Seven takeaways from the Houston EYBL session

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(Jon Lopez/Nike)

HOUSTON — The third session of the Nike EYBL in Houston is always one of the best weekends for learning about high school basketball prospects in the country. The timing of the weekend — in which no other shoe company events are being held — means players from other leagues will pop up and find an EYBL team for the weekend. Since there have been two previous sessions of EYBL play, every player is pretty much adjusted to the level of play by the third session. It’s also the first EYBL session without the college coaches in attendance, so you see which guys are continuing production without them watching.

1. Harry Giles had a tremendous weekend and will push hard for No. 1 in 2016

Harry Giles had a huge weekend in Houston and had three very good games after missing Friday night due to a test he needed to take. The five-star, No. 2 overall player in the class, according to Rivals, is leading the EYBL in rebounding at 10.5 per game and he does a great job quickly getting off the floor to snatch up rebounds. Playing without his knee brace after a torn ACL over a year ago, Giles looked very comfortable this weekend and at 6-foot-10, he has has a chance to be the No. 1 player in the 2016 class. There just aren’t many forwards who compete and play intelligent ball the way Giles plays. He could still stand to protect the rim a little bit better, but Giles is even improving his shooting range by hitting some 3-pointers during EYBL play.

2. The intelligence and efficiency of Jayson Tatum is something to admire

Five-star wing Jayson Tatum is a well-known, top-five player in the 2016 class, but it’s easy to overlook how efficient he can be sometimes. The St. Louis native does have issues with turnovers from time-to-time (usually trying to force something from being constantly double teamed) but he takes smart shots and gets to the free-throw line far more than anyone else in the league. Through three sessions of EYBL play, Tatum has made 99 free throws and his next closest competitor is at 74. He’s second in the league in scoring at 22.2 per game and he does a great job drawing fouls and getting to the line, where he shoots 86 percent. With Tatum struggling from 3-point range this spring — he only attempted one 3-pointer in four games this weekend — he has still played at a very high level. His skill level on the wing is tremendous and Tatum will be very dangerous on the offensive end if he develops his outside shot.

3. Dennis Smith can get it done with any team

Over the weekend, Dennis Smith showed that he can also stand out in the EYBL as he made a weekend appearance with Team Penny. The electric, five-star point guard played more off the ball for the team and averaged 15 points, 3.5 rebounds, 2 assists per game playing only 19.5 minutes per game in four games this weekend. After a first-game adjustment period where Smith had a bit of a tough time getting comfortable with his new teammates, he poured in a big game on Saturday night that included a huge dunk. At the college level and beyond, Smith is probably best suited as a point guard who is a terror on high ball screens, but it was nice to see him play off the ball and do some work as well. Smith also played the passing lanes well and averaged 3 steals per game and guarded some bigger opponents and held his own thanks to his athleticism. He’s looking like a legitimate top-five prospect in the Class of 2016 going forward.

4. Freshman Marvin Bagley is generating huge buzz

Class of 2018 power forward Marvin Bagley isn’t playing on the 17U stage of the Nike EYBL, but his We All Can Go team is playing in 16U events with other Nike teams. Every time someone would come from the 16U event nearby this weekend, they would leave buzzing about the skilled, left-handed 6-foot-10 power forward, who some believe is the best prospect in the country regardless of class. Of the group of scouts that have seen Bagley, there is a consensus forming that Bagley is at least a top-five prospect in all of high school basketball and the No. 1 player in the 2018 class. The Arizona native already owns multiple high-major scholarship offers from his time in middle school and has a lot of upside going forward. Check out his ridiculous freshman year mixtape if you don’t believe me.

5. Texas is gaining a lot of recognition from elite prospects with Shaka Smart at the helm

One of the important things to track on the grassroots circuit in regards to recruiting in the spring is how often head coaches talk to certain players. New Texas head coach Shaka Smart is aggressively pursuing numerous national-level prospects and every time a Texas target speaks to members of the media, they usually mention talking directly to the head coach. Based on athlete response, Smart seems to get through to players more frequently than many other head coaches at that level, who often delegate initial recruiting to an assistant coach. The Texas fan base also seems to be enthusiastic about the arrival of Smart. In speaking with some local Texas media this weekend in Houston, the fan base is happy to have Smart in the picture and there is more of a demand for basketball and basketball recruiting coverage than the end of the Rick Barnes era. We’ll have to see if Smart’s persistence in calling recruits directly pays off in big commitments, but he seems to be off to a good start at Texas.

6. There are a lot of intriguing 2017 big men

The EYBL features a lot of intriguing big men in the 2017 class and there are many things to like with this group going forward. Miami native Zach Brown is a monster at 7-foot-1 and Georgia native Wendell Carter is skilled and improving rapidly at 6-foot-10. Both Brown and Carter are already established top-ten prospects while others like Illinois native Jeremiah Tilmon, New York native Nick Richards and California native Brandon McCoy all showed flashes of big upside over the weekend. And this group of sophomore big men doesn’t even include the No. 1 overall prospect in the class, DeAndre Ayton. Since all of these guys are only sophomores, it will be fun to see them develop and battle other elite big men this summer in the camp setting. Facing older and more experienced big men should be a good indicator of where some of these guys stand going forward.

7. Some 2016 guards are producing at a high level

While the 2016 class has a handful of elite-level guards, many low-end top-150 players are putting up big scoring numbers through the first three sessions of play. Class of 2017 guards Markus Howard and Trae Young have both put up a lot of shots, but also made a lot of shots this spring. Class of 2016 lead guards like New York native Shamorie Ponds and Indiana native C.J. Walker and New Jersey native Myles Powell have also scored at a solid clip as well. Of  the three 2016 guards just mentioned, only Ponds is a top-100 prospect and he comes in at No. 99 in Rivals‘ national rankings. There are plenty of capable guards in the lower end of the rankings that can hit shots and produce. Can they sustain this kind of production beyond 12 games? The live evaluation period in July will give us that answer.

Minnesota-Illinois postponed for COVID-19 in Gophers program

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota’s game at Illinois that was scheduled for Tuesday has been postponed because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols within the Gophers’ program.

The announcement was made Monday by Minnesota, which didn’t specify how many players would have been unable to play.

The Gophers (7-15, 1-11) had only eight available scholarship players for their last game, an 81-46 loss to Maryland on Saturday. Dawson Garcia (ankle) has missed the last four games, and Braeden Carrington (leg) has missed the last six. Parker Fox and Isaiah Ihnen will not play this season while recovering from knee injuries.

The game will be rescheduled by the Big Ten, with input from both schools.

Minnesota is next scheduled to host Iowa on Sunday. Illinois (16-7, 7-5) will host No. 24 Rutgers on Saturday.

Purdue stays No. 1 in AP Top 25; NC State in at No. 22

Rich Janzaruk/Herald-Times/USA TODAY NETWORK
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Purdue’s unquestioned grip on No. 1 in The Associated Press poll is gone after a weekend loss. That didn’t stop the Boilermakers from remaining at the top anyway.

The Boilermakers earned 38 of 62 first-place votes in the poll to remain at No. 1 for a third straight week and seventh time this season. Purdue was the unanimous choice last week, the first for any team this season, before falling at Indiana over the weekend for only its second loss.

The Boilermakers (22-2, 11-2) have a leading candidate for national player of the year in Zach Edey and KenPom’s No. 1-ranked offense (121.1 points scored per 100 possessions) to go with a top-25 defense. But they got down big, committed 16 turnovers and allowed the Hoosiers — up to No. 18 this week — to shoot nearly 53% in a 79-74 loss Saturday.

“When we go to Zach and we make some perimeter shots, the defense gets better sometimes when the offense flows,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said at his postgame news conference. “And you can’t do that. You can always rebound, you can always take care of the ball, you can always make your free throws, those things there.”

The loss meant Houston collected 22 first-place votes as it rose one spot to No. 2, followed by No. 3 Alabama and No. 4 Arizona in each claiming one.

THE TOP TIER

Texas jumped five spots to No. 5, shooting past Tennessee, which fell four spots to No. 6 after losing last week at Florida.

UCLA, Virginia, Kansas and Marquette rounded out the top 10, with Shaka Smart’s Golden Eagles cracking the top 10 for the first time since 2019.

RISING

The Longhorns’ jump marked the biggest of the week, followed by Marquette and Miami each rising four spots. No. 13 Xavier, No. 15 Saint Mary’s and No. 21 UConn joined Indiana in each moving up three positions.

In all, 12 teams rose from last week’s rankings.

SLIDING

Kansas State took the week’s biggest tumble, falling five spots to No. 12 after losing at Kansas and at home to Texas last week. No. 16 Gonzaga joined Tennessee in falling four spots after its overtime loss at Saint Mary’s.

In all, nine teams fell from last week’s rankings.

STATUS QUO

Purdue was the only team to remain in the same position this week.

WELCOME

North Carolina State earned its first AP Top 25 ranking in four years, checking in at No. 22.

The Wolfpack (19-5, 9-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) spent six weeks in the poll during the 2018-19 season. N.C. State already has surpassed the win total for each of the last two seasons and is in contention for the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2018.

Creighton and Rutgers joined N.C. State as this week’s new additions to the poll, though both were ranked earlier this season. The Bluejays were No. 9 in the preseason poll and peaked at No. 7 before falling out by mid-December, while the Scarlet Knights spent a week at No. 23 in mid-January.

FAREWELL (FOR NOW)

Florida Atlantic (No. 19), Clemson (No. 20) and Auburn (No. 25) fell out of this week’s poll.

CONFERENCE WATCH

The Big 12 leads all leagues with six ranked teams, including No. 11 Iowa State, No. 14 Baylor and No. 17 TCU. The Big East is next with five ranked teams, followed by the Big Ten and ACC with three each.

The Pac-12, Southeastern and West Coast conferences each have two ranked teams, while the American Athletic and Mountain West each have one.

Indiana reaches No. 2 in women’s AP Top 25; South Carolina still No. 1

Noe Padilla/Journal & Courier/USA TODAY NETWORK
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South Carolina beat a top opponent to remain No. 1 in the women’s poll and now has a showdown with another one looming this weekend.

The Gamecocks (23-0) topped then- No. 5 UConn 81-77 to remain unbeaten and stay the unanimous choice atop the poll from the 28-member national media panel. After facing Auburn, South Carolina will play No. 3 LSU in a matchup of the last two unbeatens in Division I women’s college basketball.

Dawn Staley’s team has won 29 consecutive games and has been No. 1 in the poll for 33 consecutive weeks. That’s one week short of tying the Huskies for the third-longest streak atop the poll. Only UConn (51 weeks) and Louisiana Tech (36) have had longer runs at No. 1.

While South Carolina has had a stranglehold on No. 1 for more than a year, Indiana is making its first appearance ever at No. 2 after Stanford lost to Washington.

“I’m going to relish this for a minute, knowing where the program was to where it is,” Indiana coach Teri Moren said. “We’ve made a lot of history since we’ve been here in our nine seasons and it’s one of the more historical things we’ve been able to accomplish. Give our players credit, I don’t want to discount what a big achievement this is. We’re more than humbled to be No. 2.”

Indiana has won 10 straight since suffering its lone loss of the season to Michigan State. The Hoosiers have a tough stretch coming up, starting with a home game against No. 5 Iowa. Indiana, which hadn’t been ranked higher than fourth, then plays No. 13 Ohio State and 12th-ranked Michigan.

“That’s why we take it one game at a time, but you understand the magnitude of what’s ahead of us. I tell the kids all the time we’re in control of our own destiny,” Moren said.

LSU remained at No. 3 after close wins over Tennessee, Georgia and Texas A&M. The Tigers have a week to prepare for the Gamecocks.

UConn moved up one spot to fourth after its close loss to the Gamecocks and Iowa was fifth.

The Cardinal fell to sixth with Utah, Maryland, Duke and Notre Dame rounding out the top 10. The Blue Devils beat the Irish to take over sole possession of first in the ACC and vault up six spots in the poll. It’s Duke’s best ranking since the team finished the 2017 season ranked ninth.

FALLING CYCLONES

It was a rough week for Iowa State, which lost to Kansas by one point and Baylor by six. The Cyclones fell nine spots in the poll from 12th to 21st.

RE-ENTRY

Colorado came back into the poll at No. 25 after beating Oregon and Oregon State over the weekend. The Buffaloes were ranked for four weeks before falling out last week. Middle Tennessee dropped out of the poll after losing both its games last week.

No. 1 South Carolina tops fifth-ranked UConn 81-77

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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HARTFORD, Conn. – In a rematch of last season’s national championship game, South Carolina came out on top again over UConn thanks to a strong fourth quarter by Aliyah Boston.

Geno Auriemma stepping onto the court to spike a water botte, that helped them, too.

Boston scored 23 of her 26 points in the second half, including 14 in the final period, to help the No. 1 Gamecocks beat the fifth-ranked Huskies 81-77 on Sunday in front of a sellout crowd.

“Aliyah is just relentless, she plays relentlessly although she had a subpar (first half) as far as statistics, she impacted the game,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said. “She doesn’t get flustered. she knew she didn’t play up to her standards. What does she do? Raise her standard. Bad first half or not she’s going to continue to play.”

While there wasn’t as much on the line as the title game last April, there was a high intensity to it, including Auriemma getting the technical late in the fourth quarter after getting frustrated by the officiating enough to throw the bottle.

“I thought there were a lot of things being overlooked. It was difficult for some of our guys to move out on the floor,” said Auriemma, UConn’s coach. “I didn’t think it was one key play, I just couldn’t keep quiet any longer. It was bad. … Dumb mistake by me. Bad decision.”

The Gamecocks (23-0) have won 29 consecutive games since losing to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament title game last year. They’ve won four of the past five meetings with the Huskies, including a victory in the NCAA championship game last season. That ended UConn’s perfect 11-0 record in title games.

“This was a national championship-like game. I wanted us to feel what it takes to do this,” Staley said.

Now South Carolina finally has a win in Connecticut after winning there before.

South Carolina used its size again to top the Huskies. The 6-foot-7 Kamilla Cardoso and Boston, the reigning AP Player of the Year helped the Gamecocks have a 42-30 advantage on the boards, including grabbing 25 offensive rebounds.

Boston finished with 11 rebounds for the 76th double-double of her career. Cardoso added 17 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out.

With her team leading by four in the fourth quarter, Boston took over. She scored the next 12 points for South Carolina, two of those came when Auriemma tossed the water onto the court and was charged with the technical foul.

Boston hit the two free throws. She then hit a jumper, a 3-pointer and another basket to give the Gamecocks a double-digit advantage.

“I’m kind of in attack mode. In the second half I made more shots then I did in the first half,” Boston said.

Despite seeing their starting backcourt foul out, the short-handed Huskies (21-3) wouldn’t go away. They whittled the lead down to 80-77 with 10.8 seconds left on Aubrey Griffin’s three-point play.

Raven Johnson hit the first of two free throws a second later and UConn couldn’t convert to close out the game

“They have a lot to feel good about once they get past what it feels like to lose,” Auriemma said. “I feel better at 3 o’clock today then I did at 12 o’clock. I didn’t know how we’d respond. I knew we’d play hard and compete like hell. I didn’t know who was going to make a big play, who was going to get a big rebound, make a big shot. I know now more than I did at noon and I feel better about my team.”

Aaliyah Edwards led UConn with 25 points.

UConn got off to a solid start, outscoring South Carolina 25-14 in the opening period. Lou Lopez Senechal capped the strong start, hitting a running 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

South Carolina asserted its size in the second quarter with Cardoso scoring 11 points in the period. Her putback with just under 10 seconds left tied the game at 34 heading into the half.

TIP-INS:

UConn is 8-10 against No. 1 teams all time. … The Huskies are still missing guards Azzi Fudd (knee), Caroline Ducharme (concussion) as well as Paige Bueckers (knee) and Ice Brady (knee), who are both out for the season. … Many former UConn players were in the crowd including Sue Bird, Jen Rizzotti, and Napheesa Collier sitting a few rows behind the Huskies bench. … South Carolina has gone 41-6 against ranked teams since the start of the 2019-20 season.

DEPTH:

The Gamecocks reserves outscored UConn’s 37-0. The Huskies only had eight healthy players.

UP NEXT:

South Carolina: visits Auburn on Thursday before a showdown with No. 3 LSU on Feb. 12

UConn: visits Marquette on Wednesday.

No. 16 Duke tops No. 9 Notre Dame 57-52 for 1st place in ACC

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. – Celeste Taylor scored 14 points and No. 16 Duke came from behind for a 57-52 victory at No. 9 Notre Dame on Sunday to move into first place in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Trailing for most of the game’s first 28 minutes, the Blue Devils (20-3, 10-2 ACC) took the lead for good in the final minutes of the third quarter to knock off the Fighting Irish (18-4, 9-3) before a sellout crowd of 9,149 at Purcell Pavilion.

A jumper by Jordyn Oliver put Duke ahead 45-44 with 1:20 left in the third quarter and the visitors never trailed after that.

“I’m proud of my players for finishing the game,” Duke coach Kara Lawson said.

Duke led 48-46 going into the fourth quarter after trailing Notre Dame by as many as five points in the third quarter. A steal by Elizabeth Balogun in the final 15 seconds helped seal the win.

A 13-4 run helped Notre Dame take its biggest lead of the first half for either team at 31-23. The Irish led 31-25 at halftime.

“We fell short, but you know it’s a part of our growth,” Irish coach Niele Ivey said. “It’s part of our journey.”

Taylor scored 10 points for Duke in the second half. Balogun and Shayeann Day-Wilson finished with 9 points apiece and Taya Corosdale and Oliver had 8 each.

Maddy Westbeld, playing all 40 minutes, led Notre Dame with 15 points, Sonia Citron scored 14 and Olivia Miles added 11.

“She’s one of the best players in the country,” Lawson said of Miles, who logged just over 31 minutes. “We didn’t have to go against her for a quarter of the game.”

COLD SHOOTING

Neither team shot well in the fourth quarter. Notre Dame made just 2 of 13 shots from the floor and Duke was 3 of 13.

“We just talked about staying disciplined defensively and making it hard,” Lawson said. “I though we challenged shots.”

Ivey also addressed that stretch of the game.

“Some of those opportunities were in transition and we didn’t get a chance to capitalize,” she said. “We did a good job of finding the open person, we just didn’t nail the shots.”

SUPERB SUBS

Led by Corosdale and Oliver, Duke enjoyed a 21-4 edge in reserve scoring.

“I’m really proud of my players off the bench,” Lawson said. “Jordyn Oliver was really good.

“We needed to have that depth in scoring. Not only did they score but they were efficient from the field.”

The Blue Devils’ bench shot 9 of 15.

SHORT-HANDED IRISH

Notre Dame graduate student Dara Mabrey was lost for the season in the Jan. 22 game against Virginia.

Lauren Ebo, a 6-foot-4 graduate student, has missed the last three games with a lower-body injury.

“Ebo does a great job of being a precence on the block with her size and ability to rebound and play post defense,” Ivey said. “She’s been working really hard (at rehabilitation).

“It’s kind of day to day.”

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame: The Irish fell out of a first-place tie with Duke in the ACC standings.

Duke: The Blue Devils are now alone atop the conference standings.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: The Irish meet Pitt in two of the next four contests – on Thursday in South Bend and on Sunday, Feb. 19 at Pittsburgh.

Duke: The only regular-season meeting between the Blue Devils and Boston College is Thursday at Boston.