 18 points and 11 boards. What a player.
6. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia
Hunter had 20 points as Virginia bounced back from Saturday’s loss to Duke with a 69-61 win at North Carolina on Monday night. That’s big, but to really understand how good Hunter is for this team, think about it like this: When the game was on the line, the 6-foot-7, 225 pound forward was put on Coby White for the final five minutes, shutting down one of the most explosive scorers in the country to help preserve a win.
How many players his size can do that?
7. R.J. BARRETT, Duke
The Media: “R.J. Barrett is an inefficient volume shooter that doesn’t have enough range or consistency from three.”
8. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State
Winston bounced back from a career-worst nine turnovers against Illinois to finish with nine assists and no turnovers as the Spartans ended a three-game losing streak by shredding Minnesota on Saturday. He gets Wisconsin on the road tonight.
9. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas
Lawson did not play well on Monday night in a win at TCU, but he still finished with 14 points, 10 boards and a pair of assists. Perhaps more importantly, he’s 14-for-29 from three in his last seven games. The Jayhawks have now won three of their last four and look like they are starting to figure out how to play with their injury limitations.
10. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga
I have to bring this up, because it is one of the most shocking omissions on an award since A Star Is Born was shut out of the awards that matter at the Golden Globes.
Brandon Clarke — who is probably Gonzaga’s best player, who is arguably the best defensive player in college basketball and who is unquestionably one of the four best players at power forward or center, wherever it is you decide to list him positionally — was not named a finalist for either the Karl Malone or the Kareem Abdul Jabbar award.
And that is just baffling.
Maybe it’s time to let the old ways (of determining these positional watch lists) die.
IN THE MIX: Phil Booth (Villanova), Jordan Caroline (Nevada), Jarrett Culver (Texas Tech), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga), Ty Jerome (Virginia), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s), P.J. Washington (Kentucky)