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The top 25 players to follow on the grassroots basketball circuit

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Here’s a look at some of the top names to know that recruiting analysts and college basketball writers will be talking about over the next few months.

Carlton Bragg, 6-foot-9 forward, Cleveland, OH: An explosive wing forward that can play above the rim and do a lot of damage in transition, Bragg is also expanding his range and showing that he’s a capable rebounder. Can he go higher in the top 10 in 2015?

Jalen Brunson, 6-foot-1 point guard, Lincolnshire, IL: After a fantastic high school season at Stevenson, Brunson has emerged as potentially the best point guard prospect in the country. The son of former NBA guard Rick Brunson, the lefty guard can really score the ball and had multiple 50-point performances against top 25 teams in Chicago this season.

Cheick Diallo, 6-foot-9 center, Centereach, NY: Burst onto the scene last summer with a dominating performance at the NBPA Top 100 Camp and remains one of the most ominous defenders in the country. Elite shot blocker and great athlete.

Harry Giles, 6-foot-10 forward, Winston-Salem, NC: Coming off of a knee injury in June suffered during USA Basketball, Giles returns from tearing his ACL, MCL and meniscus. Can he be a No. 1 type player in 2016 coming off of the injury? How will Giles fair in the EYBL with CP3?

Josh Jackson, 6-foot-6 wing, Detroit, MI: Considered No. 1 in 2016 by a handful of national scouts, Jackson can score the ball in a variety of different ways while also being a strong passer and rebounder. How will Jackson fair on the grassroots circuit?

Skal Labissiere, 6-foot-10 forward, Cordova, TN: Recently returned from an injury to join the Arkansas Wings on the grassroots circuit and is a long and explosive athlete around the hoop. When Skal improves his ability to understand the game on-the-fly, he could be elite. Kentucky, Georgetown and Memphis are the three names most often associated with Labissiere.

Thon Maker, 7-foot center, Martinsville, VA: After exploding as a national name thanks to a mixtape and some absurd hype, Maker is in the conversation as the No. 1 player in 2016. Maker moves freakishly well for a 7-footer his age.

Malik Newman, 6-foot-3 guard, Jackson, MS: One of the most cold-blooded scorers in recent memory, Newman is Rivals’ No. 1 player in 2015 and the scoring guard and fill it up from all over the floor. Also a gifted passer, Newman will have to hold off a bevy of good big men in 2015 to remain in the top spot.

Ivan Rabb, 6-foot-9 center, Oakland, CA: Big-time athlete can leap with the best of them from the center position and is fighting hard at being No. 1 in the 2015 class. Is playing in the EYBL with the Oakland Soldiers.

Ben Simmons, 6-foot-8 forward, Montverde, FL: This is the Australian native’s grassroots season debut after spending last summer with the Australian National team and working out in his home country. Simmons has the chance to be the best player in 2015 after helping lead Montverde to the Dick’s National Championship.

Diamond Stone, 6-foot-10 center, Milwaukee, WI: The big man from Milwaukee is a top-5 talent in 2015 and is a load to handle on the interior thanks to his soft hands and good touch and post moves. Stone also has solid footwork and rebounds well.

Jayson Tatum, 6-foot-7 wing, St. Louis, MO: Smooth wing out of St. Louis reminds some of Shaun Livingston and Scottie Pippen and he’s a consensus top-five player in 2016.

Elijah Thomas, 6-foot-9 center, Lancaster, TX: One of the premier big men in the 2015 class, Thomas is a lot to handle on the interior thanks to his 250-pound frame. Will be one of the better big men in the EYBL with Team Texas Elite.

Seventh Woods, 6-foot-1 point guard, Columbia, SC: With unbelievable athleticism and burst, Woods also became a phenomenon based on a mixtape, but he’s starting to add to his overall guard package. Can his skill set continue to grow?

Stephen Zimmerman, 7-foot center, Las Vegas, NV: Athletic lefty is just starting to figure out his overall game. Zimmerman is also highly skilled and a good teammate and communicator. Has a chance at No. 1 in 2015.

Ten More to Watch:

Isaiah Briscoe 6-foot-3 guard, Newark, NJ: Skilled scorer in 2015 can play either guard spot and fill it up from all over the floor.

Jaylen Brown, 6-foot-7 forward, Marietta, GA: Explosive wing athlete is good in the open floor and getting better with his skills from the perimeter.

Tyler Dorsey, 6-foot-4 guard, Bellflower, CA: Arizona commit can play a bit of both guard spots and is a top 10 player in 2015 and possibly the best guard not named Malik Newman.

Chase Jeter, 6-foot-10 forward, Las Vegas, NV: Forward runs alongside Stephen Zimmerman during the high school season and has a lot of upside in 2015.

V.J. King, 6-foot-7 forward, Akron, OH: Can the 2016 forward out of St. Vincent-St. Mary’s shoot into the top five?

Dedric Lawson, 6-foot-8 forward, Memphis, TN: Brother Keelon is already a Memphis commit in 2015 class. Could Dedric, a 2016 recruit, be another for Josh Pastner?

Charles Matthews, 6-foot-5 guard, Chicago, IL: After an early-season foot injury, the Kentucky commit and 2015 recruit played tremendous all-around basketball.

Doral Moore, 6-foot-11 center, Locust Grove, GA: Big man is coming on strong down south and has earned a lot of recent praise among 2015 class.

Justin Simon, 6-foot-4 point guard, Temecula, CA: Simon has earned a lot of scholarship offers out west and will challenge for best point guard in 2015.

Ray Smith, 6-foot-6 wing, Las Vegas, NV: Gaining a lot of buzz out in Las Vegas and could be the best small forward in the 2015 class.

Before he won an Academy Award, Mahershala Ali played at Saint Mary’s

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26:  Actor Mahershala Ali accepts Best Supporting Actor for 'Moonlight' onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Mahershala Ali won an Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in the film ‘Moonlight’ on Sunday night.

How does that tie into college basketball?

It’s simple: Ali played college basketball for four years at Saint Mary’s, from 1992-1996.

Now, this was before Saint Mary’s turned into the Saint Mary’s that Randy Bennett has built. At the time, Ernie Kent was the program’s head coach, and the teams that Ali — whose used his given last name of Gilmore at the time, although he was already using the shortened version of his first name, Mahershalalhashbaz — played on weren’t really all that good. They finished under .500 in the WCC three of the four season, finding a way to finish in a tie for second place in his junior year.

As a senior, Ali averaged 7.0 points for the Gaels.

This would probably make Ali the most famous player that Kent has ever coached. He’s more famous than Aaron Brooks, who had about two good NBA seasons, and he’s definitely more famous than Luke Ridnour, who is best known either for getting traded four times in a week or being name-dropped in a song by the rapper Wale, who bragged about being able to turn ‘Ducks into Bucks [like] Luke Ridnour.’

 

VIDEO: Tom Izzo’s touching senior day tribute to Eron Harris

EAST LANSING, MI - FEBRUARY 26: Eron Harris #14 of the Michigan State Spartans kisses the midcourt logo on senior day during the second half of the college basketball game against the Wisconsin Badgers at the Breslin Center on February 26, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
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Eron Harris suffered a career-ending knee injury in a game at Purdue earlier this month, meaning that he would not be able to take the floor for his Senior Day.

Tom Izzo made sure to rectify that, as he called a timeout with just 12 seconds left in Michigan State’s win over No. 16 Wisconsin on Sunday, giving Harris a chance to go out to the center of the court, get a standing ovation and give the Spartan logo a smooch.

He was also greeted by the Wisconsin team. All around great moment:

Nick Ward-led Michigan State beats No. 16 Wisconsin 84-74

EAST LANSING, MI - FEBRUARY 26: Nick Ward #44 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates during a game against the Wisconsin Badgers in the second half at the Breslin Center on February 26, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)
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EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Nick Ward had 22 points and nine rebounds, Miles Bridges had 17 points and Matt McQuaid added a season-high 15 to help Michigan State beat No. 16 Wisconsin 84-74 on Sunday.

The Spartans (18-11, 10-6 Big Ten) have won six of their last eight games, moving them into a third-place tie in the conference and perhaps sealing their spot in a 20th straight NCAA Tournament.

The Badgers (22-7, 11-5) have lost four of five and lost a chance to pull into a first-place tie with No. 14 Purdue.

Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes scored 22 points, Bronson Koenig had 17 and Zak Showalter added 15. Ethan Happ fouled out with eight points, more than six points below his average for the Badgers.

Michigan State went on an 11-1 run midway through the second half, building a 12-point lead that it was able to maintain unlike a big lead in the first half.

In the first half, the Spartans led 36-23 only to allow the Badgers to come back with a 15-4 run to pull within a point at halftime.

Michigan State’s Cassius Winston had 10 points and eight assists and Joshua Langford had nine points.

In the last game of the season at Breslin Center, senior guard Eron Harris checked in late in the game a little more than a week after he had a season-ending knee injury. Harris, with a brace on his right knee, went to center court and kissed the Spartan logo to follow a senior tradition Shawn Respert started in 1995.

BIG PICTURE

Wisconsin: The Badgers have been shooting poorly and it is catching up with them. They were held to 43.1 percent shooting against Michigan State, a ninth straight game of connecting on 44 percent or fewer of their shots. They made 13 of 25 free throws at Michigan State after shooting 67 and 57 percent from the line the previous two games.

Michigan State: The Spartans are surging at the right time and are gaining confidence perhaps allowing them to position themselves for better seeding at the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments.

POLL IMPLICATONS

With Wisconsin’s losses at Michigan State and Ohio State, the Badgers will likely plummet from No. 16 in The Associated Press poll on Monday.

UP NEXT

Wisconsin: The Badgers end the regular season at home, hosting Iowa on Thursday night and Minnesota on Sunday.

Michigan State: The Spartans close on the road, playing Illinois on Wednesday night and No. 24 Maryland on Saturday.

More AP college basketball at http://collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

Update: Creighton’s Watson turns himself into police

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - JANUARY 31: Injured guard Maurice Watson Jr. of the Creighton Bluejays looks on during the game against the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle Fieldhouse on January 31, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Creighton defeated Butler 76-67. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Update: Later Sunday, Watson turned himself into the Douglas County Jail, a law enforcement official told the Omaha World-Herald. Watson’s attorney told the paper that Watson was driving back to Omaha from his native Philadelphia and was slowed by the snowstorm that hit parts of the country this week.

Law enforcement has been unable to arrest Creighton guard Maurice Watson since a warrant for his arrest on the charge first-degree sexual assault was issued last week, according to police.

“The U.S. Marshals Service and the Omaha Police Fugitive Unit continue to look for Mr. Watson,” Omaha Police said in a statement Sunday. “At this point in time, Mr. Watson is dodging law enforcement efforts to arrest him.

“Until he is located and arrested by law enforcement, or turns himself in, the entire Douglas County Court system is operating off of Mr. Watson’s time frame.

“Neither OPD nor the Douglas County Attorney’s Office is part of any specific arrangements for Mr. Watson to turn himself in.”

Watson was accused by a 19-year-old acquaintance, who reportedly is also a Creighton student, of sexual assault in the bathroom of an Omaha residence around 3 a.m. on Feb. 4. A report was filed later that day.

The point guard was in the midst of a banner season for the Bluejays before he tore his ACL in January, which ended his collegiate career. Creighton announced on Feb. 13 he was suspended from the team and not allowed to participate in senior night act due to  “alleged actions that are contrary to university policies and core values.”

The warrant for his arrest was issued Thursday.

 

Seventh-ranked Louisville dominates Syracuse

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The hint arrived early that Louisville might be no kind of matchup for Syracuse when the Cardinals jumped out to a quick 11-2 lead. The Orange, though, appeared to steady and seemed intent on delivering an interesting Sunday afternoon and a maybe another resume-changing win after beating Duke earlier in the week as the roared back to take a lead.

Everyone should have taken the early hint.

Louisville used a 21-4 first-half run to gain separation and never looked back as the Cardinals dominated Syracuse, 88-68, on Saturday afternoon at the KFC Yum! Center.

The win was the fourth in five games for Louisville, which shot 56.9 percent from the floor and held the Orange to 35.7 percent shooting.

Donovan Mitchell was sensational, going for 25 points on 9 of 16 shooting, including 6 of 10 from deep, while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists. It was his third-straight game with at least 20 points.  He also had an absolutely dynamic one-handed alley-oop late that was just fantastic.

The Cardinals showed no ill effects of a hangover stemming from the loss earlier this week at North Carolina, but instead it was as dominant a performance as they’ve had in weeks.

On the losing side of the ledger are the Orange, who looked to be building some momentum after a three-game losing streak by beating Duke on Wednesday. Then, the Blue Devils went and lost to Miami and Syracuse just got smashed by another ACC contender. That doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.

For Syracuse, it looks destined to spend another Selection Sunday sweating, though there’s certainly enough time for it to go either way. The Orange can really only hurt themselves until the ACC tournament with Georgia Tech heading to the Carrier Dome this week. That’s a game Syracuse will need to win, lest they really want the pressure ratcheted up in Brooklyn.

A big part of the issue for Syracuse pinning its hopes on the ACC tournament is its total lack of depth. Tyler Lydon and Andrew White both went at least 40 minutes for the 11- and 10-straight games, respectively. Syracuse played seven and got 28 minutes total from its bench.

With a few days typically between days, that’s pretty sustainable for the regular season, but those minutes are sure to weigh on players going on back-to-back (and maybe longer) days.