Player of the Year Power Rankings: Zion Williamson’s reign still remains, but for how long?

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1. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

I spent a good portion of the mock draft that I published last week discussing what makes Zion Williamson so effective on the defensive end of the floor.

We saw all of that play out in Duke’s loss to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last Tuesday. Without Williamson, the Hokies spread the court with shooters and put Kerry Blackshear in ball-screen after ball-screen. Marques Bolden is notoriously bad defending ball-screens, which created opportunities for Blackshear to be able to attack off the dribble in pick-and-pop actions while he was able to bury Javin DeLaurier in the paint on the possessions where Bolden was off the floor:

It should not come as a surprise, then, that this was easily the worst defensive performance of the season for the Blue Devils, giving up 1.222 points-per-possession. Williamson’s presence would have helped immensely, as this was the perfect scenario for the Blue Devils to trot out their lineup that features Williamson at the five.

It appears as if Williamson is just about ready to return to the lineup for Duke. Assuming he does, he has National Player of the Year locked up.

2. DE’ANDRE HUNTER, Virginia

Monday night’s win at Syracuse summed up everything that makes De’Andre Hunter so good. He finished with 21 points, six boards, four assists and three blocks while shooting 5-for-7 from the floor, and he did the heavy-lifting on Tyus Battle defensively. How many players can be a go-to scorer and can be a shutdown defender on players at four different positions?

I broke down his defensively versatility last week:

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

It was a disappointing week for Marquette, as they blew two late leads and lost to both Villanova and Creighton. That cost them a two-game lead over the Wildcats in the Big East standings, meaning that an outright Big East title is no longer in their control. Howard, in those two games, had 13 turnovers.

4. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

Duke has gone just 2-2 in the four games that Zion Williamson hasn’t played, so it’s pretty clear who the best player on that team his. That said, it is worth noting that Barrett has been much more efficient scoring the ball and a much more willing distributor in his absence.

5. JA MORANT, Murray State

Murray State’s regular season ended last week, and we now wait for the kick off of the OVC tournament to find out if the Racers are going to end up with an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. I don’t think that they have done enough to earn an at-large bid, so we will need them to roll through to an automatic bid to have a shot at seeing Morant try and put 50 on some unsuspecting No. 4 seed.

6. JARRETT CULVER, Texas Tech

Culver is the engine that makes Texas Tech run, and the Red Raiders are one win at Iowa State away from ending Kansas’ 14 year run atop the Big 12

7. BRANDON CLARKE, Gonzaga

Clarke’s PER as of today is 37.4. That is the best PER that any college player not named Zion Williamson has posted in the last decade. I’m not sure there is a more underrated player in college basketball than Clarke.

8. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

I think the biggest knock on Winston this season is that he gets worn out by the end of games, but that’s understandable. He’s playing 38-40 minutes a night in competitive games while having an entire offense built around him. Perhaps the most impressive part about his junior season has been that the added workload has not really impacted how well he protects the ball.

9. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee

Williams reclaimed his hold on the SEC Player of the Year award after a couple of dominant performances this week. He had 21 points, six boards, four assists, three steals and two blocks in a win at Ole Miss before putting up 24 points and seven boards as Tennessee mollywhopped Kentucky in Knoxville.

10. DEDRIC LAWSON, Kansas

Kansas has struggled with injuries and Lawson has one of the youngest supporting casts in all of college hoops, but he has still managed to find a way to roll out of bed and put up 20 and 10 on a nightly basis. He has his flaws, but he’s been a rock for Bill Self to build around.

ALSO CONSIDERED: Phil Booth (Villanova), Jordan Carolina (Nevada), Carsen Edwards (Purdue), Rui Hachimura (Gonzaga), Ethan Happ (Wisconsin), Ty Jerome (Virginia), Shamorie Ponds (St. John’s), P.J. Washington (Kentucky), Coby White (North Carolina)

 

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.