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.

Tumble continues for Oklahoma as No. 8 Kansas cruises to win

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Oklahoma desperately needed a win. Not even necessarily in the classic sense of the term of outscoring your opponent. The Sooners just needed something, anything, positive to build on in a season that’s suddenly crumbling around them.

Unfortunately for Long Kruger and his team, Allen Fieldhouse is not the place to go when you’re in need of a pick-me-up. It’s a place more suited for realizing your worst nightmares.

Eighth-ranked Kansas eviscerated the Sooners in a 104-74 beatdown that not only exposed Oklahoma’s problems but exacerbated them to the point where the NCAA tournament no longer looks to be assured.

Oh, and it set up a potential Big 12 title game in Lubbock later this week with a 13-year streak on the line, but more on that later.

The headline here is that Oklahoma and the man who set college basketball ablaze, Trae Young, look broken. And maybe beyond repair.

Oklahoma has now lost six in a row, tumbling from burgeoning Final Four contender to potential First Four hopeful. Things are spinning out of control fast.

The person who will draw the bulk of the blame, fair or not, is Young. The freshman from Norman North looked like the college basketball’s answer to Steph Curry while carrying his hometown university to a 12-1 start to the year, leading the country in scoring, assists and jaw-dropping plays and performances. The substance of his game matched the style, which was no small feat for a guy who routinely would splash shots from 35 feet out.

He’s been a bit of a disaster during this six-game slide, however. Young is just 11 of 56 (19.6 percent) from 3-point range and 27 of 57 (47.3 percent) from inside the arc during the losing streak. He’s also turned it over 25 times. He’s still distributing at a high-rate, but that’s not enough to offset his shooting numbers. His teammates don’t score it well enough to pick up the slack. They also can’t create for Young. He’s got to do all of it himself – get looks and dole them out.

Young and Oklahoma’s issue runs deeper than just the makes and misses of their offense, though. The Sooners’ defense has become a massive liability. Kansas took a sledgehammer to it and blasted it to smithereens in front of 16,300 witnesses in Allen Fieldhouse and millions more in their living rooms.

The Jayhawks shot 60.9 percent for the game. They made 16 of 29 of their 3-point attempts. That’s 55.2 percent from deep. Nineteen of their buckets came from layups or dunks and averaged 1.444 points per possession.

It was as if the Sooners weren’t there at all, which actually might have been of some consolation to Kruger because that would at least mean no one could see their baffling lack of effort, cohesiveness and pride on the defensive end. It was really a sight to behold for the rest of us, though.

Young is as big of culprit here as anyone. Yes, he carries an incredible offensive burden with a 39.6 usage rate. No one is expecting him to be Jevon Carter, but he has to offer some resistance some of the time. Against the Jayhawks, he died on screens again and again or simply didn’t even put up a fight too often when guarding the ball.

He’s not alone, however, as the Sooners looked disconnected as a unit. They were simply incapable of even slowing Kansas. The Jayhawks got hot, sure, but Oklahoma can’t write this off as just catching a team on a night they couldn’t miss. The Sooners had as much to do with it as anything.

That’s the area that’s got to get fixed. Young may not be able to put up the absurd numbers he did for long stretches earlier this season, but his talent is so immense that it would be foolish to expect this slump to stay this bad for too much longer. Without a superhuman Young, however, they’ve got to get some stops. Without them, Young may join the ignominious list of Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz as pheoms who failed to make the NCAA tournament.

Now, back to that Big 12 title game in West Texas.

Assuming Texas Tech can get in and out of Stillwater with a win over Oklahoma State – potentially without Keenan Evans – the Red Raiders and Jayhawks will be tied atop the Big 12 with matching 11-4 league records with Kansas making the trip to Lubbock.

The Jayhawks, you may have heard, have won 13 consecutive Big 12 regular season championships. It very well could be decided Saturday if there will be a 14th.

After a two-game hiccup of losses at Texas and Iowa State, Chris Beard’s team won seven-straight before falling to a resurgent Baylor on Saturday. They’re undefeated at home and possess one of the country’s best defenses. They’ve been the biggest threat to Kansas’ streak since they knocked off the Jayhawks in Lawrence in January.

The Jayhawks will go into the game with their best offensive performance of the season. Devonte Graham finally looked like he may be the Big 12’s best player – he certainly bested Young – and Svi Mykhailiuk, LeGerald VIck and Malik Newman looked like the more-than-capable secondary options this Jayhawks team desperately needs. Silvio De Sousa even looked serviceable for the first time, putting up 10 points and six rebounds in 13 minutes. Which is also to say nothing of Udoka Azubuike being one of the Big 12’s toughest matchups.

Kansas is a flawed team, but once again the Jayhawks have put themselves in enviable position and appear to be rounding into tip-top form toward the end of February. It’s their conference, and they’ll have the chance this weekend to keep it that way.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma is just trying to stay out of playing Wednesday in the Big 12 tournament. The Sooners sure could use a win. Of any kind.

Bubble Banter: Oklahoma in danger of missing tournament?

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Saturday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

MIAMI (RPI: 33, KenPom: 43, NBC seed: 8): Miami added a fourth Quadrant 1 win on Monday night by going into South Bend and picking off Notre Dame. The Hurricanes are in the conversation as a bubble team for a two reasons — they have a Quadrant 3 loss to Georgia Tech, and they had lost three in a row entering Monday night. What’s interesting with Miami’s profile is that they don’t really have any elite wins. They beat Middle Tennessee State on a neutral. They won at Virginia Tech, N.C. State and Notre Dame. That’s it. Those are their four Quadrant 1 wins. Their profile is probably strong enough to get them in, but I do think there is a world where they get a lower seed than you might be expecting.

MARYLAND (RPI: 54, KenPom: 41, NBC seed: Out): The Terps, who won at Northwestern tonight, seem to be in the mix on most of the places that I go to read about the bubble, and frankly, I just don’t get it. They do not have a Quadrant 1 win. They are 0-9 against Quadrant 1 opponents. In a year where the NCAA Selection Committee showed us just how much they value quality wins already, I’m not sure that they can build a profile that is strong enough to get a bid unless they beat Michigan on Saturday and win a couple of games against the top of the Big Ten in the Big Ten tournament. They’re at least three wins away in my mind. Like I said, I just don’t see it, but I figured it was worth mentioning here on a slow night.

LOSERS

OKLAHOMA (RPI: 36, KenPom: 40, NBC seed: 8): Just eight days ago, when the NCAA tournament Selection Committee convened to release an early look at the top 16 seeds for the NCAA tournament, Oklahoma was a No. 4 seed. They were one of the top 16 teams, according to the committee, in an event that will need 36 at-large members to complete it. Going from there to the bubble is a long, long fall, and to be frank, I am not sure that the Sooners are on the bubble yet. Hell, they’re still 16-11 overall even after that embarrassing loss at Kansas. They’re still 6-7 against Quadrant 1 opponents without a hint of a bad loss to their name. They’ve still beaten USC in LA. They still won at Wichita. They beat Texas Tech. They beat TCU. Hell, they beat Kansas.

For comparison’s sake, our current last team in is Syracuse. They are 18-9 overall and 3-5 against Quadrant 1 with losses to Wake Forest and Georgia Tech.

But we can no longer ignore the fact that this team has hit rock bottom. Tonight was their sixth-straight loss. They have lost seven of eight and nine of 11. They’ve lost eight straight on the road. If the tournament was tomorrow, they would be in the field with some room to spare, but the problem is that there is absolutely no reason for us to assume that they are simply going to be able to get the job done against the teams left on their schedule. It is, admittedly, relatively easy by Big 12 standards — Kansas State, at Baylor, Iowa State — but Big 12 standards are absolutely preposterous.

No one would be surprised if Oklahoma lost two of their last three games — hell, I would be fairly shocked if they found a way to win at Baylor at this point — and if they do happen to lose two of their last three, they’ll enter the Big 12 tournament with a 17-14 record and a 7-11 mark in the league while having to play on the first day of the Big 12 tournament in either the 7-10 or 8-9 game.

If that were to be the case, they would probably have to win two Big 12 games to get to the Big Dance.

Put another way, Oklahoma went from being a No. 4 seed in the first bracket projection to needing to win three games in the next three weeks to avoid having to sweat out Selection Sunday.

It’s crazy how far and fast they’ve fallen.

NOTRE DAME (RPI: 68, KenPom: 33, NBC seed: Next four out): The Fighting Irish are in an interesting spot. Their profile is not exactly worthy of an at-large bid. But they’ve also been decimated by injury. Bonzie Colson is still out with a foot injury. So is D.J. Harvey. Matt Farrell and Rex Pflueger have both missed tie with injuries. If Colson can get healthy before the season ends and the Irish can win a couple games at or near full strength, they will have an interesting case to make. I do, however, think that would require winning two of their last three games. One of those three games is at Virginia, so they have their work cut out for them.

Calipari defends Diallo, gives insight into own philosophy

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John Calipari was asked a question about struggling freshman Hamidou Diallo. He ended up giving an answer about his general coaching philosophy.

“Making them be responsible for who they are. In his case, I’m with Hami. He’s trying. He’s working,” Calipari said. “If he’s willing to do that and put in extra work, I’m for him. If you’re playing awful, I may not play you as much, but I’m going to play you and if you’re doing what we’re asking you to do, I’m going to encourage you.

“It would probably be easier when a guy plays poorly to say you’re out and i’m going with these seven I’m just not going to do that.”

Calipari likened the approach to what a well-intentioned parent might say to him about their son who is struggling.

“I would say (a parent) would say, ‘Coach, he’s responsible for himself, but please keep coaching him and let him know you love him and keep being there for him but hold him accountable,’” Calipari said. “‘If he’s not going to listen to you you should not play him. That’s what I think a parent that’s not trying to enable their son (should say).”

On the other hand, Calipari discussed what the opposite of that situation would look like.

“If they’re listening to an enabler, whoever that enabler is, I can’t help you,” he said. “I told you when I walked in the door, this is going to be about the players first and I’m trying to stay that course but they are responsible for themselves.

“If they can’t perform, I’m going to play you but when they’re not performing, you can’t be in there.”

Calipari can oftentimes be full of bluster – it’s an essential part of his Always Be Selling philosophy that’s won the hearts of countless five-star recruits and a national championship. But this looks to be an honest look into the way he views his job and role with his players. Give ultra-talented guys opportunity, but keep them accountable. It’s a simple thought, but one that few execute as well and as consistently as he does.

Texas Tech’s Keenan Evans ‘day-to-day’ with toe injury

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It would appear that sixth-ranked Texas Tech may have avoided its worst-case scenario with star guard Keenan Evans.

The senior is considered day-to-day with a toe injury suffered Saturday in a loss at Baylor, and could play as soon as Wednesday against Oklahoma State, Red Raiders coach Chris Beard said Monday.

“It’s going to come down to just pain tolerance and can he move,” Beard said, according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. “We all know Keenan is a warrior. He’s going to do everything he possibly can to play. … At the end of the day, just kind of how he reacts to his body.”

Evans is averaging 18.2 points per game for the Red Raiders, and his health is paramount for their attempt to unseat Kansas atop the Big 12. Texas Tech and the Jayhawks are locked in a first-place tie with matching 10-4 league records with four games to play. After the Red Raiders’ trip to Stillwater on Wednesday, they host Kansas on Saturday in a game that very well could decide the fate of the Jayhawks’ 13-year run of conference championships.

While the Big 12 race is certainly front of mind, the fact that Evans is potentially going to be able to play this week is a great sign for Texas Tech. Even if Evans does need to miss a game or two to get his toe fully healthy, the timeline and conditions Beard laid out Monday suggest that he’ll be good to go before the NCAA tournament for a Red Raiders team that certainly is a contender to finish its season in its home state – at the Final Four in San Antonio.

NCAA tourney chair addresses non-conference strength of schedule and quadrant system

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The way the NCAA tournament selection committee picks teams for inclusion into the sport’s crowning event is always under intense scrutiny. It’s a national past time, really.

One of the easiest targets is the RPI, an obviously flawed metric. It was the topic of discussion recently in the Omaha World-Herald, most notably the non-conference strength of schedule component.

That post spurred a lengthy response from Creighton athletic director and selection committee chairman Bruce Rasmussen, who defended the committee’s work with a metric that it acknowledges to be imperfect.

Here’s Rasmussen:

“Non-conference SOS is not a predominant tool in selections.

In fact, each year that I have been on the committee, we have discussed why you have to look beyond the number to evaluate a team’s non-conference strength of schedule, and even with this qualifier, non-conference schedule ranks well behind other factors such as how you did against other tournament caliber teams, did you win the games you were supposed to win, and how did you do away from home since winning away from home is difficult and the tournament games are all games away from home.

“I have argued each year that I have been on the committee that non-conference SOS should be taken off the team sheet, but until we develop a new metric it is staying. However, understand that the committee understands its fallacies (as we also recognize other weaknesses in the current RPI formula) and it is not a prominent factor in decisions.”

Rasmussen also examined the quadrant system being used:

“Many think that the first and second quadrants are silos and that every win in the first quadrant or every win in the second quadrant is treated equally.  I think it is important that while we refer to first and second quadrant wins, we also better communicate that this is only a sorting mechanism and each game in these quadrants is looked at differently. They don’t have the same value.”

So while it’s fair to question NCAA selection committee’s decisions and the way in which they make them, it’s clear there is an extensive amount of well-intentioned thought put into the process.