Seven Takeaways from Breakout Classic, The Showdown

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The first of July’s three live periods ended at 5:00 p.m. Sunday. Each of our writers were at an event last week, and each will be giving you seven takeaways from those events. 

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia University was home to a pair of high-level events during the first July live period, with Reebok hosting the Breakout Classic, a camp featuring more than 100 of the best high school players in the country, being followed by The Showdown, an invitational tournament held by Elevate Hoops.

Here are seven thoughts on the action from the City of Brotherly Love:

1. Playing hard will get you noticed: It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But it bears repeating, over and over again. The best example of this may be Horace Spencer, a top 75 recruit from Philly that spent much of his junior season riding the pine for Findlay Prep. A lot of people are going to brand Spencer a breakout player from the first week of July because he had a couple of big games. What they won’t realize is that he had those big games because his motor never stopped running. He got easy dunks because he beat people down the floor and worked for offensive rebounds. He kept his team in games because he blocked shots and went after loose balls and defensive rebounds like he was playing in the Final Four.

MOREAll our content from the 2014 July Live Recruiting Period

Another example is Nate Morris, a top 75 big man in the class of 2016. Morris was on the receiving end of one of the nastiest dunks from the Breakout Classic, but that didn’t stop him from challenging everything shot the rim. Getting posterized comes with the territory for shot blockers. The high major head coach I was sitting with at the time was much more impressed with Morris challenging shots at the rim on two of the next three possessions than he was with the player that dunked on Morris.

2. Jawun Evans is staking his claim for best point guard in his class: People that read this site or that follow me on twitter will be familiar with Evans because I’ve become infatuated with the No. 32 recruit in the class of 2015. He’s not built in the mold of guys like Russell Westbrook and John Wall; he’s 6-foot on a good day and his athleticism manifests more in his quickness than it does vertical explosiveness. But he’s a rock-solid ball-handler that always makes the right decision, he’s a playmaker off the bounce and he’s a pest defensively. John Groce of Illinois and Rick Barnes of Texas were among the head coaches that make their way to Philly to get a glimpse of the Kimball, Texas, native.

3. None of the three elite big men in Philly were dominant: There were three elite class of 2015 big men in Philly this week — No. 6 Diamond Stone, No. 11 Elijah Thomas and No. 14 Skal Labissiere — and none of the three were overly impressive. Stone looked great early on against Labissiere in the marquee matchup of the first day of the Breakout Classic, but a combination of stomach issues and struggles against the strength of Thomas made it tough for him to shine. Thomas is immovable when he establishes position on the block, but he lack of vertical explosiveness hindered him against some of the more athletic players at the camp. Labissiere has the length and athleticism — and soft touch — to be an elite player down the road, but the only time he looked dominant was when he played against a team from Richmond during The Showdown that didn’t have anyone over 6-foot-6 on their front line.

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4. Dwayne Bacon continues to impress with his ability to score: You’d be hard-pressed to find a player in the class of 2015 that has continually impressed as much as Dwayne Bacon has. Bacon, who is headed to Oak Hill for his senior season, might be the best wing-scorer in the class. He had an excellent three days during the Breakout Class and capped off his week with a 43-point performance against Justin Simon and Gamepoint on Sunday during The Showdown. He’s a smooth, 6-foot-6 scorer that can get to the rim in the half court and is deadly when he gets into a rhythm shooting the ball.

5. P.J. Dozier is a player to keep an eye on in 2015: Dozier is coming off of knee surgery that cost him his junior season, but he returned this spring and has put together a very strong performance thus far in the most important summer of his career to date. Dozier has sprouted to 6-foot-6, and given his upbringing as a point guard, this has made him one of the more unique talents in the class of 2015. He’s an elite-level passer, although he can be turnover prone at times while trying to create a Sportscenter-worthy assist, and he has three-point range with time and space. It will be interesting to see what position he ends up playing at the next level. Is he a full-time point guard? Is he a playmaker on the wing? What positions can he guard in college? I can see him playing a role similar to that of Nik Stauskas or Grant Gibbs wherever he ends up going.

6. Derryck Thornton is the real deal: This week was my first glimpse at Thornton, a five-star point guard in the class of 2016 that plays his high school ball for Findlay Prep. He stole the show on Wednesday night, when Breakout Classic organizers orchestrated a matchup between Diamond Stone and Skal Labissiere to kick off the live period, and his play never dwindled throughout his three days at the camp. His ability to get into the paint and keep his dribble alive until he can find space for a shot or an open teammate is reminiscent of one of the NBA point guards that he said he watches a lot of tape on: Chris Paul.

7. When will Derrick Jones make the leap?: Derrick Jones has long been a favorite of the guys that make the youtube mixtapes, as the 6-foot-8 small forward might be the best athlete in the class of 2015. But in order for Jones to make the jump from being a scintillating athlete to becoming an elite college basketball prospect, he needs to do three things: add strength and size to his frame, improve his ability to handle the ball and become a better jump shooter. He showed some glimpses of that during the week in Philly, but he still has a way to go.

How Duke’s porous defense stacks up historically with past title winners

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For the last three years, Duke’s issues on the defensive side of the ball have been constant and pervasive.

Whether it’s their issues defending on the perimeter, or the problems they have dealing with ball-screens, or the freedom of movement rule changes inhibiting their ability to get out and pressure in the half court, the truth is that Mike Krzyzewski’s program has become synonymous with highlight reel offense and matador defense.

Since 2011, only two Duke teams have finished in the top 45 of KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, and only one of those teams finished in the top 25. That was in 2015, when the Blue Devils went from being a mess on that end of the floor in January to the 37th-best defensive at the start of the NCAA tournament to national champions after playing defense at a level that would set records if it lasted for the entirety of a season.

The question this year is whether or not Duke will be capable of pulling off a similar turnaround in March, which made me wonder: How unique was Duke’s 2015 national title? Have we seen a team that struggled as much as they did defensively win a national title before? How many times have teams been able to fix their flaws by getting hot for six games in March?

I went back and looked at the offensive and defensive efficiency rankings for every Final Four team in the KenPom era, both after the tournament came to an end and prior to the start of the dance. The numbers that come before the start of the tournament are the most interesting to me, because teams making a run through the dance are going to see a significant chance in their rankings as they best good teams.

The numbers used in here are where each team ranks nationally. KenPom’s adjusted efficiency margins – what he uses to rank teams – cannot be compared across seasons. KenPom’s database dates back to the 2001-2002 season.

Here’s what I found:

1. NO CHAMPION HAS PLAYED WORSE DEFENSE THAN 2009 NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina’s 2009 title team had the lowest defensive efficiency ranking of the KenPom era. They entered the NCAA tournament ranked 39th nationally, two spots worse than where the 2015 Duke team.

The 2014 UConn team that won the national title on the back of Shabazz Napier was the worst offensive team of the KenPom era to win a title, entering the tournament ranked 58th.  In fact, that 2014 UConn team was ranked lower than 2010 Butler, which is the only other team ranked outside the top 45 in offensive efficiency to get to the national title game.

Defense may win championships, but in college hoops, the average ranking for teams getting to the national title game – and for teams winning the national title – was higher in offensive efficiency than in defensive efficiency.

2. DUKE WOULD BE THE WORST DEFENSIVE TEAM TO GET TO THE TITLE GAME

Duke currently ranks 72nd in adjusted defensive efficiency. The only team to rank that low defensively was Butler in 2011, but that was also a weird year in the NCAA tournament. No. 3 seed UConn, No. 4 seed Kentucky, No. 8 seed Butler and No. 11 seed VCU all reached the Final Four; VCU made it after starting the tournament off in the First Four.

Butler got out of the first weekend that year thanks to what might be the weirdest finish to a game in NCAA tournament history. They handled good Wisconsin and Florida teams to get to the Final Four, where the Bulldogs faced off with VCU – by far the worst team to get to the Final Four in the KenPom era – before losing to UConn in the title game.

The only other team to rank outside of the top 40 defensively was Trey Burke’s 2013 Michigan team. They were 66th entering the tournament:

For comparison’s sake, UConn’s 2014 title is the only time a team outside of the top 50 offensively reached the title game. Only four other teams, all runner-ups, got to a title game ranked outside the top 25 in offensive efficiency, and the only other title team to rank outside the top 20 in offensive efficiency was UConn in 2011:

3. TO WIN A TITLE, YOU MUST BE ELITE AT SOMETHING OR HAVE A SUPERSTAR

Of the 16 national champions in the KenPom era, 75 percent of them ranked in the top 10 of either offensive or defensive efficiency entering the NCAA tournament.

The four that didn’t:

Syracuse was led by Carmelo Anthony in 2003. Florida has Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer in 2006 and went on to repeat with that same core of players the next year. UConn has Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Jalen Brunson is making up ground

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1. TRAE YOUNG, Oklahoma: Trae Young is the runaway favorite for National Player of the Year. At this point, if he doesn’t win the award, something crazy will have to happen.

So I’ll be using this space simply to take a look at my favorite part of the way that the players on this list play. Here is a look at the way that Young was able to create space to his threes off against TCU. Like Steph Curry, Young is short, doesn’t get all that much elevation when he shoots and a relatively low release-point. But quick feet, a super-quick release, ridiculous range and an innate ability to stay on-balance lets him do things like this:

(Some of these shots are insanely difficult.)

2. JALEN BRUNSON, Villanova: Brunson has added a new wrinkle to his game this season, as he is now being allowed to post up with more impunity. This creates a nightmare scenario for opponents. He is simply too good and too big for just about any point guard to stop on the block, but you cannot send an extra defender because double-teaming one of the best point guards in the country is just not doable, not when he is surrounded by four knock-down shooters.

Here’s a breakdown of why this makes Villanova that much more dangerous.

3. MARVIN BAGLEY III, Duke: The debate over whether or not Bagley is better than Ayton is going to rage all season long. Personally, I think that Ayton is a better prospect that Bagley largely because I think he has an easier fit defensively at the next level. Right now, however, Ayton is probably a marginally better defender while Bagley is a better offensive weapon.

But Bagley is clearly the leader in terms of the Player of the Year race for the simple fact that he has won games on his own by simply being absolutely dominant in the paint.

4. DEANDRE AYTON, Arizona: See above.

5. KEENAN EVANS, Texas Tech: For my money, four of the spots for first-team all-american are more or less locked in: Young, Brunson, Bagley and Ayton. There is a lot of season left to play, but right now those four have a solid lead on the field.

My favorite subplot of the race for the Big 12 title is that each of the four teams at the top of the conference are led by point guards that have a real shot at being first-team all-americans. Young, obviously, is going to be there. But the fifth-spot is race between Evans, Devonte’ Graham and Jevon Carter. A week ago I thought Carter was the pick. After seeing what Evans did down the stretch in a win over the Mountaineers over the weekend, I’m now leaning his way. But Graham, who has been terrific all season long, was good down the stretch in a win at West Virginia.

6. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM, Kansas
7. JEVON CARTER, West Virginia
8. TRA HOLDER, Arizona State
9. KEITA BATES-DIOP, Ohio State
10. TREVON BLUIETT, Xavier

ALSO CONSIDERED: MIKAL BRIDGES, Villanova; JOCK LANDALE, Saint Mary’s; DAKOTA MATHIAS, Purdue; YANTE MATEN, Georgia; LUKE MAYE, North Carolina; SHAKE MILTON, SMU; JORDAN MURPHY, Minnesota;  DESI RODRIGUEZ, Seton Hall; LANDRY SHAMET, Wichita State; KHYRI THOMAS, Creighton; ALLONZO TRIER, Arizona

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.