2017 NBA Mock Draft

2017 NBA Mock Draft 1.0 (Pre-Lottery)

This mock draft will factor in team needs heavily rather than who is the best player. The draft order won’t be set in stone until the lottery takes place, but the talk is already starting on who will go number one overall.

Many scouts and experts are picking Markelle Fultz to go first, but it depends on who wins the lottery. Right now these predictions will be based solely off current standings and will continue to be until the draft lottery takes place. Here is Hagan’s Haus 2017 NBA mock draft.

1: Boston Celtics (via Brooklyn): Josh Jackson sG Kansas

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Allen Kee / ESPN Images)

The Boston Celtics do not need a point guard. Fultz may be the best player in the draft, but Isaiah Thomas isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thomas is also a proven player while any player coming out of college is unproven.

Fultz may be the best player in the draft but doesn’t fit what the Celtics need. The Celtics play great team defense and need a scorer to take the load off of Thomas.

Josh Jackson could prove to be a valuable scoring option for Boston as he averages 16.7 points per game. Jackson in a two-way player capable of becoming a superstar. Boston would be smart to add him to their core.

2: Los Angeles Lakers: Markelle Fultz pG Washington

Picking what the Lakers will do is extremely difficult. They just spent the 2015 second overall pick on a point guard. The Lakers issue is veteran leadership. They have a core of young players who just need time to develop. L.A. could trade this pick for a star player, but if they do keep it expect them to take the best available player.

That would be Washington guard Markelle Fultz. Fultz is averaging 23.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and six assists per game. Fultz also has a player efficiency rating (PER) of 28.6 and is clearly the best player in the draft. The Lakers can not pass on that just to fill a position of need.

3: Phoenix suns: Jayson Tatum Sf duke

Jayson Tatum has a well-polished iso game that is NBA ready. The Suns have a star in the making with Devin Booker and need to find a player to grow alongside him.

Tatum could grow to be a solid second option in the NBA. He can score anywhere on the floor due to his ability to create off the dribble.

One of his biggest weaknesses is his shot selection. Due to his height and ability to shoot over defenders, Tatum tends to settle for difficult shots. Shot selection will improve over time and the Suns may be able to find a Robin for their Batman.

4: Orlando Magic: Lonzo Ball Pg UCLA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit:https://www.bostonglobe.com)

Everyone is talking about LaVar Ball’s opinions rather than the play of Lonzo Ball. Ball can ball. It is as simple as that.

His father may be onto something when talking about how good his son can be. However, talking so openly may hurt his son’s draft stock.

Sticking strictly to Lonzo and his basketball ability, it is clear that he is a top prospect. Ball is a great passer with a high basketball I.Q. In the NBA Ball will be a floor general capable of running the team from the court.

Many scouts compare him to Jason Kidd, which is a pretty accurate comparison. Having a Kidd-like career would be an amazing accomplishment for anybody. Orlando needs a franchise player and that is exactly what Lonzo Ball will be.

5: Philadelphia 76ers: Malik Monk Sg Kentucky

Trusting the process hit yet another bump in the road this season. Joel Embiid suffered another injury after appearing in just 31 games. If that wasn’t enough, last year’s first overall pick, Ben Simmons, will not make his debut this year either. The 76ers still believe those pieces will result in playoff appearances and maybe even titles.

Interestingly enough, reports came out that Philadelphia brass believes Simmons will be the point guard. That is why they will use this top-five pick on Malik Monk.

Monk has proven to be a flat-out scoring machine and that will translate to the NBA. Drafting Monk will allow the Sixers to develop Simmons as their point guard while putting a scorer in the backcourt beside him.

Creating a powerful backcourt could be the key to a deep postseason run. They already have a great frontcourt player in Embiid.

6: New York Knicks: Dennis Smith Pg N.C. State

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: William Howard/Icon Sportswire)

The Knicks need a young explosive point guard who will grow alongside Kristaps Porzingis. Carmelo Anthony is on the back half of his career and will most likely be out of the picture soon. Derrick Rose has been very respectable in New York, but he is not the same player that won the league MVP.

Dennis Smith is a top-five talent who will fall a bit due to some of the other needs teams have. Not all are looking for a point guard.

The Knicks would get a Russell Westbrook type of player by drafting Smith. He can score, pass and rebound with the best of them in college. He also has insane athleticism that allows him to posterize defenders.

Smith would be a great pick here if the Knicks want to take steps towards becoming a playoff team.

7: Sacramento Kings: Jonathan Issac PF Florida State

The Kings need to start from scratch. Buddy Hield seems to be the guy that Sacramento will build this team around. It looks like Willie Cauley-Stein will be the man up front with DeMarcus Cousins now out of the picture.

Jonathan Issac would be a great fit with this team. Issac is a great rebounder and can run the floor well for a big man. He also shoots well from all areas of the floor. He could play at small forward or power forward in today’s NBA style. The Kings would find a great player with lots of potential.

8: Sacramento Kings (Via Pelicans): De’Aaron Fox PG Kentucky

The Kings can afford to be risky with one of their two top-10 picks. Buddy Hield will need a backcourt partner in crime, and Fox could fit that mold.

Fox is unique because he is left handed. It is sometimes hard to defend left-handed players because defenders are used to right handed defenders. He is also extremely quick and defenders may have trouble keeping up with him.

Fox will need to work on shooting with more consistency. With Hield alongside him, all Fox needs to do is run the offense.

9: Dallas Mavericks: Lauri Markkanen PF Arizona

2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: http://www.wildcat.arizona.edu)

Dallas got their center when they traded for Nerlens Noel. The guard positions seem to be held down as well with the emergence of Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry. That makes Lauri Markkanen a perfect option for the Mavericks.

Dirk Nowitzki will be going into his final season and the Mavericks need to find his future replacement. Markkanen is a 7-foot stretch big who will be able to shoot the three in the NBA. He has all the intangibles to replace the greatest European player in NBA history.

Drafting Markkanen will allow him to develop in his first season before Dirk rides off into the sunset.

10: Minnesota Timberwolves: Harry Giles PF Duke

The Minnesota Timberwolves are right on the cusp of becoming a great NBA team. Karl Anthony-Towns and Andrew Wiggins are continuing to grow and will be one of the most dangerous duos in the NBA in the coming years. They have already begun to show signs of it. Point guard is not an issue as they have Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn. Picking Giles would be a shock here at number 10, but could be a huge steal.

Giles was considered the best player coming out of high school and was projected to be the number one overall pick before he began having injury problems. We have not seen what Giles is fully capable of, but his potential is through the roof. He is an athletic finisher who can be molded into a great defender under Tom Thibodeau.

This pick could be a bust, but it will more likely create a young core in Minnesota capable of winning championships.

11: Charlotte Hornets: Miles Bridges SF Michigan St.

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

The Hornets need a solid wing player and Miles Bridges would be a good fit.

Bridges is a dunking machine and plays with an extremely high motor. One of Bridges’ weaknesses is that he has no true position. Shooting guard, small forward and power forward are all in play for Bridges. Charlotte would likely play him at small forward.

Bridges has also shown consistent improvement in his shooting since high school.

12: Portland Trailblazers: Robert Williams PF Texas A&M

Robert Williams can jump out of this world. He can put anyone on a poster and loves to do so. There are countless highlights of him dunking on opponents.

Williams has a 7-foot-5 wingspan, and he knows how to use it. That wingspan allows him to excel as a rebounder and shot blocker.

One thing going against Williams is that he is raw as a big man. He lacks consistency like many raw prospects. The better competition gave him trouble, but with development from NBA coaches, he can turn into a solid NBA starter.

13: Miami Heat: Isaiah Hartenstein PF Germany

The Heat have been amazing in the second half of this season. Hassan Whiteside is a franchise centerpiece at center. Their guard play has been tremendous, and Justise Winslow is really coming into his own. That leaves the power forward position as their biggest need. The Heat need a power forward that can stretch the floor since Whiteside is the inside presence.

Isaiah Hartenstein would be a great fit in Miami. He is a versatile left-handed player who can not only score inside, but outside as well. Hartenstein is a great passing big man with a high basketball I.Q.

The downside with Hartenstein is his immaturity and lack of experience against tough competition. However, his potential makes him a lottery pick.

14: Chicago Bulls: Frank Ntilikina Pg France

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: https://hardwoodhoudini.com

One thing is clear in the NBA: teams need a franchise point guard. The Bulls do not have a franchise point guard on their roster and will be looking for one in this year’s draft. Drafting at the end of the lottery does not leave them with many options, but it will allow them to take Frank Ntilikina out of France.

Ntilikina has excellent size for a point guard. He is listed at 6-foot-5, 190 pounds. Ntilikina is a pass-first point guard with a high I.Q. He has developed a mid-range game and excellent floater, but is a really inconsistent shooter. Ntilikina also has great lateral quickness that makes him an elite defender.

All the skills are there for Ntilikina to become the franchise point guard the Bulls desperately need.

15: Denver Nuggets: John Collins Pf Wake Forest

Denver has a lot of young talent, and Collins is a bit of a project. If the Nuggets take a year or two to develop Collins, then he can become a valuable asset.

16: Milwaukee Bucks: Justin Patton C Creighton

There have been a lot of problems with Greg Monroe in Milwaukee. The Bucks have found a star in Giannis Antetokounmpo and need a big man inside to feed off of him. Justin Patton from Creighton can be that guy.

17: Detroit Pistons: Ivan Rabb C Cal

There have been swirling rumors that Andre Drummond was going to be traded just before the deadline. That still may happen in the offseason, and the Pistons need to prepare for that. Ivan Rabb would be a great fit with Stan Van Gundy.

18: Indiana Pacers: Luke Kennard SG Duke

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Kennard has been unbelievable in the second half of the season for Duke. Paul George is rumored to be on his way out of Indiana via trade or free agency in two years. Kennard may not become a franchise player, but will come into the NBA as a scoring machine.

19: Atlanta hawks: TJ Leaf PF UCLA

Drafting a power forward may not make sense with Paul Millsap around, but TJ Leaf is a bit of a project. Millsap will want to be on a contending team as his career unwinds. Everyone knows the Hawks are not winning a championship. Drafting Leaf now gives him time to develop until Millsap leaves.

20: Portland Trailblazers (Via Memphis): Justin Jackson SF North Carolina

Justin Jackson would be a great fit in Portland alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The two guards can focus on the scoring and Jackson can be the team’s wing defender. Jackson is capable of guarding multiple positions and would be a solid pick by the Trailblazers.

21: Oklahoma City: DILLON BROOKS SF OREGON

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: Scott Olmos-USA TODAY Sports)

It is clear that Russell Westbrook needs help. He is an animal but can’t do it on his own. Dillon Brooks is one of the most underrated players in all of college basketball. Brooks is capable of being the second option to Westbrook and a true sidekick that Westbrook desperately needs.

22: TORONTO RAPTORS: DWAYNE BACON SF FLORIDA STATE

Toronto has one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Bacon can come in and be a solid rotation player allowing the Raptors to deepen their bench as they continue to chase a championship.

23: ORLANDO MAGIC (VIA LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS): TYLER LYDON PF SYRACUSE

Orlando is a tough team to gauge and need a lot. Lydon would be a head-scratching pick, but something they would do. Lydon won’t become an All-Star but will be a solid rotation player in the NBA.

24: Brooklyn Nets (via Washington): JOSH HART SG VILLANOVA

2017 NBA Mock Draft

(Photo Credit: AP)

Brooklyn needs anything and everything and is nowhere close to being a good NBA team. Josh Hart could bring a culture change to the franchise. He is a leader and a winner and the Nets could use some of that in their locker room.

25: BROOKLYN NETS (VIA BOSTON): BAM ADEBAYO PF KENTUCKY

Adding Bam Adebayo to pair up with Hart could be the start of turning things around. They won’t win many games, but the rebuild has to start somewhere. Adebayo is a solid prospect with lots of potential.

26: UTAH JAZZ: CALEB SWANIGAN PF PURDUE

The Jazz are in as good of a position as the Celtics. They will finish as the fourth or fifth seed in the tough Western Conference and have two first-round draft picks. Swanigan can come right into the NBA and contribute off the bench.

27: PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS (VIA CLEVELAND): RODIONS KURUCS SF LATVIA

Kurucs is a project and Portland can afford to draft a developmental player this late in the first round. Kurucs is versatile and can be a valuable scoring option in the NBA.

28: LOS ANGELES LAKERS (VIA HOUSTON): DONOVAN MITCHELL SG LOUISVILLE

2017 NBA Draft

(Photo Credit: By Pat McDonogh, The CJ)

The Lakers have youth on their side and drafting Mitchell will allow them to continue to build assets as trading blocks so that they can get superstars back in Hollywood. Mitchell is a solid shooting guard who can be a solid sixth man in the NBA.

29: UTAH JAZZ (VIA GOLDEN STATE): JOHNATHAN MOTLEY PF BAYLOR

Utah needs some frontcourt athleticism. Derrick Favors has only had one really productive season and looks to be on the decline. Motley’s offensive I.Q. makes him a perfect fit in Utah to be a solid role player on a solid playoff team.

30: SAN ANTONIO SPURS: THOMAS BRYANT C INDIANA

The Spurs are like the Patriots. They know what they are doing and you don’t question them. LaMarcus Aldridge’s future is in jeopardy due to health concerns. With Kawhi Leonard being a two-way star, the Spurs need a big man who can protect the paint.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Let’s Talk About Duke Basketball

Duke Basketball has had its fair share of trials and tribulations this season. Their team is not operating as it has in the past. A lot of people have lost respect for certain players and Mike Krzyzewski’s coaching style. The media have grabbed onto everything that has to do with Duke Blue Devil basketball.

How have the media and other outside forces limited Coach K’s ability to coach? Also, what will the tournament look like for Duke?

Krzyzweski said it himself:

“Teamwork is the beauty of our sport, where you have five acting as one. You become selfless.”

Clearly he has not seen five acting as one. If you haven’t heard, Krzyzewski recently forbid his players from wearing Duke basketball gear and from going into their locker room. It’s not the first time he has done this.

Duke basketball has been a dynasty of sorts for a long time now. The rivalry between the Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels has historical significance. Their program recruits top-performing players every single year. The Blue Devils are a well-respected team, but this season has done a lot to tamper with their reputation.

A large part of their tattered reputation is none other than Mr. Grayson Allen. Allen is one of the most scrappy shooting guards out there. He also is one of the dirtiest. His multiple tripping incidents and suspension hurt the team in more ways than most people could’ve predicted.

It hurt the team’s ability to work as a well-oiled machine. Duke is just trying to scrape by in the Atlantic Coast Conference instead of leading it like in years past.

is the media to blame?

With all of the discussion about Krzyzewski and Allen, how can one not turn to the media? Duke is just one example of how the media is ruining college basketball. I am not one to condemn the sports networks because I love listening to Dick Vitale hand out his “diaper dandies” and Jay Bilas give insight. However, these players are under an immense amount of pressure to perform. The constant spotlight is limiting the coach’s ability to coach.

Coach Krzyzewski is quoted saying:

“That’s what I do now: I lead and I teach. If we win basketball games from doing that, then that’s great, but I lead and teach.”

I recall something that my mom always told me growing up: “There is always more to the story and you have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”

It is very obvious advice, but there is a lot of truth to it. As college basketball fans, we really don’t know the whole story. Analysts like Seth Greenberg find Coach Krzyzewski’s ban on players “comical.” Many other analysts don’t agree with it or see the benefit.

Let me ask you to put yourself in Coach Krzyzewski’s shoes. Your team has players acting up and is losing to teams that they shouldn’t be losing to. He is doing is best to lead and teach. In his eyes, it is more than the losses.

Coach Krzyzewski only has a small frame of time to influence his players and he is trying to correct their actions as human beings and not just basketball players. The media tend to make these issues public and much larger than they need to be. Instead of these guys being basketball players, they become celebrities.

it is also about the young men

I am well aware that college basketball is a business. The ACC alone took in $403.1 million of overall revenue last year. In 2011, the NCAA also signed a four-year television and internet contract with CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting for March Madness for $10.8 billion.

Money is the name of the game to the outsider. As a college basketball player and fan, the importance and love of the sport will always prevail. Duke men’s basketball is a team of young guys that suit up to play in large arenas. Coach Krzyzewski is also trying to mold them into men.

For some of the guys, there is very little time. They will leave to go to professional teams and make a career from their talents. I believe that Coach Krzyzewski is still focused on what he proclaimed. He is focused on developing these guys into men that will be able to handle the NBA and life as an adult.

The truth is that a handful of these players will not be wearing the Duke jersey in a couple months. They will be moving on to the NBA. These players have a limited amount of time in the college basketball sphere. Especially those players that are apart of historically respected dynasties like Duke. In this short amount of time, it is the coach’s job to influence them on an off the court.

Looking forward for duke basketball

Despite all of the controversy, the tournament is taking place in March regardless. Luke Kennard has been the glue for the team this year. Typically the freshmen are the star of the show and lack the leadership that a major ball club requires. Kennard is defiling this stereotype and ultimately leading the Blue Devils as the youngest member of the team.

This season has been a rocky road, but the team itself has many great components. Kennard put on a performance in the second half against Virginia over the weekend. He created 75 percent of the Blue Devils’ offense and put up 30 of his 34 points in the second half. He also shot 10 for 10 from the field. Not to mention the three-pointer he made with 6.6 seconds left to win the game.

Kennard isn’t the only positive force for the Blue Devils. Grayson Allen might have moralistic issues, but he still leads the team in assists with 3.9 per game. Amile Jefferson is shooting 61 percent from the field and pulls down 9.3 rebounds on average. Jayson Tatum is contributing 16.1 points per game as well.

Duke might not have a true point guard, but they have the talent to go far. It’s just a question if Coach Krzyzewski can get them to work together and not take the name on the front of their jersey for granted.

Duke is ranked ninth in the ACC and 21st in the country. They also haven’t lost by great margins, besides the Florida State game. Duke was in that game until halfway through the second half when Xavier Rathan-Mayes went off for 18 out of his 21 points in the second half. The Blue Devils lost to NC State by two points, Kansas by two points, and Louisville by nine. Last night they beat Notre Dame to improve their overall resume and they can still make a great tournament run.

Nonetheless, Coach Krzyzewski needs to be left to his team. It isn’t a matter of his correctness in disciplining the team and his players. It is a matter of if his coaching techniques and teaching is actually working. These guys need to be influenced and motivated outside of the media in order to play the game effectively.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

A Blue Christmas: College Basketball is Being Dominated by Teams in Blue

We all know how the lyrics to Elvis Presley’s Blue Christmas go: “I’ll have a Blue Christmas without you, I’ll be so blue thinking about you.” After watching a thriller this weekend between two of the top blue teams in the nation, how could one not be thinking about the game between North Carolina and Kentucky? If we are discussing true blue, Duke is definitely in the conversation as well, and let us not forget about Villanova, the #1 team in the nation.

Kentucky Wildcats

Malik Monk takes on Kenny Williams III (review journal.com

Malik Monk takes on Kenny Williams III (review journal.com

Let’s start with the Kentucky Wildcats. There is one name we all need to be concerned with: Malik Monk. If you have not heard, he put up 47 points for the Wildcats with a 64% field goal percentage on the night. He made his final three-pointer to win the game against Coach Calipari’s wishes, who wanted Monk to drive on the last play. He shot it anyway, and Kentucky came away with the win. How is that for some freshman guts?

However, Monk is not the only talent that deserves recognition. De’Aaron Fox added 24 points on Saturday and he is averaging 15.9 PPG on the season. Isaiah Briscoe also added 10 points and Edrice Adebayo contributed 13 points before fouling out.

Kentucky is 10-1 on the season and still has a lot to prove. This is only their second win against a ranked team this year. They beat #13 Michigan State (who is no longer ranked) early on in November and lost to UCLA by 5 points who is led by standout Freshman Lonzo Ball. This is a key win on their resume as they head into conference play in January.

On Wednesday, the Wildcats will take on Louisville which will be another test of their abilities. Kentucky has won the last three in the series against the Cardinals, but the great part about basketball is that anyone can be beaten on any given day.

North Carolina Tar heels

North Carolina's Joel Berry II (goblueridge.net)

North Carolina’s Joel Berry II (goblueridge.net)

Now for the North Carolina Tar Heels, who were equally as impressive, but came up short. Joel Berry II was one point shy of a career high with 23 points. Josh Jackson put up a staggering 34 points and Kennedy Meeks also added 12 points. UNC played a great game, despite the outcome.

The name of the game was free throws and foul trouble. Berry and Meeks fouled out, and the Tar Heels missed seven free throws overall, which would have been the game right there. This is not a large worry for the Tar Heels though. Joel Berry II is just coming back from an ankle injury and they still had good production from their bench (Tony Bradley and Luke Maye added a combined 19 points).

Kentucky’s bench only had five points to add. It also could have been a very different outcome if Kenny Williams’ last second three-pointer hadn’t missed the mark.

This game was March Madness material, so one can only wonder what March will bring and if Malik Monk will be able to create similar performances in the games to come. Joel Berry II will hopefully continue to impress and Josh Jackson has been nothing short of thrilling. I know I will be counting down the days until February 9th when the Tar Heels take on Duke, another top team in blue.

Duke Blue Devils

Our third team up for discussion, the Duke Blue Devils, are 10-1 and the ACC is not going to be a walk in the park this year. Duke will have to take on Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame and of course North Carolina before they can talk about dancing on the big stage come March. Luckily, the combination of Luke Kennard, Grayson Allen and Amile Jefferson has been sufficient to top Michigan State, Florida and Rhode Island early on. They also have Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Matt Jones who are making an impact, and are some names to definitely keep in mind.

I am reminded that the color blue often symbolizes depth and stability. The Blue Devils embody these characteristics and Coach Mike Krzyzewski brings in some of top recruiting classes each year. The point is, Duke is consistently above average and sports fans can look for that to continue this season as well. They are firing on all cylinders and they have depth that should logistically carry them far into the NCAA tournament.

Villanova Wildcats

Josh Hart of Villanova (fox sports.com)

Josh Hart of Villanova (fox sports.com)

This article would not be complete without mentioning the top-ranked team in the nation, Villanova. They sit at 11-0 and one man is doing most of the dirty work. They are led by Senior, Josh Hart who is averaging 20.1 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 3.7 APG while shooting 45.3% from behind the arc. Hart is aided by senior Kris Jenkins who is averaging 13.4 PPG and sophomores Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are contributing good numbers as well.

Recall Jenkins is the player who hit the game winning shot against UNC last year to win the National Championship game. Needless to say, these Wildcats have talent and the experience. They also have key wins over Temple and Notre Dame that will only add to their resume when discussing bracketology.

As we approach Christmas, these teams in blue have gotten our attention and will continue to be all the talk leading up to March. It would be a very “blue” Christmas without these teams putting on the performance that they have in preseason matches.

And with that, Merry Christmas to all my fellow college basketball fans, and happy holidays!

 

 

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2016 Champions Classic: A Tale of Two Games

There were two completely different narratives for our top two teams in the nation on Tuesday. One team showed its prowess and already looks ready to compete at late-season form.  The other battered, bruised and war torn team showed some gutsy revival skills, but ultimately fell short.  What did we learn through the progression of these two games that we can take into the context of the whole season?

#2 Kentucky 69, #13 Michigan State 48

The Wildcats moved to 3-0, while Michigan State fell to 0-2 on the season with their first loss coming against Arizona on a last second shot in Hawaii.  The Spartans traveled a lot of miles this weekend to arrive at Madison Square Garden for the clash of titans and were slightly gassed.

The game went through a very frenetic pace through the first few minutes. There were a lot of looks in transition and fast break plays. The overall snapshot of the game really comes from when it was tied at 12 with 14:17 to go in the first half. That was the last tie of the game.

Malik Monk then hit his first of several threes. Monk shot with precision, hitting seven of 11 looks from behind the arc and finishing with 23 points. He hit four in the first half that helped the Wildcats establish and keep the lead. Bam Adebayo, one of the players to watch in this game, was also huge in helping the Cats control the glass and thus the game as a whole.

Wenyen Gabriel (left) with one of Kentucky's eight blocks. (Photo courtesy of kentucky.com)

Wenyen Gabriel (left) with one of Kentucky’s eight blocks. (Photo courtesy of kentucky.com)

The real story of this lead, however, was the suffocating defense of Kentucky. Kentucky showed amazing quickness on defense no matter the personnel on the floor. The Wildcats were beat a few times, but recovered very well. Their quickness will make them able to run with the best on defense. As a team, they had eight steals and forced 20 turnovers. They also had eight blocks. Some of these came in a one on one setting. Others came from players coming over to help. They utilized several defensive strategies including double teams and switches. This was definitely the biggest take-away for this team as it is the reason for the huge scoring gap.

The first half did end with the Spartans making up some ground. Tom Izzo’s team went on a 9-2 run and the lead was cut to four. However the half ended with momentum sputtering. Kentucky’s Isaiah Briscoe hit a last second layup in traffic for two of his 21. This late half inbound play was indicative of how the whole game had gone and would go.

The second half was full of more of the same which led to the anti-climactic ending. Michigan State really never put any pressure on Kentucky in the second chapter. This game was completely different from the other Champions Classic match-up.

One bright spot that Spartan fans can take away is Cassius Winston. He had only 2 assists in the game, but passed the ball effectively. There were several times where he found open players that were unable to convert. Also, Mile Bridges quietly had 12 rebounds. He had an underwhelming performance with nine turnovers and only six points, but it was his athleticism that scouts will be drooling over. He had a missed dunk in the game that he skied to the rim for. Bridges had a very freshman night but does not have freshman athleticism. Even thought the Spartans are 0-2 there is plenty to be hopeful about after a bit of roster overhaul.

Kentucky can take away from this game that they are the team to beat. Isaiah Briscoe improved his shooting tremendously. Through three games he is shooting 54.8% from the field and 75% from the charity stripe. He finished 2015-16 at a 46% clip from the free throw line. Even though it is early, this is great for the Wildcat offense. Still, it is the defense that should be the thing exciting fans.

#7 Kansas 77, #1 Duke 75

Duke came into the game leading the AP poll in votes, but were without their top three recruits from the 2016 class (Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum and Marques Bolden). Despite that they still expected to compete and win this contest. Kansas brought top player and freak athlete Josh Jackson to showcase his talent at the Champions Classic, and did he ever.

Grayson Allen (3) had a strange landing and left the game before returning to start the second half (photo courtesy of newsday.com)

Grayson Allen (3) had a strange landing and left the game before returning to start the second half (photo courtesy of newsday.com)

The game started with a weak offensive showing from Kansas.  They made only three of their first 11 field goals. After Duke took advantage of this and gained an early lead, Kansas went on a 10-1 run despite the heavy amount of fouling early in the game. Momentum shifted in Kansas’ direction especially after a scary landing that sent Duke guard Grayson Allen to the locker room for evaluation. Already having a quiet night, this did not do him nor Duke any favors.

The second half opened with more of the same for Kansas. Josh Jackson showed both the ability to get to the rim as well as shoot from mid range during a 19-6 run for the Jayhawks.  The game was noticeably in the control of Bill Self’s squad as Jackson scored seven straight points for his team.

Grayson Allen remained noticeably quiet during this time as he was during the whole game.  It was an off night for him only hitting on one of his seven attempts from deep, four of 15 overall. The tide began to turn as foul trouble set in late in the game. There were 48 total team fouls in this game and one very important one came in the first half when Josh Jackson was given a technical for slapping the ball out of Amile Jefferson’s hands. That cost Jackson a personal foul and was a big reason why he was disqualified from the game with 5:08 remaining. Kasnas was up 65-55 at the time but Duke had one last run in them.  They could have used his athleticism on both ends of the floor during the end of the game. Despite that Jackson still finished the game with 15 points.

Frank Mason III rises up to hit the eventual game winning shot. (Photo courtesy of kansascity.com)

Frank Mason III rises up to hit the eventual game winning shot. (Photo courtesy of kansascity.com)

Duke’s Luke Kennard and Frank Jackson each hit key shots down the stretch to bring Duke back within reach and eventually tie the game at 75 with under 20 seconds to go. Frank Mason III gave the blue Devils nightmares in the second half scoring 17 of his 21 in this second chapter. The 17 points after the break included yet another basket plus a foul, converting through contact which is something that he has shown a knack for so far this year. He has also been the unquestionable team leader, even in the loss to Indiana this past weekend. He had one final trick up his sleeve, hitting a pull up jumper to break the tie over Matt Jones with 1.8 seconds to go.  The Blue Devils had no timeouts left and a half-court heave fell short.

Both teams have plenty to take away from this game: Kansas found out that Frank Mason III is their go-to late-game guy. They got to see that Josh Jackson’s athletic ability sets him apart from the rest of the competition. They also got to see the type of domination they as a team can bring, especially with Udoka Azibuke in the game who grabbed 12 rebounds in just 15 minutes on the floor. The Jayhawks do need to improve from deep range and at the charity stripe. They hit only two of their 17 looks from downtown. the Jayhawks were 9/19 from the free throw line.

Duke saw what they have aside from Grayson Allen and their top recruits. Frank Jackson showed excellent poise late in the game and hit a huge three for the Blue Devils. Second year players Luke Kennard and Chase Jeter each displayed the progressions that they have made. Kennard made his own plays to put up 22 points as well as drove to open up the floor for others, nabbing five assists with five boards to boot. Jeter had quite a few hustle plays and finished with three blocks. The Blue Devils were drastically outplayed on the offensive boards 14-6. This will undoubtedly be a point of emphasis as second chance points and resets aided the Kansas offense in controlling the game.

Defensively each team has plenty of time and reason to improve.  Both teams switched to zone from time to time to shake things up. Each team had the athletes to shake the man-to-man defense from time to time. Dribble penetration was effective for both teams in creating open looks as defenders over-committed to help. Kansas was the winner on this level from a statistical base.  They forced 16 turnovers from Duke and controlled the glass.

 

ACC Basketball Preview 2016-17: Old And New Collide

The ACC will be the most power-packed conference in college basketball in 2016-17. There are even analysts saying that the conference could send 10 teams to the NCAA tournament next March. With that much confidence in the teams’ abilities to dominate the national scene, let’s take a look at how the conference itself will shake out.

Regular Season Champion: Duke Blue Devils

This should not be a surprise to anyone, especially after ACC media day. The Blue Devils are a hot pick to be in Phoenix during the Final Four festivities, let alone win the conference. There is good reason for this speculation, though. The Blue Devils have a lot to like about their roster.

Returning is a multi-faceted scoring weapon in Grayson Allen. Allen averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game.  His coming out party was the 2015 National Championship against Wisconsin when he essentially led the Blue Devils to the title with a spectacular second half performance.  He spent most of the year overshadowed by three current NBA players: Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones.

Harry Giles injury status is key to the Blue Devils outlook. (Photo courtesy of foxsports.com)

Harry Giles injury status is key to the Blue Devils outlook. (Photo courtesy of foxsports.com)

Unfortunately for him, but fortunately for Duke, this year may bring more of the same.  Duke’s class includes several possible first round draft picks in Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and the top recruit of the class Harry Giles. The only negative is the injury history for Giles and Tatum.  Each have shared their own knee problems and much of the same happened this offseason.  Giles will be out five to seven weeks after the beginning of the season. Tatum recently had a foot injury but should be ready to go around tip off.

Additional key returnees are Amile Jefferson and Matt Jones. Matt Jones provides key defensive minutes for the Blue Devils but last year he added 10.4 points per game. With a deep offensive team he will return to his previous role as a defensive and three point specialist. Jefferson averaged 11.4 points and 10.3 rebounds through nine games before being sidelined for the year. The team ended up in the Sweet 16 despite the loss of Jefferson.  The only key loss from the team is Lakers draft pick Brandon Ingram. The 2016-17 Blue Devils are nothing to be messed with and will win the conference as a start to what they should accomplish.

Other teams to watch: North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville, North Carolina State

 

Coach of the Year: Mark Gottfried

ACC coach checklist: Hall of fame coach Jim Boeheim? Nope. Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams? Negative. Possible national champion Mike Krzyzewski. Not him either.  It will be one Mark Gottfried of the below .500 North Carolina State Wolfpack in 2015-16.  Gottfried turned in a historic recruiting class for the Pack. five star point guard Dennis Smith is projected to be one of the best players in the conference despite the overwhelming amount of talent.

Mark Gottfried gathered one of the best recruiting classes in NC State history in 2016. (Photo courtesy of al.com)

Mark Gottfried gathered one of the best recruiting classes in NC State history in 2016. (Photo courtesy of al.com)

Additionally the Wolfpack add five star Turkish recruit Omer Yurtseven. The seven foot center possesses soft hands and touch to go along with his length and athleticism.  Perhaps the next Kristaps Porzingis? Even if he turns out to be another misfire in the European obsession and is not one of the best players nationally he is sure to provide length that the pack have lacked. Between big men returnees Beejay Anya and Abdul-Malik Abu in conjunction with Yurtseven there should be enough size to dominate other teams. As a note Yurtseven comes from the same team as Enes Kanter, who was ruled ineligible. However, like other European players he will likely miss a few games and then be ready to go.

What NC State will miss is the play-making of Anthony “Cat” Barber who decided to forgo the remainder of his college career for a shot at the pros. Dennis Smith should make up for this. As point guard, Smith will have the ball in his hands to begin most possessions.  This is good because most of his talent exudes when he has the ball. Smith will have plenty of one on one opportunities with the other players on the floor, both in the front court and back court. Smith has great shot creation with the ball but will need to work on movement throughout the offense off the ball.

Gottfried will face a challenge with this much roster overhaul. The Pack missed the tournament for the first time since he stepped on campus in 2011. With this much talent there is no way it is not the first 25-win season for him in Raleigh. That big of a turnaround leads him to be the ACC Coach of the year.

Other coaches to watch: Leonard Hamilton, Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams

Player of the year: Jonathan Isaac

The ACC is packed with players that could exceed just winning the conference award and win National Honors. There is a laundry list of players: Grayson Allen is a lethal scorer who is back, Jaron Blossomgame decided to come back for a senior campaign, and a plethora of new faces enter the fray.

With all of the talent available to choose from what makes a player stand out most is the situation that they are in.  There is no denying that several players possess the talent or capability to win but not all are in the ideal situation to do so. Some could end up buried amongst the talent on their own team. Grayson Allen’s talent did not show until his predecessors gave him the space to do so.  If there is not enough talent around a player then all of the defensive efforts can be concentrated on them. This neutralizes their effectiveness. Five star Florida State recruit Jonathan Isaac finds himself in a happy medium of these two extremes and possesses the raw athletic talent to complete the task.

Jonathan Isaac's frame could use some work but his handling skill is excellent for his size. (Photo courtesy of sbnation.com)

Jonathan Isaac’s frame could use some work but his handling skill is excellent for his size. (Photo courtesy of sbnation.com)

To begin with the player, Isaac is a long, athletic wing with great shooting ability. Isaac can handle the ball well for his size, not unlike Kevin Durant. Most of what he does happens with the ball in his hands whether it is shooting off the dribble or using his ball handling to get around less agile defenders. Isaac lacks strength and does not defend well as of yet. However, his athleticism should help him grow into that role.

Wait, is this a broken record? Did we not see this last year with Brandon Ingram? The difference here is that Ingram had to be one of his team’s leading scorers. Grayson Allen cannot score 40 plus points per game and there was not another scorer on the team far enough in their development to make a difference. Luke Kennard just was not ready to be that yet. That left Ingram in a high pressure situation and catapulted him to a team lead situation. Isaac will not be in the same situation.

He will have experienced help in Xavier Rathan-Mayes and Dwayne Bacon. Bacon surprised many with his return to the Seminoles. The team’s leading scorer at 15.8 points per game was expected by many to follow Malik Beasley in a jump to the NBA. Electing not to do so, Bacon’s abilities will attract attention and clear space for Isaac as well as preventing him from drawing double teams.  Rathan-Mayes provides the ability to dish Isaac the ball after leading the team with 4.4 assists per game. There is enough talent to help Isaac grow but not too much to bury him on the roster.

Other players to watch: Grayson Allen, Jaron Blossomgame, London Perrantes

 

Early College Basketball Top Five for 2016-2017

The college basketball season was very competitive and had a lot of drama that lasted through the championship game. Now the wait is on. Seven months without college basketball. It is never too early to start talking about next season. Here are my top five teams for next season:

Grayson Allen will try to lead Duke to another championship next season. Photo courtesy espn.go.com.

  1. Duke Blue Devils- Duke lose Brandon Ingram and Marshall Plumlee, but returns every other key player. Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Luke Kennard can light it up from the floor. Amile Jefferson will be back for another year and fill the role of glue guy in the post for the Blue Devils. Chase Jeter and Derryck Thornton will be expected to make huge strides this off-season. In addition to all these players coming back for Duke, they will also have three top recruits that will help them next season. Harry Giles and Jayson Tatum are the top two recruits in the country and should be solid forwards for Duke. Frank Jackson is a shooting guard who should be able to provide the Blue Devils with depth in his first year.

    Isaiah Briscoe will need to improve his shooting before next season. Photo courtesy kentucky.com.

  2. Kentucky Wildcats- Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray, Skal Labissiere and Alex Poythress are all gone for the Wildcats, but everyone else should return to school for another year. Guard Isaiah Briscoe will bring defense, toughness and driving ability to the team next season. Dominique Hawkins will also be a defensive force at the guard position for the Wildcats. Charles Matthews is the only true wing returning and should be much improved next season. There will be a lot of big guys on Kentucky next season and hopefully a few of them can step up. Derek Willis will be back to stretch the defenses with his three point shooting. Marcus Lee needs to add a post move or two this off-season, but will be an athletic big at the very least next season. The Wildcats will have two physical big guys in Isaac Humphries and Tai Waynard. In addition to these role players the Wildcats also have the number one recruiting class in the country. De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk will see a lot of playing time with the loss of Ulis and Murray and are more than capable of being successful. Bam Adebayo is a power forward who is the most physically ready for college basketball out of the entire recruiting class.

    If Trevon Bluiett goes back to school, the Musketeers will be tough to beat. Photo courtesy usatoday.com.

  3. Xavier Musketeers- Only two players should be leaving the Musketeers this off-season. James Farr and Remy Abell are both graduating. These are two important players, but Xavier will be fine without them. Jalen Reynolds and Trevone Bluiett have their names in the draft, but will probably elect to come back to school. Bluiett is a star, who can take over a game with his offensive game. Reynolds is a physical force on the inside, but needs to keep his head in the game in order to be great. Myles Davis and J.P. Macura will provide great outside shooting. At point guard Ed Sumner will create match-up troubles with his size and driving ability. Sean O’Mara will have to step up and play well behind Reynolds. The Musketeers were very deep last season and should be again next season, if players like Kaiser Gates, Larry Austin and Makinde London can all take a step forward.

    Bronson Koenig was clutch last year for the Badgers and should see continued success next season. Photo courtesy stack.com.

  4. Wisconsin Badgers- The Badgers literally lose no key players from their team heading into next season. The problem is, as of now, they aren’t bringing any in either. Wisconsin had a rough start to the season with a lot of distractions of Bo Ryan retiring, but once Greg Gard got the team they settled in and made it to the Sweet 16. Bronson Koenig is one of the more underrated point guards in college basketball and should be a great floor general yet again. On the wing Nigel Hayes has turned into a good all-around player. The most important player for this ranking is Ethan Happ, who really came on late in the season for the Badgers and provided a good inside presence.

    Dillon Brooks returns and will lead the Ducks to another great season. Photo courtesy usatoday.com.

  5. Oregon Ducks- Dwayne Benjamin and Elgin Cook are graduating, but two other seniors should get another year of eligibility. Chris Boucher, their best big man, got a waiver from the NCAA for an extra season. Dylan Ennis is also applying for an extra year of eligibility after only playing 21 minutes this season due to injury. Those two guys are good, but the main reason Oregon is on this list is that they return Dillon Brooks and Tyler Dorsey, both of whom are stars for an Oregon team that received a one seed this season.

Stay tuned for the rest of the top 25!