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Seven takeaways from Las Vegas for the final AAU weekend of 2014

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The final week of the July evaluation period is one that, for many teams, means a trip to Las Vegas for one of three large tournaments (adidas Super 64, Las Vegas Fab 48 and the Las Vegas Classic), with Chris Paul’s The 8 being held there as well. And for coaches who may be looking for a more seasoned prospect, there’s also JucoRecruiting.com’s All-American JUCO Showcase Elite 80 West to attend. Below are a few thoughts on last week’s action, and one suggestion that could help lesser-known players who are looking to make a name for themselves in these events.

Las Vegas Recaps: Wednesday | Thursday | Friday | Saturday

1. Regardless of what Skal Labissiere decides to do, his work to get stronger will be of great importance. 

Labissiere enjoyed a very good week in Las Vegas, playing well on both ends of the floor. And he’s also been the focus of conversation with regards to what he’ll do next summer: enroll at the college he chooses, or take a shot at going overseas and playing professionally. Yet regardless of which path he chooses, Labissiere will need to continue to get stronger (especially if he goes pro). In speaking with Labissiere he stated that he’d dropped down to 206 this summer, and his goal is to get to 225. Of course adding weight isn’t solely about increasing the number, but also being sure that through good workout and dietary habits the weight gained is “positive.” That’s something else Labissiere noted, so it’s good to see he has a clear understanding of that.

2. Vance Jackson has the look of a player poised to put together a standout junior season.

The 6-foot-8 forward can score both off the dribble and from beyond the arc, and he was very productive this past weekend for Belmont Shore. Jackson, who’s in the Class of 2016, scored 33 points in an overtime loss to the NJ Playaz Friday night and continued to be a solid scoring option alongside Tyler Dorsey throughout the weekend. The key for Jackson is remaining confident in his skill set, because when he is Jackson is an assertive player who can be tough to slow down. Regardless of what ranking service you prefer, don’t be surprised to see Jackson’s name rise up the list when those updates occur.

3. Pound for pound, there may not be a tougher player in 2015 than Isaiah Briscoe. 

Whether it was at the Fab 48 or The 8, Briscoe’s refusal to be denied was evident during his time on the floor. With the ball in his hands Briscoe is a very good creator, whether it’s to get himself to the rim or to set up one of his teammates. And when defenders sag off Briscoe can knock down perimeter shots at a solid clip as well. But what stood out watching him play was the toughness, and the belief of “I’m the best player out here” that was impossible to ignore. Arizona, Rutgers, St. John’s and UConn are among the seven schools on the list Briscoe released in late June, and the battle for his commitment will be fierce.

MORE: Quotables Part I | Part II | Part III | All content from the 2014 July Live Period

4. Jaylen Brown’s ability to score from anywhere on the court makes him one of the toughest matchups regardless of class. 

Already considered to be one of the best players in 2015, there are some who believe that Brown is the closest competitor to Ben Simmons when it comes to who the top player in the class is. Why? His ability to score both inside and out, combined with a physical build that allows Brown to not only absorb contact but finish through it with authority. And while Brown led the way for Game Elite offensively, that expectation didn’t result in Brown playing in a selfish manner. While in-state programs Georgia and Georgia Tech are among the programs looking to land Brown so are Kentucky and UCLA (just to name two), with Brown stating that he’ll take an unofficial visit to UCLA following adidas Nations (which begins Friday in southern California).

5. It will be fun to watch the Class of 2017 develop.

This happens every summer in all honesty. You’ve been watching the current crop of rising seniors for a couple years, so naturally the question of “who’s next?” gets asked. And in Las Vegas there were some very talented 2017 prospects on display. Two of the best front court players in the class are on the west coast in DeAndre Ayton and Billy Preston, with both putting together solid performances in their respective events, and guards Troy Brown and Trevon Duval also merit attention for their play. One point on Duval: with Isaiah Briscoe moving on to college next year, he should have a bigger role for the NJ Playaz next summer alongside 2016 guard Temple Gibbs. It’ll be fun to see how Duval adjusts, with the upcoming high school season setting the stage for that, and the same can be said for the other three rising sophomores mentioned above.

6. Intangibles are just as valuable as the stats when it comes to showcase events. 

Saturday provided the opportunity to make a stop at the JucoRecruiting.com event for a couple hours, and in these settings participants may feel that putting up numbers is the only way to catch the attention of the Division I coaches in attendance. That can lead to ragged play, something that does a lot more harm than good for all involved. So in these events the intangibles, such as a willingness to share the basketball and being a good communicator, can set a player apart from the rest of the crowd. This can also be said for the high school players, even though in most cases they have familiarity with their grassroots teammates. Numbers are great, but that alone doesn’t win championships and that’s the goal of every college coach looking to add players to his program.

7. There should be some kind of in-game penalty for teams whose coaches submit incomplete/inaccurate rosters.

For all the criticism some heap upon grassroots basketball, the fact of the matter is that it can be a great avenue for young players to gain exposure. Not all players get to play in highly regarded leagues during the high school season, so these events are of high value to prospects whose schools aren’t the focus of national (or even regional) attention. While it can be said that rosters are a “fluid situation” during the summer, those unheralded prospects are why teams should do their best to provide the event organizers with a complete (and accurate) roster. Why not make it as easy as possible for the players to get their names out there?

An incomplete roster may not seem like a big deal (coaches/media can go to the scorer’s table to check numbers at the half or at the end of games), but why not avoid this situation to begin with? So in order to do this, event organizers should come up with an in-game penalty for teams whose coaches can’t submit proper rosters. Ultimately these events should be about helping the kids reach their goals, whether it’s to move one step closer to the pros or to earn a college education their family would struggle to finance without help in the form of an athletic scholarship. Not making sure their information is both readily available and accurate doesn’t help the kids (or their families) at all.

No. 22 Butler ruins No. 2 Villanova’s seniors’ perfect Pavilion record

Butler center Nate Fowler and Villanova forward Eric Paschall, right, vie for a rebound in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, in Villanova, Pa. (AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)
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All Villanova players have known since they joined the program is winning at The Pavilion. Late into Wednesday’s game against No. 22 Butler, it looked like that would continue to be their only frame of reference for a group of seniors that were 45-0 in the building.

Then another ‘0’ turned that zero into a ‘1.’

The Bulldogs ripped off an 18-0 run in a 5-minute span to ultimately claim a 74-66 victory over second-ranked and defending national champion Villanova.

Villanova looked like it was going to cruise to another home win when Josh Hart’s 3-pointer with 10 minutes, 37 seconds remaining put the Wildcats up 49-42.

They wouldn’t score again until nearly the 4-minute mark.

During that span, Butler made 7 of 11 shots, with three being 3-pointers, while the Wildcats went 0 of 6 from the field and turned the ball over twice.

A seven-point lead for Villanova became an 11-point advantage for Butler. Villanova would try to rally, but couldn’t pull it off as it saw its home winning run stopped, its seniors’ perfect Pavilion record blemished and its seven-game winning streak come to a halt.

Beyond it probably being immensely annoying to the senior class, the loss probably doesn’t hurt Villanova too much as it looks to hold on to a No. 1 seed, preferably in the East region. The Wildcats’ resume is still as strong as nearly anyone in the country and they are, after all, the defending champs. They’ll be fine.

For Butler, it’s a signature win for a team that’s had a number of really good victories, but a few confounding losses, like St. John’s on the road and to Creighton (without Maurice Watson) and Georgetown at home. Beating Villanova – at the Pavilion, no less – could be worth a seed line.

Kelan Martin was fantastic for Butler, going for 23 points and eight boards, while Kamar Baldwin went for 15 points off the bench.

Jalen Brunson led the way for Villanova with 24 points while Josh Hart had 18 points and six rebounds. Kris Jenkins struggled, going 1 of 8 from the floor while scoring eight points.

The Wildcats get a chance to start a new streak at the Pavilion on Saturday with Creighton coming to town.

 

No. 8 North Carolina stakes their claim to the title of ‘nation’s best’ with beatdown of No. 7 Louisville

CHAPEL HILL, NC - FEBRUARY 22:  Theo Pinson #1 of the North Carolina Tar Heels reacts after a play against the Louisville Cardinals during their game at the Dean Smith Center on February 22, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina may not have anyone on their roster that sends chills down the spine of opposing coaches, and they may not have anyone on their roster that is going to be targeted by NBA franchises as lottery pick, and they may not be dominating the headlines like undefeated Gonzaga, reigning champ Villanova, winner of 13 straight Big 12 titles Kansas or even Tobacco Road rival Duke.

They’re not a sexy pick, they’re not the favorite in Vegas and they may finally crack the No. 1 seed line in all bracket projections after beating No. 7 Louisville 74-63 on Wednesday night, but at this point, I’m not sure that the Tar Heels aren’t the best team in college basketball.

‘The Best Team In College Basketball’ is not an easy title to earn this season, not because there are too many candidates but more because everyone of those candidates have some kind of glaring flaw that makes you wonder have they’ve made it to late-February with a winning record. Think: UCLA’s defense. Or maybe: Kansas’ total lack of front court depth. How about: Kentucky can’t shoot. And then there’s: Duke doesn’t have a point guard, or: Gonzaga doesn’t play anyone.

We can play that game with every team in the country.

In fact, I did, just last week on a podcast.

You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

North Carolina didn’t escape our wrath. There are question marks about Joel Berry II’s consistency, as he had a nasty habit of laying an egg every once in a while. Is that defense going to hold up for six games in a single-elimination tournament? Do they have enough consistent three-point shooting? Can Isaiah Hicks and Theo Pinson stay healthy?

Here’s the thing: I think the answer to all those questions is ‘yes’.

Justin Jackson has developed into a bonafide all-american and quite possibly the ACC Player of the Year. He’s a versatile scorer that is shooting the grip off the ball and has proven the ability to be the guy to take and make big shots for the Tar Heels this season. That’s taken some of the pressure off of Berry, who can spend more time as a secondary offensive weapon, facilitator and a leader than having to worry about carrying the team offensively. Theo Pinson’s return has opened some things up offensively, while UNC’s four-headed front court monster — Kennedy Meeks, Hicks, Tony Bradley and Luke Maye — have shown that they can score in the post or off of a missed shot, where they lead the nation on offensive rebounding percentage.

And as far as the defense is concerned, they’re ranked 20th in adjusted defensive efficiency by KenPom.com. Yes, a lot of that has to do with the pistol-whipping that was Gameday on Saturday night against Virginia, but Louisville, who was the third-best offensive team in ACC play, managed just 63 points in 73 possessions on Wednesday.

My point?

That defense doesn’t have to be great, it just has to be good enough, and it probably is.

But here’s the most important number to know: Two.

That’s how big North Carolina’s lead in the ACC is as of today. Louisville, Duke, Florida State and Notre Dame have all lost five times this year. As long as the Tar Heels can go into Pittsburgh and get a win over the Panthers, they are going to clinch a share of the ACC regular season, and they can lock up the outright league title before the showdown with the Dukies on the season’s final night.

The margins are thin, yes, but after Wednesday, North Carolina has as much claim to the title of ‘Nation’s Best’ as anyone in college basketball.

VIDEO: UNC fan ejected after heated exchange with Rick Pitino

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A UNC fan sitting court side in the Dean Dome on Wednesday was ejected from No. 8 North Carolina’s win over No. 7 Louisville after getting in a heated verbal exchange with Rick Pitino.

Cell phone video posted by a reporter attending the game showed Pitino having to be held back by members of his staff. According to ESPN sideline reporter Maria Taylor, who said she heard what the fan said, the line that set Pitino off was, “Pitino you suck.”

Bubble Banter: California, TCU and Syracuse with critical games tonight

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 10:  Ivan Rabb #1 of the California Golden Bears stands on the court during a quarterfinal game of the Pac-12 Basketball Tournament against the Oregon State Beavers at MGM Grand Garden Arena on March 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. California won 76-68.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports bracketology can be found here. That is where the seeds you see listed below come from. 

This post will be updated throughout the night.

WINNERS

Syracuse (RPI: 84, KenPom: 48, first four out): Did the Orange just lock up their NCAA tournament bid? It’s going to be close, after John Gillon banked in a 23-foot three at the buzzer to send No. 10 Duke back to Durham with a loss. Here’s how it stands for the Orange: They’s 17-12 on the season and guaranteed to finish at least .500 in ACC play. They now have six top 50 wins and nine top 100 wins, but they also have three losses to sub-100 teams, 12 total losses and they play at Louisville on Saturday. The road hasn’t been kind to Syracuse, either; they’ve won just two roadies this season, at N.C. State and at Clemson.

Providence (RPI: 69, KenPom: 58, first four out): All of a sudden, Providence is one of the most interesting bubble teams in the country. Last week they beat Butler and Xavier at home, and on Wednesday night, they went into Creighton and picked off the Bluejays. The Friars are now 17-11 on the season with five top 50 wins, including three in the top 25. They are 8-8 against the top 100, but the problem is that they have one sub-100 loss and two more sub-200 losses, which is really, really bad. They won the games that they had to win to get themselves into this position, but I still would strongly recommend that they win out down the stretch.

Seton Hall (RPI: 47, KenPom: 59, play-in game): I think the Pirates may have just punched their ticket to the tournament as they beat Xavier at home on Wednesday. They have four top 50 wins — two away from home — and seven top 100 wins with just a single sub-100 loss. I won’t say they’re a lock because a loss to DePaul would not be good for them.

Wake Forest (RPI: 40, KenPom: 31, next four out): The Demon Deacons are still in the tournament picture after landing a comeback win over Pitt on Wednesday night, but they have some work left to do. They have no bad losses and seven top 100 wins, but that 1-9 record against the top 50 is an eyesore. They get Louisville at home next week. That’s a game they have to have.

Arkansas (RPI: 33, KenPom: 51, No. 9 seed): Arkansas kept themselves away from the danger of the cutline and just about locked up a bid with a win over Texas A&M on Wednesday. With three games left, and one of those three at Florida, it will be hard for the Razorbacks to miss the dance at this point. But this is also a team that lost to Missouri. They can pull anything off.

Michigan (RPI: 52, KenPom: 27, No. 10 seed): The Wolverines avoided disaster on Wednesday night using a late rally to avoid what would’ve been a killer of a loss at Rutgers. They were already in the tournament with a little bit of room to spare entering today, and this win — however ugly it was — doesn’t hurt that.

VCU (RPI: 26, KenPom: 41, No. 9 seed): The Rams beat Saint Louis on Wednesday night, which means that they didn’t lose to the Billikens. They are close to a lock by now, because two of their last three games are at Rhode Island and at Dayton — neither of which is a bad loss — and they close with GW at home. Even if they lose out, I think it will be hard for roughly ten teams to jump them in the bubble standings.

TCU (RPI: 54, KenPom: 43, play-in game): There’s no shame in losing at Kansas, which TCU did on Wednesday night, but they did miss out on an opportunity to land a résumé-defining win. The Horned Frogs are just 2-8 against the top 50 with just five top 100 wins, which isn’t a bad profile but it is one that lacks enough depth to feel anywhere near comfortable.

Illinois State (RPI: 36, KenPom: 50, No. 12 seed): The Redbirds beat Southern Illinois, so they’re still in the mix. But with just one top 75 win and three sub-100 losses, it’s going to be hard to get in if they don’t get that MVC automatic bid.

LOSERS

Cal (RPI: 39, KenPom: 47, No. 10 seed): Cal is probably still safe after losing at home to No. 6 Oregon on Wednesday, but it sure isn’t going to feel good that they were up by 15 and blew a lead in a game that would have cemented their status as an at-large team. As it stands, Cuonzo Martin’s team is 18-9 on the season without a single bad loss, but they’re only 1-7 against the top 50, their only win over a tournament team is USC and they may not play another RPI top 100 team this season. Don’t lose anymore.

Kansas State (RPI: 51, KenPom: 28, No. 11 seed): Bruce Weber really just cannot make this easy on himself. Kansas State lost for the seventh time in the last nine games on Wednesday, falling at home to Oklahoma State. The Wildcats have just four top 100 wins, but three of those are top 30 wins, two of them are on the road and one of those is at Baylor. That’s enough to keep them on the cut line for now, but with at Oklahoma, at TCU and Texas Tech left, I would urge them to find a way to turn this slump around.

Tennessee (RPI: 50, KenPom: 42, first four out): The Vols may have finally played themselves off the bubble — which is an exceedingly difficult thing to do this season — by losing at home to Vanderbilt. In fact, I think I would go as far as to say that the Commodores now have a better chance of getting an at-large bid than Tennessee.

Pitt (RPI: 59, KenPom: , next four out): Pitt was in the picture because the bubble is trash. They had a chance to land a nice win at a Wake Forest team that has really good computer numbers … and then blew a 19 point lead. I can’t see them getting an at-large bid at this point.

 

VIDEO: Brooks hits 3-pointer with 0.2 left to lift Oregon past Cal

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Dillon Brooks did it earlier against UCLA. Wednesday, he added Cal to his list.

The Oregon junior hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 0.2 left on the clock to give the sixth-ranked Ducks a 68-65 victory over the Bears after trailing by as many as 16 in the second half.

It’s the second time this season that Brooks, who finished with 22 points, has hit a game-winning three, and this one keeps the Ducks within a game of first-place Arizona in the Pac-12 standings.

The bigger story here may actually be Cal, as the Golden Bears gave away a 15-point lead in the final 10 minutes and a 10-point lead in the final five minutes in a game they desperately needed to win for their at-large résumé. Cal is just 1-7 against the RPI top 50 this season, and while they don’t have any bad losses to their name, this was their last chance to land a marquee win before the Pac-12 tournament.

I don’t think they’re in danger of missing the dance just yet, but I would not recommend tempting fate and losing down the stretch of the season.