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 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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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.