Las Vegas Friday Recap: Jaylen Brown, Kobi Simmons among standouts

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LAS VEGAS — Over the last year or so guard Jaylen Brown has gone from merely being a talented member of the 2015 class to becoming one of its best players. With a maturity that’s rarely seen in most teenagers, Brown has managed to balance his high-level athleticism with a good understanding of the game and what his team needs him to do at any point in time. Brown’s full skill set was on display Saturday, as he was able to not only get the basket at will but also knock down perimeter shots when open. And according to Brown, there are a number of things he’s working to improve upon this summer.

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“There’s a long list of things I have to improve upon,” Brown said. “Making sure my jump shot is consistent, and I have to improve on by ball-handling. Defensively I have to be more active, [and I have to] get myself to a high level of conditioning so I can play at a high level for a long time.”

Another important factor for Brown has been the hard work he’s put in to transform his body, which is obviously the case when considering his stated goal to become an even better-conditioned athlete. And that effort has resulted in Brown becoming a dominant perimeter presence.

“Definitely the weight room and conditioning,” Brown said when asked where he’s made the greatest strides over the last year. “The weight room really helped.” According to Brown he weighed 200 pounds last summer, and now he’s up to around 220. The added weight (good weight, mind you) has helped him become a more explosive threat on the wing, and once in the lane Brown has no problem finishing above the rim with authority.

As for his recruitment, Brown stated that he’ll take an unofficial visit to UCLA after participating in adidas Nations next weekend in Long Beach, California. Among the reasons for his considering UCLA was the presence of Georgia natives on the roster, with Tony Parker entering his junior year and Jordan Adams putting together two highly successful seasons before being picked in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft (Memphis Grizzlies).

Other schools that have been most active in his recruitment according to Brown are Kentucky, Ohio State, Kansas, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida and Texas A&M.

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Kobi Simmons continues to improve: The Celtics don’t lack for talent, and one of the standouts in Las Vegas has been 2016 point guard Kobi Simmons. Simmons has run the show for the Celtics, and his importance was on full display in their win over Team Rose during Friday’s afternoon session. When Simmons was the one initiating the offense the Celtics ran like a well-oiled machine, but they struggled when he wasn’t the one being asked to make a play. Simmons displayed the ability to finish at the rim with either hand, and for the most part he remained under control in running the show.

Simmons described himself as a “scoring guard” following the game, but he also has the ability to set up his teammates for quality looks. Among the schools Simmons mentioned when asked who all is recruiting him are “Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, Ohio State [offered about two weeks ago], Missouri, Memphis and Texas.”

Vanderbilt goes four deep for local prospect Braxton Blackwell: Playing alongside Simmons was 6-foot-8 forward Braxton Blackwell, who like Simmons is a member of the Class of 2016. And based upon who all attended from the Vanderbilt coaching staff it’s clear that the Nashville native is of high priority. Head coach Kevin Stallings was there with all three assistants (one left during the second half to get to another game), and the reasons why they hold Blackwell in such high regard were easy to see. Blackwell rarely gets rushed on the offensive end of the floor, and defensively he had no issue with doing the little things a team needs in order to be successful.

“Just being versatile,” Simmons said when asked what he believes his strengths to be. “I can get a rebound and go, [and play] kind of a point forward position right now.”

When asked what areas he’s looking to improve upon this summer, Blackwell mentioned perimeter shooting and being a more aggressive player on the offensive end. Vanderbilt wasn’t the only school mentioned by Blackwell when asked about his recruitment, either. “Providence, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Memphis, Vanderbilt and a lot of other schools,” Blackwell noted. Blackwell also stated that last year he took unofficial visits to Indiana, Memphis, Vanderbilt and Auburn, and he’ll look to take more unofficial trips in August.

A possible fourth visit for Bennie Boatwright: The 6-foot-9 forward is more of a perimeter threat, an attribute that meshes well with Dream Vision teammate Chase Jeter, who has emerged as one of the best big men in the Class of 2015. Boatwright has a good perimeter stroke, and with his tendency to be out on the wing the areas Boatwright mentioned when asked what areas of his game he’s working to improve upon (being more efficient and strengthening his ball-handling), fit in well with what he’ll need to do in order to be successful.

As for his recruitment, it’s been known for quite some time that three schools that will definitely host Boatwright on official visits are Arizona State, Gonzaga and Washington. Head coaches Herb Sendek (Arizona State) and Mark Few (Gonzaga) were among the coaches in attendance, with Washington having an assistant keeping tabs on their target. And in speaking with Boatwright following the game, there’s also a possible candidate for one of his other two available official visits.

“I might go to UConn’s ‘Midnight Madness,'” Boatwright told NBCSports.com. Obviously the key word there is “might,” and Boatwright also noted that he was unsure as to whether or not he’ll use all five official visits.

Allonzo Trier ruled ineligible by NCAA; Arizona appealing

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Arizona junior guard Allonzo Trier has been declared ineligible by the NCAA due to a second positive test for a banned substance, it was announced Thursday. The school is appealing the decision, claiming the positive test was leftover from of a substance that was found in Trier’s system in 2016.

Trier was tested in late January and the test “revealed the reappearance of a trace amount of a banned substance,” Arizona said in a statement. “The amount detected was miniscule by scientific standards and appears to be a remnant of a substance, which the NCAA agreed, Allonzo had unknowingly taken in 2016.

“The University is appealing the decision and is hopefully that Allonzo will regain his eligibility soon.”

This is a potential massive blow for a Wildcats team that began the season as one of the top national championship contenders, but has spent much of this season dealing with disappointment and distraction, from their part in the FBI corruption investigation to inconsistency on the floor and now this regarding one of its top players.

Trier is averaging 19.6 points and shooting 54.1 percent from the floor, including 43 percent from the 3-point range.

The Wildcats play at Oregon State tonight and at Oregon Saturday before finishing the regular season at home against Stanford and Cal.

Attention will now turn to the NCAA appeals process – how quickly can it move and what determination will it make? Trier’s status will impact one of the most talented teams in the country, which by extension means it will impact the national championship race next month.

For a team that’s been in the center of controversy all season, and somehow has added another layer to a wild season.

Bubble Banter: Will the Pac-12’s bubble picture gain some clarity?

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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 Thursday.

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.

YET TO PLAY

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UCLA
UTAH

Duke’s Bolden undergoes surgery to repair nasal bone

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Duke sophomore Marques Bolden underwent surgery Thursday to repair a fractured nasal bone, the school announced.

Bolden is not expected to miss any time for the Blue Devils, who host Syracuse on Saturday.

The 6-foot-11 forward is averaging 4.1 points and 3.5 rebounds in 13.1 minutes per night. Bolden has already missed time this season with a knee injury and has recently been playing through the pain of his fractured nose.

A five-star prospect coming out of Texas in the Class of 2016, Bolden hasn’t been a major presence for the Blue Devils the last two years, but has given Blue Devils good minutes since returning from that knee injury over the last month.

After hosting Syracuse this weekend, Duke, which is 23-5 overall and 11-4 in the ACC, plays at Virginia Tech and then welcomes North Carolina to Durham to finish off the regular season.

Michael Porter, Jr. cleared to return to basketball activities

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Missouri may be adding a lottery pick to its roster for the stretch run.

Michael Porter, Jr., who began the year projected as a potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, has been medically cleared to return to basketball activities after missing the entire season with a back injury, a source confirmed to NBC Sports.

CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein was the first to report the news.

The 6-foot-11 freshman played the opening minutes of the Tigers’ opening game against Iowa State to start the year, but has been sidelined ever since. It is currently unclear if he’ll move from being cleared to play to actually hitting the floor for the Tigers.

It seemed unlikely that Porter would ever play college basketball because of the injury, but throughout the season he has never ruled out the possibility. Now that he has reportedly been cleared to play, the question undoubtedly will become should he?

Even without playing another second of college hoops, Porter will be a top pick in June’s draft. Some teams may even consider him for the top pick, if his health screenings check out, just based on workouts and the track record of his dominating play on the AAU circuit for years.

Still, if he’s healthy enough to play and wants to play, it’s unquestionable that it is a decision that is completely his. And it would make Missouri one heck of an interesting team.

The Tigers are 18-10 overall and 8-7 and appeared poised to make the NCAA tournament in coach Cuonzo Martin’s first year in Columbia. For their next game, they play – of course they do – Kentucky on Saturday. Talk about added intrigue for that game.

Bubble Banter: It is a massive night for teams on the bubble

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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.

UPDATED FOR SUSPENDED GAME

SETON HALL (RPI: 27, KenPom: 40, NBC seed: 9): The Pirates landed their fourth Quadrant 1 win of the season on Thursday afternoon, picking off Providence in a game that had to be replayed after condensation on the floor made it unsafe to play on; leading scorer Desi Rodriguez sprained his ankle in the game. The tough part for the Pirates is that they have a tough finish to the regular season — at St. John’s, Villanova, Butler — and they may have to play it without Rodriguez.

PROVIDENCE (RPI: 37, KenPom: 69, NBC seed: 8): The Friars dropped to 17-11 on the season on Wednesday after they finished up their suspended game against Seton Hall. The Friars should be alright based on the wins they’ve put together — five in Quadrant 1, including wins over both Xavier and Villanova at home. The problem is that they have two Quadrant 3 and a Quadrant 4 loss. Their remaining schedule isn’t easy, either: at Georgetown, at Xavier, St. John’s. I think the Friars are in a more difficult spot that some are letting on.

WINNERS

KANSAS STATE (RPI: , KenPom: 46, NBC seed: 11): The Wildcats won their third straight game on Wednesday, beating Texas at home. They’re now 20-8 on the season and 9-6 in the Big 12 with three Quadrant 1 wins and a 9-7 record against the top two Quadrants. They have just one non-Quadrant 1 loss. The sticking points here: KSU has an atrocious non-conference SOS and their best wins are TCU, Oklahoma, at Baylor and at Texas. Their remaining schedule: at Oklahoma, at TCU, Baylor.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: 49, KenPom: 31, NBC seed: 9): The Hokies added their fifth Quadrant 1 win of the season on Wednesday night as they knocked off Clemson at home. The Tigers have been sliding a little bit and were playing without Shelton Mitchell, but that is not going to factor in in the eyes of the Selection Committee. At this point, with a 20-8 record, I think we can move the Hokies out of the Bubble Banter discussion for the time being.

MARQUETTE (RPI: 58, KenPom: 47, NBC seed: First four out): The Golden Eagles won their second straight game and their third game in the last four. They are 4-8 against Quadrant 1 and 8-11 against the top two Quadrants. Three of their four Quadrant 1 wins went on the road — Providence, Seton Hall, Creighton — but the Golden Eagles can’t really improve themselves during the regular season. Their last three games: at DePaul, at Georgetown, Creighton. Frankly, I think Marquette needs to win four or five in a row to have a real chance at getting a bid.

TCU (RPI: 21, KenPom: 23, NBC seed: 10): For a team that plays in the Big 12, it’s weird that TCU’s two best wins this season came over Nevada (13) and Saint Bonaventure (25) on neutral courts. All told, the Horned Frogs have four Quadrant 1 wins and a 7-9 record against the top two Quadrants after winning at Iowa State on Wednesday. They’re in a good spot, but with home games against Baylor and Kansas State left before a trip to Texas Tech and the Big 12 tournament, I still think that they to win two more games this season.

USC (RPI: 36, KenPom: 54, NBC seed: Next four out): The Trojans won their third straight game, picking off Colorado in Boulder. With just two Quadrant 1 wins and a loss to Princeton (216) at home, I think they need to win their last two games — at Utah, UCLA — if they want to get into the tournament.

ST. BONAVENTURE (RPI: 26, KenPom: 68, NBC seed: Play-in game): There is no margin for error for the Bonnies. With two bad losses on their résumé right now and just three Quadrant 1 wins, they’re right on the cusp of being in the tournament. If they win out during the regular season and lose to Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 tournament, I think they will get a bid. If they lose to anyone else, it’ll be close. No matter what happens, it is not going to be a fun Selection Sunday for Mark Schmidt and company.

LOSERS

LOUISVILLE (RPI: 52, KenPom: 37, NBC seed: First four out): The Cardinals are not a tournament team as of today, and losing at Duke is not the reason why. They have three Quadrant 1 and 2 wins combined. The Quadrant 1 wins? At Florida State and at Notre Dame. The Quadrant 2 win? Virginia Tech at home. The good news is their “worst” losses are Florida State and Syracuse at home, and they have three Quadrant 1 games remaining: at Virginia Tech, Virginia, at N.C. State. I think they’ll want to win two of those.

FLORIDA (RPI: 64, KenPom: 29, NBC seed: 9): Suddenly, the Florida Gators are 17-11 on the season and 8-7 in the SEC. They’ve lost three in a row. They’ve lost five of their last seven and six of their last nine. And they have their toughest stretch of the season coming up: Auburn, at Alabama, Kentucky. The good news is that they have some really good wins. They’ve beaten Gonzaga on a neutral. They beat Cincinnati on a neutral. They won at Texas A&M, at Missouri and at Kentucky. But 11 losses is a lot of losses, especially when it would be very, very easy for them to lose two of their last three games. Who had the Gators on the bubble after PK-80?

TEXAS (RPI: 54, KenPom: 41, NBC seed: 11): The Longhorns are in a tough spot after losing at Kansas State on Wednesday. Texas has lost four of their last five and five of their last seven. They’re 16-12 overall and 6-9 in the Big 12. But they also have five Quadrant 1 wins and an 8-12 record against the top two Quadrants. They also have some pretty impressive wins. They beat Texas Tech, they beat TCU, they won at Alabama, they swept Oklahoma. They need to win at least two of their next three: Oklahoma State, at Kansas, West Virginia. That still might not actually be enough.

SYRACUSE (RPI: 46, KenPom: 45, NBC seed: Play-in game): The Orange lost at home to North Carolina on Wednesday night. They entered this week having to win two of their last four games to feel good about where they stood heading into the ACC tournament. They’re at Duke on Saturday and then at BC and home against Clemson. The last two were always the two games they were most likely to win.

PENN STATE (RPI: 76, KenPom: 25, NBC seed: Out): The Nittany Lions had a chance to get this thing done. Losing by three at Purdue was a killer; they were up by nine in the first half of a game that would have been one of college basketball’s 10-15 best wins this season. Then, on Wednesday, the lost to Michigan at home. A win at Nebraska would help — that’s a Quadrant 1 game — but it probably won’t be enough. The Nittany Lions are going to have work to do in the Big Ten tournament regardless.