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2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum, Duke lose as Josh Jackson thrives

2017 NBA draft prospect watch: Jayson Tatum, Duke lose as Josh Jackson thrives

The first week of the NCAA Tournament has come to a close and so have some college careers for the top players in this June's NBA draft. However, the best players were able to lead their teams to the Sweet 16 and potential glory lies ahead for those select few.

Here's a recap of a few of both, albeit a focus on the winners from this weekend who will be high up on draft boards and could be Sixers in just a few months.

Josh Jackson, forward, Kansas (6-8/203)
Do you remember the beginning of the season when Jackson's jump shot looked crooked? It seems very long ago now. Jackson led all scorers on Sunday with 23 points in Kansas' 90-70 win over No. 9 Michigan State. The likely top five pick did just about everything in the Round of 32 win. He pulled up for jumpers and swished them, grabbed a few boards, played strong defense inside and even had a few blocks.

The Spartans' one hope was that fellow freshman Miles Bridges would be able to outplay Jackson, but Bridges played with little control at times and was simply outplayed, even though he had 22 points of his own. Jackson hit a few big jumpers in his face and was a force throughout whenever MSU cut into the Jayhawks' lead. Jackson may have some big things lying ahead for him in the Midwest Region and beyond. 

Jayson Tatum, forward, Duke (6-8/204)
While Jackson led his team to glory Sunday, Tatum was not able to do the same later in the evening. In Duke's first round game, Tatum was able to run roughshod through No. 15 Troy's defense, scoring 18 points. He added 12 rebounds and four blocks and was simply the best player on the floor. The Trojans had no one who could stay in front of him, as so few teams in the NCAA do. 

But in what was essentially a road game against No. 7 South Carolina, Tatum was held in check in part by the Gamecocks' potent zone. He was also limited by foul trouble. He still had 15 points and made a few nice moves inside as well as some key rebounds. But he didn't rise to the moment like he did in the ACC Tournament. Again, a zone like South Carolina's eliminates his innate advantage against any one defender and the Gamecocks were able to prevent a dominant effort, upsetting Duke, 88-81.

Lonzo Ball, guard, UCLA (6-6/190)
In UCLA's first game, Ball didn't quite look like himself. He played through a bruised hip and was clearly not his same explosive self. This came after he nursed a thumb injury during the Bruins' Pac 12 Tournament loss to Arizona. Despite any limitations, he still made 6 of 7 shots for 15 points, made two threes and dished out three assists in UCLA's 97-80 win over No. 14 Kent State. Not bad for someone who is supposed to be injured, right?

His first half against No. 6 Cincinnati wasn't remarkable by any means. But as he's done many times this season, he came alive with a thunderous stretch to key a UCLA win. The Bruins trailed 47-46 in the early second half when Ball shed his defender for a step-back three. Next possession, he ran into a trey in transition. A few minutes later, he dished out some pretty assists and put in a layup himself to give UCLA a double-digit lead. Many of his assists during the second half were of his other-worldly self, finding guys for alley-oops with beautiful feeds.

Ball finished with a near triple-double. He led both teams with 18 points (7 of 10 shooting, 4 of 7 from three) and nine assists. He also had seven rebounds and two steals in the Bruin victory.

De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, guards, Kentucky
Kentucky's freshman combo struggled Friday in an easy 79-70 win over No. 15 Northern Kentucky. Fox had 19 points and dished out three assists, although he had an unseemly six turnovers. Monk was off from the field, going 3 of 11 for 12 points. He missed all six of his threes. 

And for most of Sunday, they had similar struggles. Fox's jump shot, which isn't anywhere close to Monk's, was off. Monk was limited by a stout Wichita State defense. With that backcourt in a rut, the Shockers were poised to, well, shock. But as the best players do in March, Fox and Monk made winning plays. Monk made a key three with 2:10 left. Fox drove for a dunk on the next possession. And with the Wildcats up just one with 12 seconds left, Monk came up with a key block and hit two free throws.

Overall, Fox and Monk had 14 points each on 13 and 10 shots, respectively. That's not a very pretty line. But each was essential to the Wildcats' win, combining to score Kentucky's last 10 points and leading the team to see another day in the NCAA Tournament.

Quick hits
Florida St. forward Jonathan Isaac played what are likely the final games of his collegiate career. The freshman was efficient, making 9 of 15 shots for 25 points. While he had double-digit rebounds in both games, his Seminoles were blown out by Xavier on Saturday evening.

Arizona forward Lauri Markkanen may be the best player left in the West Region. In games against North Dakota and St. Mary's, Markkanen scored 36 points on just 18 shots, getting to the free throw line for 14 attempts. He also reeled in 17 rebounds and led the Wildcats to the Sweet 16.

South Carolina guard Sindarius Thornwell began the weekend with a thorough domination of No. 10 Marquette with 29 points, 11 rebounds, two assist, two blocks and three steals. The senior followed that up with 22 points, six rebounds and five assists while leading the high-profile upset of No. 2 Duke.

Young Sixers learn crucial lessons from 2 losses to NBA elite Warriors

Young Sixers learn crucial lessons from 2 losses to NBA elite Warriors

BOX SCORE

The Sixers received a crash course in top-caliber NBA basketball from the Warriors with two games in eight nights against the defending champions. 

Both were winnable games for the Sixers in the first half. Both were blown open by the Warriors in the third quarter. Both resulted in a Sixers loss.

This time, it was a 124-116 loss Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations).

Instead of taking silver linings and pats on the back, the Sixers are absorbing lessons, tried-and-true experience-based lessons from competing against the best in the league and watching it slip away. 

“They didn’t flip a switch,” Joel Embiid said Saturday. “We were just bad in the third quarter. But you’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They were aggressive and they were physical with us, especially in the second half. They did what they had to do, and they got a win.”

Protect the third quarter
On Saturday, the Sixers scored a scorching 47 points in the first quarter and led the Warriors 74-52 at halftime. That edge far surpassed their one-point deficit in last weekend’s game and put them on a commanding path at home.

The Warriors quickly dashed any hopes of an upset by outscoring the Sixers, 47-15, in the third. Steph Curry scored 20 of those points. That quarter set the tone for a Warriors' comeback win. Similarly, the Warriors outscored the Sixers by 15 points in the third during their 135-114 victory on Nov. 11.

“After coming out of halftime, we knew what we were getting into,” Embiid said. “We knew that the first game, we knew that tonight, that needed to stay locked in. We didn’t do a good job the first time and then the second time we definitely didn’t do a good job.”

Play aggressive and smart at same time
The Sixers committed seven of their 12 turnovers in the third, which led to 14 of the Warriors’ 47 points. Ben Simmons echoed Embiid’s opinion of needing to be more focused. The rookie point guard also noted the Sixers should have been better with defensive assignments and played more aggressively. The Sixers shot 1 for 7 from long-range and didn’t get to the foul line once in the third.

Simmons only attempted one field goal in the quarter. Brett Brown noted he played Simmons the entire second quarter and the first eight minutes in the third. The combination of a shorthanded eight-man rotation and the effects of coming off a West Coast road trip factored in. 

The Warriors, meanwhile, stayed cool and collected in the face of a 22-point halftime deficit. They bounced back to shoot 62.2 percent from the field in the second half. The Sixers noticed the Warriors’ unwavering self-assurance even as they fell further and further behind in the first half.

“There’s a confidence that they have in what they do and who they are that over the course of a full game," JJ Redick said, "if they play the right way, they’re going to have a chance to win."

Breaking the double team
The Warriors stifled Embiid in their first matchup (12 points). After watching his 46-point performance against the Lakers, which head coach Steve Kerr deemed “terrifying,” the Warriors knew they had to be extra cognizant of the big man, especially on his home court.

They once again swarmed Embiid with a double team, a defensive look he’s still adjusting to. Embiid felt the pressure. He committed three turnovers in the game-changing third quarter (five on the night). 

“I’m more impressed by what they do defensively,” Embiid said. “Especially for me, they really had me guessing. They double-teamed me the whole night, from the top, from the baseline, from the post fader. They really had me guessing.”

Remember what caused the loss
The Sixers had chances to hand the Warriors a loss, both at home and on the road. When they plan for the rest of the season, the months and months ahead, they can point to what they did right and just as importantly what went wrong in competing against a team as dangerous as the Warriors. 

"We feel good about how we played for large majorities of the game and then you just blink and you get hit in the mouth," Brown said. "The repetition of playing the NBA champs and feeling like you're there and then all of a sudden to zoom in and say why aren't we? Why weren't we? Where did the game change? And understand that better and try to fix it, try to arrest it. That's the benefit to playing them in close proximity."

Sixers-Warriors observations: 22-point halftime lead evaporates against defending champs

Sixers-Warriors observations: 22-point halftime lead evaporates against defending champs

BOX SCORE

The excitement of a monster first half and the letdown of a lackluster second.

The Sixers went through dramatic ups and downs Saturday night in a 124-116 loss to the Warriors that seemed like an upset early on but turned into a disappointment for them.

• The Sixers scored … ready for this? You sure? Forty-seven points in the first quarter. They led the defending champions by 21 during a quarter that prompted double takes at the scoreboard.

The Sixers put together enough noteworthy plays in the first 12 minutes for a highlight reel: one-handed dunks and three-pointers by Joel Embiid, slams by Ben Simmons and a steal followed by a trey by Robert Covington to name a few.

The team shot a monster 73.1 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three, led by 4 for 4 from Covington in the first game since signing his contract extension.

• You didn’t expect the Warriors would be quiet out of halftime, did you? Veteran teams — championship-winning veteran teams — make adjustments. They outscored the Sixers, 47-15, in the third and took a 10-point lead heading into the fourth. Steph Curry netted 20 points in the quarter. The Sixers shot 1 for 7 from three during the third and did not hit a basket in the final 2:20 of the quarter.

• Where did the third shut down on the Sixers end? Simmons attempted just one field goal in the third (0 for 1) compared to eight attempts in the first half. JJ Redick (0 for 3 from the field) was scoreless, too. Adding to that, Embiid had two points and did not pull down a rebound in the quarter. (Saric had six.) 

• The problem with playing the Warriors is, give them an inch — in many cases, all they need is a deficit less than 20 points — and they will take advantage. Even though they looked completely out of the game in the first half, they have been there, done that and know how to flip the switch. 

• Twenty-plus point performances by Simmons (23 points, eight rebounds, 12 assists), Embiid (21 points, eight rebounds), Covington (20 points, six rebounds) and Redick (20 points) were not enough to overcome 35 points by Curry and 27 from Kevin Durant. 

• The Sixers and Warriors flip-flopped shooting halves: 59 percent by the Sixers compared to 47 percent by the Warriors in the first half. In the second, the Sixers shot just 38 percent while the Warriors knocked down 62 percent.

• Simmons did whatever he wanted early on.

There was this …

… and this

… to name a few.

• Injury update: Markelle Fultz (right shoulder), Justin Anderson (left leg), Nik Stauskas (right ankle), Jerryd Bayless (left wrist) and Jahlil Okafor (personal) were out for the Sixers. 

• In years past, the seats would have been occupied by those wearing Warriors jerseys for a must-see opponent in town. On Saturday, it was clear the fans came to the Wells Fargo Center to watch the home team. 

• The early matchup between Saric and Zaza Pachulia was intriguing to watch. They both bring international experience to the court and had been familiar with each other’s game before Saric got to Philadelphia: Saric following Pachulia in the NBA and Pachulia learning about Saric’s play in Turkey. Pachulia referred to the Sixers forward as a  “young, talented kid” and “smart” last season.

• Notes and Numbers: The Sixers tied the record for most points scored in a half (74) by either team at the Wells Fargo Center. … Redick netted career three-pointer No. 1,300. He currently ranks 15th among active players. … The Warriors improved to 4-0 in the next game following a loss. They were defeated by the Celtics on Thursday. … The Sixers have lost 10 straight against the Warriors. Their last win was on March 2, 2013.