Updated Player of the Year Rankings for College Basketball in 2016-17

Brian Pedersen@realBJPFeatured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2017

Updated Player of the Year Rankings for College Basketball in 2016-17

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    The 2017 NCAA tournament is only a month away, which means time is running out for the nation's top players to get themselves in position to be player of the year. Though the various POY awards aren't handed out until around the Final Four and the postseason will have an impact on voting, a strong regular season is imperative in order to be in the hunt.

    We're keeping our weekly list at 10 players for now, but it's going to get cut soon since the players at the bottom will have too massive a hill to climb in March. For now, though, 10 remains the number.

    There was some noticeable movement from a week ago, particularly near the top, setting the stage for what should be one of the more wide-open races in recent memory.

10. Jock Landale, Saint Mary's

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    Previous rank: 9th

    2016-17 stats: 17.0 PPG, 9.4 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.2 BPG, 59.6% FG, 73.9% FT

     

    Saint Mary's is going to go as far as Jock Landale will take it, or rather for as long as he can put the Gaels on his shoulders. Foul trouble remains his biggest problem, resurfacing again in the big clash against unbeaten Gonzaga on Saturday.

    The 6'11" junior center had 24 points and eight rebounds but played just 25 minutes. That was still six minutes more than he played in the previous meeting against the Bulldogs, when he fouled out and had his second-lowest scoring output (10 points) of the season. Landale has picked up at least four fouls in eight of the Gaels' 25 games, including all three losses.

    For the season, Landale averages 3.7 fouls per 40 minutes, but it seems that in the biggest games his inability to avoid getting whistled comes out. Opponents are sure to put him in situations where he will pick up early fouls, and if he can't avoid the temptation to reach out away from the paint, he'll continue to impact his court time.

9. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

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    Previous rank: 7th

    2016-17 stats: 14.2 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 2.8 APG, 2.0 SPG, 1.1 BPG, 60.0% FG, 50.5% FT

     

    It wasn't a good week for Ethan Happ, even with his late-game heroics in an overtime win at Nebraska. But while the 6'8" redshirt sophomore forward's block on one possession and steal on another helped seal that victory, his 3-of-9 shooting performance for just eight points was part of the reason Wisconsin needed extra time to beat the Cornhuskers.

    Happ followed up that performance with just nine points in Sunday's home loss to Northwestern, ending the Badgers' eight-game win streak, and marked the first time he'd failed to reach double figures in scoring in consecutive games since doing so in the first three games of the season. He was 6-of-17 from the field last week after shooting 64.2 percent (43-of-67) in the previous five contests.

    Scoring isn't the only way Happ contributes, though, as he had 14 rebounds against Nebraska and dished out five assists against Northwestern. He's on pace to be the first player since 2010 to average 14 points, nine rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block per game.

8. Johnathan Motley, Baylor

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    Previous rank: 8th

    2016-17 stats: 16.7 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.0 BPG, 52.9% FG, 33.3% 3-pt FG, 70.6% FT

     

    Baylor's loss at Texas Tech on Monday saw Johnathan Motley manage just 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, his lowest output since mid-January. That came after he averaged 24.5 points and nine rebounds in wins over Oklahoma State and TCU.

    Now two games behind Kansas in the Big 12 standings, the Bears would need a miracle to overtake the Jayhawks for first place (though they host the league leaders Saturday). A good showing in that matchup would be beneficial for Baylor's postseason push, which it hopes will be better than its first-round flameouts the previous two seasons.

    A lot of that will depend on the 6'9" junior forward's play. Three of Baylor's four losses have seen him shoot 40 percent or worse.

7. Luke Kennard, Duke

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    Previous rank: 10th

    2016-17 stats: 20.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.5 APG, 52.7% FG, 45.9% 3-pt FG, 84.7% FT

     

    We're starting to get a better sense of the lineup Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski plans to lean on for the remainder of the season. Injuries, suspensions and other factors have pushed back this process, but the one constant has been Luke Kennard.

    The 6'5" sophomore guard averaged 22.5 points in wins over North Carolina and Clemson, playing 36 minutes in each game. His 34.8 minutes per game are tops on the team and would be the sixth-highest average by a Duke player since 2009-10.

    Kennard was 15-of-31 from the field and made six of 13 three-pointers last week, his three-point accuracy good for 11th nationally if he averaged more than 2.4 makes per game. No other Duke player is shooting better than 37.6 percent from deep.

    For someone who has the ball in his hands so often, Kennard has been very careful with it. He's turned it over just 40 times for a 9.6 percent turnover rate, one of just six players in Division I with a rate under 10 percent who average 20 or more points per game.

6. Malik Monk, Kentucky

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    Previous rank: 6th

    2016-17 stats: 21.7 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.2 SPG, 48.1% FG, 41.9% 3-pt FG, 82.6% FT

     

    For most of this season, Malik Monk has spent the majority of his time on offense on the perimeter or driving to the basket. This past week was no different, as the 6'3" freshman guard averaged 20 points in wins over LSU, Alabama and Tennessee thanks to 10 three-pointers along with 11 two-pointers, most coming on drives.

    But against Tennessee on Tuesday, Monk showed some skill on the boards as well, his eight rebounds a career high and two more than in any other game this season. Coming into that game, he'd pulled down only 56 boards in 25 games.

    All eight rebounds were of the defensive variety, and if he can continue to show that skill in addition to being an effective on-ball defender, it won't just be his offensive numbers that we chart. Those are still good, though, as he remains ahead of Jamal Murray's John Calipari-era scoring record (20 points per game) from 2015-16. With 83 threes, he's only 30 behind the number Murray had a year ago.

5. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga

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    Previous rank: 4th

    2016-17 stats: 15.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.6 APG, 1.7 SPG, 50.5% FG, 36.4% 3-pt FG, 88.9% FT

     

    A sprained ankle caused Nigel Williams-Goss to miss a game a week ago, yet Gonzaga still won by 35 in his absence. There was no indication he'd ever been hurt when he returned, as he averaged 16.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals in wins at Loyola Marymount and Saint Mary's, though he didn't attempt a three-pointer in either contest.

    The 6'3" junior guard did a little bit of everything, recording a double-double at LMU—his third of the season—and making 17 of 18 free throws. He was a perfect 8-of-8 from the line against Saint Mary's en route to 14 points, making up for an off shooting night elsewhere.

    Williams-Goss remains Gonzaga's best and most important player, but the nation's only unbeaten team is so balanced that not playing (or playing poorly) wouldn't have much effect on its play. The Bulldogs' depth and breadth of talent could hurt his chances in the player of the year race.

4. Lonzo Ball, UCLA

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    Previous rank: 5th

    2016-17 stats: 15.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 7.6 APG, 1.8 SPG, 54.9% FG, 43.2% 3-pt FG, 67.1% FT

     

    Still just the third-leading scorer on his team, Lonzo Ball has been looking for his own shot a little more lately. He's attempted 11 or more shots in four straight games, and his 141 field-goal attempts in Pac-12 play is tied with Isaac Hamilton and TJ Leaf for the team lead.

    The 6'6" freshman point guard is the Bruins' top scorer since the schedule switched to conference action, averaging 17.1 points per game, though he's still dishing out plenty of assists (6.9) and grabbing helpful rebounds (6.3). He averaged 18.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists in wins last week over Oregon and Oregon State.

    His step-back 30-foot three-pointer late against Oregon helped seal that win and provided a boost to UCLA's shot at catching Arizona for the Pac-12 lead. It's two games back with five to go but has a trip to Arizona coming Feb. 25, and last time he played the Wildcats, Ball poured in a career-high 24 points.

    As much as the scoring bump has been noticeable, Ball remains most valuable as an all-around contributor. He's the only player in the country averaging 15 points, six rebounds and seven assists and is on pace to be just the fourth to do so in the past 25 seasons.

3. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

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    Previous rank: 2nd

    2016-17 stats: 18.7 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 2.7 APG, 54.2% FG, 47.5% 3-pt FG, 77.7% FT

     

    Add two more double-doubles to Caleb Swanigan's tally, which now sits at 22 in 26 games after he averaged 14 points and 15.5 rebounds in wins over Indiana and Rutgers. His 17 rebounds Tuesday against Rutgers was the sixth time he's had that many in a game this year, two more than anyone else in Division I.

    That shouldn't be a surprise considering he's three ahead of the pack in double-doubles and now leads the nation in rebounding.

    The 6'9", 260-pound sophomore forward has massively improved every facet of his game from his first season, shooting more than 80 percentage points better overall and almost doubling his three-point accuracy. He's already attempted 63 more foul shots than as a freshman and is converting at a better rate as well.

    Not surprisingly, Purdue's 10-3 league record puts it only a half-game behind Wisconsin for first place in the Big Ten. Last year the Boilermakers went 12-6 in the conference but didn't get their 10th victory until Feb. 27.

2. Frank Mason III, Kansas

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    Previous rank: 1st

    2016-17 stats: 20.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 4.9 APG, 1.4 SPG, 48.8% FG, 50.9% 3-pt FG, 77.1% FT

     

    Is Frank Mason wearing down? Are all the minutes he's played this season getting the best of him? We're not ready to write off the 5'11" senior guard yet, but it's hard not to notice a drop in his play of late.

    A 3-of-13 night from the field in Monday's overtime win against West Virginia was his third straight rough shooting game, putting him at 14-of-43 in that span since being near perfect in a loss to Iowa State. Kansas still won all three of those games, with Mason's 16 free throws in 18 attempts a major help in rallying to beat West Virginia, but as his shooting numbers dip, the Jayhawks have had to look elsewhere for production.

    Enter Josh Jackson, Kansas' highly touted freshman wing who has been on a roll lately and might be taking over the role of go-to player.

    "Frank Mason could be POY yet the second-best player on his own team," CBS Sports' Seth Davis tweeted.

    Six of Jackson's eight games with 20 or more points have come since Big 12 play began, while Mason has hit that number eight times in that span. If Mason can get his shot back on track, the Jayhawks will head into the postseason with two guys whom opponents will need to put all their efforts into stopping.

1. Josh Hart, Villanova

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    Previous rank: 3rd

    2016-17 stats: 18.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 3.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 50.9% FG, 40.4% 3-pt FG, 79.5% FT

     

    He remains the best player on the defending national champions, and not just because Josh Hart is Villanova's leading scorer and top rebounder. He's also the one the Wildcats turn to most often in tense situations, and for that we've bumped him to the top of our list for player of the year.

    Villanova was in such a situation the past two games with senior forward Darryl Reynolds out with a rib injury, limiting it to just six rotation players. Hart's numbers (13.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 3.0 steals) weren't earth-shattering, but they did the trick to get two more victories, winning at Xavier and DePaul by a combined 29 points.

    The 6'5" senior guard has become particularly adept on the defensive end, averaging 1.6 steals per game with at least two in nine of 14 Big East games. His defensive rating of 94.3 is third-best in the conference, while his defensive win shares are among the top 20 nationally.

    Villanova is in good shape to at least match the performance of recent defending champs, none of whom have advanced past the Sweet 16 since 2006-07, and could end up being the first to repeat since Florida that season. If that happens, it will be in large part because of Hart, who has managed to be better this year than in 2015-16 in leading the Wildcats to the title.

     

    All statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. All recruiting information courtesy of Scout.com unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.