Five Observations from the Peach Jam

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NORTH AUGUSTA, SC — The Nike Peach Jam is the best event of grassroots basketball as the incredible atmosphere and top-notch talent makes for some memorable games. This year’s event was no different was the top 24 teams from the Nike EYBL did battle before the Michael Porter Jr. and Trae Young-led MoKan took home the title.

CBT’s Rob Dauster broke down some of the top players from Peach Jam here, but here are some more observations from the week.

1. DeAndre Ayton is improving at handling adversity (but it’s still a concern)

DeAndre Ayton sits at the top of the Class of 2017 in-part because he has a ridiculous amount of upside. The 7-footer moves incredibly well for being nearly 240 pounds and he has the type of skill level and frame that NBA franchises crave.

But there have been times during his career when Ayton got hit in the mouth (so to speak) and he didn’t respond well. After going head-to-head against other elite big men at Peach Jam, it’s safe to say that Ayton is staying at No. 1 for now, but he’s also getting better at handling situations that don’t necessarily go his way.

Ayton outplayed highly-touted big men like Marvin Bagley, Mitchell Robinson and Wendell Carter in head-to-head matchups but the Robinson matchup is what was particularly eye-opening. In the first half of that one, Robinson came out the aggressor and it helped lead to Ayton picking up three quick fouls and sitting on the bench for most of the first half. Visibly frustrated, Ayton roared back in the second half and had a monster 16 minutes of basketball, as he gave Robinson everything he had on both ends of the floor. Robinson still got some things done (more on him in a moment) but Ayton showed why he’s the top dog in the class.

In the past, I’m not sure Ayton would have responded that way because he had a tendency to kind of fold when that sort of thing would happen. There are still some questions about his motor and how he’ll handle a prolonged period of adversity, but Ayton answered some of those with a solid Peach Jam.

2. Michael Porter Jr. remains a polarizing figure

After another monster week at Peach Jam, Class of 2017 wing Michael Porter Jr. is still firmly in the discussion as the  potential No. 1 prospect in the class, but he remains a polarizing figure among the basketball community.

Speaking with other media members, talent evaluators and college coaches, they all recognize how good Porter is as a player, but they always seem to have some kind of condescending remark about his toughness or the way he plays.

I’m not really sure why this is the case.

Maybe it’s backlash from Porter likely following his dad — recently-hired assistant coach Michael Porter Sr. — to Washington or maybe it is because Porter has been a top-five prospect during his whole high school career? But there seems to be some sort of underlying animosity towards him as a player that I haven’t seen a lot of top prospects face the last few years.

At USA Basketball’s U18 tryouts in June, Porter was one of the best players on the floor even though he was also playing with a lot of players a grade level older than he was. At Peach Jam, Porter was sensational and put on a title-game performance that will be remembered. But despite all of those great performances, people don’t seem to be embracing Porter’s game as much as others in the past. It’ll be interesting to see if Porter continues to play this way the rest of July and how he’ll ultimately be viewed entering college basketball as a one-and-done freshman.

3. Mitchell Robinson has a chance to be scary good

After leading the EYBL in blocked shots this spring, Class of 2017 center Mitchell Robinson flew up the national rankings and now finds himself hovering around the top ten in many of them. At Peach Jam, Robinson proved that he might be even better than the back-end of the top ten as his athleticism and improving skill level left a lot of people surprised.

The matchup with DeAndre Ayton, in particular, was eye-opening as Robinson stole one inbounds pass and raced past everyone on the floor for an easy finish. Not many big men make DeAndre Ayton look like an average athlete, but Robinson did on that play with his pure speed and change of direction. At 6-foot-11 with a 7’2.5″ wingspan and 9-foot standing reach, Robinson has the measurables to be a great shot blocker and his lateral quickness and speed means that he can cover an insane amount of ground.

He also has the best instincts as a shot blocker in the class. During Peach Jam, Robinson had many plays that left observers shaking their heads because they didn’t think he would be able to close ground that quickly. Robinson has a lot of upside, but there are also some concerns about his offensive game, skill level and general basketball IQ. He’s still very much a project who needs a lot of reps before he can step in and dominate at the college level and beyond. But Robinson has had some ridiculous stretches of play this year and he keeps improving every time out, so he’s one to keep an eye on these next few weeks.

Western Kentucky and new head coach Rick Stansbury have already landed a commitment from Robinson, and if Robinson does end up playing in Conference USA, he could be a major problem.

4. Mohamed Bamba is still raw in a lot of ways

Entering July, many believed that Mohamed Bamba could push for the No. 1 spot in the Class of 2017 because of his insane measurables and increasing skill level. Let’s face it: there just aren’t many dudes playing basketball that are pushing 7-feet tall with a 7’9″ wingspan that move so well. He’s a freak.

But for as much upside as Bamba has, he’s still way more raw than anticipated after not being at his most productive during bracket play in Peach Jam. The biggest problem for Bamba comes with his offense. Because he lacks the strength to play on the block against some stronger post players, he can get knocked off-course in the paint rather easily before he even catches the ball. It also seems as though Bamba just doesn’t have a feel for what he is or what he can do offensively yet. And there’s nothing wrong with that; he has plenty of time to figure things out there.

Defensively was the surprising part. Bamba didn’t appear to have the natural rim-protecting instincts that many believed and that was backed up by him only recording only two blocked shots during 89 minutes of bracket play. Bamba jumped at inopportune times during pump fakes and didn’t wall up as effectively as he could have at the rim. Again, strength absolutely plays a factor in that and he will improve as he grows. And you have to applaud Bamba for being able to guard smaller players on the perimeter, something I watched him do very effectively against top-end prospects like Brian Bowen and P.J. Washington during crunch-time situations.

When Bamba had to face the best of the best at Peach Jam in those three bracket play games he only averaged 9.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game and he looked like he was still finding himself on the court. Keep in mind that Bamba has been out a good chunk of the spring and early summer with a lingering ankle issue, so that could have also played a factor in him not being as good as we’ve seen in the past.

There’s still plenty of time for Bamba to develop his skill level over the next few years, but he definitely remains a prospect at this point in his career.

5. Trae Young looks like a different player than the spring

I’m not sure if it’s a comfort thing playing with a team he is familiar with, or some other factor, but Trae Young looked so much better at Peach Jam than he did during the month of June at the Pangos All-American Camp and USA Basketball U18 tryouts.

Always known as a long-range specialist who can also make plays for himself or others off the dribble, Young was red-hot at Peach Jam as he looked like the best player on the floor multiple times over the course of the week. The biggest difference came in his three-point efficiency. Young only shot 30 percent from three-point range during the spring in EYBL play and that went up to 47 percent from three-point range during Peach Jam. And Young was dropping some deep threes in North Augusta.

Besides the perimeter shooting coming through for him, Young also was crafty finishing around the basket and did a great job of running the offense and setting up teammates for each finishes. If Young can knock down threes at a 40 percent clip, he’s going to be incredibly tough to defend at any level, because he can shoot from anywhere within 27 feet off the dribble and isn’t afraid to take those kinds of shots. It’ll be interesting to track how he shoots the rest of July.

Alabama coach Nate Oats gets new 6-year, $30 million deal

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama coach Nate Oats has agreed to a new six-year, $30 million contract amid the program’s best regular season in decades.

Oats will average $5 million plus incentives over the deal running through the 2028-29 season under a deal approved Friday by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees Compensation Committee.

It makes him the fourth-highest paid basketball coach in the Southeastern Conference and among the Top 10 nationally, athletic director Greg Byrne said.

Oats, who is in his fourth season, will make $4.5 million for the first year with $200,000 annual raises. The fourth-ranked Crimson Tide (19-3, 9-0 SEC) has the team’s highest ranking this deep into a season since 1976-77.

“I am honored and humbled to receive a contract extension from the University of Alabama,” Oats said in a statement. “As I have said many times, my family and I love this community, the city of Tuscaloosa and the university.

“I am incredibly proud of what we have been able to build during our time at UA which is a direct reflection of the student-athletes, coaches and staff who have all played a big part in our success. I am excited for what’s happening in the future of our program and the direction we are heading.”

Alabama has gone 80-39 under Oats, winning the 2021 SEC regular season and tournament championships.

“Coach Oats has done an outstanding job leading our men’s basketball program, and we want him to continue doing so for many years to come,” Byrne said in a statement. “He and his staff have lifted the program back to national prominence and built a product that is exciting to be a part of for our team and for our fans.

“We were confident Nate was going to be an outstanding coach for us when we hired him, and he is not only that, but also a great leader of our young men.”

The new contract comes nearly three weeks after Alabama basketball player Darius Miles and another man were charged with capital murder following a fatal shooting near campus. Miles, a reserve forward, was removed from the team and suspended from the university following his arrest.

Duke women’s coach Kara Lawson says men’s ball used vs. FSU

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Duke coach Kara Lawson said her team played with a men’s basketball for the first half of a loss to Florida Stated.

The 16th-ranked Blue Devils lost to the Seminoles 70-57 in Tallahassee, Florida – the team’s second Atlantic Coast Conference loss of the season.

After her team beat Pittsburgh 53-44 , Lawson ended her news conference by speaking animatedly.

“This would never happen in a men’s game. This would never happen. It’s embarrassing for our sport,” she said.

The circumference of a women’s ball is about an inch smaller than a men’s ball and it is typically 2 ounces lighter. While it may not seem like a lot, that’s a big difference.

Lawson said throughout the first half, Duke players were “complaining about the ball.” The Blue Devils were 7 for 34 from the field in the opening 20 minutes of that game. They were 12 for 38 in the second half. Florida State made 10 of its 30 shots in the first two quarters and 14 of 31 in the second half.

“To have a game that, at the end of the season, could be the difference between a seed, between a title, my players don’t deserve that and neither do their players,” Lawson said. “It’s a complete failure. And you can figure out who the people I’m talking about that failed the sport and our players and both teams.”

Lawson said assistant coach Winston Gandy went to the scorer’s table at the half to check on the ball when he realized what the problem was. She said the game officials changed the ball to start the second half.

“We have concluded through our investigation that it was a men’s ball,” Lawson said. “The conference and Florida State is saying that it wasn’t.”

The ACC said it did a comprehensive review talking with game officials, administrators, the table crew and both schools.

“Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim,” the conference said in a statement. “Per NCAA playing rules, there is no appeal or protest process.”

The ACC has instituted a procedural change that the game ball will be brought to the pregame meeting with the captains for approval.

“It’s very frustrating that (the game) … was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve,” she said.

This wasn’t the first time this has happened in women’s basketball. In 2017, the College of Charleston played home games and practiced with men’s balls for most of its season until the error was was discovered.

“Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. They beat us playing with a men’s ball in the first half and a women’s ball in the second half. But I can’t say if we’d have played with a women’s ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won. But they can’t say that either,” Lawson said.

No. 1 South Carolina wins 28th straight 87-69 over ‘Cats

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Dawn Staley’s pleased South Carolina had made its once-lopsided series with UConn more competitive the past few years.

She hopes her top-ranked team can accomplish another milestone when the teams meet for a top-five showdown on Sunday.

“It still stands true that we haven’t won up there,” Staley said.

Aliyah Boston had 14 points and 14 rebounds as South Carolina prepared for the top-five showdown with an 87-69 victory over Kentucky on Thursday night.

The Gamecocks (10-0 Southeastern Conference) improved to 22-0 and won their 28th straight, a run that included a 64-49 victory over the Huskies in Minneapolis last April to win the national championship.

Staley had lost her first seven games as South Carolina coach against UConn. The Gamecocks have won three of the past four matchups since.

“This particular class committed to each other,” Staley said. “When you have that type of commitment and you just want to win, you find yourself winning some games that you haven’t won before.”

Against Kentucky, reigning AP player of the year Boston extended her school mark with her 75th career double-double and moved within 11 of the SEC record of 86 games with a double-double held by LSU great Sylvia Fowles.

Things weren’t perfect for South Carolina, which fell behind early, then had its 15-point halftime lead cut to 54-48 midway through the third quarter.

Still, its dominant inside game – South Carolina outscored the Wildcats 62-14 in the paint – was more than enough to shut down Kentucky (10-12, 2-8), the last team to defeat the defending national champions at the SEC Tournament last March.

The Wildcats went on top 16-15 after a pair of baskets by Adebola Adeyeye.

That’s when South Carolina, fueled by its bench, took control with a 17-2 run. Ashlyn Watkins had three inside shots and Kamilla Cardoso scored four points during the surge.

The Wildcats used a 13-4 burst to start the third quarter to give South Carolina a few uncomfortable moments. But the Gamecocks got going once more with an 11-0 run to extend their margin.

Cardoso, the 6-foot-7 reserve, had 14 points and five of South Carolina’s 14 blocks. Defensive ace Brea Beal had 10 including both of the Gamecocks’ 3-pointers.

Beal thought the team held together well to blunt Kentucky’s runs and regain control. “I think it’s our mental aspect of the game and us believing in each other,” she said.

Robyn Benton had 24 points to lead Kentucky, which has lost three of its past four games.

Wildcats coach Kyra Elzy said South Carolina is difficult to match up with because of its deep bench. “They have depth after depth after depth,” she said. “They keep coming.”

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats are the not the same team that featured two-time SEC player of the year Rhyne Howard the past few seasons. They have 10 newcomers – and six freshmen – who are still learning how to play against the SEC’s top teams like South Carolina.

South Carolina: Forgive the Gamecocks if their focus wasn’t fully on this one at first with a big week ahead. In an eight-game span, South Carolina will face No. 5 UConn and No. 3 LSU, a pair of high-profile games could expose any flaw – or show how powerful the Gamecocks are in chasing a second straight NCAA crown.

UCONN KARMA

South Carolina has opened 22-0 twice under coach Dawn Staley, in 2014-15 and the following year. Both runs ended against UConn. Next up for Gamecocks are the Huskies, although South Carolina has won three of the past four games over UConn including last April’s 64-49 victory to win the NCAA Tournament title.

UP NEXT

Kentucky returns home to face Alabama on Feb. 9.

South Carolina heads to No. 5 UConn on Sunday.

Miles, Citron lead No. 9 Irish past Boston College 72-59

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BOSTON — Olivia Miles and Sonia Citron had already scored 10 straight points to put away Boston College when they turned their attention to other things.

“I told Sonia I needed two more assists for the double-double. And she was like, `All right, I’ve got you,”‘ Miles said after helping No. 9 Notre Dame beat BC 72-59 on Thursday night.

“That’s just kind of our communication on the court,” said Miles, who found Citron for baskets on the next two Irish possessions to complete a 14-0 run – with all 14 points from Miles and Citron. “We just really play off each other really well.

Miles scored 22 points with 10 assists and eight rebounds, and Citron scored 23 for the Irish (18-2, 9-1 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Maria Gakdeng scored 16 points, T’Yana Todd had 13 and Andrea Daly scored 10 with eight rebounds for BC (14-11, 4-8). The Irish beat BC at home 85-48 on New Year’s Day but hadn’t won in Chestnut Hill since 2019.

“This is such a tough place to play,” said Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey, whose team faces No. 16 Duke next. “We’ll celebrate it until about 12:30, and then we’ve got film. Tomorrow we start focusing on Duke.”

BC came within five points, 55-50, before the Irish ran off 14 points in a row – nine by Citron, and five by Miles. That put an end to what had been a back-and-forth game in which the Irish opened big leads and then frittered them away.

“I always feel like we’re close,” BC coach Joanna Bernabei-McNamee said. “They’re young; I think consistency comes with experience.

“I think it’s a big improvement from the first time we played Notre Dame,” she said. “I still want to see more, and I want to see us grow up as fast as humanly possible because I think we do have a dangerous team when we going well.”

Notre Dame led by 11 in the first quarter and held a 38-30 lead with two minutes gone in the third. BC scored 13 of the next 18 points, capitalizing on back-to-back Irish turnovers to tie it 43-all with three minutes left in the quarter.

But Natalija Marshall put back the rebound of her own miss, Miles drove to the basket, Maddy Westbeld added a pair of baskets and then Miles stole the ball and found Citron on the fast break to make it 53-43.

BIG PICTURE

Notre Dame bounced back from their first league loss of the season, a 69-65 defeat at North Carolina State on Sunday. Now they face No. 16 Duke.

The Eagles, who beat Pittsburgh on Sunday to snap a five-game losing streak, were looking for their second victory over a Top 25 team this season, having also beaten then-No. 10 N.C. State on Jan. 5.

UP NEXT

Notre Dame: Hosts No. 16 Duke on Sunday.

Boston College: Visits Syracuse on Sunday.

No. 16 Xavier beats No. 17 Providence 85-83 in OT thriller

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CINCINNATI — Jack Nunge had 23 points and 14 rebounds as No. 16 Xavier held off No. 17 Providence 85-83 in an overtime thriller Wednesday night.

Colby Jones and Souley Boum each scored 20 for the Musketeers, who won a first-place showdown in the Big East without injured forward Zach Freemantle.

Noah Locke had 22 points and Ed Croswell added 21 for Providence (17-6, 9-3), which had beaten Xavier three straight times.

A layup by Boum put the Musketeers (18-5, 10-2) ahead 82-79 with 51 seconds remaining in overtime. A turnover by the Musketeers led to a layup by Devin Carter that cut Xavier’s lead to one with 24 seconds left.

Boum hit one of two free throws, and Jared Bynum’s 3-point attempt from the left corner rimmed out at the buzzer as the Musketeers held on.

Xavier played its first game without Freemantle, the team’s leading rebounder and second-leading scorer. He is expected to miss four weeks with a left foot injury, the same foot that required surgery in 2021.

Jerome Hunter, who has excelled off the bench for the Musketeers, made his first start of the season and scored nine points with eight rebounds. Xavier had used the same starting lineup in each of its previous 11 Big East games.

Things started well for the Musketeers. who went on a 12-1 run to build a 25-11 lead.

With Boum on the bench with two fouls, the Musketeers didn’t have a field goal in the final 4:18 of the first half and the Friars pulled to 39-35 at halftime.

Providence outscored Xavier 8-2 to start the second half and took its first lead, 43-41, with 17:41 left.

There was a frantic finish to the second half, with Adam Kunkel’s 3-pointer putting Xavier ahead 76-73 with 55 seconds left. But then Bynum banked in a tying 3 and Boum missed two long shots to send the game to overtime.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: The Friars, who won their first Big East regular-season title last year, entered the night tied atop the conference standings with Xavier and No. 14 Marquette, which hosted Villanova later. Providence was picked fifth in the preseason.

Xavier: Hunter, who averages 14 minutes, left with three minutes remaining in OT with an apparent cramp in his right leg. With Freemantle out, Hunter played 36 minutes.

UP NEXT

Providence: Hosts last-place Georgetown on Wednesday.

Xavier: Will host St. John’s on Saturday.