NBA prospects to watch in the 2017 Champions Classic

The Champions Classic is loaded with NBA talent every year because of the level of teams in the event. Every year Duke, Kansas, Kentucky and Michigan State get together to play in an early season event to signify to everyone that basketball is back. Here are the top NBA prospects to watch in the 2017 Champions Classic:

Duke Prospects

Marvin Bagley, PF, Fr.

NBA prospects in the champions Classic

Marvin Bagley (Photo by bleacherreport.com)

Bagley is a generational talent that will likely be in the running to be the number one overall pick. He can do a little bit of everything and is leading Duke in scoring. He is averaging 24.5 points and 10 rebounds per game on the young season. One thing he can work on is his passing, as he continually will not find the open man and will rather put up heavily contested shots. The good thing for him is that he is good enough to make most of his shots, 65.7%, even when being double teamed.

Projected draft range: Top three pick

Wendell Carter Jr., PF/C, Fr.

Carter is only averaging 10 points and 6.5 rebounds, but there is so much talent on the Duke roster that stats aren’t the deciding factor for being a great prospect. He has been the rim protector for the Blue Devils so far with six blocks in two games. Carter was the fifth ranked prospect in the 2017 class according to ESPN.

Projected draft range: Top 10 pick

Trevon Duval, PG, Fr.

The number one point guard in the recruiting class was Trevon Duval. He is averaging a double-double in the first two games with points and assists. He averages 11.5 points and 10 assists per game. Duval has shown the ability to drive and score or dish the ball out, but needs to show he can knock down outside shots in order to keep defenses honest.

Projected draft range: Lottery pick-late first round pick

Gary Trent, SG, Fr.

Trent can be an x-factor for this Duke team this season. He is a good wing player, that with his outside shooting, can take some pressure off of Bagley. In the first two games he has already made seven threes on 13 attempts. His length can make him a good defender, but he will be tested by Michigan State on the defensive end.

Projected draft range: Lottery pick-late first round pick

Grayson Allen, SG, Sr.

Yes, Allen is still considered to be drafted in the NBA Draft. He gets a lot of criticism due to his attitude problems, but he is a solid player that has learned how to best play in his role every year at Duke. He is the second leading scorer so far, averaging 20 points a game. He has been the Blue Devils’ best shooter so far this season and, like Trent, can take pressure off of other players by knocking down shots. He has made 10 three pointers in 15 attempts.

Projected draft range: Late first round pick-early second round pick

Michigan State Prospects

Miles Bridges, SF, So.

Nba draft prospects in the champions classic

Miles Bridges (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Bridges surprised a lot of people by deciding to return to school after a great freshman season. He does everything for Michigan State from scoring to rebounding. His athleticism is crazy, and it can be seen in some of his highlight reel dunks. If he can knock down outside shots and limit turnovers, he is a complete player. Bridges will be one of the best college players this season and will get consideration for Player of the Year to go along with being considered a top prospect.

Projected draft range: Lottery pick

Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Fr.

The Spartans have a lot of good inside players this season, but Jackson got the starting nod in Michigan State’s season opener. He had 13 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots against North Florida and he looks poised for bigger things. Jackson was also able to knock down nine of 10 free throws, which is a nice skill to have, being that he will be fouled a lot this year.

Projected draft range: Lottery pick

Cassius Winston, PG, So.

Winston is one of the best passers in college basketball. He makes plays and shows off his high basketball IQ in the process. Not only can he drive to the basket, he can also knock down outside shots. Winston is not the most sought after prospect right now, but with continued good play, NBA executives will start to fall in love with him.

Projected draft range: Second round pick-undrafted free agent

Kansas Prospects

Billy Preston, PF, Fr.

NBA draft prospects in the champions Classic

Billy Preston (Photo by kuhoops.com)

Unfortunately, the world has yet to see Preston on the college level yet, as he was suspended from the season opener for missing curfew and class. That is a little concerning, but overall not a big deal. He was the 18th ranked recruit by ESPN and will be asked to be one of the few legitimate inside players for the Jayhawks.

Projected draft range: Late first round pick-early second round

Legarald Vick, SG, Jr.

Vick has crazy athleticism from the wing. He has been getting significant minutes the last few years at Kansas, despite a crowded backcourt. If Vick can add some muscle and have a good season as one of the lead guys on the Jayhawks’ roster he can get drafted.

Projected draft range: Second round pick-undrafted free agent

Devonte’ Graham, PG, Sr.

Now that Frank Mason is gone, Graham is tasked with running the offense. He is a little undersized for the NBA, but has a lot of desirable qualities. Graham is a great defender and has the ability to play on ball and off of it. He has shown that he can create for his teammates so far this season with 12 assists in one game. Graham can also shoot from deep, with a career percentage of 41% on three point shots.

Projected draft range: Second round pick-undrafted free agent

Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, SG/SF, Sr.

Svi has gotten an increased role every year at Kansas. He is intriguing to NBA people because of his length and shooting ability. Svi is a 38% three point shooter and at his size, he is a tough matchup. This season he can really prove he is worth an NBA draft pick with his added minutes.

Projected draft range: Second round pick-undrafted free agent

Udoka Azubuike, C, So.

Azubuike’s year ended early last season due to a wrist injury, but now he is back and healthy. He has great length at seven feet tall and is strictly an inside player. With a changing NBA game, where good inside players are devalued, Azubuike has to expand his game. He is still worthy of a draft pick if he plays well.

Projected draft range: Second round pick-undrafted free agent

Kentucky prospects

Kevin Knox, PF/SF, Fr.

NBA draft prospects in the champions classic

Kevin Knox (Photo by seccountry.com)

NBA executives will love Knox because of his athleticism and face up game. He can dribble, shoot and rebound. Knox does need to shoot more efficiently, as in two games he has below a 30% field goal percentage. He will get good experience playing on the perimeter at Kentucky, but needs to start knocking down outside shots to make him the ultra-versatile player that will be drafted really early.

Projected draft range: Lottery pick

Hamidou Diallo, SG, Fr.

Diallo is one of the most athletic players in the draft class. He has been the best player for Kentucky so far. While he can get to the basket almost at will, he does have some areas of his game he needs to improve. These areas include outside shooting, shot selection and on-ball defending. The athleticism is good enough to get him drafted highly, but if he can improve in other areas, he can move up draft boards.

Projected draft range: Lottery pick-late first round pick

Nick Richards, C, Fr.

Richards is a former volleyball player, whose skills in that sport should help him at Kentucky. He had three blocks against Utah Valley in the opener. Richards can rebound and defend, which is nice, but he will have to show a vastly improved offensive game if he wants to be selected early on in the draft.

Projected draft range: First round pick

P.J. Washington, SF/PF, Fr.

In his first game Washington did not look good, but was great in the second game of the season. He has an inside-out game, that will pique the interest of NBA teams. Knocking down outside shots will drastically improve his draft status.

Projected draft range: Late first round pick-early second round pick

*Jarred Vanderbilt will not play in the event due to a foot injury, but is likely going to be drafted as well.

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College basketball Tuesday

Previewing the first Tuesday of college basketball

College basketball is back and not a moment too soon. The first Tuesday of the season has four of the top five teams in the country squaring off. Many see the Duke and Michigan State game as a possible National Championship preview.

The second game features Kentucky and Kansas, who are almost always title contenders. All four of these teams are looking at this season as a championship or bust.

Duke and Michigan State

This first matchup is the one that everyone wants to see. Coach K’s Duke Blue Devils take on Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans in Chicago on Tuesday night. This is a matchup between the two best college basketball teams as of right now. This features two of the greatest coaches that college basketball has to offer, as well as four of the best players in college basketball this season.

College basketball Tuesday

Tom Izzo (Photo from Sportingnews.com)

Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson, Grayson Allen and Marvin Bagley are all players who are on the Wooden watch list. More than likely, two of them will matchup against each other head-to-head. Both Bridges and Allen have been stars throughout their college careers, and Bagley and Jackson come in as some of the hottest freshmen in the sport. Bridges and Bagley will probably draw a matchup in which everyone wants to see on opening night.

Ultimately, this will be a battle of youth (and Allen) against the strong Spartan sophomore class. Duke has the best freshman class, maybe in the history of college basketball. However, Michigan State is getting Jaren Jackson as well as bringing back their entire sophomore class that was one of the best recruiting classes last season.

This also spotlights a great coaching matchup. Mike Krzyzewski and Tom Izzo are two tremendous coaches. Even though the season just started, I’m sure there are still sets they want to run and matchups they are looking to exploit.

I think that Michigan State comes out with a seven-point win here. Duke is extremely young and has only gotten to mesh for two games. The majority of Michigan State’s players were together last season, so they are more familiar with each other. Duke hasn’t experienced a game like this yet as a whole.

Either way, this will be a very entertaining game, and one that many of us college basketball fans are looking to see come early April.

Kansas and Kentucky

This is another great game. Kansas and Kentucky are always in the hunt for a National Championship every year. This season is no different. Both teams are extremely young and look to be led in different ways.

Kansas is led by Devonte’ Graham and Lagerald Vick, who are both returning guards. Both can shoot the basketball and are versatile defenders.

Kentucky doesn’t really have a ton of experience. They bring back Wenyen Gabriel, but are extremely young from a production category. They have been led by freshman guard Hamidou Diallo and don’t have a single senior on their roster. Kentucky’s youth probably doesn’t surprise you if you’ve watched them the last several seasons, but they are young and talented.

I think this one is similar to the first game. Kentucky always seems to struggle right out of the gates just enough for every analyst to say that they aren’t a team that will mesh well, and then they turn it on in mid-February and make some serious noise in March. I think this Kentucky team as of now lacks a leader, and that’s the only thing separating Kentucky from the other teams.

In the end, I have the Jayhawks over big blue by 11. Why double digits? I really think that the key to winning in college basketball is having multiple scorers and strong guard play. At this point, Kansas for a fact has that. Kentucky does as well, but it’s not as certain. Kentucky’s guards are also freshmen who don’t have big game experience. Devonte’ Graham, their primary ball handler, has dealt with power conference guards for the past few seasons.

Experience trumps youth to start the season almost always, and I think this season is more the same.

 

Featured Image from USAtoday.com.

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College basketball preseason top 25: 5-1

It is the end of October so that means college basketball is right around the corner. What teams should be looked at as the best of the best? This is the final installment in the top 25 rundown. For teams 10-6, click here.

5. Kentucky Wildcats

College basketball preseason top 25

Hamidou Diallo (Photo by bostonherald.com)

The Wildcats lost a heart-breaker to UNC in the Elite Eight last season. Like most years they have to replace most of their team. They don’t return much at all and will be led by freshman, but they have a very talented freshmen class yet again that should be able to be successful.

Versatility is going to be the name of the game for the Kentucky bigs. Kevin Knox, P.J. Washington, Jarred Vanderbilt are all capable of playing on the perimeter and in the paint. How they fit in together is a big question. Vanderbilt is currently dealing with injuries and will not be ready for the start of the season. Nick Richards is the tallest on the team and will fight for minutes. The returnees Wenyen Gabriel, Sacha Kileya-Jones and Tai Wynyard will fight for minutes. Gabriel started 23 games last season and can be valuable if he knocks down outside shots. Wynyard is a very physical player who can step in if the other players aren’t rebounding. While there are a lot of talented players, Calipari will play the most talented.

Quade Green ad Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are both highly touted recruits who will handle the point guard duties. Whoever does not start will be able to play off of the ball. Hamidou Diallo got to campus last year in the midseason and John Calipari decided to redshirt him. His half-season with Kentucky last year will pay dividends, as well as his summer trip representing Team USA in the U19 World Cup. Diallo is an athletic freak, who needs to shoot the ball better to be a dynamic player. Jemarl Baker was supposed to provide some outside shooting for this team, but Baker had his knee scoped and will likely be out for three months.

As always if the young talent can mesh together, the sky is the limit for Kentucky. They may start off slow, but come March, Kentucky will be a factor once again.

4. Kansas Jayhawks

College basketball preseason top 25

Devonte’ Graham (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Kansas made their second straight Elite 8 last season and can do so again this season. They will have to deal with the losses of Carlton Bragg, Josh Jackson, Landen Lucas and, most importantly, Frank Mason. That is a lot to replace, but there is some significant talent returning.

Udoka Azubuike returns after getting injured last season. He will be asked to play way more than his 12.9 minutes per game that he averaged last season. In those minutes though, he showed flashes of being a great player. His per 40 minutes stats are great, as he would’ve averaged 15.5 points and 13.5 rebounds. Billy Preston, no relation to Bill S. Preston Esquire, is a great incoming freshman that is going to be thrust into any minutes Azubuike can’t be on the floor. He is very athletic, but needs to work on his inside game. The only other big on the roster is Mitch Lightfoot, who will see an increased role as the third big. There is not much depth in the frontcourt, so the Jayhawks will have to stay healthy and out of foul trouble.

The backcourt is loaded with talent. Devonte’ Graham returns and will take over at point after the loss of Frank Mason. He is a great defender that showed he could score too last season. He will need to set up teammates and find his own shot this season. Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk return on the wing. Both can knock down the three point shot, while Vick has more athletic ability. Mykhailiuk may need to step more inside to cover up for the lack of bigs on the roster, seeing as he is 6’8″. Two transfers will have to step up for Kansas as well. Malik Newman was a big recruit going into Mississippi State and is hoping his career has new life at Kansas. Sam Cunliffe is an Arizona State transfer who will be eligible in December.

The guards and wings will be hard to match up with, but if Kansas’ frontcourt doesn’t step up it will be hard to reach a third consecutive Elite 8. Luckily they have talent so the sky is the limit.

3. Arizona Wildcats

College basketball preseason top 25

Allonzo Trier (Photo by draftexpress.com)

The Wildcats got upset by Xavier in the Sweet 16 last season, but have a lot of returning talent and incoming recruits to help them get to a Final Four. They lose Kadeem Allen, Chance Comanche, Lauri Markkanen and Kobi Simmons, but this team is actually better. Can Sean Miller reach his first Final Four of his career?

The frontcourt is going to be led by superstar recruit DeAndre Ayton. He can protect the rim and stretch the floor, making him unique. Dustan Ristic started 34 games last season and can play alongside Ayton or back him up. Rustic has a refined inside game that can compliment Ayton. Keanu Pinder is a good role player who will rebound and defend. Behind these three there isn’t much, but the guards on the roster should be able to play big if they need to.

Allonzo Trier is back after leading the team in scoring last season with 17.2 points per game. He could’ve gone pro, but elected to come back for another season. He can do a little bit of everything offensively, as a solid shooter and driver. Rawle Alkins also choose to come back to Tucson after considering the NBA. Alkins will improve in his second season with the Wildcats. Parker Jackson-Cartwright is back at point guard and will likely start every game. Backing these three up will be frehsmen and transfers, but they are talented. Emmanuel Akot, Brandon Randolph, Dylan Smith and Alex Barcello will all be expected to fight for minutes.

Sean Miller needs to get to a Final Four and this season offers his best chance to do so. If Ayton is as good as advertised, the Final Four should be an expectation for Arizona.

2. Michigan State Spartans

College basketball preseason top 25

Miles Bridges (Photo by draftexpress.com)

Tom Izzo gets a chance to make his first Final Four since 2015 with this squad. He has a lot of talent and depth, which is something he didn’t have last season due to injuries. If the Spartans can stay healthy, the team is going to be tough to beat.

Miles Bridges returns on the wing. He is going to be the best player in all of college basketball this season. As a freshman he averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists. He didn’t have a lot of help last season, but will this year. Nick Ward was thrust into playing a lot last year as a freshman and was a physical force on the inside. Jaren Jackson is a very good recruit who will be hard to keep off the floor. Gavin Schilling, Ben Carter and Kenny Goins return to give them some of the best frontcourt depth in the country. They can ride the hot hand this season.

Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairns Jr. is a senior leader now who is a great defender and can set up his teammates. He needs to hit more perimeter shots to be more effective in the offense. Cassius Winston has turned heads with his passing and playmaking ability and will provide Michigan State with a chance to have two point guards on the floor at once. He can also shoot the ball and spread the floor. Mike McQuaid will add a three point specialist to the backcourt. Joshua Langford will also play a bit and is a good wing that can drive and shoot.

With so much talent and perhaps the best player in college basketball, this team can win the National Championship.

1. Duke Blue Devils

College basketball preseason top 25

Marvin Bagley (Photo by accsports.com)

Coach K has had one and dones before, but Coach K has fully embraced recruiting one and dones. He has a roster chalk full of them. A few key players return from a team that lost in the second round, but the freshman are what make this Blue Devils’ squad the best in the country.

Marques Bolden returns at center after a disappointing freshman season. He only played 6.5 minutes a game and needs to improve. He is the only returning player that will see significant minutes. Marvin Bagley Jr. is a dynamic player that is in contention to be the number one overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. He reclassified to play at Duke this season and added to their great recruiting class. Wendell Carter is another freshman who can add to the depth on the inside. He is more of a stretch four and should get a lot of minutes, even if he is overshadowed by Bagley.

Grayson Allen is back for his senior season. Love him or hate him, he is a good scorer that has a lot of experience, which is something this team desperately needed. He saw his scoring decline last season as Luke Kennard stepped up, but may be asked to score a lot until the freshmen get into their groove. Trevon Duval is one of the best point guards of the class and will be the best point guard that Duke has had since their National Championship in 2015. If for some reason he fails, or gets injured, Allen can play point guard once again and run the offense decently well. Gary Trent Jr. is a great wing that will play on the wing with Allen, giving Duke a very talented starting lineup. Depth could be a problem, so role players will need to step up.

The only thing that can derail Duke this season is Grayson Allen’s attitude or a lack of depth. If Coach K can get the most out of this team, he may be cutting down the nets in April.

 

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Michigan State Poised For A Late Run Next Season

Don’t be fooled by Michigan State’s past season struggles. They’re not going anywhere.

The Spartans somewhat fell off the wagon this year after they went 20-15 in a rather shaky Big Ten. Not to say the Spartans had a bad season, but it just wasn’t the Michigan State we are used to seeing.

The Spartans finished 10-8 in the Big Ten with a loss in the second round of the Big Ten tournament to Minnesota. Many thought the Spartans might miss out on a trip to the big dance. However, the Spartans were rewarded with a nine seed and a matchup against eighth-seeded Miami.

Michigan State defeated Miami rather handily. However, in the round of 32, the Spartans were faced with the one seed and tournament favorite, Kansas. Despite keeping it close for much of the game, Michigan State lost 90-70.

After Tom Izzo’s young, injured and often overwhelmed team lost, he said the group “gave me everything they could give me.”

Michigan State

Bridges told fans he has “unfinished business” after declaring he would come back for his sophomore season (Photo/ Al Goldis)

The Spartans are looking forward, starting with returning star forward Miles Bridges.

Bridges, who was considered by many to be a lottery pick in next year’s upcoming NBA draft, officially decided to come back for his sophomore season a few days ago. He averaged 16.9 points per game, which are the highest points per game for a freshman at Michigan State since Magic Johnson. Bridges also averaged 8.3 rebounds, which is the most by a Michigan State freshmen since Greg Kelser in 1975-76.

“I got some unfinished business here,” Bridges said. “I want to stay.”

Even though Bridges could have left for the NBA and made millions of dollars, he decided to work on his game while enjoying the college life both on and off the court.

“I’d rather stay here and get better,” he said.

Many still had Michigan State as a highly ranked team going into next year even before Bridges decided to return. Much of that has to do with a core group of young guys, who showed towards the end of the season that they can be really good.

They have an elite low-post scorer with Nick Ward, a potential future quarterback of the offense with Cassius Winston and a dangerous off-ball wing with Joshua Langford. Those players, along with Bridges, were all freshmen and are all returning for their sophomore seasons.

There is a lot that this group has to improve upon, like reducing turnovers and improving on the glass. They will have to get a good contribution from additional players like Matt McQuaid and their incoming class. The new class consists of two really good top recruits.

Michigan State

Top recruit Jaren Jackson will join the Spartans next season in their hunt for another championship (Photo/ Mike Dinovo).

First, there is 6-foot-11, 225 pound forward Jaren Jackson, who was one of the top recruits in the country. The big man has not only been praised for being a big presence down low, but he can also step out and hit the mid or long range jumper, making him a matchup nightmare.

The Spartans also signed 6-foot-9, 250 pound forward Xavier Tillman, who was voted first team all state in Michigan. They are also trying to land highly recruited high school seniors Brandon McCoy, a 7-foot center from California and Mark Smith, an elite point guard from Illinois.

Regardless of if they end up signing McCoy and Smith or not, the Spartans will have a high-powered team on both ends of the floor. They will be more experienced, formulated and ready to make a serious run late in March.

 

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