Class of 2015 star Derrick Jones highlights Sunday’s Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest action

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PITTSBURGH — Perhaps the most promising recruit at the Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest this weekend was Philly native Derrick Jones.

At 6-foot-6, Jones is a supremely athletic left-handed forward with an impressive wingspan, the kind of physical tools that will make any college coach drool. He’s ranked 37th in the country according to Rivals, but ESPN has him rated as the 13th best prospect in his age group. Making him all the more intriguing is that he’s young for his age, having just turned 16.

Colleges have taken notice. Jones said that St. Joseph’s, Kansas State, Rutgers, Xavier, Temple and Villanova have all been coming after him, but Jones appears to have a favorite right now.

“I really want to go to Syracuse,” he said on Sunday. That length and athleticism would make the Archbishop John Carroll (PA) a perfect fit in Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.

Jones, who plays his AAU ball for We R 1, is far from a finished product, however. He needs to add some size to his frame, as he’s thin enough that a strong gust of wind could end up knocking him over. His skill level isn’t quite up to par either, as he gets by on his natural athleticism at this point in his development.

“I want to get better on my ball-handling and shooting ability,” Jones said.

The good news is that Jones plays hard — he’s really aggressive, and effective, attacking the offensive glass — and wants to get better. You can teach a player to handle the ball and you can develop a kid’s ability to shoot from the perimeter. But you can’t teach athleticism and you can’t make a kid care.

Jones’ isn’t the only We R 1 player getting high-major looks: Traci Carter recently transferred out of Roman Catholic and into Life Center Academy, but that hasn’t stopped college from pursuing the 6-foot-1 point guard. Carter lists Penn State, Xavier, La Salle and St. Joseph’s as schools that he currently holds offers from, but he said that Syracuse and Villanova, among others, have started showing more interest.

Unlike Jones, Carter doesn’t have a favorite right now.

“I don’t have a specific school that I want to go to,” he said, “I just tell myself that my goal is that I want every school in America to want me to go there.”

And how can he make that happen?

“Get my stamina up and shoot the ball better.”

Trayvon Reed looks to change the scouting report on him: Trayvon Reed turned a lot of heads with his performance at the Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest in 2012, and rightfully so. Standing 7-foot-1, Reed has the kind of athleticism and length that will put him on the radar of every high-major coach in the country. That’s why his offer list is so long. Georgia Tech, Auburn, Maryland, Florida State, Miami, Florida, Wake Forest and Georgia are the schools he listed when asked who has offered, but he also added, with a chuckle, that it’s basically “every school in the south.”

The key for Reed, who is ranked 59th in the Class of 2014 by Rivals, is to change the perception of him. Right now, the scouting report on the Shiloh (GA) prospect is that he’s talented, but that his motor isn’t always running and he doesn’t play with consistent effort. With some big name recruiters coming to see him play, Reed knows that now is the time.

“They should know how hard you have to go if you want to go to another level,” Reed said. “Because there’s some good college coaches here.”

His effort level isn’t the only part of his game that he’ll be working on during the spring and the summer.

“[I want to] work on my offensive set, getting better at just being a presence on offense,” said Reed, who is currently known as more of a defensive presence.

Jared Nickens’ recruitment is picking up: Jared Nickens made the decision recently to reclassify into the Class of 2014, and it may have been the best thing for his development as a player. Now as Westtown (PA), the 6-foot-6 wing is starting to show recruiters that he’s more than just a jump-shooter.

“I needed to mature mentally and physically to just work on my game,” Nickens said of the decision to reclassify.

Nickens played very well on Saturday at the Pitt Hoop Group Jam Fest, showing an improved ability to use the dribble to create while also using his length to cause problems defensively. That shooting stroke is still there as well, as Nickens hit a three with two seconds left as Sports U, his AAU team, knocked off Team Loaded.

Nickens currently lists offers from Oregon State, Providence, Temple, Penn State, St. Joseph’s and Seton Hall, but he’s started hearing from Oklahoma, Georgetown, Miami and Dayton, among others. His first official visit is scheduled with Oregon State for the first weekend in May, and Craig Robinson recently had an in-home visit with the New Jersey native.

When asked what he’s looking for in a college program, Nickens said, “The players, my teammates, my coaches, I want it to feel like it’s a family. Good environment, Good academics. Good fan base.”

(Image credit: Kelly Kline/Under Armour)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

VIDEO: Providence coach Ed Cooley always needs a mic

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On Friday night at DePaul, Providence head coach Ed Cooley allowed himself to be mic’d up for a TV broadcast, and things got interesting.

Around the 36 second mark, Cooley starts talking about … vampires and bats and dracula?

Then robbing banks and saying thank you?

I don’t know. Just watch.

VIDEO: Kansas celebrates in locker room after West Virginia win

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After coming from 16 points down to knock off No. 6 West Virginia in Morgantown on Monday night, Kansas had themselves some fun in the visitor’s locker room.

I’m not exactly sure what is happening here, but I do know Devonte’ Graham is having a hell of a time.

COLUMN: Kansas is back on top in the Big 12

My only question … where is Billy Preston’s shirt? He didn’t even play:

No. 10 Kansas overcomes deficits and its own issues to win at No. 6 West Virginia

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It’s hard to look at Kansas – the roster, the stats, the resume and all that comes with it – and not conclude this is the most vulnerable squad the Jayhawks have fielded since its current domination of the Big 12 began in 2005. The flaws are apparent, and they’re serious. They could easily be enough to sink the Jayhawks in an unforgiving conference.

It also could just be business as usual for Bill Self’s program

Tenth-ranked Kansas sputtered and struggled Monday night, but, ultimately, it didn’t matter as the Jayhawks stole a game at a rowdy WVU Coliseum, topping sixth-ranked West Virginia, 71-66, to keep its spot atop the Big 12 despite whatever issues bothered them against the Mountaineers and may persist well into the winter.

One of the major differences of this Kansas team from the 13 that preceded it is the Jayhawks can’t overwhelm with talent and athleticism. There’s no Andrew Wiggins, Josh Jackson, Thomas Robinson or any other surefire lottery pick to just go get buckets. There isn’t a host of high-level athletes that can help Kansas just run inferior teams off the floor. When you have two things, your margin of error gets padded. Mistakes aren’t magnified. They’re minimized. That’s not a luxury Kansas now enjoys.

Then there’s the issue of the roster. Even with Silvio De Sousa being declared eligible, Kansas is still incredibly thin and inexperienced up front. Udoka Azubuike is a load, but he’s the only big man that even inspires a bit of fear from opponents. If Billy Preston ever gets on the floor, maybe this becomes less of an issue for the Jayhawks, but it’s difficult to believe a true freshman making a whole host of difference this late in the season.

So for Kansas to win its 14th-straight Big 12 regular season championship, the Jayhawks are going to have to have to play a specific way. There’s not much wiggle room. They’ve got to defend. They’ve got to shoot 3s. They’ve got to be tough. They’ve got to be resilient.

That’s exactly what the Jayhawks were against Bob Huggins’ team Monday. If you can out-tough, out-hustle and out-work a Huggins team on their home floor, you’re on to something.

West Virginia led by as many as 16 in the first half. The Mountaineers had Kansas shook. Well Sagaba Konate did, at least. Eulogies were already being written for Kansas, especially as West Virginia’s lead stayed in double digits past the midway point of the second half.

West Virginia is designed to wear down opponents. The Mountaineers try to create a crucible, especially in Morgantown, that will force opponents to wilt. That’s supposed to be its most potent late in games.

That’s when Kansas thrived.

The Jayhawks outscored West Virginia 26-11 over the final 8 minutes. The Mountaineers were 5 of 14 (35.7 percent) from the floor with four turnovers during that stretch. Kansas, conversely, make 7 of 10 shots overall and 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

It wasn’t exactly rope-a-dope, but Kansas saved its best for last. They made winning plays. That’s really what’s going to have to separate them from the pack this season. As good as Devonte Graham is, as effective as Svi Mykhailiuk can be and as good as Self is, the Jayhawks are going to have to grind more than they’re accustomed to. 

The Big 12 is unmerciful this season. Texas Tech already has a win at Allen Fieldhouse, Trae Young has gone full supernova and even the league’s bottom tier looks like tough outs. Kansas faces a major test, and they’ll do so without a roster that compares to some of the powerhouses Self has assembled. The Jayhawks have often been able to win just by delivering broad strokes. They were bigger, faster, stronger and, simply, better. When they coupled that with a mastery of the finer points of the game, they dominated.

If The Streak is going to reach 14, it won’t be with that blueprint. The grittier parts of the game are going to have to come to the forefront. Outlasting West Virginia in Morgantown while shooting 44 percent and facing double-digit deficits would suggest the Jayhawks have the toughness and ability to make clutch plays that can paper over other issues.

Kansas isn’t going to overwhelm the Big 12 this year. They still very well could win it.

Monday’s Three Things to Know: Duke wins, Kansas wins and … BC wins?

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1. SO MAYBE KANSAS IS GOING TO WIN THE BIG 12 AFTER ALL

It happens EVERY YEAR.

Kansas goes on some prolonged slump, plays like a hot garbage for a few weeks and gets all of us thinking that yes, this year is different than all of the other years, that this is the year the Jayhawks won’t actually win the Big 12 regular season title.

I am a member of that club, and I feel pretty stupid after Monday night.

Kansas went into Morgantown and knocked off No. 6 West Virginia, 71-66, despite trailing for the majority of the game and spending the first 12 minutes of the second half staring up at a double-digit deficit. Simply put: the Jayhawks had no business winning on Monday night, and yet they did anyway, moving themselves into sole possession of first place in the Big 12 and making up for the fact that they lost at home to Texas Tech earlier this season.

Our Travis Hines penned a column on this game, so I’ll let him elaborate more, but one thing I will note here is that Silvio De Sousa played well in some important minutes at the end of the first half. Turning him into a player that can be a competent energy for 10-15 minutes off the bench will be massive.

2. BC’S ROLLING

The Jim Christian era at Boston College hasn’t exactly been sunshine and rainbows. The Eagles have never finished a season above .500 and failed to reach double-digit wins the last two years. That put Christian on the hot seat coming into the season and with little reason to believe the temperature would come down in the always-competitive ACC.

Things, though, have been pretty good – at least when judged against the last three years – in Chestnut Hill. With Monday’s 81-75 win over Florida State, Boston College is now 3-3 in the ACC, which exceeds its conference win total from the last two years…combined. Yes. BC won just two games against ACC opponents combined in 2016 and 2017, winning two games last year after going 0-18 the season prior.

It hasn’t really been a function of scheduling or luck, either. Other than getting stomped by North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Boston College has been competitive every night out, losing by a combined five points to Virginia and Clemson. Now, don’t go putting Boston College in the FIeld of 68 or anything like that just yet, but it’s easy to see that after three years in the woods, the Eagles may be closer to finding something akin to consistent competency.

3. DUKE IS STARTING TO PLAY SOME DEFENSE

The Blue Devils won at No. 25 Miami tonight. Rob Dauster has a column up on that game right now which gets into everything you need to know.

But there is this tidbit that is important to know: Duke allowed less than 1.00 points-per-possession on Monday night. It’s the third straight game that they have allowed less than 1.00 PPP, and that’s the first time that they have done that since 2014.

Granted, the best offense in those three games ranks outside the top 50 in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric (Wake Forest) and two of them (Miami, 107th, and Pitt, 236th) rank outside the top 100. but you have to start somewhere. Is this the beginning of another defensive renaissance?

VIDEO: West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate hosts block party vs. Kansas

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Do not try Sagaba Konate.

The West Virginia big man has no time for anyone – especially Kansas Jayhawks attempting dunks – at the rim.

Konate’s first half against Kansas on Monday night was borderline dominant on the defensive end, with the 6-foot-8 sophomore blocking five shots as the Mountaineers controlled the game against Big 12 favorite Kansas.

The numbers were great, but the actual blocks were even better.

It looked like Konate had submitted his Block of the Year candidate early when Kansas senior Svi Mykhailiuk challenged him on a fast break. Konate wasn’t having any of it.

Konate may have one-upped himself later in the half, though, when Marcus Garrett, despite presumably having eyes and a short-term memory, thought it was a good idea to try to put Konate on a poster with a dunk of his own.

Super bad idea.

The Big 12 has some dominant shot blockers in the 7-footer mold of Texas’ Mo Bamba and Jo Lual-Acuil, but Konate may be the best of the bunch.