Help is on the way for the SEC 

January, 28, 2015
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The SEC had a blockbuster recruiting year and it wasn’t just Kentucky and Florida. The Wildcats currently hold the No. 1 spot in our class rankings but eight SEC classes made our top 40. The talent is spread out as 19 top-100 prospects will be entering the SEC next year.

We've already touched on the loaded ACC. Let’s take a look at where the SEC's help will be coming from next season.

Most impactful class: LSU

Although Texas A&M's group will push the Aggies up in the standings, LSU's class (ranked No. 6) has two top-15 prospects who will make the biggest impact. Having Ben Simmons (No. 1) and Antonio Blakeney (No. 14) arrive in Baton Rouge together will bring offense and scoring options to a roster that should be primed to challenge Kentucky for the top spot in the SEC. Simmons will be impactful from Day 1 as he brings tremendous versatility and advanced basketball instincts along with high-level athleticism. Blakeney gets buckets. Whether it’s a set play or a broken play, he can produce points with his jumper, with a drive, by creating fouls or with fast-break points. Blakeney not only brings offense, he brings offensive confidence, which is a must as you jump to the next level. Coach Johnny Jones has no departing senior starters and also has transfer Craig Victor (Arizona) ready to play in December. Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey's NBA draft status is a question worth asking. If they return, Simmons and Blakeney won’t have any direct pressure on them, and Jones will have a deep and talented roster.

The disparaging comments started early this season -- like first-night-of-the-season early.

That’s when Missouri lost at home to UMKC and Ole Miss fell in overtime against Charleston Southern. After back-to-back seasons of only three NCAA tournament bids for the SEC, most thought it would be more of the same this campaign.

[+] EnlargeBen Simmons
Courtesy Steven RyanLSU landing No. 1 prospect Ben Simmons is huge not just for the Tigers but for the SEC as a whole.
Not much has changed since, with only four SEC teams in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology -- including two teams (LSU and Georgia) among the “Last Four Byes.” If that holds, it means the SEC will have received 14 NCAA tournament bids over the last four seasons, the lowest among the Power 5 conferences by a significant amount.

That should shift dramatically over the next few seasons, though, as the SEC’s “other” teams have improved the talent level in the league with the Class of 2015 more than perhaps any other conference. Kentucky has the No. 1 class in the country and Florida sits at No. 8, but those two are the annual staples at the top of the standings -- this season’s Gators notwithstanding.


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Five observations: Flyin' to the Hoop Invitational 

January, 21, 2015
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DAYTON, Ohio -- The Hoophall Classic wasn't the only event with top high school basketball prospects in attendance this past weekend. Here are five observations from the Good Samaritan Flyin' to the Hoop Invitational.

1. Jackson is one of 2016's best: Josh Jackson (No. 3 in the ESPN 60) is a probable future pro. His size, length, skill and athletic ability are at a unique level. I'm not sure I have seen a combination like this since LeBron James in high school. I'm not saying he's LeBron, but as an athlete, it is close. Jackson is improving skill-wise and is a much better ball-handler, facilitator and jump shooter versus a year ago. He had 31 points and 14 rebounds in a matchup against Huntington Prep.


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The player rankings in all three high school classes (ESPN 100, 60 and 25) have been updated. We base our rankings on the four Ps: Performance, production potential and projection, among many other factors. First we analyze and evaluate a prospect's individual performance, his production level now and possibly at the collegiate level, his potential in the college game, and where he could land on a possible professional draft board.

The player rankings also affect a school's class rankings, which have also been updated. Since our last update in September, some of our evaluations have changed or been confirmed. We are midway through the high school season in our rankings and there's still time for more movement, as this is a fluid process.

Here are five things to know about the new rankings.


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Whose stock rose at Hoophall Classic? 

January, 19, 2015
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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The Hoophall brought together many of the nation's most talented teams and individual nationally ranked players. With the updated ESPN rankings set to roll out Wednesday let's take a look at a few players that boosted their stock at this high-level event.

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The Hoophall Classic is annually the best event on the high school basketball calendar -- and this year was no different. What took the 2015 version to a heightened level was the number of elite prospects on the court. Moreover, many of them were uncommitted, which is a surprise for this point in the recruiting cycle.

We caught up with several of the top players at Springfield College over the past couple of days.


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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- The big news of the day didn’t necessarily happen on the court, but was instead a confirmation of Jeff Borzello’s report from last week as both Thon Maker and his guardian Ed Smith acknowledged a move to the class of 2015 was possible, and could potentially become official in the coming weeks.

Kentucky and Kansas are perceived to be the frontrunners for Maker’s services and John Calipari was front and center for Orangville’s (Canada) game. While Duke, UCLA, Missouri, and Indiana could all reportedly be in the mix as well, the potential still exists that Maker could bypass college altogether, moving back to 2015 only as a precursor to a post-graduate year before making an immediate jump to the 2016 NBA Draft.

As for his performance on the floor, Maker racked up 23 points and 11 rebounds but was largely not involved in the offense until the final minutes of the game. While his lack of touches never impacted his motor -- he ran the floor beautifully and rebounded out of his area all game -- he did force some things off the dribble at times, turning it over eight times as a result. Regardless of any inconsistencies in his performance, Maker’s sheer talent is downright staggering and almost immediately apparent even to an untrained eye.


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ESPN 60 power forward Chris Lewis has committed to Harvard after also considering Georgia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Notre Dame, Stanford, California, Yale and Brown among others. Landing a player of Lewis' stature in the fold for the class of 2016 this early is huge for head coach Tommy Amaker.

Let's take a look at what Lewis will bring to the Crimson.

Why he committed: "Chris wanted a balance of great academics and basketball," his father, Mo, told ESPN.com.

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Day one of the Spalding Hoophall Classic is in the books, and fortunately for all those at Springfield College on Saturday, many of the big names brought their best games to start the weekend, while a couple of youngsters impressed as well.


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Power forward Michael Hurt ended his recruitment on Friday night by committing to local Minnesota after also receiving a combination of interest and offers from Davidson, Drake, Iowa, Northern Iowa, Oregon, San Jose State and Wisconsin. Hurt is currently No. 59 in the ESPN 60.

Let's take a look at what Gopher fans can expect from Hurt.

Why he committed: The comfort of being close to home and the opportunity to play right away, in addition to being a very good fit in the Golden Gopher up-tempo style of play.


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Recruiting Roundtable: Hoophall Classic preview 

January, 15, 2015
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The Hoophall Classic, a five-day event that features some of the nation's best high school teams and prospects, begins Thursday in Springfield, Massachusetts. Our experts discuss the biggest storylines heading into the action.


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Thon Maker's next move

January, 14, 2015
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[+] EnlargeThon Maker
Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty ImagesThon Maker was ranked as the No. 1 prospect in 2016 before moving to Athlete Institute in Canada.
Four countries, three high schools, three AAU circuits.

Thon Maker, a 17-year-old 7-footer, is the vagabond of elite high school basketball.

South Sudan, Australia, soccer, basketball, school in Louisiana, school in Virginia, school in Canada. Just going through the bullet points is exhausting -- and that's without even mentioning Maker's unique talents and enormous potential.

Maker is the most intriguing prospect in high school basketball. He would be in the mix for the No. 1 spot in his class if he wasn't in Canada, but that's not what has attracted so much attention. It's the YouTube videos, the endless storylines -- and the comparisons to a number of NBA stars haven't hurt.

The chatter surrounding him has shown no signs of slowing down, either.

"It's the unknown that scares people," said Ed Smith, Maker's guardian.

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Four-star shooting guard Brandon Sampson ended his recruitment Monday by committing to head coach Steve Lavin and St. John's after also considering California, UCLA, USC, and his hometown LSU.

Let's see why Sampson selected the Big Apple and what he brings:


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Kansas finally got on the board in the 2015 class Thursday, when five-star forward Carlton Bragg announced his commitment to the Jayhawks (after initially saying Kentucky).

There probably wasn’t any real concern in Lawrence about the lack of commitments in the senior class, but there is a segment of the Jayhawks fan base that breathed a slight sigh of relief late last week.

Now, where does Kansas go from here?


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Prep school basketball -- that is to say legitimate scholastic programs that offer a post-graduate option -- can be specific to certain geographic parts of the country, but its implications are felt throughout all of college basketball and the NBA with recent alumni including the likes of Andre Drummond, Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Nik Stauskas, Shabazz Napier, Steven Adams, Noah Vonleh, Wayne Selden and many more.

New England has long been the hub of the prep school universe, not only because of the number of top programs, but also the number of top events that welcome other strong programs from places such as Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin and Canada.

After scouring those events for the better part of the last six weeks, here’s what we can tell you about this year’s prep school field.

FIVE BEST SIGNEES

1. Jalen Adams, Brewster Academy, signed with UConn

Adams (No. 25 in ESPN 100) has been an undersized scorer for most of his career but is now showing more and more signs of being able to slide over to the lead guard spot at the next level, which should allow him to step right in for Ryan Boatright upon arriving at UConn.


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