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Player of the Year Power Rankings: Two Dukies, stars from Auburn and Buffalo head list

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We are now a week into the new season, which means it is time for us to do what we do every Tuesday: Player of the Year Power Rankings!

The season is just a week old, which means that this list is going to be comprised of players that were on the list during the preseason and players who have put together massive performances in the first couple of weeks of the season. 

So without further ado, here are the Week 1 Player of the Year Power Rankings:

1. R.J. BARRETT, Duke

Barrett has been as good as advertised through the season’s first week. After putting up 33 points, six assists and four boards in a 34-point blowout win over Kentucky in the opener, the 6-foot-8 favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft made 23 points, six boards and a pair of assists look pedestrian in was what a disappointing, 94-72 win over Army. Hey, when you set standards as high as Duke did in their first game of the season, expectations follow.

2. ZION WILLIAMSON, Duke

The numbers that Zion has posted this season speak for themselves. He went for 28 points in the opener against Kentucky, following that up with an absolutely overwhelming performance against an Army did that simply did not have the athletes to compete with him — 27 points, 16 boards, six blocks, four assists. Through two games, Zion is shooting 81.5 percent from the floor.

But where things get really interesting are with this move, and with Zion’s jumper in general:

This is a defensive lineman creating two-feet of space with an off-hand, in-and-out dribble into a step-back 18-footer. The second clip is a great, slow-motion look at his release. He’s on balance, which is more important for him than getting a ton of lift; he’s not going to be taking jumpers like Kobe did. He needs to be able to force defenders to guard him from the three-point guard and have the balance to be able to make shots like the step-back he hit earlier.

Put another way, the biggest concern with Zion Williamson as a basketball player doesn’t look like it is too much of a concern.

I’m scared.

3. C.J. MASSINBURG, Buffalo

Massinburg put together the single-best performance of the first week of the college basketball season on Friday night, going for 43 points, 14 boards and three assists in an overtime win at West Virginia. 26 of his 43 points came in the second half. He scored nine points in an 11-3 run in the final three minutes of regulation, including hitting the three that forced overtime. He scored nine of Buffalo’s 15 points in the extra frame. He was awesome:

We’ll see just how long he can remain on this list. While Buffalo is 3-0 on the season, Massinburg has combined for 18 points on 2-for-11 shooting from three in the other two wins. For now, however, he deserves every bit of his place here.

4. CHUMA OKEKE, Auburn

Who had Okeke as the best player on Auburn this season? If you did, you might end up proving smart. The 6-foot-8 sophomore has been sensational for the Tigers through two wins this season, including a 22-point blowout win over then-No. 25 Washington. He’s averaging 19.5 points, 9.5 boards, 3.5 assists and 2.5 blocks while shooting 6-for-8 from three.

I discussed Okeke on the most recent podcast with Dalen Cuff and why he, and Anfernee McLemore, are so important to the way that Auburn wants to play:

5. RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

Even without Killian Tillie eligible, the Gonzaga star is putting up impressive numbers. He had 33 points in Gonzaga’s opener and followed that up with 17 points in a win over a Texas Southern team that beat Baylor at Baylor. Gonzaga’s schedule kicks up a notch this week, as they play Texas A&M before heading to Maui for a tournament that includes Duke, Auburn and Arizona.

6. CARSEN EDWARDS, Purdue

The preseason first-team all-american hasn’t been anything less than what we expected. In two Purdue wins, he’s averaging 26.5 points.

7. TY JEROME Virginia

We all thought that De’Andre Hunter or Kyle Guy would end up being the best player on Virginia this season, but it might end up being Ty Jerome. At least that has been the case through the first two games of the season. Through two blowout wins, he’s averaging 20.0 points, 5.5 assists, 4.5 boards, 3.0 steals and shooting 68 percent from the floor and 71 percent from three.

8. CAMERON JOHNSON, North Carolina

I’m not ready to call anyone other than Luke Maye the best player on North Carolina just yet, but to date, Johnson has played the best of anyone on the Tar Heels. Through three games, he looks like a different player than he was last season. He’s averaging 18.3 points and 6.7 boards while shooting 10-for-14 from three. He looks more mobile and athletic than he was last season, and gives the Tar Heels a third long, athletic wing that — in theory — should allow them to matchup with Duke.

t-9. GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee and MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

It is tough to delineate between these two at this point. Both have been as good as advertised early on this season. In one game against Division I competition, Williams went for 31 points, 10 boards and three assists. Howard, through two games, is averaging 26 points, eight boards and six assists while shooting 9-for-22 from three.

10. SOMEONE ON KANSAS, Kansas

I’m not really sure who to pick here. At the end of the day, I think it will be Dedric Lawson. He’s the guy they run offense through, he’s the perfect four-man for Bill Self’s offense and he’s the player that went for 20 points, 14 boards and six assists in the win over Michigan State in the Champions Classic. But he also went scoreless in Monday night’s win over Vermont as LaGerald Vick, who had just two points in the opener, had 32 points on 8-for-8 shooting from three against the Catamounts.

Things To Know: Buffalo notches another road win, North Carolina routs Stanford, Lagerald Vick goes wild

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We’ve entered the second week of the college basketball season after an eventful first few days. The week didn’t get off to exactly a rousing start, but there were some notable results – and performances – on Monday evening across the country.

1. Buffalo outlasts Southern Illinois

Kentucky isn’t the only team to have a little trouble with the Salukis. Just a weekend removed from its overtime win at West Virginia, 25th-ranked Buffalo could never get great separation from Southern Illinois but claimed a 62-53 win in Carbondale on Monday.

It was a second-straight impressive road win for the Bulls, who won despite shooting just 35.5 percent from the field and 28.6 percent from 3-point range. They did it with a defense that forced 19 turnovers and held the Salukis to a 3 of 13 mark from distance. CJ Massinburg came back to earth after scoring 43 against the Mountaineers, being held to just seven points on 3 of 9 shooting. Montell McRae and Jeremy Harris both had 11 to lead the Bulls. It may not have been a pretty win for Nate Oats’ team, but against a feisty opponent on the road coming off an emotional victory, it’s undoubtedly a welcome one.

For Southern Illinois, it was a second close-but-no-cigar effort after it pushed Kentucky to the limit in a 12-point loss last week. Kavion Pippen had 18 points to lead the Salukis in scoring. The Bulls and Salukis will have a rematch Dec. 15 in Buffalo.

2. North Carolina stomped Stanford

In what was really the marquee matchup of the night, the Tar Heels had little trouble dispatching Stanford in Chapel Hill, 90-72. Luke Maye had 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists. Cameron Johnson continued impressive play as the former Pitt transfer put up 17 points on 7 of 11 shooting while also grabbing seven rebounds. The 6-foot-9 senior has scored at least 17 points in all three of UNC’s games this season.

After putting up 21 points on 9 of 13 shooting against Elon on Friday, freshman Nassir Little struggled, making just 4 of 10 shots (0 of 3 from deep), though he did play a season-high 24 minutes off the bench. North Carolina’s start t the season isn’t likely to get much tougher in the near-term with games against Tennessee Tech and St. Francis up next before the Las Vegas Invitational pits them against Texas and then either Michigan State or UCLA before tilts with Michigan (Nov. 28) and Gonzaga (Dec. 15) really test them.

3. Lagerald Vick perfect from distance as Kansas overcomes early troubles

A cascade of 3s put Vermont up early, but an 8 of 8 performance from Lagerald Vick from behind the line helped propel Kansas past the Catamounts. 84-68. Vick finished with a career high 32 points while going 12 of 14 overall from the floor. Pretty good for a guy who wasn’t even going to be a member of the Jayhawks program after three years in Lawrence not too long ago.

An early 18-4 run staked Vermont to an early lead, but the Catamounts couldn’t keep pace as Vick went wild and Udoka Azubuike produced inside to the tune of 23 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman point guard Quentin Grimes had 10 points and 10 assists. The game proved to be a pretty solid encapsulation of the depth and weapons that Bill Self has at his disposal this season as Dedric Lawson, a popular first-team All-American pick, went scoreless with an 0 for 6 night, yet the Jayhawks had two seniors put up monster numbers and a rookie drop 10 dimes. Kansas can beat you in a variety of ways with a variety of players.

Anthony Lamb had 24 points while Ernie Duncan added 17 and Stef Smith 13 for the Catamounts, who face Louisville on Friday.

No. 2 Kansas beats Vermont

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LAWRENCE, Kan. — Lagerald Vick was 8 of 8 from beyond the 3-point arc and scored a career-high 32 points, Udoka Azubuike added 23 points and 10 rebounds, and second-ranked Kansas slogged its way to an 84-68 victory over Vermont on Monday night.

The Jayhawks (2-0) were jumped by Duke for the top spot in the AP poll earlier in the day, even though they beat then-No. 10 Michigan State in the Champions Classic last week. And for most of their game against the Catamounts (1-1), they did little to prove the voters wrong.

Kansas led just 40-36 at halftime before two big runs allowed coach Bill Self to breathe easy.

Anthony Lamb had 24 points, Ernie Duncan added 17 and Stef Smith scored 13 for the Catamounts, who have lost nine straight to ranked teams dating to a win over Boston College in 2006.

The Catamounts looked as if that streak might end when they went on an early 18-4 run, hitting a series of quick 3-pointers while double-teaming Azubuike on defense whenever he got the ball.

The Jayhawks’ 7-footer still muscled his way to 12 first-half points.

But while the Catamounts sent waves of bodies at Azubuike inside, and made fellow Kansas forward Dedric Lawson a non-factor, they didn’t account for Vick on the perimeter.

After struggling mightily in the Jayhawks’ season-opening win over the Spartans, Vick poured in four first-half 3s and piled up 16 points. Most of them came while the Jayhawks struggled to run offense through their two freshman guards, Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes.

Eventually, the Jayhawks’ depth and talent wore down Vermont.

It was 44-40 before Azubuike added another of his rim-rattling dunks and then scored on a putback. Vick followed a jumper with his sixth 3-pointer and added his seventh a couple of minutes later as the Jayhawks’ lead swelled to 61-45 midway through the second half.

Vermont went on one last run to get its deficit under 10, but Azubuike added two more baskets and Vick curled in his eighth 3-pointer. That matched Mario Chalmers for the most in the Self era at Kansas and left Vick trailing only Terry Brown, who hit 11 in a game in 1991.

Vick finished 12 of 14 from the field in helping Kansas win its 46th straight home opener.

BIG PICTURE

Vermont: The favorites to win America East did nothing to diminish their outlook, standing toe-to-toe with the reigning Big 12 champs for nearly 30 minutes. In a league where they should match up better physically, keep an eye on Vermont to roll toward another NCAA Tournament appearance.

Kansas: Lawson followed his excellent debut against the Spartans, when he had 20 points and 14 boards, with a dud at the Phog. The transfer from Memphis and the Big 12’s preseason player of the year was held scoreless on 0-for-6 shooting.

NBC Sports Top 25: Duke is No. 1, Kentucky to 18

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With all the hand-wringing and excitement about the return of college basketball this week, you might be surprised to learn that just three teams ranked in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 lost.

Two of those losses came in the Champions Classic, as Kentucky and Michigan State fell to the top two teams in this week’s NBC Sports Top 25, Duke and Kansas, respectively. The third? Then-No. 17 West Virginia losing at home to now-No. 25 Buffalo on Friday night.

I say all that to say this: There really isn’t all that much to change about the Top 25 this week. There are really only three questions that need to be answered, so I’ll walk you through my thought process for each one:

  1. Can Kansas fall out of the top spot with a win over a top 15 team?: Hell yes they can. The Jayhawks were the No. 1 team in the country in the preseason based on projections and feelings we had about how good they might end up being. Now we have actual, actionable results to evaluate, and there really should be all that much of a discussion. I’m not even sure there are Kansas fans will sit here and say that, after watching Duke beat Kentucky by 34 points, they believe the Jayhawks are better than the Blue Devils.
  2. How far should Kentucky fall?: I dropped the Wildcats to 18th. I’ve seen other top 25s that have Kentucky at the back-end of the top ten. I don’t think that’s crazy, but I also think that we have much more to worry about with this Wildcat team that those folks realize. Kentucky still has top ten potential, but for my money they are much further from reaching their ceiling than anyone realized. I ended up with them 18th because I couldn’t justify dropping them below LSU or Mississippi State.
  3. What do we do with West Virginia and Buffalo?: I was already lower on West Virginia entering the season than the public, so dropping them out of the top 25 with a loss at home against Buffalo was pretty easy for me to do. I know that loss came as a result of a once-in-a-career blow-up game from C.J. Massinburg and that the Mountaineers didn’t have Beetle Bolden down the stretch as he dealt with cramping issues, but it seemed pretty evident that Press Virginia has some kinks to work out. Buffalo, on the other hand, entered the season as one of the best mid-majors in the country after smoking Arizona in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament. They lived up to that billing, so why not reward them?

Anyway, here is the entire NBC Sports Top 25:

1. Duke (2-0, Last week: 4)
2. Kansas (1-0, 1)
3. Gonzaga (2-0, 3)
4. Villanova (2-0, 5)
5. Nevada (2-0, 6)
6. Tennessee (2-0, 7)
7. Virginia (2-0, 8)
8. North Carolina (2-0, 9)
9. Auburn (2-0, 10)
10. Kansas State (1-0, 11)
11. Virginia Tech (1-0, 12)
12. Florida State (2-0, 14)
13. Michigan State (1-1, 13)
14. TCU (2-0, 15)
15. UCLA (2-0, 16)
16. Oregon (2-0, 18)
17. Syracuse (2-0, 19)
18. Kentucky (1-1, 2)
19. LSU (2-0, 20)
20. Mississippi State (2-0, 21)
21. Clemson (2-0, 22)
22. Michigan (2-0, 23)
23. N.C. State (2-0, 24)
24. Marquette (2-0, 25)
25. Buffalo (2-0, NA)

New Additions: 25. Buffalo
Dropped Out: 17. West Virginia

Report: NCAA given OK to investigate teams mentioned in corruption scandal

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With the college basketball regular season getting underway Tuesday night, this was a good time for a rather significant news dump.

Yahoo Sports reported Tuesday that the FBI has given the NCAA the OK to begin investigating some of the programs that have been mentioned during the recent cases on corruption and bribes in college basketball recruiting. Among the programs mentioned during the first trial were Louisville, Kansas and NC State.

Tuesday’s development is big because the NCAA will likely have access to information that it may not have been able to procure without the FBI investigation. The NCAA does not have subpoena power, which has a significant impact on investigations that involve former athletes, coaches or individuals who have no connection to an athletic department, as they cannot be forced to speak to NCAA investigators.

Last month former adidas basketball executive James Gatto, former adidas grassroots basketball employee Merl Code Jr. and former runner/aspiring agent Christian Dawkins were found guilty of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. While Gatto and Code were found guilty of two counts, Dawkins was found guilty of three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. The lawyers for all three plan to appeal the verdicts in the coming months.

There are two more rounds of trials in connection with the FBI investigation that have yet to begin, with those scheduled for February and April. Among the men indicted who have yet to be tried are former Division I assistant coaches Tony Bland (USC), Lamont Evans (Oklahoma State), Chuck Person (Auburn) and Emmanuel “Book” Richardson (Arizona).

Top-ranked Kansas takes care of No. 10 Michigan State

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The opening game of the Champions Classic between No. 1 Kansas and No. 10 Michigan State offered up more drama than expected late, but the Jayhawks managed to hang on for the 92-87 victory in the regular season opener for both teams.

While Kansas’ improved depth has been one reason why they’ve been viewed as an early favorite to cut down the nets in April, the Jayhawks’ stars were the difference makers against Michigan State. Freshman guards Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson performed well on the perimeter, combining to score 37 points (21 for Grimes), with Dedric Lawson adding 20 points and 14 rebounds and Udoka Azubuike scoring 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field.

The Champions Classic tends to be a good early season litmus test for newcomers, as they are being tested against high-level talent in a big-game environment. But while there’s still plenty of work to be done, neither Dotson nor Grimes looked to be bothered by the big stage Tuesday night. Grimes’ smooth shooting stroke produced six three-pointers, four coming in the first stanza, giving Kansas perimeter production during a half in which it managed to score 26 points in the paint.

Michigan State didn’t have much of an answer for Kansas in the first half, and that includes the dynamic between Lawson and Azubuike.

The addition of Lawson, who averaged 19.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game at Memphis in 2016-17, gives Kansas a player who can not only score on multiple levels but can also be used as another creator off of the dribble. On multiple occasions Kansas was able to run the two-man game with Lawson and Azubuike, a dynamic that last year’s Final Four team lacked.

Lawson didn’t shoot particularly well Tuesday night, finishing 5-for-18 from the field, but he was able to get to the foul line (8-for-10), control the glass and dish out a game-high six assists. Lawson isn’t going to make a habit of shooting that poorly this season, and his entire set of skills make the redshirt junior an incredibly tough matchup to deal with. And his presence opens things up for a 7-footer in Azubuike outplayed Michigan State’s big men Tuesday night.

Azubuike, who led the nation in field goal percentage last season, had little trouble getting to his spots within the Kansas offense. While there were some instances of the junior center having both feet planted in the paint, there were others where he had to do some work after receiving the entry pass. And his strength was too much for Michigan State to deal with, regardless of which big they sent Azubuike’s way.

There may be occasions when he shares the court with a David McCormack or Silvio De Sousa (if he’s cleared), but those pairings may not happen very often given how well Azubuike and Lawson appear to work together. And as the freshman guards continue to mature, Kansas should be an even tougher team to deal with than they were for much of Tuesday’s season opener.