Previewing the Madness: The Horizon League

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It doesn’t get much more entertaining that the Horizon League. Its a balanced league that always has a handful of quality basketball teams that play competitive, emotionally draining games. You want an example? Just last week, last place Loyola (IL) took league champion Valpo to overtime on Valpo’s home court.

This season was no different. Detroit was the trendy pick to win the conference in the preseason, but they got off to a slow start to the year. Milwaukee and Cleveland State both looked like they were getting ready to run away with the league before a collapse in February dropped them off the pace. Valpo took control of the conference in the final weeks, but it was late-season surges by Butler and (you guessed it) Detroit that have caught notice.

Will this, once again, be Butler’s year to shine, or will a new top dog emerge in what has quickly become a guilty pleasure of so many basketball fans?

The Bracket

Where: Campus sites for the first round, Valpo for the quarters and semis, at the higher seed for the final.

When: Feb. 28th-Mar. 6th

Final: March 6th, 9 p.m., ESPN

Favorite: Valparaiso

I don’t have a choice but to go with Valpo here. The Crusaders have arguably the best front line in the conference. Kevin Van Wijk is a load on the block and one of the best in the country at getting to the foul line while Ryan Broekhoff provides a nice compliment on the perimeter with his ability to not only step out and knock down the three but to rebound on both ends of the floor. With a couple of playmakers in the back court and a handful of guys that can hit a three, Valpo is a good team when they keep the floor spread and allow those two to operate.

And if they lose?: Cleveland State

My pick to win the league all season long has been Cleveland State, and while they struggled late in the season, those losses can be directly attributed to the loss of D’Aundray Brown, the point man on their press and the Viking’s second-leading scorer on the season. The good news? The Vikings finally figured out a way to win without Brown in the last game of the regular season. The better news? Brown should be back in the mix in the tournament.

Sleepers: Am I allowed to call Butler a sleeper? Because late in the season, the Bulldogs finally found their stride offensively, scoring and shooting just well enough that they were able to win fight straight at one point in late February. The loss to Valpo in the regular season finale cost them the No. 2 seed, however, as the Bulldogs now have to win four straight games from the No. 5 spot. Detroit, like Butler, had a great finished to the regular season, winning five of their last six games and eight of their last ten. Ray McCallum is talented enough to carry the Titans. And don’t forget about Milwaukee, a staunch defensive team.

Studs

Ray McCallum, Detroit: A former top-75 recruit, McCallum was the catalyst for Detroit this year, averaging 15.1 ppg and 3.9 apg while playing the role of the catalyst for Detroit.

Alec Brown, Green Bay: A 7’1″ center, Alec Brown has become a double-double machine and may be a legitimate first-round pick in a year or two.

Ryan Broekhoff, Valpo: The league’s fourth-leading scorer, leading-rebounder and a sharpshooter from beyond the arc. Not a bad combo.

Kendrick Perry, Youngstown State: Perry is the most-dynamic back court player in the conference, averaging a league-high 16.2 ppg and 3.9 apg.

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

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.

Oakland’s Greg Kampe hosting charity golf event with big-name coaches

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe hosted a successful charity event for cancer research two years ago by allowing people to bid online to play a round of golf with some of college basketball’s best coaches.

Kampe is back again this year as he’s hoping to eventually raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.

According to a report from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Kampe has 11 high-profile names that fans can play with this year.

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  • Frank Martin, South Carolina
  • Rick Barnes, Tennessee
  • Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
  • Chris Holtmann, Butler
  • Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
  • Greg Kampe, Oakland
  • Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
  • Steve Lavin
  • Fran Fraschilla
  • Bill Raftery

Fans can find more details about the auctions and all of the details here.

The minimum bid is $15,000 per coach. A “buy now” bid of $24,000 is also available.

Each round includes the following, according to the event’s website:

Up for auction will be 11 spectacular packages, featuring a private dinner with elite basketball coaches and VIPs, a one night stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Sunday, June 4, and an afternoon of golf on Monday, June 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club on the South Course. The winning bidders and their two guests will round out the foursomes with their selected VIP: Rick Barnes, Mick Cronin, Fran Fraschilla, Chris Holtmann, Tom Izzo, Greg Kampe, Steve Lavin, Frank Martin, Bill Raftery, Stan Van Gundy, or Kevin Willard.

There are a lot of great selections to choose from for this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine a better afternoon than playing golf with Bill Raftery and a few friends. There are some other tempting choices on this list, but that’s the one I would have to jump at.

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.