Georgetown’s win over Louisville showcases Big East’s balance up top

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Prior to Wednesday night’s game against Georgetown at the KFC Yum! Center, there were plenty of people that believed Louisville was ranked too high at fourth in the country.

Those folks are unlikely to change their opinion on the matter after the Hoyas left the Commonwealth with a 71-68 win, handing the Cardinals their first loss of the season.

And frankly, they wouldn’t be wrong. Louisville isn’t one of the top four teams in the country. They may not even belong in the top ten. Their was ranking was more the result of high preseason expectations, a myriad of close wins against solid teams and the fact that the a handful of teams that should be ranked above them have lost already this season. Is Louisville a better team than North Carolina? Probably not, but since the Tar Heels fell against Kentucky and UNLV already this season, pollsters slid the Cardinals all the way up to fourth.

Don’t punish the Cardinals for the quirky early season ranking process.

Instead, you should credit Georgetown for their performance on Wednesday.

Louisville is not a great offensive basketball team, and they certainly didn’t play a great offensive basketball game Wednesday. Where they are going to win games is on the defensive end of the floor, by using their ability to pressure ball-handlers and force turnovers to keep their opponent from doing what they want to do offensively. Against the Hoyas, Louisville did exactly that.

Georgetown may not have any all-americans on their roster this season, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t, once again, a Big Three on this team. Henry Sims, Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark are the three guys that John Thompson III relies on the most to make plays in the framework of their offense, to knock down big shots and to carry the bulk of the offensive load. But against Louisville, those three struggled.

Gorgui Dieng’s length bothered Sims, Clark couldn’t find any openings offensively and Thompson saved his stat line with a couple of late jumpers. All told, Georgetown’s Big Three went 8-26 from the floor, turned the ball over eight times and scored a whopping 24 points, which is about 15 points below their season average. That is precisely the kind of defense performance Rick Pitino wanted on those three players.

With their stars struggling, Georgetown’s role players provided their best basketball of the season.

Markel Starks finished with 20 points on 7-8 shooting. Otto Porter added 14 points and 14 boards. Jabril Trawick scored nine points in the first half to keep Georgetown from getting run out of the gym by Louisville.

You don’t gameplan for those three. Sure, their names and tendencies are gone over in the scouting report, but no one is going to structure their defense to figure out a way to slow down Starks or to find an answer to Porter. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most of the teams Georgetown will face this season will head into their matchup thinking that they’ll let Starks, Porter and Trawick try to beat them.

On this night, they did. And when that happens, all you can really do is tip your cap to your opponent: “They got us tonight.”

We are going to run into a lot of that in the Big East this season.

Syracuse is really the only team in this league that stands a cut above everyone else. Once you get past the Orange, there is much more good than there is great. UConn has been inconsistent and unable to put away lesser competition. Marquette lost to LSU. Cincinnati has gotten better while losing their starting front court. West Virginia is young but has two senior stars. Hell, even Pitt and Villanova still have enough talent and coaching acumen in their program to turn around uninspiring starts.

Throw Georgetown and Louisville into the mix, and you have eight teams that are sitting in a jumbled mess a notch below the Orange whose tangible differences will, in all likelihood, depend on which players are playing well at a given point in the season. And while its pretty easy to identify who is sitting at the upper (UConn) and lower (Villanova) ends of that spectrum, at the end of the day the Big East is, once again, a league defined more by mediocrity than it is grandeur.

In other words, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Big East sends all nine of the teams I mentioned to the NCAA Tournament.

But I also wouldn’t be surprised if everyone other than Syracuse was back at home by the time the second weekend tips off.

What We Learned

Georgetown:

– The youngsters on this team can play. Markel Starks has knocked down jumpers all year long and had a couple of promising games against lesser competition, but this performance puts a stamp on the improvement he has made as a sophomore. Otto Porter has the talent to provide many more double-doubles this season. Jabril Trawick might be Georgetown’s best playmaker off the dribble. Most importantly? The Hoyas won at Louisville on a night when their big three stunk. That’s a good sign.

– I think that Georgetown has turned a corner this year. In the past few seasons, the Hoyas have been notorious for fast starts and slow finishes, both in a single games and over the course of an entire season. This year, however, the Hoyas won a double-overtime game against Memphis in Maui and followed that up by handing the Tigers a beatdown in DC a month later. They won on the road against Alabama despite blowing a late double-digit lead. And now, they won against Louisville on the road despite allowing the Cardinals to score 11 straight in the final four minutes to tie the game at 63. Throw in the fact that Georgetown was able to keep the game close even after Louisville opened up a double digit lead in the first ten minutes of the game, and I think we can say Georgetown has finally found some resiliency.

– Is that resiliency a result of the brawl that the Hoyas were in in China over the summer? That would make sense.

– Since I wrote this about Henry Sims he is 5-20 from the floor and averaging just 9.5 ppg and 6.0 rpg in two games.

Louisville:

– Not that we didn’t already know this, but the Cardinals will never be out of a game. They are the most spurtable team in the country. Because of the way they play — chucking up threes, pressing and trying to force turnovers — any success they have on either end of the floor builds up their momentum that much quicker. When they hit a three, they can get into their press. When they force a turnover in their press, they get a good look at a three. And when they hit a couple threes in a row and start forcing some turnovers, their confidence and enthusiasm sky rockets. Against Georgetown, Louisville erased an 11 point deficit with four minutes left in the game and had the game tied at the two minute mark.

– The Cardinals need to make better decisions down the stretch. Poor shot selection from Russ Smith, Kyle Kuric and Peyton Siva on the final threes possessions or Louisville cost them this game.

– I’m still not convinced this team is healthy. Getting Buckles and Swopshire back to 100% will create a nice compliment to Chane Behanan at the four and getting Wayne Blackshear will give Pitino another weapon on the perimeter.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Wichita State getting more national respect with non-conference scheduling

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Wichita State is starting to gain more national respect with regards to its non-conference schedule.

Since moving to the American Athletic Conference this spring, the Shockers have not only gained the benefit of being in a multi-bid league every year, but they’re also getting better teams to play them outside of conference play.

According to a report from Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle, the Shockers now have non-conference games scheduled with Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State this season. With Wichita State also playing in the Maui Invitational, it gives the Shockers plenty of opportunities to schedule quality opponents and improve its NCAA tournament seeding. And that’s before Wichita State starts conference play.

Although Wichita State was getting invited regularly to prestigious non-conference tournaments such as Maui or the Battle 4 Atlantis, they were having a tough time getting certain schools to book home-and-home series. The Baylor series signifies a small, but significant, change to how Wichita State might be able to do things now.

USC forward Bennie Boatwright returning for junior year

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USC has a chance to be really good next season as forward Bennie Boatwright announced that he’s returning for his junior season.

The 6-foot-10 forward put up 15.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range as his return means that the Trojans should be a major contender in the Pac-12 next season. Elijah Stewart also announced this week that he is returning as USC could start Jordan McLaughlin, De’Anthony Melton, Stewart, Boatwright and Chimezie Metu next season.

With Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. also becoming eligible and McDonald’s All-American guard Charles O’Bannon Jr. entering the program, the Trojans are a potential top-10 team.

Following decommitment, four-star recruit makes eye-opening remarks about Ohio State

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Ohio State lost a four-star recruit on Wednesday when in-state Class of 2018 wing Darius Bazley opted to open up his recruitment.

As a rising senior who is just finishing his junior season of high school, Bazley’s decommitment isn’t going to immediately hurt the Buckeyes next season. But the 6-foot-7 wing’s comments about why he opted to open up his recruitment are pretty jarring.

In a story with Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch, Bazley opened up about why he decommitted from Ohio State. Bazley’s eye-opening remarks include how the Buckeyes might not get him ideal NBA exposure and how Ohio State might miss the NCAA tournament in his freshman year.

“I was excited when I first got the offer,” Bazley said to Jardy. “Ohio State is still a great place. It’s nothing against the school or anything, but my one ultimate goal is to get to the NBA and I just didn’t feel as confident as I did when I first committed that Ohio State was one of those schools that could get me there. At the end of the day I’ve got to perform no matter where I go, but I think there’s other schools out there that could put me on a bigger stage and in a better position to show those NBA scouts when I get to college what I can do.”

Bazley also didn’t appear to be pleased at the recruiting class coming into Ohio State for the Class of 2017, which is the class that is coming in this season. Remember, Bazley is a Class of 2018 recruit who still has to finish his senior season.

“Ohio State, they didn’t make the NCAA Tournament this year,” Bazley said to Jardy. “They didn’t even make the NIT, which is unfortunate, but I looked into the recruits they have coming into next year, they didn’t look too good for the future. So I felt like when my class came in, yeah, we would’ve been OK, but good enough to make the tournament? I don’t know. I just felt as if I was to de-commit, actually take my time, figure everything out it would just be a lot better.”

Ohio State was once one of the major destinations for one-and-done players a decade ago so these remarks are very surprising. D’Angelo Russell was a top-five pick in the NBA Draft only two years ago, and while the Buckeyes might not be as successful in recent years as they once were, they still get plenty of national exposure with regards to producing NBA talent.

The NCAA tournament comments might carry some more weight though. The Buckeyes have missed the NCAA tournament in two consecutive seasons and things are also looking difficult for them to reach the Big Dance for next season. If Bazley wants to play in the NCAA tournament, then I could understand him wanting to open things up and explore more options.

Still, you don’t often see a player make comments like this about a school after decommitting–especially a program with as much national exposure as Ohio State. Bazley is likely going to face some heat for his remarks, but if those are his true feelings about a future life decision, then he should explore what else is out there.

Nevada gets transfer commitment from Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman

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Nevada continues to build its roster through transfers as the Wolf Pack added Omaha forward Tre’Shawn Thurman on Thursday.

The 6-foot-7 Thurman will have to sit out one season before playing his senior season but he is coming off of a very good campaign for the Mavericks. The versatile forward put up 13.8 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 49 percent from the field.

One of the Summit League’s better players the last two seasons, Thurman should be a solid rotation forward for Nevada as he has a chance to be a breakout player with one more year of development. If Thurman can improve his 25 percent three-point shooting then he could be a major factor for Nevada.

D-League salaries, two-way contracts increase NBA Draft early entries

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Yesterday, I wrote a piece about how it’s dumb to criticize players for entering the NBA Draft without costing themselves their collegiate eligibility when the NCAA’s new NBA Draft rules are specifically designed for said players to be able to do that.

In that column, I mentioned that D-League salaries are on the rise and that the NBA’s new CBA instituted something called “two-way contracts,” and I wanted a chance to elaborate and clarify a couple of the points that I made.

Let’s start with the “two-way contracts,” which NBA teams each get two of. They are essentially a retainer that those teams can place on younger players they want to be the 16th and 17th men on their roster, holding their rights as they bounce between the D-League — where they will likely spend the majority of the year — and the NBA. The catch is that those players have to have less than three years service as a professional, and the point of it is to provide a financial incentive for younger players with the potential to reach the NBA to remain stateside while allowing those NBA teams to develop them.

That financial incentive is fairly large, as well: Two-way players will make $75,000 guaranteed and will be able to make up to $275,000, depending on the amount of time they spend with the NBA team.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that can end up paying players with less than three years of professional basketball experience upwards of a quarter-of-a-million dollars.

That’s not a bad starting salary.

The other point that I wanted to address is the rising D-League salaries which, technically, will not be rising. There are still going to be Tier A and Tier B players, who make $26,000 and $20,000 respectively. But the NBA has something called affiliate players, which each of the now-25 NBA teams with a D-League affiliate can pay up to $50,000 for training camp. NBA teams are allowed a maximum of four affiliate players, who will still make their $26,000 salary from their D-League team.

In other words, that’s 100 more jobs available in the United States where a professional basketball player can make $76,000, and that’s before you consider that the five NBA teams that do not yet have a D-League affiliate will still have to play players to get them into training camp.

That $76,000 is not a life-changing amount of money. Neither is the $275,000 that a two-way contract can pay. But it’s a pretty damn good paycheck to make for an entry-level job into the industry that you always dreamed of being in.

Athletes have an unbelievably small window where they can capitalize monetarily on their gifts.

If a 21-year old sophomore decides that he wants to continue to develop his game and chase his NBA dream by making $76,000 as a D-League player, is that really all that crazy?

After all, 135 of the 450 players, or 30 percent of the roster spots, on NBA’s opening night were taken by guys that had spent time in the D-League.

There’s more than one way to make a dream come true.