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July Live Evaluation Period Preview: Class of 2018 prospects to watch

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There is good news and bad news when it comes to college basketball recruiting in the Class of 2018.

Beginning with the bad news: there just isn’t a lot of one-and-done starpower at the top of this class — especially when compared to recent star-studded offerings in the Class of 2016 and Class of 2017.

Marvin Bagley III would compete for the No. 1 spot in any year. South Carolina native and bouncy forward Zion Williamson has already amassed a humongous social-media following within this class for his ferocious above-the-rim exploits. 7-foot-3 Bol Bol, the son of former NBA center Manute Bol, has also made a huge push up the national rankings with a ridiculous spring as his combination of interior length and perimeter skill for a big man makes him a very enticing long-term prospect..

There are elite prospects like Bagley, Williamson and Bol, but the real strength of this class comes with the amount of three- and four-year players who should really help improve the quality of college basketball over the next few seasons.

Casual basketball fans might get agitated by the lack of immediate future pros within the Class of 2018. But true fans of the college game should be excited by the amount of talent that (hopefully) stays in the college ranks for a few seasons.

The depth at point guard among the Class of 2018 is particularly promising. While there are no elite stud-level lottery picks among the floor generals at the moment, about one third of the top 35 prospects in the Class of 2018 could conceivably run some point during college.

That makes for nearly a dozen top-40 level prospects who should be able to facilitate and make things better for everyone else around them.

There are going to be a lot of names to keep an eye on over these next three weeks. Here are the 15 high-level prospects to keep tabs on and five guys outside the top 50 who could make for intriguing storylines over the next few weeks.

Marvin Bagley III (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)


Marvin Bagley III: The 6-foot-10 lefty has a chance to be a special talent. Bagley is incredibly gifted athletically to go along with a high degree of overall skill. A double-double machine who averaged 25.8 points and 14.9 rebounds this spring, Bagley is a major difference-maker on both ends of the floor as he’s capable of taking over a game. If Bagley improves his inconsistent perimeter shooting then he would be capable of scoring from all three levels.

Zion Williamson: The YouTube superstar has already racked up millions of views and has an early fan in Drake. It’s also a summer in which the 6-foot-6 Williamson has to re-prove himself a bit on the national stage after missing most of this spring with a minor knee injury. If Williamson is healthy and looks like a young Larry Johnson again, then he could push for No. 1.

Bol Bol: The 7-foot-3 Bol was the major story of the spring as he vaulted into the No. 1 discussion with his strong play in the Nike EYBL. Showing an ability to protect the rim while hitting perimeter shots, Bol has a tantalizing mixture of skills that any level of basketball would crave. How many players can swat 4.5 shots per game and still shoot 48 percent from three-point range (22-for-45)? It’s part of what makes Bol a special prospect. That combination of skills is the most valuable combination of skills in basketball today.

Cameron Reddish: There is no doubting the talent of the 6-foot-7 Reddish, as he’s one of the most gifted playmakers on the perimeter in this class. The major question comes with how Reddish plays the game, as his shot selection and overall intensity can waver from game to game. Inefficient in the EYBL this spring, Reddish shot the ball far better with USA Basketball during the FIBA U19 World Cup over the last few weeks as he looked like the most prepared Class of 2018 prospect who played with the group.

Romeo Langford: A native of Indiana who has been a top-five prospect most of his high school career, this will be an important summer for the 6-foot-4 shooting guard. Langford has the type of talent as a scorer where he can roll for 40 points, but he can just as easily vanish from a game and become too passive. The FIBA U19 World Cup also wasn’t kind for Langford as he battled through a back injury that caused him to miss two games. Langford’s health could be something to watch for this July.

Tre Jones: The younger brother of Tyus Jones also ranks as an elite point guard prospect. The 6-foot-2 Tre doesn’t have his older brother’s look-ahead vision or perimeter shooting ability, but he still led the EYBL in assists as he can run an offense with the best of them at the high school level. A more committed defender than Tyus, Tre has a winning mentality that helped Howard Pulley to one of the best records in the EYBL this spring.

Jordan Brown: Quietly putting together a really good spring on the adidas Gauntlet, the 6-foot-10 Brown averaged 21.5 points and 10.6 rebounds per game while shooting 53 percent from the field. A capable post scorer with long arms and good mobility, Brown has a unique scoring package that relies on some unorthodox shots. If Brown can be more consistent with his intensity, then he would be even more intriguing.

Moses Brown: With the Class of 2018 lacking elite big men, Brown has come on strong over the past year to become a top-ten prospect. With elite length that enables him to protect the rim and rebound at a high level, Brown is already a standout on the defensive end, but his offensive game is also opening some eyes. Equipped with good hands and a right hook, Brown has a chance to be a major pro prospect if he can improve his offensive polish at the college level.

Simi Shittu: The MVP of the NBPA Top 100 Camp, Shittu has elevated himself into a potential blueblood recruit this July. Leading Top 100 Camp in scoring and rebounding, Shittu followed up on a very strong spring as he’s been playing at a very high level over the past few months. With the Class of 2018 lacking dominant post players, Shittu’s ability to work on the interior makes him stand out as he’s able to carve space and hit the glass hard.

Immanuel Quickley: An elite point guard prospect with a different type of game than Tre Jones, the 6-foot-3 Quickley has great size and feel for the position. Having played multiple times for USA Basketball the past few summers, Quickley is poised when a defense double teams him and he’s improved a previously-shaky perimeter jumper that is now a reliable weapon. A pick-and-roll maestro, Quickley isn’t an elite athlete, but he’s good enough to make things difficult for opposing guards as a defender.

Darius Garland: The best perimeter shooter of the elite point guards, the 6-foot-0 Garland can splash in jumpers from all over the floor thanks to a deadly pull-up game. Sometimes shot selection can be an issue with Garland — which leads to his shooting percentages fluctuating at times — but he’s also capable of going on hot streaks that can really put a game away. Also no slouch when it comes to running a team, Garland doesn’t have elite size or athleticism, which makes matchups against bigger guards something to watch for.

Louis King: Bursting on the national scene this spring, the 6-foot-8 King went from a fringe five-star prospect into a no-brainer thanks to his advanced scoring acumen. Although King is prone to taking some wild shots from all over the floor, he is also one of the most gifted playmakers from the perimeter in the class as his size and skill enables him to attack smaller wings or blow by bigger forwards.

Reggie Perry: Decommitting from Arkansas just last week, the 6-foot-8 Perry was one of the highest-rated committed prospects in 2018 before opening things up. Now that he’s back on the market, expect college coaches to flock to see the double-double threat as Perry had a very good spring playing in national and international settings. Elevating himself into a five-star prospect, Perry has a a high motor and a good degree of skill and athleticism for a college power forward.

R.J. Barrett: Although not technically a 2018 prospect, yet, there are rumors circulating that Barrett could move from 2019. After dominating the FIBA U19 World Cup and helping Canada to a gold medal, it is easy to see why the 6-foot-7 Barrett would consider college a year earlier. He led the EYBL in scoring this past spring and Barrett has the athleticism and skill on the wing to be a contender for No. 1 in this class. It’ll be fascinating to see how college coaches choose to follow Barrett during July.

Shareef O’Neal: The son of Hall of Fame center Shaquille O’Neal, the Arizona commit doesn’t play like his father, but he has a lot of intriguing upside thanks to his size and athleticism. The 6-foot-9 Shareef appears more comfortable facing up than playing with his back to the basket as he still needs to add strength and some post moves before getting to Tucson. But O’Neal also moves incredibly well for a player his size and he has a lot of room to grow his his skill level.

Bol Bol (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)


Robert Woodard: In his first spring playing in an elite shoe league, the 6-foot-5 Woodard struggled with his perimeter shot (24 percent from three) but he also showed an ability to contribute in other ways. For a perimeter player, Woodard is an elite rebounder, as he was sixth in the EYBL at 10.2 boards per contest while also making impact plays on defense. Woodard averaged 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per game as his long arms and athleticism enable him to be a monster on that end of the floor. Once Woodard figures out his offensive game, he could be a major factor.

Luther Muhammad: A tenacious defender who can also score from the perimeter, the 6-foot-3 Muhammad could be an effective “three-and-d” player at the college level. Although Muhammad is prone to some wild play and bad shots, he shot 39 percent from three-point range in EYBL play while also showing a willingness to defend anyone in the league. Muhammad’s effort and intensity can be infectious at times and he’s also a solid passer who can find the open man.

Eric Ayala: The intrigue surrounding the 6-foot-3 Ayala this summer is his looming decision about which class to enter. Because Ayala graduated high school already, he has the option to enter the Class of 2017 this fall if he would like. Ayala may also decide to do a postgraduate year if he doesn’t feel like he’s ready for college in a few months. Either way, he’s a coveted four-star prospect who will draw a lot of attention from coaches the next few weeks.

Bryan Penn-Johnson: There aren’t many proven post players in the Class of 2018, which makes the late-blooming Penn-Johnson an appealing July target. The 7-footer has never played a minute of varsity basketball, but he’s become a high-major target thanks to his shot-blocking and ability to run the floor. Hoop Seen’s Justin Young believes Penn-Johnson has some similarities to former Lakers big man Andrew Bynum back when he was in high school.

Alex Lomax: One of the toughest lead guards in the class, the Memphis native will do whatever it takes to win. The 5-foot-11 Lomax has to figure out how to be more effective as a scorer for the next level, but he does everything else you’d want from a point guard on both ends of the floor. Lomax was second in the EYBL in steals per game to go along with a solid assist-to-turnover ratio (4.1-to-1.8 this spring) in helping Team Penny to another Peach Jam

VIDEO: Kansas State legend celebrates revenge on Kentucky 67 years in the making

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In 1951, Kansas State lost to Kentucky in the National Championship game.

Ernie Barrett, who eventually became the school’s athletic director and is known as “Mr. K-State“, played on that team.

He’s wanted to get revenge on Big Blue ever since.

On Thursday night, Kansas State did.

Ernie was there, and here was his reaction in the locker room:

Keenan Evans perseveres through toe injury as Texas Tech looks to get through the East Region

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BOSTON — It was a gut punch when they got the call.

After a dreadful 3-15 freshman season, Tubby Smith had turned Texas Tech around his sophomore year, when Keenan Evans had averaged 8.7 points and 2.9 assists, respectable enough given the role that Tubby asks his point guards to play. The core of that team — a sophomore class that also included Zach Smith, Justin Gray and Norense Odiase — were returning. Tubby was making some in-roads in Texas. Everything was pointing up.

And then the former Kentucky head coach left for Memphis, a job that would chew him up and spit him out within two years.

“As parents, we definitely thought about what his next step would be,” Kenny Evans said. Who would Texas Tech hire? What if they didn’t like him? What if he didn’t like Keenan? It didn’t help matters that the Evans family had a weird and unique bond with Tubby.

The Evans’ family is as athletic as athletic gets. Keenan’s basketball IQ and guile come from his mom, Shantell, who was an all-SWAC guard at Arkansas-Pine Bluff. His athleticism comes from his dad, Kenny, who was an Olympic high-jumper. He finished 13th in the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, which also happened to be the Games where Tubby was an assistant coach for USA Basketball. Kenny, an Arkansas-native and high school basketball star, knew who Tubby Smith was; he was less than two years removed from winning a national title out of the same conference as his Razorbacks, and Kenny says he idolized Nolan Richardson and his Arkansas teams.

“You don’t see a lot of celebrities in Arkansas,” Kenny said, so when the Track & Field team was put next to the USA Basketball team, he did what any red-blooded American would do: He asked them for pictures.

One of those pictures was with Tubby — Kenny’s mother was a fan — and that picture ended up being displayed in the Evans house for years to come.

Suffice to say, Tubby’s name carried some weight with the family. It was part of what made Keenan decide to play at Texas Tech. And it’s one of the reasons why Keenan’s parents wanted to do their homework on the good ole’ boy Tech hired that was on his third job in three weeks, his sixth job in six seasons and a little more than four years removed from coaching in the ABA.

(Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Chris Beard’s roots run deep in Texas.

He went to high school just outside Houston. He was a manager at Texas during his time as a student. After graduating, he spent 14 of the next 16 seasons coaching in Texas, with one-year layovers at Junior Colleges in Kansas and Oklahoma along the way.

Throw in a one-year stay with the South Carolina Warriors and one season with Arkansas-Little Rock, and Beard lived outside Texas for just four years since childhood. And, as his assistant coach Chris Ogden puts it, “Beard’s a relationship guy.” He knows people all over the state, and when he got the job at Texas Tech — where he had previously been an Associate Head Coach under Bobby Knight — Kenny started getting calls from people vouching for him.

Give him a chance.

He may not have the national title-pedigree that Tubby does, but he’s got a shot at getting there one day.

Hear him out.

And Beard made sure they would have the chance to do so. Almost immediately after setting foot in Lubbock, the new Tech staff got to work trying to develop relationships with his new players and their families. Beard had a one-on-one meeting with every single member of the Texas Tech roster, which is not uncommon. He then took a flight to meet with the family of every member of his team. To sit down in front of them, look them in the eye and get to know them personally, as more than just the people that his players hear from when they go over their data plan or when those on-campus parking tickets start to add up.

“When I called them to let them know that Coach Beard said he was going to fly out to see [them], they were kind of shook,” Keenan said. “‘Wow, he’s really going to fly to everybody’s family around the country?’ They were really in shock and that stood out to them as well.”

“Not a lot of coaches do that. Fly to each person’s family, sit down and meet them, introduce himself. That played a big part in [my decision to stay] as well.”

The other part of it was that Keenan believed in the plan, in the vision that Beard had, for both the program and himself.

You see, the way Tubby uses his point guard is different than the way Beard does.

“Tubby is more old school,” Kenny explains. “He envisioned his point guards not shooting much and running the offense. Chris is new school. He recognizes you need to me more dynamic at the point guard spot. You gotta be a threat to score to get assists.”

And Beard knew he had the guy he needed in Keenan.

The staff was not unfamiliar with him when they took over. Ogden had recruited Keenan’s high school teammates, so he had seen him plenty. They knew what Keenan would be able to do when unleashed, and they knew what kind of a player and a worker they were inheriting.

“I just believed in his process, believed that he wanted to win at this level,” Evans said. “He believed in me, so I believed in him, and he gave me an opportunity. And he’s still doing that.”

“What I’m most appreciative of Keenan is he basically trusted me before he had to. He basically took me at my word,” Beard said. “He trusted me from day one, and I asked him to do a lot of things that he had never done before in his career.”

It paid off.

Tech struggled last season, but as a senior, Keenan morphed into one of college basketball’s best players. He’s averaging 17.8 points, 3.2 assists and 3.2 boards entering Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup with Purdue, numbers that would have been more impressive in a year that could have truly been legendary if it wasn’t for an awkward landing after a jump shot that resulted in unfortunate toe injury that Keenan suffered at Baylor on February 17th.

Keenan did not play in the second half of that game. He did play at at Oklahoma State and against Kansas in the two subsequent games, but anyone watching knew that he wasn’t himself. He sat out a road trip to West Virginia.

Four straight losses.

Sole possession of first place in the Big 12 with a home game left against Kansas and a grasp on Big 12 Player of the Year turned into just another victim of the Jayhawks’ 14-year reign over the conference.

And if you don’t think that was hard for Keenan to handle, you don’t know Keenan.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Keenan Evans has always picked up on things quickly.

Everyone has that one friend that is annoyingly good at everything, whether it’s pool, or bowling, or Fortnite. That’s Keenan, and that’s why Keenan’s mom — an all-conference basketball player herself — had to stop training him by the time he was in the fourth grade.

He was just getting too good, too quickly.

That can be a slippery slope. If you’re a natural, if things come too easily to you, work ethic might not be your forte. With Keenan, it worked the other way. When he got good at one thing, he wanted to perfect the next thing. The best are the best because they are addicted to improvement, and Keenan falls into that category.

“The Keenan Evans story is not me or Tubby,” Beard said. “It is Keenan Evans. This guy self-made himself into one of the best players in college basketball, and I can tell you how he’s done it. He’s done it with a lot of work. He’s in the gym every day. He’s in the film room a lot. He’s a guy that’s changed his body in the weight room.”

That’s what made this toe issue so devastating.

We’re talking about a guy that is known within the Texas Tech locker room as being their hardest work. Three-a-days in the gym. He’s made himself into a star. He earned his shot at getting a Big 12 title and a Player of the Year award, and it got taken away from him.

Because of a toe.

“Simply stated, a lot of guys wouldn’t even be playing on it right now,” Beard said. “Keenan is playing on it and playing at a high level. He’s just an absolute warrior.”

“I’ve never coached a tougher guy than Keenan Evans.”

“It was tough to overcome just because I felt like I was letting my team down in a way,” Keenan said. “It wasn’t my fault, but also [my toe’s] just not 100 percent, and I still battle with it every night.”

According to Kenny, the struggle was as much mental as physical.

“It was devastating for him,” he said. “He tried to be strong for his teammates. He could have shut it down and gotten ready for everything after college. But that’s not us, that’s not our family, that’s not Keenan.”

He does his best to stay off the foot when he’s not playing games. His time on the practice floor is limited. When media is granted access to the Texas Tech locker room, Keenan’s foot is in a big, yellow bucket full of ice water. He doesn’t have the same explosiveness. He can’t push off of it the way he did before the injury. And that’s before you get to the mental side of it, having the confidence in himself and his body to be able to try and do the things he’s been doing all season long.

And in this tournament, it’s worked.

Keenan has scored 45 points through two games, and 33 of those 45 points have come in the second half. He made every shot he took in the second half of a come-from-behind win over Stephen F. Austin in the opener. He hit the go-ahead three and threw a lob to Zhaire Smith for the clinching basket in the final two minutes of the win over Florida. All told, in his last five games, Evans is averaging 17 of his 21.2 points and shooting 26-for-37 from the floor after halftime.

He is Texas Tech’s closer, and with a date against No. 2-seed Purdue in the Sweet 16 on Friday night, Evans will likely be called upon to close once again.

Just the way Beard likes it.

“I just love coaching him,” he said. “I just don’t want it to end. I want to coach that guy another day. It is like when you go to a good movie and you know it’s getting towards the end, but you are loving the movie so much, you want it to go a little bit farther. Or you’ve got a good plate of enchiladas and you’re looking at it, and you only have two bites left, but it’s so good, you turn it into three bites.”

“I want it to keep lasting.”

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