League races for player of the year down to final weekend
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — With most of college basketball’s top leagues wrapping up regular-season play, the top players have a few days left to make their case to be their league’s player of the year.
Four of the five power conferences — the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 12, the Pac-12 and the Southeastern Conference — finish schedules this weekend along with the Big East, while the Big Ten has already sprinted through a tight schedule to hold an early tournament this week at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Here’s a look at the players in the running for top honors in their leagues:
The Big Ten has already handed out its hardware. Ohio State’s Keita Bates-Diop was named player of the year by The Associated Press , coaches and a league media panel after averaging 19.2 points and 8.9 rebounds for the 13th-ranked Buckeyes.
This one looks pretty settled on Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III.
The 6-11, 234-pound forward has met all the expectations as a one-and-done prospect and possible No. 1 overall NBA draft pick. He ranks second in the ACC in scoring (20.7) and first in rebounding (11.1) for the fifth-ranked Blue Devils, and posted the first 30/20 game — 32 points, 21 rebounds against Florida State — in Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski’s 38 seasons at Duke.
“He can take it out on the wing and drive it, he can get in the post and he’s so explosive off the ground,” North Carolina senior Theo Pinson said. “You have to make contact first or else he’s going to dunk on your head.”
The closest competition might be Luke Maye for No. 9 UNC. The 6-8 junior ranks among the ACC leaders in scoring (17.9 points) and is second to Bagley in rebounding (10.2) while shooting nearly 52 percent from the field and 46 percent on 3s.
Oklahoma freshman Trae Young has been one of the season’s biggest stories . The only problem has been the Sooners’ recent nosedive.
The 6-2 guard leads the country in both scoring (28.0) and assists (9.0) entering Friday’s game against Iowa State. He had 48 points against Oklahoma State in January and tied an NCAA Division I single-game record with 22 assists against Northwestern State.
Yet the Sooners have sunk from reaching No. 4 in the AP Top 25 in January to losing seven of eight in February, and that could open the door for Devonte’ Graham of No. 6 Kansas (the Big 12 leader yet again) or Keenan Evans for No. 12 Texas Tech.
Graham is second to Young in the league for scoring (17.7) and assists (7.2). Evans is third in scoring (17.2), though, in a sign of his value, Texas Tech has lost four straight games since he was hobbled by a toe injury against Baylor — including Tuesday’s loss at No. 20 West Virginia with Evans sitting out.
Villanova’s Jalen Brunson is a top candidate to be national player of the year.
The 6-3 junior is averaging a team-high 19.1 points and 4.8 assists while shooting nearly 53 percent for the No. 4 Wildcats, who have spent eight weeks at No. 1. He also ranks in the top 20 nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio with play so steady that Xavier coach Chris Mack compared him to a cyborg.
“You peel his face off, you’ll probably have wires coming out of it,” Mack said after that 24-point loss in January. “I think they’re led by the best point guard in college basketball.”
Trevon Bluiett of No. 3 Xavier is the top alternative. The 6-6 senior is averaging 19.3 points and 5.6 rebounds for the Musketeers, who can clinch the Big East title outright by beating DePaul on Saturday.
Arizona freshman Deandre Ayton has made himself a possible No. 1 overall draft pick if he chooses to make college a one-year stop.
The 7-1 big man was averaging league bests of 19.9 points and 11.2 rebounds to go with 19 double-doubles entering the No. 19 Wildcats’ game against Stanford on Thursday. The two-time Pac-12 player of the week is a force around the rim with plenty of power and athleticism, and he’s shooting 61 percent overall, 75 percent from the foul line and has even hit 10 3s to keep defenders honest.
UCLA’s Aaron Holiday (19.6 points, 5.8 assists), Stanford’s Reid Travis (19.3 points, 7.9 rebounds) and Arizona State’s Tra Holder (18.8 points) are other candidates, though the Sun Devils’ slide from No. 3 in the AP Top 25 to a 7-9 league mark entering Thursday’s game against California could hurt Holder’s chances.
Welcome to the most uncertain race.
If it’s stats you want, then maybe Georgia forward Yante Maten is your guy. The 6-8 senior is averaging a league-best 19.4 points and 8.8 rebounds, though the Bulldogs are just 7-10 in league play.
How about Alabama freshman Collin Sexton? He’s averaging 18.1 points and went for 40 in a November loss to Minnesota, though the Crimson Tide must win at Texas A&M to finish at .500 in league play and stop a four-game skid.
There’s also the question of who stands out for 14th-ranked Auburn, the SEC’s top-rated team in the RPI and KenPom. Mustapha Heron (16.7 points) and Bryce Brown (15.9 points) are the scoring leaders, while Jared Harper (13.8 points, 5.7 assists) drives the Tigers .
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