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adidas Nations Monday Recap

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LONG BEACH, California — adidas Nations closed out play on Monday night with a televised doubleheader at Long Beach City College. The third-place and championship games showed the country, once again, that the Class of 2016 will be superior to 2015 and it also was a good proving ground for a number of prospects that will be back on the circuit next year. CBT’s Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips were there once again to take in the action.

– Dennis Smith, Jr. has the best week of anyone

Ultra-talented 2016 point guard Dennis Smith, Jr. has always had the talent to dominate, but after a somewhat wild spring, the 6-foot-2 point guard is finally putting efficient performances together with the ball in his hands. adidas Nations was a perfect example of this. Smith dominated play on both ends of the floor at times, as going into the championship game on Monday night with Team Lillard, he was shooting 21-for-29 from the field while dishing out 20 assists to only five turnovers. Over a four-game stretch against mostly older competition — in which he also added two-plus steals a game — that’s incredibly impressive. The point guard race is tight in 2016 with Derryck Thornton, UCLA commit Lonzo Ball, Kobi Simmons and DeAaron Fox — if you view Fox as a point guard, which I think he can be down the line — but Smith appears to be the leader of the pack right now. He’s a bonafide top-five prospect in this 2016 class and deserves more discussion for a higher spot with continued excellence. (SP)

Spring/summer give 2017 F Billy Preston much-needed reps

Given the talent that many of the players at high-level camps possess, it can be easy to forget that these are kids who can be overwhelmed by the moment on occasion. That was the case for 2017 forward Billy Preston, who in the championship game was playing on national television for the first time in his life. Things didn’t go well for neither he nor his Team Wall teammates, as they were soundly defeated by Team Lillard with players such as Dennis Smith, Thon Maker and Eron Gordon proving to be too much to handle. However just as big of a factor for Preston as the talent in front of him were the nerves, and it’s something he can learn from moving forward.

“I thought I had a good camp until the last game,” Preston told NBCSports.com following the defeat. “I came out a little nervous, and I didn’t play that [well]. It’s an honor to be invited to a camp like this, and I’m [in the Class of 2017] so I learned a lot from the older guys, the college guys and the pros who played. It was a good experience.”

As for Preston’s recruitment, he’s a very interesting prospect given the fact that he didn’t play much high school basketball as a freshman. Preston played in a handful of games at St. John Bosco in southern California before transferring to Redondo Union in mid-January, where he was unable to play per California state transfer rules. So having the opportunity to play with and against talented players all spring and summer has proven to be invaluable for a player who’s already receiving attention from many Pac-12 schools and recently received offers from UCLA and UConn. (RJ)

– DeAaron Fox plays well at both guard spots

Another impressive guard performance this week came from Texas native and 6-foor-3 guard DeAaron Fox. Fox played alongside Smith for the title-winning Team Lillard and the duo proved to be nearly unguardable together. Fox played both guard spots, although he told NBCSports.com that he would like to be a point guard in college he is comfortable in either guard role, and thrived wherever he played on the floor. Fox made plays for other players, hunted buckets by attacking the rim and also knocked down some shots. Overall, it was a really solid week for Fox and it looks like he’s solidifying his spot as a five-star guard. (SP)

– Eron Gordon caps good week with another solid performance.

With five players finishing the title game in double figures, Team Lillard didn’t lack for contributors in their 106-78 win over Team Wall. One of those five was 2016 guard Eron Gordon,who scored 16 points on 8-for-15 shooting to go along with four rebounds. Gordon shot the ball well from mid-range and was also able to get to the basket on a couple occasions as well, finding looks for himself without forcing the action. Gordon spent the majority of his time at the camp playing off the ball with Dennis Smith Jr. running the show for a team that went undefeated, and he performed well in that role as he shot 50 percent or better from the field in every game other than the opener (nine points on 3-for-10 shooting). (RJ)

– Late phone call provides Dominic Green with a great opportunity.

Due to a number of injuries at adidas Nations throughout the week, some players were called in to help with the depth of certain teams. One player fortunate enough to receive a call was 2015 forward Dominic Green, who looked to do his best to simply fit in with his teammates upon his arrival Saturday afternoon. One of Green’s best attributes is his length, something the aimed to make good use of on the defensive end of the floor.

“My coach called me and asked, ‘do I want to play with the best players in the nation?'” Green told NBCSports.com. “And I said [I would]. I just tried to defend and not allow my man to score, and try not to turn over the ball on offense.”

The call to join a team that included Duke commit Chase Jeter and five-star wing Jaylen Brown capped a solid month for Green, whose improved play in July has led to increased interest on the recruiting trail. Holding offers from Montana and UTEP, Green has heard from programs such as Arizona State, Washington State, Gonzaga, USC, Saint Mary’s and Oregon State among others. And according to Green, the reason why he’s receiving more attention now than he did during the high school season is a simple one.

“During the high school season I wasn’t giving my best effort, and in July I was giving 100% effort,” Green noted. “That allowed me to play better.” (RJ)

– Rawle Alkins’ old-school game continues to impress

After a strong showing at adidas Uprising early in July, New York native and 6-foot-4 guard Rawle Alkins continued to play well at adidas Nations throughout the week. With a strong frame and an attack mentality, Alkins loves touching the paint and making plays by being a creative scorer around the basket. While the jumper is still a work-in-progress, it’s really fun to watch Alkins operate within 15 feet of the basket. He finishes creatively with his off-hand and isn’t afraid to use the glass, Alkins will post up smaller guards and he also has a hook shot in his arsenal for those moments as well. Even after seeing Alkins play about eight times or so this summer he was throwing out new ways to score around the basket and it was fun to watch. (SP)

You Make The Call: Did Tyler Roberson set an illegal screen?

SYRACUSE, NY - JANUARY 28:  Tyler Roberson #21 of the Syracuse Orange dunks the ball against the Florida State Seminoles during the first half at the Carrier Dome on January 28, 2017 in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)
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Syracuse was unable to cap off a thrilling comeback on Sunday night due, in large part, to the fact that Tyler Roberson was called for an illegal screen with 16 seconds left in the game and the Orange down just two points.

They had gone on a 20-9 run in the previous four minutes to close the deficit, and had gotten a stop in order to get the ball on that possession.

But here’s the thing: The call was, to put it politely, controversial. I don’t think that Tyler Roberson committed a foul here.

You make the call:

The loss put the Orange in a bad spot with just two weeks left before the end of the regular season. We go all the way through their at-large profile here.

Bubble Banter: Let’s talk about Syracuse, Georgetown and Georgia Tech

CHAPEL HILL, NC - JANUARY 16:  Tyus Battle #25 of the Syracuse Orange during their game at the Dean Smith Center on January 16, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here. This is where the seeds you see listed below come from.

This post will be updated throughout the night. 

LOSERS

Georgetown (RPI: 61, KenPom: 53, first four out): The Hoyas missed a golden opportunity to add an elite road win to their profile, losing at Creighton by 17 points, and now I think we’re just about to a point where we can write the Hoyas off. They’re sitting at 14-13 on the season and 5-9 in the Big East. The win over Oregon on a neutral, at Butler and over Creighton at home got them back into the picture, but three losses in their last four games will probably be too much to overcome.

That said, I’m going to keep listing them here because I think that if they can win out – DePaul, at St. John’s, at Seton Hall, Villanova – they’ll have an argument. In the early bracket reveal, the committee made clear that they value good wins over anything, which is why Gonzaga was rated as the fourth No. 1 seed despite having fewer losses than any of the other No. 1 seeds. There aren’t many teams that would be able to match Georgetown win for win in they win out.

Syracuse (RPI: 77, KenPom: 46, No. 10 seed): The Orange lost to Georgia Tech on Sunday, so let’s talk about Syracuse, because they are on track to enter Selection Sunday with one of the weirder profiles. The bad first: they lost to a bad, injury-depleted UConn team at the Garden. They were blown out at Boston College. They were blown out by St. John’s at home by 33 points. There is no high-major team with that collection of awful losses to their name, and it doesn’t help that Jim Boeheim’s club has nine more losses to add to the mix.

They also have some good wins – Virginia, Florida State, Wake Forest, Miami – but they’ve only won two games away from the Carrier Dome: at Clemson, who is 4-10 in the ACC, and at N.C. State, who fired their coach three days ago. With FSU and UVA careening – combined, they’ve lost five straight games – neither of those games look at good as they did two weeks ago. So after today, for my money, Syracuse is out. That can change, however. They get Duke at home this week and Louisville on the road this weekend. Those are season-changers.

WINNERS

Georgia Tech (RPI: 79, KenPom: 78, first four out): The Yellow Jackets have a very similar profile to that of Syracuse, who they beat at home on Sunday. They have wins over North Carolina, Florida State and Notre Dame, but they also won at VCU – which is now a top 30 road win – and their worst loss came against an Ohio team that looked like they could win the MAC before their best player went down with a season-ending injury. Their problem? Their non-conference strength of schedule is 244th, and that RPI is dreadfully low for an at-large contender.

Michigan (RPI: 52, KenPom: 27, No. 10 seed): The Wolverines lost an overtime game on the road to Minnesota, which is not the kind of loss that is really going to hurt their profile beyond the opportunity cost of it. The Wolverines are still in a good spot.

Valparaiso (RPI: 74, KenPom: 97, No. 12 seed): Valpo is in as a No. 12 seed in our bracket, but they are in as an automatic bid, meaning that there are no at-large teams rated below them. Being the best automatic bid does not guarantee that they’ll be in as an at-large, not when their best win is a Rhode Island team that is fading and they’ve lost four games to sub-100 competition. Win that auto-bid.

Illinois State (RPI: 35, KenPom: 49, No. 12 seed): Illinois State beat Loyola (IL) on Sunday to keep themselves alive for a potential at-large bid should they lose in the Missouri Valley tournament. Their profile, however, is quite different than that of Wichita State. Their only top 50 win is a Wichita State team whose only top 50 win is … Illinois State. They have also lost to San Francisco, Tulsa and Murray State, who is 239th in the RPI. Pro-tip: Don’t risk it, even with the weak bubble. The committee is going to value wins over a lack of losses.

 

VIDEO: Valparaiso’s Micah Bradford makes 3/4 court shot off the shot clock

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Valparaiso freshman Micah Bradford made one of the most ridiculous shots we’ll see all season on Sunday against Detroit.

With time winding down in the first half, Bradford hoisted a 3/4 court buzzer-beater and watched as it hit the shot clock, flew high in the air, hit the rim and dropped through the hoop to the disbelief of everyone in attendance.

Unfortunately, Bradford’s wacky three-pointer did not count as he finished with five points in a 20-point Valpo win.

(H/t: Eric Fawcett)

Michigan State senior Eron Harris to have season-ending knee surgery

Michigan State's Eron Harris (14) shoots against Wisconsin's Jordan Hill (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Madison, Wis. (AP Photo/Andy Manis)
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Michigan State senior guard Eron Harris will undergo season-ending surgery on his knee after leaving Saturday’s loss at Purdue on a stretcher, the school announced on Sunday.

The 6-foot-3 fifth-year senior suffered the right knee injury during Michigan State’s loss at Purdue on Saturday as the unsettling injury resulted in some Michigan State players being brought to tears. Harris is a native of Indianapolis and received a standing ovation from the road crowd at Purdue as he was taken off the floor.

“We all feel absolutely awful for Eron,” Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said in the release. “As I said last night, I couldn’t ask for more than what Eron has given me and this program. Over the last month he’s grown even more as a leader and been an example to his young teammates. And maybe I didn’t even fully grasp it until I walked on the court and saw the admiration his teammates had for him and the tears in their eyes. There’s no faking the respect they have for Eron as a man, as a player, and most importantly a teammate.

“It’s cruel to see a senior’s career end this way. If there is a silver lining, it’s that we expect Eron to be able to make a full recovery and pursue a basketball career after graduation. He’s always worked for everything he’s accomplished on the court, and that same passion and mindset will serve him well in his recovery. Basketball is important to all players, but for Eron it was a way of life. Very few have spent more time in this facility or worked harder than Eron has. That’s why I’m confident his best basketball is still in front of him.”

Although Harris was never able to recreate his awesome sophomore season at West Virginia after his transfer to Michigan State, losing him still hurts this Spartans team because he’s one of the team’s veterans and, at times, a capable scorer. Harris averaged 10.7 points and 3.0 rebounds per game as a senior while shooting 43 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three-point range.

The injury bug has hit Michigan State pretty hard this season as they’ve also lost Ben Carter and Gavin Schilling to season-ending injuries.

No. 11 Wisconsin takes down No. 23 Maryland

MADISON, WI - FEBRUARY 19:  Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers works against Michal Cekovsky #15 of the Maryland Terrapins during the first half of a game at the Kohl Center on February 19, 2017 in Madison, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Wisconsin snapped a two-game losing streak with a 71-60 Big Ten home win over No. 23 Maryland on Sunday. With senior guard Bronson Koenig returning to the rotation after missing the Michigan loss with injury, the No. 11 Badgers looked more like themselves for the first time in the last few games.

Here are some takeaways from this one.

1. This was an ugly, ugly, ugly, ugly game (just the way Wisconsin wanted)

Sorry to make you read the word “ugly” four times but I felt it was completely necessary to hammer home the point that this basketball game was not a pleasant viewing experience (and this has nothing to do with pace or style of play).

Wisconsin only shot 41 percent from the field, 16 percent from three-point range and 54 percent from the free-throw line and still won by double digits because they were the older and more physical team. While the Terps were able to hang in the game until the final five minutes or so because of junior guard Melo Trimble’s scoring punch, a younger Maryland team was physically dominated by Wisconsin for most of the game.

The Badgers owned the glass (44 to 27), got to the free-throw line 37 times and did a nice job of getting Maryland’s bigs into foul trouble.

Even though Wisconsin couldn’t generate a lot of consistent offense, they had enough from guys like Nigel Hayes (19 points) and Ethan Happ (20 points) to feel comfortable once they built a bit of a cushion. Wisconsin winning ugly isn’t any sort of new phenomenon, but it does bode well for the Badgers that they handled Maryland this easily despite such a poor shooting game.

2. Maryland needs even more help for Melo to be elite

Maryland has been able to stay in the top 25 this season because junior Melo Trimble has had a lot of help from a talented freshman class. Anthony Cowan has given the Terps another attacking guard, Kevin Huerter is one of the Big Ten’s better all-around freshmen and Justin Jackson has given Maryland a nice dose of athleticism.

Those three freshmen had a game to forget in Madison on Sunday. While Trimble went for 27 points, those three freshmen went a combined 3-for-15 from the field as they just didn’t show up to play during a very important game for conference implications.

Freshmen are going to have off games but this was the biggest game of Maryland’s season and they didn’t look ready to play.

Looking to fire up his team in the second half, head coach Mark Turgeon even went on the floor during a Wisconsin possession and basically forced the officials to whistle him for a technical foul. Even after trying to rally his team with that tech, the Terps didn’t fair much better.

It is also concerning that center Michael Cekovsky went down with an ankle injury in the second half. Cekovsky grabbed his ankle and left the game — looking noticeably frustrated on the bench — and that could be something to watch for Maryland in these final few weeks. Although Cekovsky is only a reserve big man, his 10-point showing on Sunday was one of his best games since returning from injury as he was just starting to look more comfortable.

Losing Cekovsky could hurt, but thankfully for Maryland, the remaining schedule isn’t too daunting. Three of four games come at home and the only road game comes at Rutgers. Even with Sunday’s lackluster effort, Maryland can stay in the Big Ten race if they continue to win.