Jayson Tatum

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Five Things We Learned: Duke’s awesome, Kentucky might be, and Joel Berry II awareness

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1. Duke is the best team in the country: And I’m not sure that I can see any argument against this, and I say that knowing full-well just how good the likes of Kansas, UCLA, Villanova and Kentucky are this season.

This week should have proved that fact to you.

Because the bottom-line is this: If the season ended today, Duke would have two players – Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson – on all-american teams; Kennard would very likely be a first-team all-american and, if it wasn’t for Josh Hart’s 37-point explosion on Saturday, would have a strong argument to be the National Player of the Year through the first month of the season.

Think about that for a second, then think about this: Grayson Allen was the NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year. He played quite poorly through November as he battled a nagging toe injury, but on Saturday, he exploded for a career-high 34 points in a game where he threw down what could end up being the dunk of the season. I think he’s healthy, as is Jayson Tatum, who is a matchup nightmare that can play the three or work as Duke’s small-ball four. He’s still not totally in shape but felt good enough to put 22 points on Florida in the Jimmy V Classic.

Come March, would anyone be surprised if it was Allen and Tatum that were considered to be the players deserving of all-america consideration?

The kicker?

Duke still hasn’t reached their ceiling. Marques Bolden is still trying to figure out how he fits into the Duke rotation, and we’re still waiting to see just what Harry Giles III will provide if (when?) he returns to the court.

Get your money in on Duke winning the title now.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Things We Learned

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2. We’re about to learn how good Kentucky is: Because we know Kentucky is good.

They have a half-dozen future NBA players on the roster. Three could end up in the 2017 lottery. They’re averaging 94.2 points on the season, are ranked third in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric and are 9-1 on the season.

So yeah, they’re really good, we just don’t know how good. Only four of Kentucky’s ten opponents are ranked in the top 170 on KenPom.com. Only two – UCLA, who beat the Wildcats in Rupp Arena, and Michigan State, who isn’t very good – are ranked in the top 80, and the way that Kentucky plays simply overwhelms teams that can’t match them from an athleticism or talent perspective.

The good news, Kentucky fans?

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 07: De'Aaron Fox #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats dribbles the ball during the game against the Valparaiso Crusaders at Rupp Arena on December 7, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
De’Aaron Fox (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

People like me will stop making these references in the next ten days. Because on Saturday, the Wildcats square off with No. 7 North Carolina in Las Vegas. Four days after that, next Wednesday, Kentucky squares off with No. 11 Louisville in the Yum! Center.

For what it’s worth, KenPom is predicting that Kentucky beats the Tar Heels by a point and loses to Louisville by a point.

Speaking of the Tar Heels …

3. … we now know just how valuable Joel Berry II is to North Carolina: Playing without their star point guard, North Carolina struggled to put away Davidson and barely avoided an upset at the hands of Tennessee, both games that were played in the Dean Smith Center. There’s a reason for this, and I went through it in a post last night.

4. Villanova was tested by Notre Dame because the Irish are for real: On Saturday, No. 1 and still-undefeated Villanova was given their toughest test of the season by No. 23 and then-undefeated Notre Dame, as the Irish held an 11-point first half lead before losing, 74-66.

Josh Hart was awesome in that game, scoring 37 points on 10-for-14 shooting, and the biggest talking point coming out of Newark on Saturday was that Hart was the frontrunner for the National Player of the Year award. That’s justified.

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Matt Farrell #5 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish drives to the basket as Jalen Brunson #1 of the Villanova Wildcats defends during the second half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Villanova defeated Notre Dame 74-66. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Matt Farrell Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

But it also needs to be pointed out that the reason that Villanova needed to dig out of that hole, the reason they needed Josh Hart to put together that kind of performance, was because Notre Dame is good. I don’t think they can win the ACC – a top three finish would probably be a stretch – but I don’t see any reason why this group can’t play their way into the top four of the league. Bonzie Colson and Matt Farrell are two of the most improved players in college basketball while Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem are doing exactly what you would expect seniors to do under Mike Brey.

As we wrote on Saturday, Brey was right.

5. It might be time to be worried about the AAC: I think there’s a chance that this could end up being a one-bid league this season. While it seems more likely that two or three teams would be able to sneak in, the bottom-line is that the non-conference did not go well for the conference.

UCF is the only team left in the league with less than two losses, and their best win is over Mississippi State. UConn has been terrible, the win over Syracuse not withstanding. Temple has beaten West Virginia and Florida State while losing to New Hampshire and UMass. SMU’s best win is either Pitt or TCU, both of whom are borderline tournament teams. Houston beat Rhode Island but lost to Arkansas and LSU. Memphis beat Iowa, but Iowa’s not all that good. Tulsa is rebuilding.

The best non-conference win the AAC produced thus far is Cincinnati’s win over Iowa State, and the Cyclones are about to drop out of the top 25.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 10: Head coach Mick Cronin of the Cincinnati Bearcats reacts against the Butler Bulldogs in the first half of the game at Hinkle Fieldhouse on December 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin (Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Villanova’s Josh Hart

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We talk about it all the time: If you’re going to be college basketball’s National Player of the Year, you have to have the performances – or, in some cases, the individual play – to justify that title in the games when the entire sport is watching.

If this was college football, we’d call them Heisman Moments.

In college basketball, there are a half-dozen Player of the Year awards, so we don’t have a catchy moniker to label what Josh Hart did on Saturday afternoon.

In the biggest game of the first Saturday without college football on TV, Hart had the most dominating performance of his career. He scored 37 points on 10-for-14 shooting, grabbing 11 rebounds and handing out four assists for good measure as he single-handily kept No. 1 Villanova among the ranks of the undefeated, leading them to a win over No. 23 Notre Dame. Think about it like this: Hart scored as many points on Saturday as his teammates did combined.

Considering the opponent, the moment and the performance, it was the best game we’ve seen from an individual player this season.

And, as a result, Hart should top just about everyone’s Player of the Year rankings heading into Christmas.

RELATED: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Five Things We Learned

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THEY WERE GOOD, TOO

  • Jeremy Morgan, Northern Iowa: Morgan put together one of the most impressive halves of basketball you’ll ever see, scoring all 38 of his points after halftime as the Panthers landed a come-from-behind win over North Dakota. Earlier in the week, Morgan had 17 points, eight boards and seven assists in a win over South Dakota State.
  • Marquise Moore, George Mason: Moore had an incredible game of his own on Saturday, finishing with 17 points, 16 boards and 10 assists in a win at Penn. That’s only the third time that’s happened since 2010 and it’s only the seventh 15-15-10 games in the last 20 years. Oh, and Moore – a 6-foot-2 guard – also had 25 points, 13 boards and five assists in a win at Penn State this week.
  • Jayson Tatum, Duke: Tatum wasn’t the best player on the floor for Duke in either of their wins this week – Luke Kennard and Amile Jefferson were against Florida and Grayson Allen was against UNLV – but Tatum gets the mention here for the simple fact that we can mention his name. He’s back.
  • Marcus Marshall, Nevada: Marshall scored 32 points on Sunday night, outplaying Markelle Fultz and hitting the game-winner with 0.2 seconds left to beat Washington in Seattle.
  • Dedric Lawson, Memphis: Lawson finished with 24 points, 10 boards and eight blocks for the Tigers as they picked up a much-needed come-from-behind win over UAB.

Duke to close practices to NBA teams

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Outside of two days in October, NBA scouts who want to get a look at Duke prospects will have the same vantage point as anyone who can buy a ticket or a cable package.

In the stands at games or on television.

The Blue Devils will host two pro days next month, but then will bar NBA personnel from attending their practices during the season, according to a report from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

A source confirmed the report to NBCSports.com.

Duke will host NBA teams on Oct. 19 and Oct. 25 as part of pro days that will allow front office personnel a glimpse of an extremely talented Duke roster that features likely lottery picks in true freshmen Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles along with projected first-rounder Grayson Allen, a junior.

After that, though, Duke will be closing practice, allowing front offices to scout players at games, whether it be at Cameron Indoor Stadium or on the road.

Pro days aren’t new to college hoops as they were famously introduced by (who else), Kentucky coach John Calipari in 2014 for his supremely talented team that won its first 38 games of the season before falling in the Final Four. Four Wildcats, including No. 1 pick Karl-Anthony Towns, went in the lottery that spring. Kentucky, which continues to host a pro day, has not closed practices, however.

The decision to close practices is sure to rankle teams that are starved to collect as much information as possible about potential draft picks, especially players under lottery consideration such as Tatum and Giles.

It’ll be interesting to hear what coach Mike Krzyzewski says about the decision when he is inevitably asked about it, but the early betting line is on the goal of “minimizing distractions” throughout a season that will likely see the Blue Devils ranked near the top of the polls and with two players in the No. 1 overall draft pick conversation.

It’ll also be interesting to hear if Coach K’s USA Basketball obligations this summer played any part in the decision as he was away from campus – and his talented freshmen – for most of the summer capturing his third Olympic gold medal.

Josh Jackson, Harry Giles stay at top of new Rivals150 Class of 2016 national rankings

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Rivals unveiled its new Class of 2016 national rankings in the latest Rivals150 and the top four players are staying the same. Detroit wing Josh Jackson, North Carolina forward Harry Giles, St. Louis wing Jayson Tatum (Duke) and North Carolina point guard Dennis Smith remain the top four players in the class while Texas native De’Angelo Fox moves up to the No. 5 spot.

Jackson and Giles have battled for the No. 1 spot hard the past few months and national analysts seem split on who to put at No. 1. Fox also made a late push to dethrone Smith as the No. 1 point guard. This national Class of 2016 is considered by many to be one of the most talented classes of the last 20 years.

The group has a strong crop of point guards, as noted by Rivals national recruiting analyst Eric Bossi. Of the top 60 players in the 2016 class, seventeen players are point guards, which will really help college basketball when those players enter.

You can view the new Rivals150 here.

Five-star guard Frank Jackson commits to Duke

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Frank Jackson, a top-10 recruit in the Class of 2016, committed to Duke on Tuesday night, announcing his decision from Lone Peak High School in Highland, Utah.

Duke is in the midst of a monster recruiting class. It began on July 12 when elite wing Jayson Tatum, rated No. 3 overall by Rivals, committed to Duke. The 6-foot-4 Jackson follows Tatum to Durham, picking the Blue Devils over BYU, Stanford and Utah.

The Blue Devils aren’t done here. They are also in contention for Harry Giles, the No. 2 overall play in the Class of 2016. The 6-foot-10 Giles is a North Carolina native and close friend of Tatum. Duke is also on the final list of schools for five-star big men, Marques Bolden and Wenyen Gabriel.

Jackson’s commitment adds to an already loaded perimeter attack for Coach K in 2016-17. Duke’s back court of Grayson Allen, Matt Jones, Luke Kennard and Derryck Thornton could all return. Jackson will likely see time on and off the ball, as Thornton isn’t expected to turn pro after his freshman season.

Playing for the Utah Prospects in the adidas Gauntlet series, Jackson averaged 24.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, shooting 54 percent from the field. His summer ended with an MVP performance at the Under Armour Elite 24.

Jordan Barnes’ double-clutch three sends St. Louis Eagles to Peach Jam title game (VIDEO)

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Sunday afternoon the CP3 All-Stars and St. Louis Eagles met in the semifinals of the EYBL Finals at the Nike Peach Jam in North Augusta, South Carolina, with the headliners being 2016 prospects Harry Giles (CP3) and Jayson Tatum (St. Louis Eagles). Of course there was also the matter of Tatum making his college decision following the game, as he chose Duke on national television.

While those were the major plots in this one, there was also the game itself. CP3 All-Stars led by double figures for a significant stretch of the game, with the Eagles making a furious comeback in the second half. But down by two with 4.8 seconds remaining the Eagles still needed a shot to either send the game into overtime or win it.

With Tatum being taken away the ball wound up in the hands of 2016 guard Jordan Barnes, who took off down the court and hit a double-clutch three-pointer from the right elbow as time expired to give the Eagles a 74-73 win. Above is video of the shot, as filmed by NextUpRecruits.

That was Barnes’ second game-winning shot of the weekend, and as a result the Eagles advanced to take on the Georgia Stars in the title game (which was won by the Stars). According to Rivals.com, the Christian Brothers College HS (St. Louis) guard holds offers from Arkansas State, Indiana State, IUPUI, Missouri State and South Alabama.