Montrezl Harrell

Sweet 16 Power Rankings: How do the title contenders stack up?

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1. Louisville: Coming into the tournament, we knew that guard play would dictate far this team goes. If Russ Smith and Peyton Siva played well, that would mean that the defense is able to set up and create turnovers, which takes the Cardinal attack to another level. They’ve not fallen short of those expectations so far and face Oregon next.

2. Indiana: The Hoosiers were able to do enough against Temple to get the win, but the defense can’t allow another Khalif Wyatt-like performance in this tournament. Shooting from the perimeter will be key against the Syracuse zone in the next round, so the impact of Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford is magnified. As has been the case all season, the more involved and aggressive Cody Zeller is, the better off the Hoosiers are as a whole.

3. Duke: Ryan Kelly has yet to get going in this NCAA tournament, but the Blue Devils have still advanced without much trouble. If he starts to find his stroke like he did when he came back from injury, the offense will be able to spread the floor and make more happen. That will be especially key against a Michigan State team that is no slouch defensively.

4. Michigan: Michigan looked like a well-oiled machine against Virginia Commonwealth. When Michigan is playing up-tempo and in transition like that without turning the ball over, they’re hard to beat. The real question will be what happens when they meet a team that is physical inside and can exploit their lack of size in the paint.

MORE: This Sweet 16 (mostly) madder than any before

5. Michigan State: The first two games of this tournament were no problem for the Spartans, but point guard Keith Appling is banged up with injuries and will need to play well against Duke in the next round. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne will also be key as players who can go head-to-head with the strong front line of Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee for the Blue Devils.

6. Miami: Miami can play at different paces and still win, as it showed Sunday night in a grind-it-out win over Illinois. It will likely be another slow-paced game against Marquette in the Sweet 16. The Hurricanes need Shane Larkin to continue to run the show with the confidence that he has shown all season.

7. Kansas: Few liked what they saw from Kanas through sixty minutes of play in one and a half NCAA tournament games. The Jayhawks then took it to UNC in the second half of their win Wednesday. They’ll need to play for like that second half and get Ben McLemore more aggressive and involved to make a run to the Final Four.

8. Florida: It will be about defense if Florida wants to stop the high-flying Florida Gulf Coast attack. The Eagles already dismantled one quality defensive team, Georgetown, and will be out for another in the next round. The Gators got 25 points from Mike Rosario in their win over Minnesota. Can he be a reliable scorer down the stretch?

9. Ohio State: LaQuinton Ross broke out for 17 points in the Buckeyes’ win over Iowa State and that was a much-needed surprise. This team is solidly built around defense, but needs an ensemble of scorers around Deshaun Thomas to contribute in order to advance. Aaron Craft played the role of hero with his shot ISU.

MORE: The best photos of the NCAA tournament

10. Syracuse: Syracuse blew out Montana, but then struggled past California. Against Indiana in the next round, it will be up to Jim Boeheim’s zone to slow down Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo. The biggest question is, though, can they hit shots consistently? Misses would create run-out opportunities for the Hoosiers and the Orange could get buried quickly.

11. Arizona: Arizona has yet to be given a test, but they beat two mid-majors in a way that they ought to. The bigger question moving forward centers around whether the inexperienced front court of the Wildcats can produce when it meets a team that matches up well in the paint. Teams will also try to neutralize Mark Lyons, so who steps up to score?

12. Oregon: Oregon has proven itself to be one of the most underseeded teams in this tournament. The key in the next round will be limiting turnovers because Louisville forces a lot of them. That weight falls on the shoulders of point guard Dominic Artis.

13. Wichita State: The Shockers were the first team to take down a No. 1 seed in this NCAA tournament when they beat Gonzaga. They have a good chance of advancing to the Elite Eight because of their size on the interior against the guard-oriented La Salle attack. Cleanthony Early needs to be a factor, as he has been up to this point.

14. Marquette: The Golden Eagles shot horribly from the field and barely escaped against Davidson, but deserve credit for outlasting a tough Butler team in the Round of 32. The reason for the low seeding here is because of their next matchup, Miami. The Hurricanes have proven that they can play at different speeds and still win ballgames.

15. Florida Gulf Coast: Florida Gulf Coast has been electric through the first two games of this tournament. They are confident, flashy, and explosive in transition. For all of that, though, they now face one of the nation’s best defenses in Florida. Does the show continue?

MORE: Is Florida Gulf Coast the most surprising Cinderella ever?

16. La Salle: The four-guard set for La Salle has been terrific so far, but big man Jerrell Wright will be the X-factor in the next round. Ramon Galloway and Tyrone Garland are great, but Wright’s ability to be a force inside is the complementary piece that makes this team more well-rounded.

Five-star guard Troy Brown Jr. cuts list to eight

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Fresh off of a solid performance at the Nike Skills Academy in Los Angeles, Troy Brown Jr. announced on Thursday that he had cut his list to eight schools.

Kansas, Oregon, Arizona, Ohio State, Cal, Georgetown, UNLV and Alabama are the eight schools on the list.

Brown is a top ten prospect in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals, but the general opinion of him as a player has depressed a bit since earlier in his high school career. The Las Vegas native was once considered a top five player in the class, and while he’s still thought of as an impact player, he’s probably closer to being a two or three year college player than a surefire one-and-done player.

Monte’ Morris, Jalen Brunson among the top performers at Nike Skills Academy

LOS ANGELES, CA. JULY 25, 2016. The Academy. Jalen Brunson #6 of Villanova dribbles. (Mandatory photo credit: Jon Lopez/Nike).
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LOS ANGELES — I spent the last three days in California watching some of the best college players in the country work out and scrimmage at the Nike Skills Academy. Here are five players that stood out:

Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: The way that the games at the Nike Skills Academy were set up was pretty standard pickup basketball rules. Games were seven minutes long, winners stay on. On Monday night and Wednesday night during the scrimmages, the team that Morris was on went on a long winning streak, and on both nights, he was the best player on the floor for that team. College basketball fans know what Morris can do by now, as do NBA scouts. But he nonetheless impressed this week, and it wasn’t just his change-of-speed or playmaking ability. On the final night of the camp, everyone in the gym was gassed. Six of the 20 or so college kids at the camp were sitting out with “injuries” sustained during grueling three-a-day workouts. Morris? He played through the cramps and the dead legs. During the final session, when he was asked by camp director Miles Simon if he was tired, Morris simply answered “I’m not telling you that” and went out and won upwards of 10 games in a row.

Chris Boucher, Oregon: Boucher played with a ton of confidence all week long, doing all of the things that we’ve come to expect out of Canada’s surprising star forward. His length is ridiculous and he spent much of the week swatting shots at the rim, a terrific skill to have when he’s hitting threes the way that he did in the Hawthorne hangar. Boucher is going to be a very, very valuable piece for the Ducks, but his impact is going to be somewhat limited because he’s still just as skinny as ever.

LOS ANGELES, CA. JULY 25, 2016. The Academy. Chris Boucher #17 of Oregon dunks. (Mandatory photo credit: Jon Lopez/Nike).
Chris Boucher (Jon Lopez/Nike).

Jalen Brunson, Villanova: Brunson is a basketball savant, the kind of player that sees the game a step ahead of everyone else. He had a rough start on Monday night, but throughout the week was consistently creating open looks for teammates that, in many cases, he had never played with before. On the final night of the camp, Brunson had a fun little battle with Jordan McRae, a former Tennessee Vol that has bounced around the NBA the last two years. After McRae bodied Brunson in the post, Brunson answered with a nifty, driving layup before forcing a McRae turnover and shaking him at the other end to hit a game-winning, step-back jumper. I’m not sure if Brunson has the athleticism to end up being an NBA player, but I wasn’t sure that T.J. McConnell or Fred VanVleet had enough athleticism, either.

Jonathan Motley, Baylor: Boucher was the most impressive front court prospect in the camp, but Motley was probably the best front court player in Los Angeles this week. Motley has always been somewhat underrated because of the way he is used at Baylor, but he should be in line for a huge year for the Bears. He showed off a better-than-I-realized low-post repertoire and even knocked down a couple of perimeter shots.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart spent much of the week as Morris’ teammate, doing just as much as the Iowa State point guard to ensure that his team was always winning. So while I’m about to hit him with a couple of criticisms, understand that it comes with the caveat that he was awesome this week. Hart’s jumper went in at a really good clip, but his stroke is still weird enough — and his bad misses are still bad enough — that concerns about his ability to consistently make NBA threes are more than valid. The other issue? He has a penchant for make some headache-inducing plays that make you wonder just what in the world he saw that made him think that was a good idea.

NOTABLES

  • On the first night of the camp, the gym was flooded with NBA guys coming through to get in a workout and some high-level pick-up. At one points, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, Stanley Johnson, Jordan Clarkson and Devin Booker were all on the same team. They lost to a a squad led by Morris, Hart and Alec Peters.
  • Speaking of Peters, the Valparaiso star played very well all week. I’m convinced that, had he opted to be a grad transfer and leave Valpo, he would have been an impact player at just about any program in the country. If it all comes together for him next season, he’ll have a chance to put up ridiculous numbers.
  • Jaron Blossomgame of Clemson was impressive all week and threw down the best dunk that I saw during the camp. He could’ve turned pro this offseason and ended up getting picked in the second round while earning some guaranteed money. But he opted to return, in part to prove that he’s more than just a capable shooter. He did not do that the last three days.
  • Michigan State’s Miles Bridges is stupid athletic. He’s ridiculous. I’m not sure he’s a human. There are going to be a couple of Big Ten opponents that get utterly embarrassed by him this year. But … beyond the dunks, I’m just not sure how he is going to be able to score at that level.
  • Illinois forward Malcolm Hill might be the most underrated player in the country. The 6-foot-8 forward is what we call a bucket-getter. He’ll probably lead the Big Ten in scoring this season.
  • Edmond Sumner of Xavier has continued to fill out his body. He told me he was up to 185 pounds earlier this summer and that he’ll hopefully be over 190 by the time the season starts. When he committed Xavier he was on the wrong side of 150 pounds. Oregon’s Tyler Dorsey also looks like he’s spent some time in the weight room. One scout said it looks like he’s put on a good 20 pounds since he’s been in Eugene.
LOS ANGELES, CA. JULY 25, 2016. The Academy. Miles Bridges #18 of Michigan State dunks. (Mandatory photo credit: Jon Lopez/Nike).
Miles Bridges (Jon Lopez/Nike).

THE BAMBA: Mohamed Bamba’s mind is as bright as his hoops future

Mohamed Bamba, Jon Lopez/Nike
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LOS ANGELES — Fresh off of the gold medal he won in the U18 FIBA Americas tournament in Chile, Mohamed Bamba returned to the states and headed almost directly to Los Angeles to attend the Nike Skills Academy.

Attend. Not participate, at least not during the first day and a half of the camp.

He wasn’t alone in this decision. His USA Basketball teammates Michael Porter Jr., Trae Young and Hamidou Diallo also sat out parts or all of the first day. They had gone from Peach Jam in Augusta to the national team training camp in Houston to Chile, where they played five games in five days. A day off on the first Monday after the end of the July Live Period is almost necessary with the schedule that some of the nation’s elite high school prospects play.

But Bamba’s decision wasn’t strictly based on trying to catch up on rest.

He had left his soles in Valdivia.

“I have flat feet,” Bamba told NBCSports.com on Tuesday as he launched into the saga of his shoes, and because of those flat feet — and an ankle injury he suffered in the spring — the 7-foot Bamba has to wear specially made inserts in the sole of his shoes when he plays. When you’re that tall and your feet are that big, you’re not exactly buying those inserts off the rack.

During the tournament in Chile, Bamba became something of a sensation because his last name happens to be the name of a Mexican folk song, ‘La Bamba,’ made internationally famous by Richie Valens. The fans would go crazy every time he made a play. They made signs for him. They tabbed him as a third-party candidate for the people that don’t want to see Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the White House.

Bamba loved it, so much so that, when the tournament ended, he gave his shoes — soles and all — to a young Chilean boy who had become his biggest fan.

image
NBCSports.com, courtesy Mohamed Bamba

It wasn’t until he got back to the hotel that he realized his mistake. He was able to track the kid down on social media and got one of the soles back that night, but the other shoe had been taken by someone else. By the time they found that person, it was too late. Bamba was going to have to wait to get his soles shipped back to him in the States. He won’t get them until he’s home in New York, which means that his time on the courts in a modified airplane hangar at the Hawthorne Airport was dictated by how effectively the training staff could replicate his soles with athletic tape.

All because he got excited and gave his shoes to a fan.

It was a pretty dumb thing to do for a kid who is decidedly not dumb.

———

Mohamed Bamba is among the elite of the elite in the Class of 2017. He’s a consensus top four prospect in the class, a kid that has a very real chance to be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He’s no where near a finished product yet, but his ability to change the game on the defensive end of the floor is special.

“He’s a dinosaur, man,” is how one coach of a top-25 program described Bamba, and it’s a pretty apt comparison. He’s 7-foot in shoes and soles with a wingspan that has been measured at 7-foot-9.5 and a standing reach of 9-foot-6. Those numbers are unheard of, and given his knack for blocking and changing shots at the rim, it’s not hard to look at him and see a guy that can one day influence a game the same way Rudy Gobert or Hassan Whiteside can defensively.

The offensive end of the floor is where Bamba is still very much a work in progress. His post game is somewhere between ineffective and developing, but that will come as the 210-pound Bamba adds some weight and strength. He’s not a guy that you want shooting a lot of jumpers, but his stroke and soft touch are impressive enough that it’s fairly easy to project him as a guy that will consistently make perimeter shots one day. He’s not as fluid or as mobile as some of the more offensive-minded bigs you’ll come across, but he’s not uncoordinated, either.

He’s never going to be Karl Towns or Anthony Davis, but if his ceiling is Rudy Gobert with a jump shot, that’s something that will make him very attractive to a lot of NBA teams.

Bamba knows this.

He also knows, like the rest of the basketball-watching world, that the salaries NBA players are getting these days are massive. It’s very much within the realm of possibility that Bamba could earn nine figures in NBA paychecks by the time it’s all said and done. Bamba’s smart — there’s a reason that Duke and Harvard (yes, Harvard) are two of the schools that are highest on the list of schools chasing him — smart enough to know what he doesn’t know, including the ins and outs of the NBA salary cap and salary structures. Why is every max contract worth a different amount of money? Why was it a popular refrain to say that Kevin Durant left money on the table when he signed with the Golden State Warriors?

FIBA
FIBA

And that’s why Bamba ponied up the money to head to Boston and attend the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference, a weekend-long festival of sports nerds that are interested in things beyond how many points someone scored in a game. Bamba attended a presentation breaking down the best way to defend pick-and-rolls, sat in on a session analyzing how an NBA front office works and, fittingly enough, learned about predictive injury analytics and injury prevention.

“I had never thought about efficiency before,” Bamba said. “In high school it’s about how many points you score, not how many shots it takes or possessions it takes.”

‘Student-athlete’ is something of a tongue-in-cheek term in this day and age given the inherent unfairness of amateurism in the NCAA, but Bamba is as much a student as he is an athlete. He’s got an inquisitive nature, a desire to learn. His trip to MIT started as a joke about him being a dork, but once he found out what it was he became intrigued. So he went. He’s been studying up on speeches that he attended in the months since he left Boston, learning more and more about NBA contracts and how players can manage their money. “If you’re going to be an multi-million dollar investment, you should know why and how it works,” he said.

He’s in business and marketing classes at the Westtown School now, and he says that regardless of how long it takes him to declare for the NBA Draft, he will be getting his degree. But when asked by a reporter if he’s preparing himself, on the chance that he goes one-and-done, to test out of intro classes and take more advanced courses as a freshman, Bamba admitted it was the rare topic he had no knowledge of.

“I’ve never thought about that,” he said.

“But I’m going to look into it now.”

Mohamed Bamba, Jon Lopez/Nike
Mohamed Bamba, USA Basketball

Top-25 guard trims list to six

Trae Young , Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images
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One of the top points guards in the Class of 2017 has trimmed his list of potential collegiate destinations to six.

Trae Young, a consensus top-25 recruit, listed Texas Tech, Kansas, Oklahoma, Washington, Oklahoma State and Kentucky as the schools he is considering as he readies to begin his senior year of high school.

The list of the 6-foot-2 point guard is largely provincial as it includes Oklahoma, whose campus is just minutes away from Young’s Norman North High School, and fellow in-state school Oklahoma. Another pair of Big 12 schools make the list in powerhouse Kansas and the Red Raiders, whose first-year coach, Chris Beard, has spent the bulk of his career working in Texas. Texas Tech is also Young’s father’s alma mater. Washington has been on a role sending its players to the pros and recently received the commitment of top-five 2017 recruit Michael Porter, Jr.

Kentucky, of course, needs no explanation as to its attractiveness to high-level players.