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)