Various shoe and apparel companies have made sponsoring grassroots events and basketball teams at the high school level a priority over the years. In recent years, Nike has established itself as the premier sponsor, with adidas and to a lesser extent, Reebok, also involved in the game.
Now, Under Armour seems to be making a strong push into the spring and summer calendar, by becoming a sponsor of several pre-existing tournaments to formulate the new “Under Armour Summer Championship Series”. Under Armour also entered the crowded Memorial Day Weekend tournament landscape, by hosting their inaugural Are You From Here? Classic, in Dallas, Texas.
The weekend tournament hosted Under Armour’s growing stable of grassroots programs, which now includes the Houston Defenders, Philly Pride, DC Assault, Juice (NY), Illinois Wolves, and several other traditionally strong “AAU” programs. With other grassroots basketball teams mixed in with Under Armour’s squads, there was formidable field on hand at the sprawling facility at Duncanville High School, which is notable for a first year event.
The star of the weekend was unquestionably 6-5 shooting guard Aaron Harrison of the Houston Defenders. He and his twin brother Andrew Harrison have established themselves as top-10 prospects in the 2013 class nationally, but it was Aaron’s turn to shine on the final day of the tournament.
A bullish and extremely physical guard, Aaron Harrison was faced with his star brother going down to an injury in the first half of their quarterfinal game against a Kansas City Run GMC with two high-major backcourt commits in Conner Frankamp (Kansas) and Travis Jorgenson (Missouri). Harrison ended up with 29 points and turned the tide to push his team to come from behind victory.
After that performance, Harrison logged a mind-blowing 42 points as his team, still missing Andrew Harrison, suffered a one point semifinal loss to eventual event runner-up Net Gain Sports, of Minnesota. Harrison was at another level from his opponents in those two games, as he was consistent from 3-point range, was impossible to stop in transition, and created huge scoring swings with heads up defensive play. His physicality prevents even forwards and posts from locking him down.
Prior to the event, the Harrison’s college list was composed of Kentucky, Maryland, Baylor and Villanova. Now, it seems as if SMU can be added to that list. The Harrisons, along with several of their teammates on the Houston Defenders, trekked to SMU’s campus to meet with new coach Larry Brown on an unofficial visit. To no surprise, Brown reportedly has scholarships available for the twins if they want to attend SMU. It probably more likely though that Brown can add some of the supporting cast on the Houston Defenders, rather than the Harrisons.
Two players that were originally expected to be members of the 2013 class at Maryland and Towson, were also in the event. When Damonte Dodd committed to Maryland some months ago, it’s fair to say that he was among the most unknown pledges in any BCS college’s recruiting class at the time. On the flip side, point guard Frank Mason looked like an absolute steal for Towson.
As the spring turns into summer and Damonte Dodd continues running with DC Assault and Mason is still on the roster for Team Loaded (North Carolina/Virginia-based), it seems less likely that each player will end up in the D1 ranks next year, and prep school could seem more probable. Nothing is set in stone just yet, but it will be a situation worth monitoring as both played quite well in this tournament.
Dodd, in particular, was way better than his unknown rep would seem to indicate. He passes the look test and seems like a high-major center in the lay-up line, but when the action starts and he hits the floor, he can play, too. There aren’t many actual sleepers in this era of heavily recruited early identified high school prospects, but Dodd appears to have a chance to be one.
The 17-U (Senior-to-Be) division was won the Milwaukee Runnin’ Rebels, which featured 6-8 forward Kevon Looney, a 2014 prospect. Looney is long, athletic, and a top-20 prospect nationally due to his fluidity and inside-outside offensive game. Damontre Jefferson, a 5-9 point guard from the 2014 class, put up serious points and was dynamite backcourt player all weekend in the championship run.
The Runnin’ Rebels took out Net Gain Sports, a squad which was also led by an elite 2014 prospect in 6-4 shooting guard Rashad Vaughn. He has a bevy of Big Ten suitors, which is no surprise given his terrific all-around game and heady play. Vaughn is quickly working his way into a universal top-25 national ranking in his class.
The 16-U (Junior-to-be) division championship was captured by a hometown entry, Dallas Showtyme. Their star over the course of the weekend was 6-6 wing D’Angelo Allen. The youngest age group, the 15-U (Sophomore-to-be) title was won by Net Gain Sports.
Some of the prospects that played well over the course of the weekend included 2013 Purdue commit Kendall Stephens (Illinois Wolves), 2014 shooting guard Isaiah Whitehead (Juice-NY), 2013 Kansas commit Conner Frankamp, 2013 BYU pledge Nick Emery (Utah Reign), 2014 point guard Emmanuel Mudiay (Texas Select), 2014 Virginia commit BJ Stith (Team Loaded), twin 2014 wing forwards Caleb and Cody Martin (Team Loaded), and 2014 point guard Alex Robinson (DJH5).
With speculation mounting about who Pitt will hire to replace Kevin Stallings as their new head coach, current Arizona head coach Sean Miller released a statement saying that he is not in the running to fill the opening.
“I am not a candidate for the University of Pittsburgh men’s basketball head coaching vacancy. I wish them well in their search for a new coach,” the statement read.
Miller is a native of Pittsburgh and an alumni of the school — he’s the guy that had the assist on Jerome Lane’s famous dunk — and with the issues that are currently swirling around him and the Arizona program, there was speculation that he was looking for an escape plan.
Maybe he wasn’t.
Maybe he was and the Pitt administration decided they couldn’t risk hiring someone who had an assistant coach arrested in the FBI’s sweep of college basketball and who himself may be on wiretaps talking about who knows what. Releasing this statement would then be a way for him to save face and say he was never interested.
And then maybe there’s option No. 3: Pitt has won the Dan Hurley sweepstakes.
As it stands, both the Panthers and UConn are in the process of chasing after the Rhode Island head coach, and it’s not uncommon in coaching searches for a coach to announce that he is not a candidate for the job after the job decides they want someone else. Call it a professional courtesy.
But that’s neither here nor there.
What we do know now is that Sean Miller will not be the next head coach at Pitt.
Report: Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson suffers another fracture in foot
Bonzie Colson rushed back from a broken foot to try and help his Notre Dame team get into the NCAA tournament this season.
They were bumped out of the field when Davidson upset Rhode Island and earned the Atlantic 10’s third bid to the league tournament. The Fighting Irish were NIT bound, and in their second round loss to Penn State late last week, Colson reinjured the left foot that held him out of action for eight weeks.
On Wednesday, Yahoo reported that Colson suffered another fracture in the foot.
“I’m sitting there and he’s limping off and I’m going, ‘You gotta be kidding me,’” coach Mike Brey said after the game. “Everything we’ve been through? I thought we were out of the woods with him.”
There was a poignant moment at the end of the game.
Colson’s injury came during the third quarter. He returned to the bench at Purcell Pavilion with ice on his foot after going into the locker room. With 30 seconds left and a loss imminent, Colson walked right past Mike Brey, said “I’m going in”, and finished his college career on the court.
Colson is a potential second round pick. He was an all-american last year and a preseason selection this year. He was averaging 19.7 points, 10.2 boards and 2.2 blocks when he was injured.
N.C. State star to consider turning pro and transferring
It appears as it Omer Yurtseven’s time as a member of the N.C. State Wolfpack will be coming to a close.
On Wednesday morning, the program issued a release announcing that Yurtseven has “expressed his intentions to either pursue a professional career or consider transferring.”
Yurtseven, who was initially recruited by Mark Gottfried, averaging 14.9 points in his first season under new Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts while also shooting 46 percent from three. Yurtseven is projected as a second round-at-best pick in the NBA Draft.
Keatts announced that he would grant Yurtseven a release if it comes to that.
2018 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 Preview: Ranking the eight games
The Sweet 16 is going to kick off in less than 36 hours, which means that it is time for us to dive into the matchups and the games themselves.
Here are the eight games that we have on the docket on Thursday and Friday, with an in-depth look at each one, including some analysis on betting lines and how I expect each game to play out.
8. No. 2 DUKE vs. No. 11 SYRACUSE, Friday 9:37 p.m.
Line: Duke -11.5
Projected score: Duke 72.5, Syracuse 61
All the zone! Syracuse has been playing a 2-3 zone for as long as Jim Boeheim has been a surly, bespectacled basketball coach. But now, Duke is doing the same thing! They couldn’t guard anyone when Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter were forced to run around on the perimeter, guarding small fours and switching ball-screens, but now that Duke is in this zone, they can fully take advantage of their size without having to worry about dealing with the mismatches at the other end.
I think Duke runs away with this. For starters, they have better perimeter shooters than they get credit for — both Grayson Allen and Gary Trent Jr. can stroke it — and Bagley and Carter are both skilled and versatile enough to be killers at the high-post. Throw in that Duke is the nation’s best offensive rebounding team and Syracuse gets annihilated on the defensive glass, and I think the Blue Devils roll.
PICKS: Duke and the under. Betting Duke unders has been very profitable of late, mainly because it took a while for the public to catch up to the pace — and defense — that Duke was playing with this zone. And Syracuse? They’re not much different than Virginia, only they play a zone instead of a 2-3 (and win in the tournament … too soon?) so while 133.5 is low, I would still hammer the under here. I think this ends up somewhere around a 75-55 game. When they played in Cameron a month ago, the final score was 60-44 Duke.
This Florida State team is not like the Florida State teams that you remember from Leonard Hamilton. In the past, Hamilton has seemingly recruited every big body that he can possibly find to pack into the paint and defend like hell while struggling to buy a bucket. This team? They have a slew of talented guards, they love to get out and run in transition and they’ll even play some small-ball.
To be honest, I think that will play into Gonzaga’s hands. The Zags have enough athletic and mobile big men to be able to handle any kind of matchup, particularly when Rui Hachimura is playing the way he has of late. The big question I have is for Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. They were not their best during the first weekend, and if they are not their best Gonzaga is only going to go so far relying on both Rui and Zach Norvell to have career performances.
PICKS: I do think Gonzaga wins, although I don’t love that line. What I do think is a sneaky-good bet is the over. The line is 153.5 while KenPom projects it at 158 points.
Let’s pretend that Florida game three weeks ago — the one that happened in the regular season finale for the Wildcats — never happened. Erase that from your memory, and the Wildcats have won their last nine games, and many of them in impressive fashion. They’re defending at the same level they’ve guarded all year long, but with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander playing the way that he has over the course of the last two months and Kevin Knox seemingly finding more consistency, I do think that Kentucky is playing as well as anyone left in this tournament not named Villanova or Duke.
The big question here is the health of Dean Wade. He told reporters after the win over UMBC that he would be playing on Thursday night, but we’ll see if that comes to fruition. If he does play, I can’t imagine that he’ll be at 100 percent.
PICKS: If Wade plays at 100 percent, I like Kentucky here. If Wade doesn’t play or is limited, I love Kentucky. I just think the Blue Wildcats are bigger, more athletic and more talented than Kansas State at every position, and that’s not good. Even if they guard Kentucky well, they are going to get killed on the defensive glass.
I have, not once this season, believed in Clemson. Not once. And every time I don’t believe in them — in the preseason, after Donte Grantham got injured, heading into the NCAA tournament — they do something to make me look like an idiot for not believing in them. So guess what? I’m not believing in them again!
Let me rephrase that. It’s not that I don’t believe in Clemson. I’ll admit it. I messed up. They’re really good; you have to be really good to beat the SEC regular season co-champions by 41 points. But I think that the way to beat Kansas is to be able to beat them up in the paint. Take advantage of the fact that they play Svi Mykhailiuk at the four. Clemson doesn’t really do that, so I think Kansas scoots on by Clemson to face Duke in the Midwest Regional final.
PICKS: Here’s the interesting thing about this game: The line is Kansas -4.5, and the projection on KenPom is Kansas -1. Generally speaking, those are inefficiencies to capitalize on, and it makes me want to take Clemson and the points even though my gut says go the other way. When that happens, I tend to stay away.
I think the worst thing that could have happened to Loyola-Chicago was for Nevada to win the way they won the last two games. It basically came down to Eric Musselman having guys on his roster that could makes play and didn’t care what the scoreboard said or the pressure of the moment. And now those dudes are confident.
Loyola is a good, well-coached basketball team. They execute offensively, they shoot the leather off the ball and they clearly have God on their side with Sister Jean. But I would not want to play this Nevada team with the Martin twins, Jordan Caroline and Kendell Stephens in this kind of a rhythm.
PICKS: Give me the Wolf Pack. They were able to make shots on both Texas and Cincinnati, who were two of the very best defensive teams in the country this season. Playing against Loyola, who is a good defensive team in their own right, will feel like every shot is wide-open as a result. I’d lean the under here, but I probably will stay away myself.
This is a fascinating contrast in lineup builds. Michigan doesn’t have all that much size inside but is, instead, built on their ability to limit opponent possessions and stifle the ones they do get; they don’t turn the ball over, they don’t give up offensive rebounds and they are the best defensive team left in the tournament according to KenPom. The Aggies are absolutely massive upfront but have had questionable guard play all season long.
Here’s what I think the key will be: Zavier Simpson vs. T.J. Starks. Simpson can erase a point guard from a game, and Starks is a freshman that has been, at times, erasable. Will he be able to get the ball to Big Bob Williams and Tyler Davis where they can be effective? Will Simpson, and Moe Wagner, be able to create enough in John Beilein’s ball-screen offense to score on one of the nation’s top ten defensive teams?
PICKS: I think they will. I think Michigan muddies this game up, their perimeter pressure prevents A&M from getting any kind of rhythm going and they do enough offensively and on the defensive glass to win a rock fight. Michigan and the under.
What makes this game so interesting to me is that we don’t really know what Matt Painter has up his sleeve. I’m operating under the assumption that Isaac Haas isn’t playing, and that even if he does, we’re looking at a situation where he is out there for limited minutes as a motivation tool more than his usual self. I don’t care how good your brace is, imagine shooting jump-hooks with a broken elbow. I don’t see it.
Painter will have had three or four days to figure out an answer, and my guess is that they use more spread pick-and-rolls, looking to get Haarms rolling with four shooters around him. Texas Tech should actually matchup with that pretty well — I’d be more concerned about them trying to slow down Haas one-on-one on the block — given their athleticism. Hell, I could see them using lineups with Zach Smith at the five quite a bit. They also have the ultimate trump card in Keenan Evans, who has been one of the best closers in college basketball this season.
PICKS: Texas Tech with the points. The Red Raiders are good at chasing teams off of the three-point line, they matchup well with Purdue and they are, according to KenPom, the second-best defensive team left in the tournament. The best — Michigan — beat Purdue pretty handily in the Big Ten tournament title game three weeks ago. If forced to, I’d bet the under here.
1. No. 1 VILLANOVA vs. No. 5 WEST VIRGINIA, Friday 7:27 p.m.
Line: Villanova (-5.5)
Projected score: Villanova 79, West Virginia 73.5
I love Jevon Carter. I have the utmost respect for what Bob Huggins has been able to do with this West Virginia program. While what he does is the polar opposite from what Tony Bennett does at Virginia, the way they do it is not all that dissimilar: They find and recruit players that are going to buy into the program, that fit what they want to do and then, over the course of four or five years, develop them into stars. Some become pros. Most don’t. But they keep winning games.
But the reason that Press Virginia works is that their defensive identity speeds opponents up and forces them to make mistakes. No one is speeding Jalen Brunson up. No one is going to rattle him. Villanova doesn’t make mistakes. They don’t turn the ball over. But they do make a ton of threes, and what I’m picturing in my head is Jay Wright’s club breaking this West Virginia pressure with relative ease and getting open three after open three at the other end.
PICKS: I think Villanova covers fairly easily. The question here is whether or not you think West Virginia is going to keep their press on for the whole game. If they don’t — if they settle into a half-court defense or play a token, full-court man-to-man — then Villanova sometimes takes the air out of the ball. I’d bet the over, but I’m not entirely confident in that.
2018 NBA Draft Early Entry List: Who declared? Who is returning? Who are we waiting on?