Texas makes No. 2 Kansas look (gasp!) ordinary

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Rick Barnes should break out a Texas-sized smile this Saturday night. His Longhorns ended Kansas’ perfect season, ended a 69-game home win streak and threw a wrench into the Big 12 race, a race the Jayhawks have won each of the last six years.

Also, it was the Longhorns’ first-ever win at Allen Fieldhouse.

Not bad for a guy who got ripped for underachieving last season.

Texas’ 74-63 win in Lawrence showcased a defense that turned the No. 2 Jayhawks – days removed from torching Baylor – into an ordinary offensive team, especially in the second half when the No. 10 Longhorns overcame a 12-point deficit and held Kansas to just 28 points.

Marcus and Markieff Morris seemed overmatched, hitting just 8-of-24 shots. Freshman guard Josh Selby was indifferent (21 minutes, 2 of 9 from the field). The bench was a non-factor. The Jayhawks hardly seemed like a team that’d won its first 18 games of the season, let alone a team that’d done so more efficiently than Ohio State.

Sum it up this way: Texas made Kansas’ star players look average. Not good for a Final Four contender.

 The shine’s off Kansas, which’ll certainly lose some support as the team to beat, in the Big 12 and the nation. Still, in a year where questions remain about every would-be champion, come April the Jayhawks are as likely as anyone to cut down the nets in Houston. They just don’t have much room for error. (It all plays into the “there are no great teams this season” topic.)

But enough about Kansas. Let’s talk Texas.

Few teams have fared as well lately as the Longhorns (15-3 overall, 3-0 in Big 12). They’ve won nine of their last 10 games, the one loss an instant classic vs. UConn that featured some Kemba Walker magic. It’s almost as if the uber-embarrassing 73-56 loss at USC back in early December served as the ultimate motivation for Barnes’ group.

They’re shooting well, hitting the boards and keeping foes from doing the same. Only two opponents in Texas’ last 10 games have posted an eFG% of higher than 50. Only two have grabbed more than 37 percent of their offensive rebounds (and one was Michigan State, which should be a given). Kansas leads the Big 12 in eFG%, but finished at 40.6 vs. Texas, their second-worst outing of the season. That’s what happens when you don’t get any easy looks at the basket. (Texas A&M can attest to that. It lost 81-60 to Texas on Wednesday.)

And with Jordan Hamilton turning in a decent, but not great day (17 points, but he missed 8-of-13 shots), Barnes must’ve been elated to see J’Covan Brown go off for 23 points vs. Kansas, including several of the key second-half baskets. After scoring 20 in the loss to UConn, Brown slumped somewhat the last three games. If he brings his best in big games, that’s an added bonus.

More tests remain for Barnes’ team, starting with a trip to Stillwater on Wednesday and a game at Texas A&M on Jan. 31, among others. Then perhaps it can end Kansas’ run atop the Big 12.

After winning in Lawrence, none of that seems out of reach. Even Houston.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Gonzaga lands their first post-Final Four commitment

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Gonzaga capitalized on their run to the national title game by landing a commitment from French point guard Joel Ayayi, who announced the news on twitter.

Ayayi is an interesting long-term prospect, according to Draft Express. He has the size and the frame to eventually be a significant contributor in the college game, but he’s raw. His handle needs work, as does his ability to create off the dribble and find teammates off of the bounce.

That said, he’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan and the ability to shoot it from the perimeter, and if Gonzaga can do anything, it’s develop players that enter their program.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson, top three prospect in 2018, breaks defender’s ankles

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Zion Williamson, one of the most sought-after recruits in college basketball, had himself a highlight-worthy moment at the Adidas Gauntlet event in Dallas over the weekend, breaking a defender’s ankles before hitting a three.

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.