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.

No. 8 Kansas clinches 14th straight Big 12 regular season championship with win at No. 6 Texas Tech

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The streak is still alive.

Devonte’ Graham scored 26 points and made two critical, tough shots in the final minute as No. 8 Kansas clinched a share of the Big 12 title by going into Lubbock and knocking off a shorthanded No. 6 Texas Tech, 74-72.

Svi Mykhailiuk added 21 points for the Jayhawks, who put to rest all the concern that this would be the year that the streak came to an end with a week left in the regular season.

If there was ever going to be a season where the streak came to an end, this looked like it would be the one. Just two weeks ago, after Kansas lost by 16 points at Baylor on the same day that Texas Tech beat Kansas State by 20 in Manhattan, Texas Tech say in the driver’s seat. They were a game up on the Jayhawks with six to play and a home game against Kansas left on the schedule. For a team that was, at the time, ranked in the top six on KenPom, that was a dream scenario, one that was set aflame by an unfortunate case of turf toe.

Keenan Evans, a front runner for Big 12 Player of the Year and by far the best offensive weapon on the Texas Tech roster, landed funny late in the first half of a game at Baylor a week ago Saturday, slamming his toe into the court and severely hobbling himself. He did not play in the second half at Baylor. He did play in the last two games, 56 minutes combined, but he was not the Keenan Evans Big 12 fans have come to know and hate. He shot 2-for-13 from the floor and missed all seven of his threes. He scored eight total points.

The Red Raiders, as you might imagine, lost all three of those games.

And with it, any chance of ending the Jayhawks’ streak and, in turn, becoming one of the best college basketball stories this decade.

Creighton lands massive win over No. 3 Villanova

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Creighton landed its biggest win of the season on Saturday afternoon as the Bluejays outlasted No. 3 Villanova for an 89-83 overtime Big East win.

The home win comes a few weeks after the Bluejays fell just short of knocking off Xavier as Creighton has the signature victory they were looking for when it comes to the 2018 NCAA tournament.  More importantly for Creighton, they seem to be gaining some positive momentum in the final weeks of the regular season.

Guards Marcus Foster (28 points) and Khyri Thomas (24 points) led the charge for the Bluejays against the Wildcats as the duo combined for 52 points while making some timely plays down the stretch in a tight game. Creighton can almost always rely on Foster and Thomas to bring their best effort and the veteran duo did a great job of carving up an average Villanova defense that can struggle against strong backcourts.

Foster and Thomas coming through was a huge storyline. The continued emergence of freshman big man Jacob Epperson is becoming the main thing to keep an eye on for Creighton’s season.

Initially redshirted at the start of the 2017-18 season, Epperson has played in the last eight games for the Bluejays after the team decided to play him this season once Martin Krampelj went down with injury. The 6-foot-11 Epperson delivered another strong outing against Villanova on Saturday as he had 12 points, five rebounds and two blocks in a season-high 23 minutes. Playing key minutes in overtime against a top-five team, Epperson was thrown into the fire and responded by playing very well.

A month ago, Epperson was a redshirt freshman who was returning to practice following a minor knee procedure in December. A week away from March, Epperson is actively in the rotation now for Creighton as he has scored in double-figures in three of his last four games. Epperson seems to be gaining confidence with every game and it’ll be fascinating to see if his minutes and his role can stay at this type of level.

Epperson has added 20 pounds of muscle since the start of the season, and that added weight has helped the skinny Australian compete against Big East opponents right away. And the Bluejays really need Epperson to be a steady presence on the interior now that Krampelj is down for the season with the torn ACL.

Not a lot of NCAA tournament-caliber teams add players at this point in the season. Creighton is incorporating a four-star prospect into the rotation who is already producing against some of the better teams in the Big East. That’s an encouraging sign and something to build on over the next several weeks.

Creighton doesn’t need Epperson to be a go-to guy or even a big-time scorer. That’s why they have veteran guards like Foster and Thomas and other role players like Davion Mintz and Mitchell Ballock — also in double-figures against Villanova.

But if Epperson can provide a little bit of production on the interior while giving the Bluejays some much-needed size then they becoming an intriguing team that can put up a lot of points.

Deandre Ayton eligible to play for Arizona

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Arizona announced on Saturday afternoon that Deandre Ayton will be eligible to play the rest of the season. The Wildcats play at Oregon on Saturday night.

On Friday night, ESPN reported that Sean Miller was caught on a wiretap during the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball discussing a $100,000 payment to secure the services of Ayton.

The conversations that were intercepted were between Miller and Christian Dawkins, a former runner for ex-NBA agent Andy Miller. According to ESPN, when asked by Dawkins if he should work through former Arizona assistant coach Emanuel ‘Book’ Richardson to finalize a deal, “Miller told Dawkins he should deal directly with him when it came to money.”

Miller will not be coaching for Arizona tonight.

“I believe it is in the best interest of our team that I not coach the game tonight,” Miller said in a statement. “I continue to fully support the University’s efforts to fully investigate this matter and am confident that I will be vindicated. For now, my thoughts are with our team. They are a great group of young men that will support each other and continue their pursuit of winning a Pac-12 championship.”

McDuffie leads No. 13 Wichita State past SMU 84-78

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DALLAS — Markis McDuffie scored a season-high 26 points off the bench, including nine during the first four minutes of the second half, to lead No. 13 Wichita State to an 84-78 win over SMU on Saturday.

The Shockers (23-5, 13-3 American Athletic Conference) have won six straight games and are one-half game behind first-place Cincinnati. Wichita State will host Cincinnati on March 4 in the regular-season finale for both teams.

SMU (16-13, 6-10) lost for the sixth time in seven games since leading scorer Shake Milton (18 points per game) was sidelined with a hand injury.

McDuffie added to Wichita State’s 37-35 halftime lead on the first possession of the second half with a midcourt steal leading to a three-point play. A 10-1 run put the Shockers ahead 56-43 with 12:18 to play, and they led by as many as 17 points.

McDuffie, a junior forward, led Wichita State in scoring last season but missed this season’s first 11 games because of a stress fracture. He has primarily been a reserve since returning.

Jahmal McMurray led SMU with 28 points. McMurray has topped the Mustangs in scoring in five of the past six games.

Shaquille Morris had 21 points and 10 rebounds for Wichita State. Landry Shamet returned after missing the Shockers’ previous game because of illness and scored 10 points in 27 minutes, playing only eight first-half minutes because of foul trouble.

Because of injuries and NCAA-mandated scholarship limitations, SMU played with seven scholarship players on Saturday and has had seven or fewer during its past seven games.

Wichita State failed to pull away during the first half despite a 21-12 rebounding advantage. The Mustangs shot 45.4 percent during the half and the Shockers 41.4 percent, both hitting six 3-pointers.

Wichita State got even for one of its two home losses this season, 83-78 on Jan. 17.

BIG PICTURE

Wichita State: The Shockers are 8-2 in true road games this season with one to play. Since the start of the 2013-14 season, they lead Division I in road wins (48) and road winning percentage (.857). They avoided a conference opponent’s sweep of a two-game season series for the first time since 2012-13 (Evansville, Missouri Valley).

SMU: The Mustangs opened the season 12-3, including wins over then-No. 2 Arizona and then-No. 14 USC, but have since gone 4-10. SMU will finish with a losing league record after winning the AAC last season at 17-1.

UP NEXT

Wichita State will visit UCF on Thursday.

SMU hosts Houston in its final home season of the season on Wednesday.

Shareef O’Neal decommits from Arizona

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Shareef O’Neal, the son of NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal, has decommitted from Arizona following the latest in the FBI scandal.

Considered a five-star prospect on Rivals, the 6-foot-9 Shareef becomes one of the best available prospects in the country in the Class of 2018.

Arizona head coach Sean Miller was reportedly caught on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to secure the services of freshman Deandre Ayton. The conversations that were intercepted were between Miller and Christian Dawkins, who is a focal point in the FBI’s investigation.

Recruiting has taken a major hit for Arizona over the last several months as the program lost five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly and now O’Neal due to scandal.