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Recruitment starting to pick up for top 30 point forward Braxton Blackwell

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LAS VEGAS — For high school players the summer months aren’t solely about making a name for one’s self. Those times are also about improving upon their individual skill sets and building on a (hopefully) successful high school season. That was the case for versatile 6-foot-8 forward Braxton Blackwell, who was coming off of a highly successful sophomore season at Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. Last season Blackwell posted averages of 19.4 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game on a team that finished with a 34-3 record and reached the semifinals of Tennessee’s Division I Class II state tournament.

For his efforts Blackwell was named Tennessee’s Mr. Basketball, extending an impressive streak for the CPA program to three consecutive Mr. Basketball selections. With his ability to affect games in a variety of ways, Blackwell has been on the receiving end of some of the nation’s top college programs. Being a “point forward” capable of initiating the offense tends to have that kind of effect on a player’s recruitment.

“Being versatile,” Blackwell said at the adidas Super 64 last week when asked about his strengths. “I can get a rebound and go, [playing] kind of a point forward position, passing the basketball and defending well.”

As a sophomore Blackwell also averaged more than two blocks and two steals per game, and in Las Vegas his ability to be in the right place at the right time defensively was another asset on display. Playing on a team that featured fellow 2016 prospect Kobi Simmons, it was just as likely that Blackwell was the player with the basketball in his hands looking to make a play for his teammates. That freed up Simmons, a point guard more likely to score at this stage in his development, to do more scoring for the Atlanta Celtics, and Blackwell’s understanding of the game is something that can benefit future teammates at the college level as well.

When asked what he’s looking to improve upon this summer, Blackwell’s answer was direct and to the point.

“Shooting and being more aggressive offensively,” Blackwell stated, and for the role he hopes to have at the college level those are obviously important tools to strengthen. Having a consistent jump shot can open things up from a spacing standpoint for a player serving as his team’s point forward. And there’s also the need to properly balance finding looks for oneself and making sure teammates are getting looks in the areas where they’ll be most successful as well.

Among the schools mentioned by Blackwell when asked about his recruitment were “Providence, Florida, Indiana, Tennessee, Memphis, Vanderbilt and a lot of other programs.” And being from Nashville, Blackwell’s bound to attract a lot of attention from Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings. How much attention? During one of Blackwell’s games in Las Vegas, the entire Vanderbilt coaching staff was in attendance, taking in the action from the front row of the coaches section. And as is the case with many recruits, that kind of effort doesn’t go unnoticed.

“That just shows that I’m probably one of the priorities in their class,” Blackwell said. “It’s pretty cool to see all four coaches there.”

As Blackwell continues to sharpen the tools that have made him one of the better recruits in the Class of 2016, programs will intensify their pursuit of his signature on a National Letter of Intent. And for the versatile Blackwell, who spoke of studying journalism in college, his ability to do a variety of things on the basketball court has resulted in his having multiple options when it comes to picking a school.

No. 22 Xavier’s slide continues with loss to short-handed No. 7 Creighton

CINCINNATI, OH - JANUARY 16:  Chris Mack the head coach of the Xavier Musketeers  gives instructions to his team against the Creighton Blue Jays during the game at Cintas Center on January 16, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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It’s officially time to be concerned about No. 22 Xavier.

The Musketeers have now lost three straight games, all to the top three teams in the Big East, and currently sit at 13-5 on the year with just a single good win to their name: Clemson.

But prior to Monday’s loss to No. 7 Creighton, Xavier had lost all of their games on the road to teams that will either get a top five seed in the NCAA tournament (Villanova, Butler, Baylor) or play at altitude (Colorado). On Monday, the Musketeers not only lost 72-67 to Creighton, but they did so on a day where the Bluejays lost star point guard and all-american candidate Mo Watson to a knee injury midway through the first half and spent the majority of the game playing with star center Justin Patton saddled with fouls.

Should I mention that Creighton, who is third-nationally in three-point percentage, shot 5-for-19 from beyond the arc, or that their two best healthy guards – Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas – shot a combined 10-for-31?

All of the stars were aligned. Coming how to an afternoon game against a top ten team on a holiday after losing back-to-back games on the road, and that top ten team lost their most important player early in the first half?

This should have been where Xavier landed that first elite win.

Instead, the Musketeers are left scratching their head again.

And it begs the question: If not now, when?

The Musketeers still play Villanova and Butler at home, visit Creighton and have the Crossroads Classic at Cincinnati. There are opportunities for them to get wins that they need.

But if they cannot get a win over a short-handed Creighton team at home, who are they actually going to be?

VIDEO: No. 7 Creighton beats No. 22 Xavier, loses all-american Mo Watson to a knee injury

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Creighton point guard Mo Watson was carried off of the Cintas Center floor on Monday afternoon after an ugly-looking injury in the first half.

Watson drove the lane and landed on his left leg. He immediately grabbed the knee in clear distress:

The Bluejays would hold on to win a thrilling, hard-fought game, 72-67, without Watson. That’s impressive, and it means that they move into a tie for first place in the Big East with Villanova, but the story of this game was Watson.

According to a reporter at the game, Watson told head coach Gregg McDermott that he “heard it pop“. Losing Watson to any significant injury would be catastrophic for the No. 8 Bluejays. Watson entered Monday averaging 13.4 points and a nation’s-best 8.8 assists. He’s been in the top ten of our Player of the Year Power Rankings all season long, is a clear-cut candidate for an all-american team and is the engine for the high-powered offense that has made Creighton a Final Four contender.

The injury may be somewhat controversial as well. Two minutes before the video clip above, Watson banged knees with a Xavier defender and had to be helped off of the floor. He was tested on the sideline and allowed to return to the game, albeit with a noticeable limp.

UPDATE: Gregg McDermott told FS1 after the game that Watson’s ligaments are intact, but that they are concerned about the meniscus.

College Basketball Coaches Poll: Kansas vaults to No. 1

LAWRENCE, KS - DECEMBER 03:  Devonte' Graham #4 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates with Frank Mason III #0 after making a three-pointer during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Allen Fieldhouse on December 3, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Kansas vaulted up to the No. 1 spot in the Coaches Poll for the first time this season, receiving 23 of the 32 first place votes.

Villanova comes in at No. 2 while UCLA, Gonzaga and Kentucky finish up the top five. Bay.or, who was No. 1 in the country last week, is No. 6 while Duke fell all the way to No. 18 with a pair of losses last week.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

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

College Basketball AP Top 25: Villanova is back to the top spot

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 13: Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts 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 vaulted back into the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll after falling out for a week when they lost at Creighton.

Kansas comes in at No. 2 while UCLA, Gonzaga and Kentucky finish up the top five. Bay.or, who was No. 1 in the country last week, is No. 6 while Duke fell all the way to No. 18 with a pair of losses last week.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

1. Villanova (28 first-place votes)
2. Kansas (32)
3. UCLA (3)
4. Gonzaga (2)
5. Kentucky
6. Baylor
t-7. Creighton
t-7. West Virginia
9. North Carolina
10. Florida State
11. Oregon
12. Louisville
13. Butler
14. Arizona
15. Notre Dame
16. Virginia
17. Wisconsin
18. Duke
19. Florida
20. Cincinnati
21. Purdue
22. Xavier
23. Saint Mary’s
24. South Carolina
25. Maryland

Texas gets important commitment from 2017 point guard Matt Coleman

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Texas landed an important piece for its future on Monday as four-star Class of 2017 point guard Matt Coleman committed to the Longhorns during a televised announcement.

A priority recruit for head coach Shaka Smart, the 6-foot-2 Coleman is regarded as the No. 35 overall prospect in the country, according to Rivals. A lefty floor general who can attack the basket and set up others, Coleman played for Smart this summer as the two won a gold medal together with the USA Basketball U18 team during the 2016 FIBA Americas.

Coleman is going to have to improve his perimeter shooting for the next level — he only shot 18 percent from three-point range in Nike EYBL play — but he’s the type of setup guard who should help the talented Texas perimeter get ideal shots. It’ll be intriguing to see how Smart plans to play Coleman in what could be a crowded backcourt next season but Coleman should help bring stability to the team.

With Coleman in the mix, we’ll likely see Smart use a lot of lineups with two ball handlers as we saw with Isaiah Taylor and Javan Felix last season. That type of backcourt might suit Smart’s style of play a bit better than the current Texas roster this season.

Coleman is the fourth commitment for Texas in the Class of 2017. He joins three other four-star prospects in big man Jericho Sims, guard Jase Febres and forward Royce Hamm.