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Five Takeaways from the NBA Draft Combine

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CHICAGO — This year’s NBA Draft Combine was the second year in which college players testing the waters were allowed to participate and get feedback from NBA teams. Here’s a look at five main takeaways.

1. The Combine still serves an important purpose for testing players

We saw a handful of players make permanent decisions based on the combine this year.

Duke’s Frank Jackson opted to sign with an agent and stay in the NBA Draft after his first-day performance as he told reporters that he felt comfortable with how he played and how he felt that he belonged in the pros.

Testing well for himself in the combine and playing well in five-on-five, Jackson certainly elevated his profile and having an agent like Bill Duffy is only going to enhance his workout schedule for NBA teams as he hopes to vault into the first round.

SMU’s Semi Ojeleye also looked very good during combine testing as his max vertical (40.5″), lane agility (10.58) and three-quarter court sprint (3.16) all ranked in the top ten among prospects. With all of that athleticism at 241 pounds, Ojeleye has the size, strength and athleticism to be a unique force in the right system. After the combine, Ojeleye also decided to stick in the draft and sign with the agent as the combine also gave him confirmation that it was okay to go.

Others who are testing (more on some below) also received necessary feedback in Chicago through their play and testing against others.

2. Interviews with NBA teams show actual value

Interviewing with NBA teams is another underrated component of the Combine and the week in Chicago. Every team is located within one small area of Chicago and nearly every draft hopeful — combine participant or not — is interviewing with NBA teams.

North Carolina’s Justin Jackson mentioned to reporters that he got a lot of important feedback last year during the interview process that helped him enhance his game. Jackson improved his three-point percentages as a junior and now stands to be a potential lottery pick after being a fringe first-rounder last season. He listened to what teams had to say, got better at those things and helped the Tar Heels win a title, and now he’s a potential lottery pick.

That’s the type of win-win-win situation that this process is hoping to accomplish.

These interviews by NBA teams are being conducted by NBA legends like Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. When these players hear criticisms from guys wearing rings on both hands, it registers a little bit more in some cases. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone testing decides to return and elevates into lottery status in 2018 based on feedback from this year’s combine.

3. Hamidou Diallo made the right decisions at the Combine

Kentucky redshirt freshman guard Hamidou Diallo is attempting to become the first “none-and-done” player of all time. He spent the second semester this season on the Wildcat roster while going through practices, but he was redshirted to prepare for next season. But Diallo decided to gather information by going through the NBA Draft process and participating in Combine testing.

And as a former five-star prospect who is an elite athlete at shooting guard, Diallo really showed well for himself by going through this process.

Diallo had plenty of buzz in Chicago with his 44.5″ max vertical leap — which would be the highest mark of any player drafted into the NBA since they started testing for this. Also second in shuttle run time (2.79) and third in three-quarter court sprint (3.11) at this year’s combine, Diallo showed that he could be a mega athlete at the next level while he could be steadily climbing up boards.

For perspective, Diallo’s max vertical was three inches higher than Zach LaVine while also running slightly faster. And Diallo also measured well as he was 6’5″ with a 6’11” wingspan. (H/T to Julian Applebome at Draft Express for that great Diallo/LaVine tidbit.)

It was also smart of Diallo to pull out of of the five-on-five portion of the Combine because it might have exposed some flaws in his overall skill level. Diallo might still need to work on the inconsistent jumper that he showed in high school and he might also stand to improve his handle with the ball. But by skipping out on playing at the combine, Diallo protects himself to a degree as only teams who are serious about him will get to see what he’s capable of in private workouts.

All it takes is for one team to fall in love with Diallo during a workout and suddenly he sneaks into the first round of the NBA Draft. That’s not necessarily a foregone conclusion at this point, but Diallo has a lot of people saying good things about him at this point in the process.

4. Tony Bradley remains college basketball’s biggest returning decision

North Carolina freshman Tony Bradley surprised last season as he got in great shape before the year while looking like one of the more productive newcomers in the country. The former McDonald’s All-American played a vital role in helping the Tar Heels win the national championship by coming off the bench. His strong play and winning a title led to Bradley putting his name in the NBA Draft testing process this year.

Currently sitting at No. 40 overall, a second-round pick, on Draft Express, Bradley has an intriguing decision because the Tar Heels still have plenty back for next season while potentially giving him a chance to be a showcase piece on the interior.

With Joel Berry II returning and the Tar Heels losing both Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks, that means an ample opportunity for post touches and other scoring opportunities for Bradley. When coupled with the departure of Justin Jackson, it means North Carolina could turn to Bradley as a go-to scoring option at times during the season.

Since North Carolina returns so many weapons from a national championship team, they could be a solid contender to repeat if Bradley comes back next season and elevates his play.

5. The lack of star power was noticeable at this year’s combine.

As the NBA Draft becomes more of a television-focused event, it is hard to imagine the NBA being thrilled about most top picks not showing up to do media sessions in Chicago. In the past, most potential top picks would interview with media at the combine because they were already in town to talk to NBA teams.

But this year’s event lacked serious star power as there were a lot of unanswered questions going around about how this process is playing out. This isn’t me, a member of the media, complaining about the lack of access. It’s me saying that there won’t be as much relevant information being reported about where potential top picks have worked out and who they interviewed with.

It makes for an NBA Draft process where there isn’t a lot of insight from top players.

Bubble Banter: Kansas State, Virginia Tech add crucial wins to help overcome poor schedules

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Monday night.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

KANSAS STATE (RPI: 55, KenPom: 37, NBC seed: Play-in): The Wildcats went and added two — potentially three — Quadrant 1 wins in their last three games, beating Oklahoma and TCU at home last week before picking off Baylor (currently 76th in the RPI, but I’d guess they’re top 75 to end the year) on Monday night. A home loss to Tulsa (RPI 112) is going to stick out, as will a non-conference SOS that ranks 344th. Those two things means that the Wildcats have a very small margin for error, but with the way they are playing, I think that they’ll do enough to get in with a seed that seems too low for them.

VIRGINIA TECH (RPI: , KenPom: 54, NBC seed: Out): The Hokies did quite a bit to change their NCAA tournament chances on Monday by knocking off North Carolina at home. It’s easily the best win on their résumé, and given that their only other Quadrant 1 win came on a neutral against a Washington team ranked 50th in the RPI, it is easily their most important win. A Nov. 16th loss to Saint Louis (RPI 147) looks really bad, but VT still has Miami twice, Duke twice, Virginia, Louisville and Clemson left on their schedule. Those are all potential top 20 wins. They’ll need them to overcome a non-conference schedule that ranked 319th.

TEXAS (RPI: 42, KenPom: 43, NBC seed: 9): The Longhorns did what they needed to do against Iowa State at home, picking up a win to help shake off the whooping they took at West Virginia on Saturday. Believe it or not, but Texas currently has four Quadrant 1 wins to their name without anything worse than a high Quadrant 2 loss — at Baylor, at Oklahoma State, Gonzaga on a neutral, Michigan at home.

LOSERS

MARYLAND (RPI: 47, KenPom: 38, NBC seed: Next four out): The Terps picked up their worst loss of the season, falling at Indiana. In a year where Mark Turgeon’s club has already lost Justin Jackson and where it seems like they suffer a new injury just about every week, a tournament berth seems increasingly unlikely. Their next two games are at home against Michigan State and at Purdue. They might beed to win both.

NEBRASKA (RPI: 64, KenPom: 67, NBC seed: Out): The Cornhuskers missed out on a golden opportunity to add a marquee win to their résumé as they lost by five at Ohio State, a top 15 team in the RPI. The Cornhuskers currently do not have a Quadrant 1 win to their name — their best win comes at home against Michigan — and the only chance they’ll have to add one the rest of the regular season comes at Minnesota, who could very well drop off that level. There are only two teams left on Nebraska’s schedule that are in the top 100 of the RPI.

BAYLOR (RPI: 76, KenPom: 39, NBC seed: First four out): Baylor lost at home to Kansas State on Monday night. They’re now lost six of eight to start Big 12 play and their next two games are at Florida and at Oklahoma, both of which would be marquee wins the Bears currently lack.

VIDEO: Kenrich Williams posterizes West Virginia

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I am not sure what was more impressive tonight, Kenrich Williams going for 14 boards and six assists against No. 7 West Virginia, the fact that he played the point for them against that press … or this dunk:

It was the dunk.

Definitely.

Alex Robinson leads TCU past No. 7 West Virginia

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You’d be forgiven if you thought that TCU’s season was done and dusted when starting point guard Jaylen Fisher went down with a knee injury that will cost him the rest of the season.

Fisher was the team’s third-leading scorer at 12.3 points and ranked second in assists. He was shooting 43.9 percent from the floor. More importantly, he was backcourt defensive presence that doesn’t exist elsewhere on the TCU roster.

When the Horned Frogs lost Fisher, they were coming off of their second loss to Oklahoma in the span of two weeks and their fourth loss in the first five games of league play. With two games against both West Virginia and Texas Tech, and a trip to Allen Fieldhouse, left on their schedule, this had all the warning signs of a season in danger of sliding into oblivion.

On Monday night, in TCU’s third game without Fisher, Jame Dixon’s club put together their best performance of the season. They held No. 7 West Virginia to 33.3 percent shooting from the floor and led by as many as 20 points in an 82-73 win in Fort Worth, a win that puts an entirely knew feel on where this season can and will go.

The biggest reason for that may be Alex Robinson.

A 6-foot-1 hometown kid and a redshirt junior that transferred into the program from Texas A&M, Robinson has seemingly always been overlooked in this TCU program. Part of that is because he’s not a great scorer or shooter. Part of that is because he isn’t really a defender. And part of is, frankly, is because he never quite got his chance.

And now, with Fisher out, Robinson is not only getting his chance, but he is making the most of it.

TCU is 2-1 in their three games without Fisher, and Robinson has been the star, averaging 12.3 points, 4.7 boards and 10.7 assists. Against West Virginia, one of the nation’s most difficult defenses to deal with, Robinson finished with 17 points, nine assists and seven boards despite barely stepping foot off of the court. He got some help from Kenrich Williams, TCU’s best player, a 6-foot-7 forward that was a high school point guard and did the heavy-lifting when it came to breaking that press.

But that shouldn’t put a damper on how Robinson played on Monday.

And it shouldn’t take away from what he has been able to do with Fisher out.

Suddenly, TCU looks like a team that found themselves on the wrong side of lucky through the first seven games of Big 12 play. They lost five games during that stretch by an average of 3.3 points. Two of those losses came when the Horned Frogs missed game-winning shots at the buzzer.

They were and have been a top 25 team that found out the hard way how tough it is to win close games in this league.

And at this point it is probably fair to say that hasn’t changed despite having a new player running the point.

Monday’s Three Things to Know: TCU, Virginia Tech and Kansas State earn big wins

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1. VIRGINIA TECH EARNED ITS BIGGEST WIN OF THE SEASON

Virginia Tech has been considered by many to be a disappointment this season. The Hokies haven’t beaten anybody notable in the ACC and the non-conference schedule didn’t deliver any signature victories.

Which is why Virginia Tech’s win Monday night over No. 10 North Carolina is so critical.

The Hokies finally have a great win to hang their hat on for the committee. Where has this version of Virginia Tech been all season?

2. TCU ALSO EARNS A SIGNATURE WIN

Entering Monday night, TCU could have rolled over and called it quits on this season.

The Horned Frogs had dropped four of five games by a total of 15 points. Talented sophomore guard Jaylen Fisher was diagnosed with a season-ending injury for TCU.

But TCU stayed strong through some adversity as they pulled off a huge 82-73 Big 12 home win over No. 7 West Virginia. Leading for nearly the entire game, TCU did a great job of slowing down Mountaineer offense as West Virginia struggled to score in the half court.

3. KANSAS STATE PICKED UP THE NIGHT’S BIGGEST BUBBLE WIN

It’s time to start keeping track of the bubble.

With March Madness creeping closer, every night will feature games with big bubble implications. Besides for TCU and Virginia Tech beating top-1o teams, Kansas State beating Baylor for a Big 12 road win was the most important bubble win of the night.

The Wildcats have suddenly won four of their last five — including wins over Oklahoma, TCU and Baylor in their last three games. Not many people are talking about Kansas State in a loaded Big 12 but they’re playing as well as any team in the league right now.

A few more wins like this and the Wildcats could play their way into the Field of 68.

Bates-Diop scores 20 as No. 13 Buckeyes slip past Nebraska

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Keita Bates-Diop scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half and No. 13 Ohio State beat Nebraska 64-59 on Monday night, the fourth victory for the surging Buckeyes in the last eight days.

The back-and-forth game had seven lead changes in the second half. A pair of foul shots by Nebraska’s James Palmer Jr. cut Ohio State’s lead to four with 2:19 remaining, but the Cornhuskers couldn’t pull any closer.

Jae’Sean Tate put the Buckeyes (18-4, 9-0 Big Ten) up by six with a layup with 1:02 left, and a pair of foul shots by Kaleb Wesson stretched it to eight. Palmer hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left, but Nebraska ran out of time.

Palmer had a career-high 34 points. Nebraska (14-8, 5-4) was fresh off a 20-point upset of then-No. 23 Michigan on Thursday.

Ohio State surpassed its win total for all of last season. Earlier in the day, it moved from No. 22 to No. 13 in the AP Top 25, its highest position since 2014.

BIG PICTURE

Nebraska: The surprising Cornhuskers knocked off a ranked team last week and are a better squad than last season with Palmer carrying the load, but couldn’t outlast the steady Buckeyes.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes may have been fatigued after a rugged traveling schedule and three straight games on the road. But they found a rhythm in the second half and picked up another critical Big Ten win over a good team.

NEXT UP

Nebraska: At Rutgers on Wednesday.

Ohio State: Hosts Penn State on Thursday.