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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.

AP Poll: Villanova, Kansas neck-and-neck for No. 1

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Head coach Jay Wright and Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats congratulate Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats in the second half against the Temple Owls at The Pavilion on December 13, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Temple Owls 78-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Villanova maintained a slim lead over Kansas for the No. 1 spot in this week’s AP poll, with Gonzaga being the only other program to receive any first place votes.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBCSports Top 25

After losing to Arizona at home, UCLA dropped to eighth as the Wildcats vaulted them into No. 7 in the poll.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Things We Learned | Top 25

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1. Villanova (35 first-place votes)
2. Kansas (28)
3. Gonzaga (2)
4. Kentucky
5. Baylor
6. Florida State
7. Arizona
8. UCLA
9. North Carolina
10. Oregon
11. Butler
12. Virginia
13. Louisville
14. Notre Dame
15. Wisconsin
16. Creighton
17. Duke
18. West Virginia
19. Cincinnati
20. Purdue
21. Saint Mary’s
22. Maryland
23. South Carolina
24. Xavier
25. Florida

Coaches Poll: Kansas remains No. 1, Villanova No. 2

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 21: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives to the goal against Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns in the first half at Allen Field House on January 21, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Kansas remained No. 1 in the Coaches Poll this week, getting 18 of the 32 first-place votes.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBCSports Top 25

Villanova sits at No. 2 in the poll, with Gonzaha in third, the only other team to receive a first-place vote.

After beating UCLA in Pauley Pavilion, Arizona jumped up to No. 9 but still sits two spots behind UCLA at No. 7.

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1. Kansas (18 first-place votes)
2. Villanova (11)
3. Gonzaga (3)
4. Kentucky
5. Baylor
6. North Carolina
7. UCLA
8. Florida State
9. Arizona
10. Oregon
11. Butler
12. Notre Dame
13. Virginia
14. Louisville
15. Wisconsin
16. Creighton
17. Duke
18. West Virginia
19. Cincinnati
20. Purdue
21. Sainy Mary’s
22. Xavier
23. Maryland
24. South Carolina
25. Florida

College Basketball Talk Top 25: It gets muddy after a clear-cut top four

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 03: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in front of Lamarr Kimble #0 of the Saint Joseph's Hawks in the first half at The Pavilion on December 3, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks 88-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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This week’s rankings were probably more difficult to put together than any week so far this season.

The top four, frankly, seem pretty obvious. I have Villanova No. 1, but I would have no qualms with ranking any of Kentucky, Kansas or Gonzaga in that No. 1 spot. I expect those to be the four teams that get votes for No. 1 in the AP and Coaches Polls this week.

After that, however, is when it gets difficult. Are you going to rank North Carolina above Florida State? UNC beat the Seminoles when they squared off this season but that was the Seminoles lone loss in a six game run against ranked teams. I went with Carolina over them because, simply, I think UNC is a better team.

Then there’s the question of what to do with the top three teams in the Pac-12. Arizona just won at UCLA and they got Allonzo Trier back. Oregon also owns a win over the Bruins, but there’s came at home on a buzzer-beater from Dillon Brooks, who is dealing with a foot injury again. And while UCLA has consistently proven to be one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the country, they are a nightmare defensively right now.

Where does West Virginia slot in after a pair of losses? What about Creighton without Mo Watson Jr.? Butler’s profile looks great but their performance on the floor has been less than stellar since their win over Villanova. Is Duke actually back?

You can find the rankings below. What did I get wrong?

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1. Villanova (19-1, Last Week No. 1)
2. Kentucky (17-2, 2)
3. Kansas (18-1, 4)
4. Gonzaga (19-0, 5)
5. North Carolina (18-3, 5)
6. Baylor (18-1, 7)
7. Florida State (18-2, 8)
8. Arizona (18-2, 16)
9. UCLA (19-2, 3)
10. Oregon (18-2, 10)
11. Louisville (16-4, 11)
12. Wisconsin (16-3, 13)
13. Purdue (16-4, 15)
14. Notre Dame (17-3, 17)
15. Cincinnati (17-2, 18)
16. Duke (15-4, 19)
17. West Virginia (15-4, 10)
18. Butler (17-3, 14)
19. Creighton (18-2, 12)
20. Saint Mary’s (17-2, 20)
21. Virginia (16-3, 22)
22. South Carolina (15-4, 24)
23. Maryland (17-2, 25)
24. Kansas State (15-4, NR)
25. Iowa State (12-6, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 21 Xavier, No. 23 Florida
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 24 Kansas State, No. 25 Iowa State

Five Things We Learned This Week: Duke’s back, Creighton might be OK, and can UCLA win a title?

DURHAM, NC - JANUARY 21:  Matt Jones #13 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after making a three-point basket against the Miami Hurricanes during the game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Durham, North Carolina. Duke won 70-58.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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1. Jeff Capel’s gamble paid off: For the first time in more than a month, Duke looked like Duke again, and it all came from a roll-of-the-dice by interim head coach Jeff Capel.

With the Blue Devils down 36-25 at the half at home against Miami, he benched Grayson Allen, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles III to open the second half, and it worked. Matt Jones scored all 13 of his points to sparked a 31-4 run that turned what should have been Miami’s first marquee win into a moment in Duke’s season that we have to highlight.

The specific turning point came less than two minutes into the half. Duke was finally playing with energy defensively, but they couldn’t quite get things going on the offensive end of the floor. After another missed shot from the Blue Devils, Jones picked off an outlet pass and rattled home a three that sent Cameron Indoor Stadium into hysterics. The crowd went nuts. The bench went nuts. Capel went to go chest bump Jones at half court after Miami called a timeout and nearly truck-sticked his veteran leader.

And it was more than just Jones hitting shots. Frank Jackson looked the part of an all-american for the first time since his more-heralded freshmen counterparts returned from injury. Marques Bolden played what was by far his best game as a collegian, too. They were brimming with confidence, but perhaps more importantly, it was the first time that Duke looked to be having fun playing basketball since the Jimmy V Classic on Dec. 10th.

I don’t know what the future holds for Duke’s season.

But I do know that if they make a run now, Matt Jones rattling home a three will have been the turning point in their season.

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2. Creighton might be OK without Mo Watson Jr.: Creighton got smoked by Marquette at home on Saturday afternoon, losing 102-94 in a game that wasn’t really that close in the second half. That’s not exactly the most reassuring thing to have happen for a team trying to figure out how to survive without their all-american point guard, but there is something important to note about the result: Creighton lost because they decided not to defend.

Marquette has one of the most potent offensive attacks in the country. They currently rank 7th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency metric. They have loads of guards to spread around Luke Fischer in the post, and head coach Steve Wojciechowski has them running and gunning like some of those old Duke teams he played on. They made 12 threes against Creighton, shot 60 percent from the floor and scored 1.275 points-per-possession.

That’s atrocious defense from the Bluejays.

But they also put up 94 points. Marcus Foster went for 30. They were 11-for-24 from the floor and shot 49.3 percent on the game despite missing 23 of their first 34 field goals. Davion Mintz, playing the point in Watson’s absence, finished with 17 points and eight assists. Their offense, overall, looked fine.

Part of that is because Marquette is a bad defensive team. Part of that was likely because they were chasing the game late, able to get a flurry of points down the stretch against a defense that was trying not to foul. And it’s not like we can ignore the 11-for-34 start to the game.

That said, when you combine this performance with the fact that the Bluejays were able to hold on and win at Xavier after Watson’s first half injury, there is reason to be optimistic that Greg McDermott will figure this thing out. Creighton no longer has the same upside without Watson – he was awesome, let’s not forget that – but this weekend showed us the Bluejays aren’t dead yet.

OMAHA, NEBRASKA-NOVEMBER 26: Marcus Foster #0 of the Creighton Bluejays take s a break during their game against the Loyola (Md) Greyhounds at the CenturyLink Center on November 26, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Marcus Foster (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)

3. Indiana isn’t dead yet, either: We were all ready to bury the Hoosiers after they lost O.G. Anunoby to a knee injury that will require surgery and end his season, but someone forget to tell Indiana.

Four days after James Blackmon Jr. hit a buzzer-beating three to give Indiana a win at Penn State, the Hoosiers smacked around Michigan State at Assembly Hall on the strength of 33 points from Blackmon. All of a sudden, Tom Crean’s club is sitting at 4-3 in the Big Ten, two games out of first place, having won four of their last five, the only loss coming by three points at league leader Maryland.

That’s impressive, but it doesn’t get any easier for the Hoosiers. This week, they visit both Michigan and Northwestern, who is currently 5-2 in the Big Ten. Winning at home in front of a raucous crowd is one thing. Taking care of teams that they should be able to beat on the road is another.

4. Can we still take UCLA seriously as a title contender?: At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, UCLA’s defense has gotten to the point where it’s difficult to picture them winning six games in a row against quality competition. They rank 125th nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric after giving up 1.315 points-per-possession. Arizona routinely obliterated UCLA off the dribble, getting into the paint at will and exposing Bryce Alford as a defensive liability. Arizona also pounded the offensive glass, getting 34 percent of their own misses, and the cumulative effect was that the Bruins were unable to get their transition game into high gear.

As the saying goes, the easiest way to keep a running team from running is to make them take the ball out of their own net.

The Bruins are still the most dangerous team in the country. When they play their best, when they are banging threes and getting out in transition and Lonzo Ball is doing Lonzo Ball things, they can beat anyone else’s best. Their ceiling is the highest ceiling in the sport.

But we’re just not going to see that ceiling for six straight games.

So while Arizona proved themselves a Pac-12 favorite and a threat in March on Saturday, the more telling issue was that UCLA may not be quite as good as we thought they were.

5. Is West Virginia’s press broken?: One of the knocks we had on Baylor entering Big 12 play was that once they began playing teams that knew how to attack that funky zone they run their defense would take a hit. For the most part, that hasn’t been the case for the Bears.

It has, however, for the Mountaineers.

The blowout win over Baylor aside, West Virginia has not been impressive in Big 12 play. They lost to Texas Tech in overtime. They barely beat Big 12 bottom-feeder Texas. They lost at home to Oklahoma in overtime. They lost at Kansas State by four. In all four of those games, the Mountaineers had more turnovers than they forced. West Virginia leads the nation by forcing turnovers on 31.1 percent of their defensive possessions. In those four games, they forced turnovers on 20.3 percent of their possessions.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25: Head coach Bob Huggins of the West Virginia Mountaineers reacts against the Temple Owls in the second half during the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center on November 25, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Head coach Bob Huggins (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Team of the Week: Florida State Seminoles

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 14:  Jonathan Isaac #1 of the Florida State Seminoles pulls down a rebound against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the game at the Dean Smith Center on January 14, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 96-83.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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How about this for a good week for the Seminoles: They beat No. 15 Notre Dame on a night where the Fighting Irish hit 15-for-21 from three, and then followed that up by jumping out to a 14-0 lead and taking a win off of No. 12 Louisville, who never led in the game.

Not bad, right?

Here’s the kicker: Florida State not only is sitting tied for first place in the ACC, they’ve put themselves in a position where getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament isn’t all that far-fetched.

The Seminoles ended a run of six straight games against ranked teams on Saturday. They went 5-1 in that stretch, winning at Virginia and beating Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Duke and Louisville in Tallahassee. The only loss came at North Carolina, who, along with the Irish, are the two teams that also have just one loss in league play.

It’s not going to be easy for Florida State to do. To get the No. 1 seed in the East they’re probably going to have to win the ACC regular season title – maybe the ACC tournament title, too – and hope that résumé looks better than Villanova’s, because I would be willing to bet Kentucky will coast into the No. 1 seed in the South, Kansas will lock up the No. 1 seed in the Midwest and Gonzaga will battle it out with UCLA and Arizona for the No. 1 seed out West.

And winning the ACC won’t be an easy thing to do, not with seven of Florida State’s last 11 games coming on the road.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

For now, we should really just appreciate what the Seminoles have done this season.

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Kansas State: The Wildcats had twice been on the wrong end of some poor officiating in crunch time this season, costing them wins at Kansas and at Texas Tech that would have slotted them, for the time being, on the right side of the bubble. Bruce Weber’s club fixed some of those problems this week, winning at Oklahoma State and beating West Virginia at home.
  • Arizona: I’m not sure it’s possible for Sean Miller to have had a better week. First, Arizona won at USC. Then, the news about why Allonzo Trier stat out the first 19 games of the season broke. A day later, Trier passed a drug test and was cleared to play. And finally, he went for 12 points, seven boards and four assists as the Wildcats won at UCLA to remain undefeated in the Pac-12.
  • Indiana: Did the Hoosiers save their season this week? They might have, despite the fact that O.G. Anunoby suffered a season-ending knee injury. First, it was James Blackmon Jr. burying a game-winning three to avoid a collapse on the road against Penn State, and then it was Blackmon popping off for 33 points in a win over Michigan State in Assembly Hall.
  • Northwestern: Northwestern did something on Sunday that they haven’t done in 40 years – win at Ohio State. The Wildcats are now 16-4 on the season and 5-2 in the Big Ten. Is this the year that they finally reach the NCAA tournament? With six of their final 11 games coming against Wisconsin, Purdue, Maryland and Indiana, Northwestern will have the chances to bolster their résumé.