POY Tracker: Closing The Gap?

The fine all-around play of junior forward Ben Simmons helped FAB 50 No. 1 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) defeat No. 3 White Station (Memphis) in the title game of the 30th Annual Bass Pro Shop Tournament of Champions. Photo: adidas

Junior forward Ben Simmons is gaining traction on the top national player of the year candidates playing for FAB 50 No. 1 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.). The Dick’s Nationals could further Simmons’ candidacy. Photo: adidas

Mr. Basketball USA front-runner Cliff Alexander’s high school career at Curie (Chicago) is over, but the race for national player of the year is far from done. We explain the factors that can close the gap between Alexander and the other top candidates and how it can be done.

RELATED: 2013-14 Preseason Tracker | Tracker No. 2 | Tracker No. 3 | Tracker No. 4 |  All-Time Mr. Basketball USA Honorees

The high school career of 6-foot-9 Kansas-bound forward Cliff Alexander came to an abrupt end when Curie (Chicago) lost in the IHSA Class 4A regional semifinals, its first game after winning the Chicago Public League title. Never mind the Condors were later stripped of their CPL title when an eligibility controversy engulfed the Windy City for a dozen days.

The damage was done, as Alexander and Curie came up short of a state title, but apparently Alexander already made a strong enough impression on the 10-man Mr. Basketball USA panel. He remains in firm control of the national player of the year race, netting 98 out of a possible 100 points — his same total as the previous Mr. Basketball USA Tracker which tied the all-time mark set by current NBA guard Brandon Jennings.

The fact Curie didn’t officially win a game on the court — some in the basketball community label Alexander’s team the most famous and best 0-26 team ever — didn’t detract from Alexander’s on-court dominance. His position in the tracker didn’t change, but there was movement among the candidates behind Alexander in the race and the results favored those whose seasons are still alive.

Winning Time

Forward Stanley Johnson, who leads the No. 3 team in the Student Sports FAB 50 at Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.), took over the No. 2 position from SMU-bound point guard Emmanuel Mudiay of Prime Prep (Ft. Worth, Texas). Johnson had a memorable game this past Tuesday night with 38 points in a double overtime win over No. 43 Etiwanda (Etiwanda, Calif.) in a regional semifinal game to move Mater Dei to 33-0.

Johnson remained on eight ballots, but gained four points, including one of the two first place votes Alexander didn’t get (Jahlil Okafor of Chicago Whitney Young nabbed the other). Johnson also gained two additional second-place votes to account for the four-point spike.

Mudiay, meanwhile, lost two of his second place votes from the previous Mr. Basketball USA Tracker and six total points. Mudiay has been the most consistent candidate all season long — again joining Alexander as the only candidates on all 10 ballots — but Prime Prep’s season fell a bit short of its lofty preseason goals. Prime Prep lost a late season game to Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.) and wasn’t invited to the Dick’s Sporting Goods National High School Tournament.

A candidate whose team was invited to the Dick’s Nationals — junior forward Ben Simmons of FAB 50 No. 1 Montverde Academy (Montverde, Fla.) — also gained traction with the panel. He moved up to No. 3 on one ballot and collected three fourth place votes after placing only as high as fourth place on one of six ballots during the last go-around. Simmons is the highest-regarded underclassman among the 19 candidates — one point ahead of power forward Cheick Diallo of Our Savior New American (Centereach, N.Y.) — and will have the national platform to boost his candidacy the Dick’s Nationals provides that Diallo will not.

The pair of juniors moved ahead in the balloting in front of Duke-bound point guard Tyus Jones, whose Apple Valley (Apple Valley, Minn.) team fell to Cretin-Derham Hall (St. Paul, Minn.) 89-77 in the Class AAAA Section 3 title game. Apple Valley was favored to win its second consecutive state title.

Players to Watch 200Big Cliff’s Season Not Over

Wait a minute you say, I thought Curie lost well short of a state title? Well, it did, but Alexander will be a participant in the McDonald’s All-American Game and its festivities. Unlike other national player of the year awards, Mr. Basketball USA takes into account the entire season and the main factor is on-court production. With happens at the McDonald’s Game (and just as important its practices) and the Dick’s Nationals is factored into the process.

It’s important to get a gauge of how dominant top players are against their peers — even more so than how dominant they are against less talented players on local teams that aren’t high-major recruits or won’t play basketball beyond high school. Those extra evaluations are an added bonus for the 24 players chosen for the McDonald’s All-American Game and a chance to make a last impression for top canadiates such as Johnson and Mudiay whose team won’t appear in the Dick’s Nationals.

Entire Resume

It’s important to remember the season began back in November and an entire body of work is taken into account at the end. A big performance on the post-season All-Star circuit sometimes isn’t enough to offset a season of dominance.

A good example of this occurred in 1983 when forward Reggie Williams didn’t perform up to standards at the McDonald’s All-American Game or Sonny Vaccaro’s Roundball Classic. Meanwhile, playground sensation Dwayne “Pearl” Washington of Boys (Brooklyn, N.Y.) was named team MVP at both events. In the end, Washington’s performances weren’t enough to off-set the season dominance Williams displayed on a 31-0 club that finished ranked No. 1 in the country and is arguably the greatest high school team of all-time.

Career accomplishments or records also can come into play. If Johnson closes out his career with two more wins and a fourth consecutive CIF state title, that could weigh heavily among some of the panelists. Combining those types of career accomplishments with a strong showing in Chicago makes for a compelling argument, but we’ll have to wait and see how it plays out.

Stay logged in to StudentSportsBasketball.com to track the progress of the nation’s top individual players and the nation’s Top teams.

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About Mr. Basketball USA Tracker Panel
Student Sports’s panel of 10 experts, which includes six McDonald’s All-American selection committee members, casts its vote for the top national player of the year candidates. Each panelist lists his top seven candidates regardless of class. The votes are then tabulated on a 10-point scoring system with a first-place vote equaling 10 points, a second-place vote earning nine points and down to four points for a seventh-place vote. The number in parenthesis refers to the numbers of ballots on which a player appeared and previous rankings refers to position in the previous tracker.

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