Seven Takeaways from Pittsburgh Jam Fest

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PITTBURGH, Pa. — There was only one live period in the spring this year, making last weekend all the more important for college coaches and the recruits that want to play for them. Here are seven takeaways from a weekend at the Hoop Group’s Pittsburgh Jam Fest:

1. Athleticism gets you noticed, but it only gets you so far: Seventh Woods (No. 5 in Rivals’ Class of 2016) and Derrick Jones (No. 25 in Rivals’ Class of 2015) are two of the most explosive athletes that you’ll ever see at the high school level. Jones’ exploits in layup lines drew bigger crowds than any game this weekend. And Woods? Well, he’s this guy.

The problem comes when a player relies strictly on his athletic ability to get by. That works at a younger age against lesser competition, but as the competition gets better, simply running past or jumping over defenders isn’t as simple. That’s part of what frustrated people watching Woods and Jones this weekend. Woods is naturally a scoring guard. He’s at his best when he’s trying to beat people off the dribble, attacking the rim, drawing fouls. He needs to be aggressive to be effective, and he spent much of the weekend trying to prove that he’s a point guard by … playing passive? He settled for jumpers and opted to distribute the ball around the perimeter instead of trying to break down defenses, which wouldn’t have been a terrible thing if he didn’t turn the ball over so much or struggle with his perimeter shot.

I get it. He’s just a sophomore. It’s a learning process, and he’s still learning how to play a different role. He’s still got a ways to go.

As far as Jones is concerned, he’s a defensive playmaker and a threat on the offensive glass that hasn’t gotten much better offensively. He still needs to improve his handle. He still needs to add weight and strength. He’s still a liability as a jump shooter. His ceiling will land him at a marquee program, but he’s got a long way to go before he’s an impact player at the high-major level.

2. MJ Walker was the best prospect at Pitt Jam Fest: Want to know what kind of physical specimen Walker is? He’s still a freshman in high school (Class of 2017) and hasn’t played football since 2011, yet when word spread that he would be suiting up with his Jonesboro HS (Ga.) team next season, Clemson and Miami offered him scholarships sight unseen.

That’s not all. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard led his high school basketball team to the Georgia 4A state title this past season. His strength and athleticism are despite his age, and his game is more well-rounded that you would expect from a player that only completed his freshman season. He can handle the ball, he can attack the basket, he’s got range on his jumper, he’s willing to get after it defensively. And high majors are only now starting to take notice. Auburn is the only school that’s offered him, but Ohio State and Iowa State are starting to show serious interest.

Walker told NBCSports.com his goal for the summer is to get an invite to the U-16 Team USA event this summer.

3. New Heights’ Mike Nzei and Dupree McBrayer were the two best Class of 2014 players at the event: McBrayer was lights out over the course of the first two days. The 6-foot-3 lefty combo-guard showed off a knack for being able to get into the paint and knocked down perimeter jumpers more consistently than he has in the past, but he’s primarily a scorer that can spend too much time dominating the ball and strongly favors going left. McBrayer holds a number of low- to mid-major offers in the Class of 2014, but he told NBCSports.com that he’s going to prep school. He wants to go high-major, and even claimed an offer from Seton Hall.

“What I need to do is put on some strength and strength my right hand,” he said.

Nzei is an interesting prospect in that he’s an active and athletic 6-foot-8 forward that showed off a nice perimeter touch this weekend. He holds offers from Iowa and St. Joseph’s, among others.

4. Pitt is doing everything they can to keep Moustapha Heron’s commitment: Heron was arguably the MVP of the New Heights team that won the 17u title, which certainly made Pitt fans that were in attendance giddy. Heron, the No. 19 player in the Class of 2016, committed to the Panthers last fall. But there’s a catch: Heron was recruited by Barry ‘Slice’ Rohrssen, and Slice has since taken a job at Kentucky. Pitt had an assistant tailing him all weekend and came full staff on Sunday. “Family-wise, we had a real close tie to [Slice],” Heron told NBCSports.com. “Right now, we’re just working on building a good relationship with Coach Dixon.”

Heron is a powerful, 6-foot-5 guard that butters his bread attacking the rim off the dribble. He’ll need to develop his handle and his perimeter stroke for the next level.

5. Dewan Huell or Juwan Durham?: Team Breakdown’s 16s has the best kind of problem: two top 50 recruits in their front court. Juwan Durham is the more highly-regarded of the pair — he’s a bit taller and longer and more athletic — but Huell’s more physical and more aggressive around the rim. He outplayed another top 25 forward, Justin Jackson of Findlay Prep, on Sunday morning.

6. Keep an eye on Danjel Puriefoy: Tevin Mack was the best scorer in Pittsburgh this weekend — we wrote about him here — but Puriefoy might have been the best wing at the event. He’s 6-foot-7, powerful and athletic, making him tough to keep out of the paint, but he’s got a knack for being able to create offense for his teammates. He needs to add some range on his shot, but he reminded me a bit of Pitt’s Lamar Patterson, the senior season version.

7. Mike Watkins will be a player for Penn State: Watkins is still learning how to be a basketball player and not just an athlete, but his athleticism and effort level on the glass and the defensive end will make him a capable Big Ten post presence for four years. He’s currently ranked 123rd in the Class of 2015.

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.

Texas Tech fined, WVU’s Harris reprimanded after court-storm

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The Big 12 fined Texas Tech $25,000 and reprimanded West Virginia forward Wes Harris for hitting a fan who joined thousands of others in storming the court during a weekend postgame celebration.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement Monday that Texas Tech did not ensure the safety and security of West Virginia players following the game in Lubbock, Texas.

Videos posted on social media by fans show Harris and other West Virginia players trying to reach the sideline as Red Raider fans swarmed the court Saturday in celebration of No. 8 Texas Tech’s 72-71 win over then-No. 2 West Virginia.

The videos show Harris striking a fan who had run into him before Harris is pulled away. Other players were involved in a separate skirmish trying to protect a teammate in the swarm.

“We have a duty to provide a safe game environment,” Bowlsby said. “The Texas Tech Department of Athletics has a written event management policy, which was unsuccessful in ensuring the safety and security of the visiting team game participants.”

Texas Tech got the win it its first-ever Top 10 matchup on its home court.

Bowlsby noted that although the Big 12 does not have a policy prohibiting spectators from entering the court for postgame celebrations, “it is of utmost importance that home game management provide adequate security measures for our student-athletes, coaches, game officials and spectators.”

Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said in a statement that the Red Raiders “admittedly did fail to meet our expectations Saturday in efforts to secure the floor and allow West Virginia to exit without incident.

“We will make the necessary adjustments to continue to ensure that all in attendance have an excellent experience at all of our events.”

West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons said WVU, the Big 12 and Texas Tech had a “positive and open dialogue” over the incident, and court security, player safety and postgame emotions were taken into account.

“We will revisit with our student-athletes to again reinforce our expectations regarding sportsmanship issues across all sports,” Lyons said in a statement. “The Big 12 has issued its reprimand. We accept it, and I consider the matter closed.”

Harris, a sophomore, is averaging 6.2 points and 4.6 rebounds.

“Although the post-game environment did not live up to our expectations, Mr. Harris intentionally striking a fan is contrary to the conference’s sportsmanship standards,” Bowlsby said.

Harris started his 18th straight game Monday night when No. 6 West Virginia (15-2, 4-1 Big 12) faced No. 10 Kansas (14-3, 4-1) in Morgantown.

Texas Tech plays at Texas on Wednesday.

Gary Trent sparks comeback win for No. 5 Duke at No. 25 Miami

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Gary Trent Jr. scored 18 of his career-high 30 points in the final 12 minutes as No. 5 Duke overcame a 13-point second half deficit to knock off No. 25 Miami in Coral Gables, 83-75, on Monday night.

Miami was up 66-53 and cruising with less than eight minutes left on the clock when Trent buried threes on back-to-back possessions to spark a 27-4 run that gave the Blue Devils an 80-70 lead with 39 seconds left. Trent also made the biggest shot of the game in that run, a three with 1:18 left that put Duke ahead 76-70.

The story of this game is going to end up being Duke’s defense. After getting torched for the first 32 minutes of the game, Mike Krzyzewski went back to a 2-3 zone that completely took the Hurricanes out of the rhythm that they were in. That is true.

But that is not what changed the game.

Duke had 19 turnovers in the first 32 minutes of the game that led directly to 20 Miami points. In total, the Hurricanes scored 31 of their first 66 points in transition. In the final eight minutes of the game, Duke stopped throwing the ball all over the court and managed to score 30 points during that stretch; for comparison’s sake, Miami outscored Duke 19-4 in the first nine minutes of the second half when the Blue Devils had seven turnovers.

So credit Duke for getting it done on the offensive end against one of college basketball’s stiffest defenses; Miami entered the night ranked 7th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric.

And credit Coach K for throwing a 2-3 zone at Miami, because it works.

But I don’t think that this performance changes the overarching narrative of Duke’s season – that they are not good enough defensively to win a national title right now – because I think Miami’s struggles against the zone say far more about Miami than they do about Duke.

The Hurricanes are insanely talented. Lonnie Walker and Bruce Brown both look like they are going to play in the NBA and may end up being first round picks. The same can be said for big man Dewan Huell. JaQuan Newton, a senior, and Chris Lykes, a freshman, are both good ACC players. The problem, at least the way that I see it, is that all four of those guards are essentially the same guy: Score-first combo-guards that don’t really shoot it all that well and that don’t really make anyone around them all that much better.

In transition, when Jim Larrañaga’s talented guards can make plays in space, they are really effective. When they play against a man-to-man defense that doesn’t really know how to defend ball-screens, they look great. Against a zone, where trying to beat a man 1-on-1 won’t work, where ball movement and spacing and attacking gaps to create openings for teammates is needed, Miami comes up short.

Duke was not good defensively for the first 32 minutes on Monday night. They were better than they have been, and they do deserve some credit for slowly going from horrendous to just plain bad defensively, but there were still plenty of times where the Blue Devils looked like this trying to slow down Miami:

Duke made the plays they needed to make to come back, and that’s not an easy thing to do. They deserve credit for it.

But it is also fair to say that Miami lost their lead because they were clueless about what to do when faced with a 2-3.

It begs a larger question, one that will be tougher for Hurricane fans to stomach: Was this team overrated coming into the season?

Personally, I don’t think they were. A team with three potential NBA players and a roster full of guards that thrive in a ball-screen heavy offense that Larrañaga runs should be better than they are. But Newton is shooting a career-low from three and losing minutes to Lykes, who is 5-foot-7 and a gambler defensively. Brown did not make anywhere near the improvement many expected him to make – in some ways he’s regressed – and Walker entered Monday shooting under 30 percent from three.

The pieces on the roster aren’t as good as we thought they were and they don’t fit together as well as we had hoped that they would.

We’re now more than halfway through the season and the Hurricanes’ best win came against a Florida State team that has lost three of their last four and four of their last six. They’ve also beaten Minnesota, who has fallen off a cliff recently, and Middle Tennessee State, who probably needs to win their league to get to the NCAA tournament. They’ve now lost two in a row, three of their last four and four of their last seven.

Miami will have plenty of chances to figure this thing out and play their way into the Big Dance, but as of today, the Hurricanes are a bubble team.

Predicting them to win the ACC doesn’t look like my best prediction right now.