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’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 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.

The end was disappointing, but Kentucky’s season outpaced all expectation

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In yet another example of what makes March Madness the greatest and most unpredictable sporting spectacle on the planet, Kentucky’s run to the Sweet 16 this season is going to be looked at as a disappointment.

Who saw that coming back in January?

Who thought that this team had second weekend potential when they were in the midst of the first four-game losing streak of John Calipari’s tenure in Lexington?

And please, show me who, at that point in time, predicted that Kentucky media would be calling a loss in the Sweet 16 “the worst loss” in the Calipari era back when there were actual discussions being had over whether or not the Wildcats were going to get into the NCAA tournament?

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns in college basketball

Kentucky lost on Thursday night. The fifth-seeded Wildcats fell to the ninth-seeded Wildcats of Kansas State in a game that turned into drama-filled slugfest down the stretch. The final score was 61-58. Kentucky had two shots at the end of regulation to force a tie or take the lead. They also gave up an offensive rebound to a 6-foot-3 no-name with 40 seconds left that led to the game-winning bucket.

The narrative is going to be that Kentucky choked this game away, that their inability to run offense — and P.J. Washington’s free throw yips — cost them the Final Four that seemed a given Thursday morning and a pipe dream on Selection Sunday.

The truth is that Kentucky was a flawed basketball team that got hot at the right time before running into a team that executed a game-plan to perfection while getting the benefit of a couple of bounces and whistles going their way.

And let me be perfectly clear: In no way, shape or form am I saying that Kentucky or Big Blue Nation should be happy with this loss. It should be disappointing. It should hurt — more so for the players than the fans, but whatever. The bracket broke perfectly for them. Everyone in their region was a cinderella. We weren’t wrong in thinking that Coach Cal’s kids were the heavy favorites to get to San Antonio out of Catlanta.

But we need to say that while also acknowledging this: There is a reason that Kentucky was a No. 5-seed this season.

This was a flawed basketball team.

They were young. They didn’t have enough shooting. Their offense was entirely too predictable, even when they were winning. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox weren’t carrying the load for them on that end, they didn’t really have anywhere to turn. And on Thursday night, they ran into a team that had the personnel and a game-plan to take away Kentucky’s two go-to guys.

Kansas State is not overly talented, but what they have in abundance are tough, athletic and older guards that are going to put in a shift on the defensive end of the floor. Kentucky fans may not know who Barry Brown is, but I guarantee you that fans of every Big 12 team can tell you just how good he can be. I guarantee that coaches in the Big 12 can tell you just how annoying their guards are, and those little guards played that role to perfection.

To put it another way, it wasn’t a fluke that Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to make plays off the dribble the way he has for the last two months of the season. It wasn’t an accident that Kevin Knox struggled to find a way to get the looks he had become accustomed to getting coming off of Kentucky’s circle sets.

And in a 40 minute basketball game, when one team matches up well with another, something as simple as Xavier Sneed catching fire and Washington going 8-for-20 from the foul line will get you beat.

But that’s neither here nor there.

Because the real point that I am trying to make here is that this particular Kentucky team just wasn’t all that good. They were young. They were injured. They had their flaws masked by the improvement of a couple of kids who played out of their minds for long stretches of the season, and I just don’t think that’s something that should be overlooked.

Maybe this is just my mindset as a fan. I enjoy the ride more than I need to celebrate the ending. Give me a reason to tune in every game. Make me excited to have the monotony of a week broken up when the ball tips. I’m good.

And I think this Kentucky team accomplished just that.

But two weeks ago, no one thought this team had a shot of getting to the Elite 8. Two months ago, every Kentucky fan would have taken a trip to the second weekend in a heartbeat.

The ending sucked.

No doubt about it.

But this team kept fighting and kept improving and, in the end, lost because someone took makeup remover to the cosmetics that Calipari applied.

Be disappointed, but don’t lost sight of the big picture.

VIDEO: Townes’ late 3 seals Loyola’s win over Nevada

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Nevada was faced with a dilemma. The Wolf Pack were down just one possession – just one point – and were on defense with with a five-second differential between the game and shot clocks.

Foul and extend the game or play it out and hope for a stop?

Nevada opted to play it straight-up, and Loyola hit them with the worst-case scenario – a 3-pointer at the end of the shot clock.

The 3-pointer from Marques Townes made it a two-possession game and the clock all but ruled out the possibility for two possession.

And that’s why Loyola is now in the Elite Eight.

2018 NCAA Tournament: Saturday’s tip times, TV channels, announcer pairings

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Half the spots in the Final Four are up for grabs Saturday. Be sure you know where your TV needs to be before the nets are cut down.

Atlanta: Brian Anderson, Chris Webber and Lisa Byington

  • 6:09 p.m. – No. 9 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Loyola, TBS

Los Angeles: Kevin Harlan, Reggie Miller, Dan Bonner and Dana Jacobson

  • 8:49 – No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 9 Florida State, TBS

VIDEO: This is the shot that ended Kentucky’s season

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Barry Brown has spent all season being underrated.

And Kentucky found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

This bucket with 18 seconds left gave Kansas State a lead they would never relinquish in a win over Kentucky in the Sweet 16.

Florida State advances past Gonzaga to Elite Eight

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Florida State was an afterthought heading into the season in an ACC that was as loaded as it was top-heavy.

They were a No. 9-seed in the NCAA tournament in part because they were able to pick off North Carolina and Clemson at home by a combined three points.

They needed three overtimes to hold off Miami and Syracuse at home. They needed a win over Boston College on Senior Night to avoid heading into the ACC tournament with a losing record, and they ended up going and losing in the first round of the ACC tournament to a Louisville that never really sniffed the bubble and parted ways with their interim head coach as soon as their NIT run ended.

They were almost universally picked to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Missouri because everyone knew Michael Porter Jr. was back and secretly hoped that the potential top five pick might actually make some noise as a collegian before his run came to an end.

The Seminoles have been written off and ignored for the entire college basketball season.

And now they are a win away from the Final Four.

Terance Mann scored 18 points and Florida State held fourth-seeded Gonzaga to 35 percent shooting as the Seminoles advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1993 with a 75-60 win on Thursday night. The Seminoles will advance to take on No. 3-seed Michigan with a trip to the Final Four on the line. They have not been to a Final Four since 1972, which was the last Elite 8 before their last Elite 8.

Put another way, the program that has been ignored all season long has been to precisely one Elite 8 since 1972.

That’s a long time to be irrelevant.

So I guess it’s time that we all started to pay attention.

And here’s the interesting part of this: The Seminoles are actually a fun team to watch this year. This is not the kind of grind-it-out Florida State teams that we have become accustomed to with Leonard Hamilton at the helm of this program. They don’t try to play as many enormous human beings at one time as they can. Florida State plays a lot of small-ball. They have a lot of physical, athletic and switchable defenders. They press. They try to force turnovers. They get out and run in transition. They have a couple dudes; Mann and Braian Angola and M.J. Carter. They’re not exactly VCU and they’re not exactly West Virginia and they’re not exactly last season’s South Carolina, but there’s a little bit of all of them there.

And that’s what did Gonzaga in.

The Zags entered this game short-handed, as their starting five-man Killian Tillie was unable to go due to a hip injury that he aggravated during warmups, but that would not have made all that much of a difference in the Staples Center.

The issue was guard play.

Florida State’s pressure simply overwhelmed Gonzaga’s guards. Josh Perkins, Silas Melson and Zach Norvell were a combined 10-for-36 from the floor and had a nightmare-of-a-time trying to get the ball into the lane. The Zags committed 13 turnovers, trailed by 12 within the first ten minutes of the game and never really made a run keeping this thing within striking distance.

If there was an issue with Tillie being out, it came when Gonzaga tried to space the floor.

The Zags were playing without enough shooters, particularly in the front court. That clogged the paint and made it difficult for the likes of Johnathan Williams III and Rui Hachimura to get some space down there to operate. Perhaps the most telling stat on Thursday — more than Gonzaga’s 34 percent shooting or the 5-for-20 that they shot from three — was that the Zags were 8-for-27 on layups on the night.


For 27.


And it makes me wonder just how Michigan is going to be able to handle this group, but that’s neither here nor there.

We’ll get to it in time.

For now, it is time for the Seminoles and their fans to basket in this moment.

They were right, we were wrong.