Jonathan Motley

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Has this become a two-horse race?

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1. Josh Hart, Villanova
2. Frank Mason III, Kansas: At this point, I think that the National Player of the Year award has turned into a two-man race between Hart and Mason. Hart is the leader at this point. Villanova is undefeated, the No. 1 team in the country and, as it stands, looking like a team with a very, very real chance to repeat as national champions. He’s improved on the floor as a player and is putting up numbers on par with anyone else on this list in addition to the fact that he seemingly makes every clutch play for the Wildcats in every big game.

That said, I’m going to keep beating this drum: Frank Mason is not far behind Hart when it comes to his Player of the Year standing. He’s the go-to guy, the leading scorer, one of the most efficient high-usage players in the country and the leader of a top five team. People seem to have forgotten about his performance against Indiana in the season-opener and his game-winner against Duke in Madison Square Garden because they happened so long ago, but they happened.

Mason is every bit a deserving Player of the Year choice, and I expect that he’ll only add to his résumé this season, but as of today, Hart is the more deserving pick.

Bottom-line: This is going to be a fun race to follow.

3. Lonzo Ball, UCLA: Ball has seemingly hit a little bit of a slump here in the last couple of weeks. He was just OK against Ohio State and Western Michigan. Outside of a three-minute stretch in the second half where he banged home three threes he wasn’t all that good in the loss at Oregon. He was terrific in a win at Oregon State, but Oregon State is Oregon State. He’s still clearly a first-team all-american, but as of today, he’s not in the same conversation as Mason and Hart when it comes to Player of the Year.

4. Luke Kennard, Duke: In the one game that Duke played last week, Luke Kennard scored 34 points and shot 11-for-18 from the floor … in a 14-point loss at Virginia Tech that never felt like it was in doubt. It feels really weird to say this, but think about where Duke would be right now if they didn’t have Kennard. Grayson Allen and Coach K would be out – one via suspension, the other via back surgery – and the pressure would be rising on Harry Giles III, Marques Bolden and Frank Jackson to figure it out as Jayson Tatum struggled to find his footing as Duke’s star. They certainly wouldn’t be a top ten team at this point in the season, and I don’t think anyone could have predicted that to be the case.

5. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: Swanigan’s Boilermakers lost on Sunday afternoon, falling to Minnesota in overtime at home, but Biggie was as good as he’s been at any point this season. He had 28 points and 22 boards against the Gophers, his fourth 20-20 games of the season. He’s had a double-double in 13 of 15 games this season and hasn’t had less than eight boards in any game. He’s currently averaging 18.1 points and 13.0 boards, the latter of which is second-nationally.

6. De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky: Fox is still my pick for the MVP of Kentucky this season. He’s the guy that gets that makes that transition game work and he’s the point man for Kentucky’s defense, which has been a nightmare for the majority of their opponents to deal with. Monk’s been terrific. Fox has been better.

7. Mo Watson, Creighton: Watson was unbelievable in Creighton’s win over Seton Hall in their Big East opener, finishing with 21 points, 10 assists and five boards, but he struggled mightily in their loss to No. 1 Villanova. Watson was 2-for-7 from the floor, finished with six points and five assists and, most importantly, fouled out while trying to slow down Jalen Brunson, who finished with 27 points, five assists and four boards.

8. Malik Monk, Kentucky: Monk shook off a rough night against Louisville last week with a 34-point performance in his first career SEC game, a trip to Oxford to take on Ole Miss. His ability to score in transition combined with hot he can get shooting the three makes him the most dangerous and explosive scorer in the country.

9. Johnathan Motley, Baylor: The beauty of Baylor this year is that they don’t really have one guy that they totally rely on, which makes it hard to pick out one player as their MVP or Player of the Year candidate. Motley is their leading scorer and second-leading rebounder. And he’s probably the player that can least afford to play without, mainly because he’s really, really good. So he’s the easy choice to make this list.

10. Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz’s one season in college can be summed up by what happened in his one game last week. Fultz finished with 26 points, 11 assists, nine boards and two blocks in his first career Pac-12 game, but he shot 11-for-26 from the floor, turned the ball over six times and, most importantly, lost at home to Washington State.

JUST MISSED THE CUT

Joel Berry II, North Carolina
Yante Maten, Georgia
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona
Kelan Martin, Butler
Amile Jefferson, Duke
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State
Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Marcus Foster, Creighton
Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame
T.J. Leaf, UCLA
Jock Landale, Saint Mary’s

Looking Forward: Potential Breakout Stars in 2015-16

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With the early entry process over and with just about every elite recruit having picked a school, we now have a pretty good idea of what college basketball will look like in 2015-16. Over the next three weeks, we’ll be taking an early look at next season.

Today, we’re Looking Forward at potential breakout stars:

Grayson Allen, Duke: The argument could be make that Allen has already broken out. That’s what happens when a freshman goes from struggling to get off of Duke’s bench to being arguably their most important player in a come-from-behind win in the national title game. Allen is going to once again have his work cut out for him getting playing time — that’s what happens when three five-star perimeter players join the program — but he should be Coach K’s best slasher next season.

Malik Pope, San Diego State: Pope’s tools are off the charts. He’s a 6-foot-9 wing with length, athleticism and three-point range. He finally got healthy midway through his freshman season, and proceeded to put together a handful of dominant performances for the Aztecs last season. If he adds some strength, improves his consistency and — most importantly — stays healthy, we could be looking at a lottery pick.

Isaac Copeland, Georgetown: Copeland is such a skilled forward. In addition to being 6-foot-8 and athletic, Copeland is the kind of versatile offensive talent that usually thrives under John Thompson III. With the Hoyas losing Josh Smith and Mikael Hopkins, there are going to be front court minutes for the taking.

READ MORE: The NBCSports.com preseason top 25

Demetrius Jackson, Notre Dame: Jackson flashed some of his ability during last year’s NCAA tournament, but the fact of the matter is that the talented and athletic point guard was the fourth-best player on the Irish as a sophomore. Don’t be surprised to see him become an all-american as a junior as he takes over Jerian Grant’s role.

Jakob Poeltl, Utah: Poeltl could have been a lottery pick had he decided to go to the NBA this spring. Instead, Larry Krystkowiak will have a chance to work his magic with the Austrian big man for an entire offseason. Poeltl’s potential is very high, and while he was inconsistent as a freshman, Poeltl was fantastic in the month of March.

Marcus Lee, Kentucky: Will Marcus Lee finally get his chance this season? The former top 30 recruit has proven to be effective in the limited minutes that he has played the last two season, but his minutes have been understandably limited during his time in Lexington. He may not be Willie Cauley-Stein or Karl Towns, but Lee should be an excellent sidekick to Skal Labissiere in Kentucky’s front court.

Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin: Koenig was brilliant when he got the chance to replace the injured Traevon Jackson as Bo Ryan’s primary point guard midway through the season. With the Badgers losing so much this offseason, Koenig and Nigel Hayes will be tasked with keeping the Badgers in the Big Ten’s top four.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart is the typical power wing that Jay Wright has been so successsful with over the years. He’s a better scorer than he gets credit for and is a terrific defender and offensive rebounder. Hart should end up being an all-Big East player this season.

Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Brooks reclassified in the spring and enrolled at Oregon a year earlier than initially expected, and it ended up being fantastic for Dana Altman, as Brooks was, at times, Oregon’s best player. Expect more of the same from him as a sophomore.

Jonathan Motley, Baylor: Motley was just a three-star recruit when he arrived in Waco, but the athletic, 6-foot-10 center had some truly dominating performances during the year. Motley, teaming with Rico Gathers and Taurean Prince, will give the Bears one of the nation’s best front lines.

Ben Bentil, Providence: Bentil was fantastic for the Friars for stretches late in the season, and with LaDontae Henton graduating, there will shots and rebounds available for Bentil to collect.