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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Zion Williamson’s block, R.J. Barrett’s threes, give Brandon Clarke his due

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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.”

R.J. Barrett:

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)

Duke lands commitment from five-star forward Matthew Hurt

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For the fourth time in the last five years, Duke is tapping into that Minnesota pipeline to mine talent.

Following in the footsteps of Tyus Jones, Gary Trent Jr. and Tre Jones, Matthew Hurt, a 6-foot-9 forward and a top ten prospect in the Class of 2019, announced on Friday that he will be playing his college ball for the Blue Devils.

Hurt ultimately picked Duke over Kansas, but he was also pursued by the likes of Kentucky, North Carolina and Minnesota. He joins Vernon Carey, Wendell Moore and Boogie Ellis in Duke’s 2019 recruiting class.

Hurt is the perfect compliment to Carey, a powerhouse low-post force, and Moore, who is a talented wing. He has size and is extremely skilled, with the ability to stretch the floor out to 25 feet and the potential to be a dangerous face-up scorer, both in the mid-post and on the perimeter. He needs to get stronger and tougher, but that will come with time. As it stands, he’s the piece to the puzzle that Duke needed to add.

UNC women’s coach Hatchell resigns after findings from program review

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell had built a Hall of Fame career over more than three decades with the Tar Heels, including a national championship and becoming the Atlantic Coast Conference’s all-time winningest coach.

That tenure ended with her resignation after a program review found concerns over “racially insensitive” comments and pressuring players to compete through medical issues.

The school announced the 67-year-old Hatchell’s resignation late Thursday, along with findings from that external review conducted this month by a Charlotte-based law firm. Among the issues: a “breakdown of connectivity” between Hatchell and the players after 28 interviews of current players and program personnel.

The was enough to end Hatchell’s time in Chapel Hill, which began in 1986.

“The university commissioned a review of our women’s basketball program, which found issues that led us to conclude that the program needed to be taken in a new direction,” athletics director Bubba Cunningham said in a statement. “It is in the best interests of our university and student-athletes for us to do so. Coach Hatchell agrees, and she offered her resignation today. I accepted it.”

Hatchell — who has 1,023 victories, with 751 coming in 33 seasons at UNC along with the 1994 NCAA title — and her coaching staff had been on paid administrative leave since April 1. At the time, UNC announced the review amid player concerns to “assess the culture” of the program.

“The university will always hold a special place in my heart,” Hatchell said in a statement. “The game of basketball has given me so much, but now it is time for me to step away.”

In its release, UNC said the review found “widespread support” among three areas of concern, including the Hatchell-players connection.

The first centered on the racially insensitive comments, compounded by her failure to respond “in a timely or appropriate manner” when confronted by players or staff.

“The review concluded that Hatchell is not viewed as a racist,” the school said, “but her comments and subsequent response caused many in the program to believe she lacked awareness and appreciation for the effect her remarks had on those who heard them.”

Regarding injury concerns, the review reported frustration from players and medical staff with Hatchell’s “perceived and undue influence,” though medical staffers “did not surrender to pressure to clear players” before they were ready.

Wade Smith, Hatchell’s attorney, had defended her earlier this month by saying players had misconstrued comments she made as racist and that she wouldn’t try to force someone to play without medical clearance. That came after The Washington Post, citing unnamed parents of players, said complaints had been made about inappropriate racial comments and players being pushed to play while injured.

In a statement to The Associated Press at the time, Smith said Hatchell “does not have a racist bone in her body” and “cares deeply about (players’) health and well-being.”

Hatchell, who reached 1,000 wins in 2017, trailed only Tennessee’s Pat Summitt, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma in women’s Division I career victories. But there had been difficulties in recent years.

She missed the 2013-14 season while battling leukemia and undergoing chemotherapy. The program also spent several seasons under the shadow of the school’s multi-year NCAA academic case dealing with irregular courses featuring significant athlete enrollments across numerous sports, a case that reached a no-penalty conclusion in October 2017.

UNC returned to the NCAA Tournament this year for the first time since 2015 after upsets of top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 7 North Carolina State on the road, though her contract was set to expire after next season.

Hatchell said she will still support the school, including raising money for UNC’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and advocating for gender equity issues.

“While this is a bittersweet day, my faith remains strong,” Hatchell said. “After the fight of my life with leukemia, I count every day as a blessing.”

St. John’s expected to hire Mike Anderson

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The coaching search St. John’s started earlier this month is coming to an end, and its finality looks to be as bizarre as the process.

The Red Storm are expected to hire former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, a source confirmed to NBC Sports. Roger Rubin of Newsday was first to report the development.

Anderson has a perfectly respectable resume after eight years with the Razorbacks and five at Missouri over the last decade-plus, but his history doesn’t suggest why he’s a great fit at St. John’s, a smaller private school in New York City rather than two large public institutions in college towns. New York City is also considerably more northeast than both Fayetteville and Columbia.

St. John’s swung big in a way that made sense when it hired Chris Mullin four years ago. There were question marks given his lack of college experience, but given his status as a Red Storm legend and NBA pedigree – both as a player and executive – you could connect the dots to success, even if Mullin ultimately couldn’t do it himself.

This hire, however, doesn’t make much sense. Anderson just got fired for not progressing enough with Arkansas, a place he spent 17 years at under Nolan Richardson prior to becoming a head coach himself. He had serious legacy there, but it wasn’t enough to overcome just three NCAA tournament appearances and no Sweet 16s in eight years.

That’s the guy that is now, with no clear ties to either the Big East or St. John’s, going to reinvigorate the Red Storm program? Anderson might do it, I guess, but his selection only highlights what a botched search this has been. Bobby Hurley, Porter Moser, Ryan Odom and Tim Cluess all reportedly spurned interest, and it’s about as inarguable as inarguable gets that St. John’s should be a slam-dunk better job than Loyola Chicago, UMBC and Iona, while Hurley is the type of guy an athletic department goes out and gets done if it wants to show it really means business.

Instead, St. John’s search falls to Anderson, who probably won’t win the press conference and didn’t win enough at Arkansas.

Ayo Dosunmu returning to Illinois for sophomore season

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Wins have been few and far between in two seasons for Brad Underwood at Illinois, which makes Thursday’s victory all the more important.

The Illini got a major April boost with Ayo Dosunmu announcing he would return to Champaign for his senior season rather than heading to the professional ranks.

“I stayed home to help coach Underwood turn the Illinois program around,” Dosunmu said in a video released on social media. “We tasted some success, but we didn’t dance. And Illinois has to dance.

“We are building. We will be better. I will be better, and that starts now.”

Dosunmu averaged 13.8 points, 4 rebounds and 3.3 assists during his freshman campaign, which led to speculation he might be off to the pros, leaving Illinois without its most dynamic scorer and playmaker heading into a critical third season for Underwood, who is 26-39 overall and 11-27 in the Big Ten the last two years. Instead, he’ll be returning giving Illinois a second season with an intriguing young core that will likely be a trendy pick to make a significant jump up the B1G standings next winter.

Oklahoma State lands commitment from top-150 guard Chris Harris Jr.

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Oklahoma State is adding another top-150 piece to its 2019 recruiting class as Chris Harris Jr., a guard from Texas, pledged to the Cowboys on Thursday

“I will be committing to Oklahoma State University,” Harris announced via a video on social media.

The consensus three-star recruit picks Mike Boynton’s program over offers from the likes of Texas A&M, Baylor, Kansas State and Georgia Tech. The 6-foot-3 guard visited Stillwater officially late last month. He previously was headed to the Aggies, but was released from his National Letter of Intent after Billy Kennedy was fired in College Station.

His commitment gives Oklahoma State what is increasingly looking like a major recruiting class for Boynton, who has largely exceeded expectations during his short tenure with the Cowboys. Boynton has already secured commitments from top-75 wing Marcus Watson of Georgia and top-125 guard Avery Anderson III as well as three-stars Kalib Boone and Keylan Boone.