EDITOR’S NOTE: Each week, college basketball columnist Kyle Tucker will name a Starting Five — his favorite five players from across the country at that particular moment in time. As guys heat up and cool off, this list will change through the course of the season.
It was time for fresh legs in the Starting Five (here is last week’s), so I shook it up dramatically this week. Four new names and zero drop-off in talent. In fact, this might be the best defensive group to date.
G Jalen Brunson, 6-3, Jr., Villanova
The Wildcats are back at No. 1 and Brunson, a point guard who shoots 49 percent from 3-point range and can post up opposing guards, is a big reason why. He helped Nova smash No. 10 Xavier on Wednesday night, and had 44 points, 13 assists and 3 turnovers combined in wins over the Musketeers and Marquette in the last week. He’s averaging 19.5 points, 5.2 assists and 3.3 rebounds. He hung 25 points on Tennessee, 27 on the Golden Eagles and 31 on both Temple and Butler.
Jalen Brunson or Hakeem The Dream? pic.twitter.com/H6RrYGkuz7
— Barstool Nova (@BarstoolNova) January 11, 2018
G Jevon Carter, 6-2, Sr., West Virginia
In a monster matchup with Oklahoma, he harassed National Player of the Year frontrunner Trae Young into his fewest assists and most turnovers of the season — and 3-of-12 shooting beyond the arc — while Carter went for 17 points, 10 assists, 7 rebounds and 3 steals in a win that propelled the Mountaineers to No. 2 in the polls. Carter is averaging 16.1, 6.8, 5.5 and 3.6 for the season, shooting 40 percent from deep and ranking second nationally in steals.
Lockdown Defense. Jevon Carter now has a nation-leading 55 steals this season. pic.twitter.com/PXoaezI2na
— WVU Basketball (@WVUhoops) January 7, 2018
F Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7, Jr., Ohio State
He’s been terrific all season, but put himself on the map with 32 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals in an upset, blowout win over then-No. 1 Michigan State last week. He leads the Buckeyes in points (20.0), rebounds (8.8), blocks (1.6) and steals (1.2). The 6-foot-7, 235-pound forward is shooting 39 percent from 3-point range and 82 percent from the free-throw line. Bates-Diop has a strong case for Big Ten Player of the Year at this point.
— Buckeye Videos+ (@BuckeyeVideos) January 8, 2018
F Mohamed Bamba, 6-11, Fr., Texas
The kid with freakish length — a 7-foot-9 wingspan and 9-6 standing reach — has been overshadowed by the other star freshman bigs, Marvin Bagley III and Deandre Ayton. But consider this: Anthony Davis had 67 blocks through 15 games in 2012 when he set the NCAA freshman record and Bamba has 69 at the same point. He’s averaging 11.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.6 blocks (and he’s even made six 3-pointers). In the last three weeks, he’s gone for 17, 11 and 6 in a win at Alabama and then 22, 15 and 8 in a close loss at Kansas. On Wednesday night, with the Longhorns trailing No. 16 TCU by 1 with 28 seconds left in overtime, Bamba delivered the last of his 5 swats to help propel Texas to a double-OT upset.
Flipped on this @TexasMBB vs. @TCUBasketball game at the right time. Mohamed Bamba showing the skills that make him a likely high pick and what we’ll break down in an upcoming article: his defense, particularly on the back-end. pic.twitter.com/uTpzrQG2Wt
— Luka (@preptopros) January 11, 2018
C Deandre Ayton, 7-1, Fr., Arizona
He averaged 24.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks, shooting 65 percent from the field, over the last three games to open Pac-12 play. He’s made his last two 3-pointers and the giant is up to 33 percent from beyond the arc this season, same as Bagley. He ranks second nationally among freshmen in rebounding (11.6) and fourth in scoring (20.4) with 11 double-doubles in 16 games. Ayton has moved up to No. 2 on ESPN’s 2018 NBA Draft prospect rankings, with Bagley No. 3 and Bamba No. 4.
Deandre Ayton isn't fair pic.twitter.com/dfJDonjBmN
— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) January 6, 2018
On the bench
* Duke’s Bagley has hardly done anything wrong. It was just time to recognize Bamba, and his clutch rejection Wednesday sealed the deal. Bagley leads freshmen nationally in rebounds (11.5) and ranks second in scoring (22.5). He followed up consecutive 30-point games with 16 and 15 in a win at Pitt on Wednesday — a good game, but he shot just 7 of 16 from the field and 2 of 8 from the free-throw line. Clearly, he’s peaked and it’s all downhill from here.
* Oklahoma’s Young, like Bagley, is no less 1 of the top-5 players in America than he was a week ago, but we’re comparing him to himself at this point. He’s scored 26-plus points in 13 straight games and leads the nation in points (29.2) and assists (10.1). But he shot a combined 15 of 45 from the field and 7 of 22 from 3-point territory in a loss at West Virginia and win over Texas Tech (and had a career-high 8 turnovers against the Mountaineers). However, he scored 56 total points in those two games.
* It makes sense that Minnesota forward Jordan Murphy’s double-double streak ended Wednesday night at Northwestern — just 8 points and 2 rebounds as he fouled out in 17 minutes — because the wheels are falling off for the Golden Gophers. They’ve lost consecutive games and are being rocked by a sexual assault scandal involving center Reggie Lynch. Murphy’s streak of 17 straight double-doubles, tying David Robinson’s NCAA record, was about the only good thing going for that program. Now it’s gone, too.
* Arizona State star Tra Holder, who had scored 40 on Xavier, 29 on Kansas and 31 on Arizona, shot just 2 of 9 from beyond the arc in an upset loss to Colorado and scored only 11 points in a narrow win over Utah.
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