Seven Takeaways from Nike’s Peach Jam

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The second of July’s three live periods ended at 5:00 p.m. Sunday. We had writers traversing the southeast, going to and from the Under Armour Association Finals and Nike’s Peach Jam. Here are seven takeaways from Peach Jam:

MOREQuotables Part I | Part II | Part III | All content from the 2014 July Live Period

NURTH AUGUSTA, S.C. — Peach Jam is the premiere event of July, as Nike’s EYBL circuit holds their finals in a South Carolina gym that has been the home to the event for close to two decades. Every high major head coach in the country makes their way through Riverview Park Activities Center, the best games have fans surrounding the court on the floor as well as the track above and the semifinals and title game are broadcast on ESPNU.

There are 24 teams that participate in the event, and if you’re good enough to start for one of those 24 teams, odds are pretty good that you’ll be, at the very least, a scholarship player at the mid-major level. It’s high level basketball, and here are seven takeaways from my three days there:

1. Ben Simmons is No. 1 in 2015, and it’s not all that close: 2015 is considered by many to be a relatively weak class when compared to the kind of talent that was produced in 2013 and 2014 and the amount of elite prospects there are in 2016. Simmons is the one guy in the class that stands out from the rest, proving that fact to just about every scout and evaluator that was present in North Augusta this week. He’s a 6-foot-8 forward with a strong frame and above-average athleticism, but what sets him apart is his ability to handle and pass the ball. He can rebound the ball and play in the post, but he’s at his best when he’s put in the role of point forward, particularly in transition, where he is simply a phenomenal passer.

If you want a good comparison, think about former Iowa State forward Royce White. Their physical tools aren’t the same, but Simmons, like White, is an ambidextrous forward that could one day end up leading a team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals.

RELATED: Ben Simmons proves he’s tops in the class

2. Jayson Tatum is the best prospect in 2016: I’ve now had a chance to see, in person, each member of the top ten in the Class of 2016, per Rivals, and for my money, the 6-foot-8 Missouri-native in the best talent in the class. But where Simmons is clearly the best player in his class, it’s not quite as simple in 2016. Josh Jackson, Thon Maker, Dennis Smith Jr. and Malik Monk are truly impressive talents, and Harry Giles was considered by some to be the best prospect in high school basketball before his knee injury last summer.

He still may be, but as of right now, it’s Tatum that is top of the class. He’s a smooth scorer with long arms and an ability to seemingly glide to the rim through traffic. He needs to add strength and a perimeter shot, and I have questions about just how athletic he is, but he still has two years left in the high school ranks.

RELATED: Will Tatum stay home for college?

3. Isaiah Briscoe isn’t a point guard, but I’d take him over Allonzo Trier: One of the most interesting debates in the Class of 2015 centers around the five combo-guards at the top of the class: Malik Newman, Antonio Blakeney, Tyler Dorsey, Briscoe and Trier. Perhaps no team has more on the line in that debate than Arizona, who has already parted ways with Dorsey, is heavily involved with Briscoe and Trier and who has already taken Justin Simon.

The way I see it, if I’m in Arizona’s position, I’m taking Briscoe. While some have labeled him as a point guard at the next level, I don’t see it. He’s a playmaker — a good one, at that — but I don’t see him as a guy that runs an offense. And while Trier is a very talented scorer, he’s old for his grade, he’s bounced around high schools and he’s a gunner at heart.

For what it’s worth, if I went to rank those five guys, it would be in this order: Newman, Blakeney, Briscoe, Trier, Dorsey.

4. None of 2015’s big men are overly impressive: In the last month, I’ve seen everyone one of the big men in Rivals’ top 40 in the Class of 2015 play in person, and none of them have been all that impressive. (I’m not counting Simmons as a big man as I think he will be a perimeter player down the road.) There are a lot of guys in the class with lots of potential that simply haven’t developed, a number of kids that have fallen in love with trying to play on the perimeter, or and some simply have a massive hole in their game that will be difficult to fix.

Here are my top five bigs in the class, in order: Diamond Stone, Henry Ellenson, Chase Jeter, Stephen Zimmerman, Ivan Raab.

5. How will Jalen Brunson handle everything going on in his life right now?: I feel for Jalen Brunson. It’s the most important summer of his high school basketball career and he’s playing it with his father’s arrest hanging over his head. A month ago, it seemed certain that Rick Brunson was going to be hired at Temple and Jalen was going to be following him there, and according to those that watch Brunson the most — including our Scott Phillips — Jalen just hasn’t looked like himself since then. He’s still probably the most sought-after point guard in the country, but it will be interesting to see if this is the kind of thing that hangs over his head for a long period of time.

6. Deyonta Davis needs to learn how to be tougher: When it comes to raw talent, there are many players in the class with the skillset that Davis has. He’s long and athletic and he’s got three-point range. The problem is that he rarely plays hard enough to have an impact on a game. When you’re that skilled and you can disappear as quickly as Davis can, it’s a major red flag. Hopefully, when Tom Izzo gets his hands on Davis, he can bring out more of that aggressiveness.

7. Four names that need more attention after their play at Peach Jam:

  • Quinndary Weatherspoon: I watched the 6-foot-5 wing from the Jackson Tigers put up 32 points against the Southern Stampede. He also dropped 27 on Peach Jam finalist Team Penny.
  • Braxton Beverly: The Class of 2016 point guard from Hazard, Ky., played very well in both of the games that I watched him. He’s tough as nails, he doesn’t turn the ball over and he can get to the rim and finish amongst the trees despite being 5-foot-11.
  • Alterique Gilbert: Another Class of 2016 point guard that shined during the event. The Miller Grove, Ga., native is a nightmare to try to stay in front of and has a steady demeanor on the floor that is ideal for a lead guard.
  • Temple Gibbs: Gibbs was really impressive in helping the Playaz to the Peach Jam title. The Class of 2016 guard is a combo of his brothers, former Pitt guard Ashton and current Seton Hall guard Sterling. He may be the best of the three.

VIDEO: Allen-to-Bagley oop beats the Syracuse zone

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Usually, you’ve got to shoot a team out of a zone.

Duke might be able to dunk Syracuse out of it.

Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley connected for a beautiful alley-oop Friday in the second half of the Blue Devils’ Sweet 16 contest against the Orange.

That will work as a zone-buster.

VIDEO: Duke slaps the floor on defense…while playing zone

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Slapping the floor on defense has its advocates and its detractors.

Some applaud the old-school, hard-nosed nature of putting hand to floor. For others, its a bit corny.

What everyone agrees on is that you don’t drop a floor slap if you’re playing zone.

Unless you’re Duke, apparently.

Presumably, the whole point of slapping the floor is to psyche yourself and intimidate your opponent with aggressive man-to-man defense. Not sit-back-and-guard-this-spot-whether-there’s-a-guy-there-or-not defense.

C’mon, Duke. You’re making it too easy for your haters.


Late run sparks Villanova past West Virginia, into Elite Eight

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BOSTON — It is always just a matter of time before the avalanche comes.

And when it does, you better hope that lead you have is big enough to withstand what’s coming.

For No. 5-seed West Virginia, it was not. With 11 minutes left on Friday night in Boston’s TD Garden, the Mountaineers led 60-54 and had seemingly wrestled control of the game from the No. 1-seed in the East Region. Less than five minutes later, after the Wildcats hit four of their next five threes, Villanova had taken a 76-66 lead by going on a 22-6 run, and West Virginia was never able to recover.

Jalen Brunson led the way for the top-seeded Wildcats with 27 points and four assists while Omari Spellman finished with 18 points, eight boards and three blocks and Mikal Bridges chipped in with 16 points despite playing relatively poorly — by his standards — on Friday.

With a 90-78 win, Villanova advanced to the Elite Eight and a date with the winner of tonight’s game No. 2 Purdue-No. 3 Texas Tech.

That’s the way that it works with this Villanova team. Armed with the most potent, high-volume three-point shooting attack in college basketball — maybe in the history of college basketball — fans of their opponents are just waiting for the inevitable.

On Friday night, Villanova shot 13-for-24 from three, which is damned-impressive and exactly what we expect at the same time.

But what changed the game was that 22-6 run that eventually turned into a 29-11 surge.

And it all started with a free throw.

Brunson drew a foul on Lamont West — a common theme for the Wildcats in the second half — and got to the foul line with 10:58 left on the clock. After he missed the second free throw, Spellman knocked the rebound out of bounds off of Esa Ahmad. Brunson against drew a foul, this time earning an and-one. A missed jumper from Beetle Bolden led to two Eric Paschall free throws before Jalen Brunson someone managed to find Mikal Bridges for a three that gave the Wildcats the lead and led to what might have been the most important sequence of the game.

Spellman spiked a Bolden shot straight down into the floor and then corralled the loose ball. He found Phil Booth with an outlet, and after a missed layup, Spellman beat everyone else down the floor for a massive tip-dunk that set off the Villanova-favored crowd:

“We expect that of him,” Brunson said of Spellman. “He’s supposed to play at a high level every game.”

After that stretch, Villanova threw it into cruise control. That West Virginia defense that had bothered them so much for the first 30 minutes of the game seemed to be nothing more than a mild annoyance, a little brother batting at the ball as the Wildcats pulled away. First it was Donte Divincenzo — who was flat-out bad, the player that was most-victimized by West Virginia’s pressure — hitting a three to push the lead to six. Then after two West Virginia free throws, Brunson dribbled Jevon Carter into the post before kicking the ball out to Spellman for a three. Paschall would dunk on Sagaba Konate the next time the Wildcats had the ball before Brunson capped the run by drilling a step-back three in the face of Carter.

Once that happened, everyone knew the end result was inevitable.

“We got used to the physicality, we got used to the aggressiveness, and we were executing better,” head coach Jay Wright said. “We thought that was going to be the case. You just can’t simulate that, you know. You got to just get in that game and feel it.”

“I have so much respect for the way West Virginia plays, how physical, how relentless they play, how mentally tough they are. Really, you’ve got guys, they don’t talk any junk. A little with Konate and Omari got into it a little bit, no biggie, but the whole game, they don’t say anything. They just come at you physically, aggressively, and mentally tough. So if you’re not better in those areas, they’re going to get you. And to see our guys come out, more to be able to compete with them physically and mentally, it was really impressive to me.”

Me, too.

VIDEO: Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall with mammoth dunks for Villanova

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Villanova took the lead on West Virginia and turned the tide of momentum with a pair of emphatic dunks in transition.

It started with Omari Spellman, who had an unbelievable sequence, spiking a shot into the floor before throwing down a put-back dunk all over a defender:

A couple of possessions later, Eric Paschall finally did the impossible.

He dunked on Sagaba Konate:

I am having way too much fun at this game.

No. 1 Kansas into Elite Eight with win over No. 5 Clemson

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OMAHA, Neb. — Once Kansas found its stride, Clemson had little chance of keeping pace – even after a late stumble.

The No. 1 Jayhawks ran away from the No. 5 Tigers with a second-half flurry that powered them to a 80-76 victory Friday night at CenturyLink Center to put them in the Elite Eight on Sunday against either Duke or Syracuse.

Kansas moves on to the Midwest Region final on the back of a second-half offense that Clemson had nearly no success in slowing until the final minutes, when the Tigers turned a 20-point laugher into  a six-point nail-biter.

“I thought for 30 minutes, I thought we played very well,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “But we just kind of played not to lose down the stretch and allowed them to put some game pressure on us.

“But they say this time of year is survive and advance, and we were able to do that. And certainly very happy about getting a chance to play in the biggest game of our season thus far Sunday.”

Malik Newman paced Kansas with 17 points while Devonte Graham 16 and Udoka Azubuike 14 and 11 rebounds.

“My confidence is sky high,” Newman said. “I’m not really out there thinking anymore, just playing, doing what Coach asked me to do and just trying to make plays, winning plays for the team to win. I mean, I just credit it to my teammates and the coaches.”

Clemson got 31 points from senior Gabe DeVoe, but there just wasn’t enough help around him for the Tigers to keep things competitive after the Jayhawks hit them with three-consecutive 3s in the opening minutes of the second half to open up a 20-point lead.

“I just tried in any way possible to give my team a chance to win at the end,” DeVoe said. “Really tried to rally the guys in the first half when we got down, just continued to fight. Made
some big stops down the stretch, gave us a chance but we just weren’t able to get over the hump.”

Clemson was already hanging on by a threat after it shot just 35.7 percent from the floor and committed eight turnovers. DeVoe’s 12 first-half points kept the Tigers afloat, but they never enjoyed a lead before halftime.

The Jayhawks, meanwhile, had five players  score at least six points in the first half, including 10 from Azubuike, Their usual strengths – 3-point shooting (4 of 13) and Devonte Graham (1 of 7) – were absent in the first half, but Clemson was unable to take advantage as Kansas continued to get quality looks inside and stops on defense.

The Jayhawks previously played Syracuse in December, beating the Orange by 16 on a neutral floor in Miami. They haven’t faced the Blue Devils, though they have already shared a building with them once this year in the Champion’s Classic. Kansas topped Kentucky, 65-61, while Duke defeated Michigan State, 88-81, that November night in Chicago.