Big 12 conference tournament preview

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We all thought this was finally going to be the year.

With the amount of talent that Kansas lost off of their roster from last season and with the majority of their recruiting class finding themselves ineligible to play this season, the Jayhawks were left with the inconsistent Tyshawn Taylor, the unproven Thomas Robinson and a supporting cast of former walk-ons and ex-bench players to try and win their eighth straight Big 12 regular season title.

With the amount of talent on the roster at Baylor and with Texas A&M putting a veteran group on the floor every night, it only made sense to finally pick against the Jayhawks.

And anyone that did regretted it.

Thomas Robinson exploded, morphing into one of two serious candidates for National Player of the Year. Tyshawn Taylor shook off a rough start to the season by playing like an all-american in the last two months. That supporting cast of walk-ons and ex-bench players? they turned out to be pretty good.

There are those that will call this Bill Self’s best coaching performance of his career. Those people aren’t wrong.

The Bracket

Where: Kansas City

When: March 7th-March 10th

Final: March 10th, 7 p.m. ESPN

Favorite: Kansas

At this point, how can you bet against them? They weren’t supposed to win this season, yet they did. With what amounts to, more or less, a two-and-a-half man team — depending on which Jeff Withey shows up — the Jayhawks lost just two games in Big 12 play. I’ve been saying it all season long: Tyshawn Taylor is the most important player on this team. Thomas Robinson is going to go out and get you 17 points and 12 boards every single night. He’s going to bust his tail and outwork everyone else on the floor. You know what you are going to get out of him. Taylor, on the other hand, is as talented as he has been inconsistent throughout his career. When he plays like he has the last two months, the Jayhawks are a Final Four team.

And if they lose?: Missouri

I’m not going to lie: I’m rooting for Missouri. And I’m rooting for Kansas. If there is one thing in this world that all us college basketball fans want to see, its Round III of KU-MU in Kansas City with the Big 12 title on the line. You want to talk about atmosphere? Yeesh. As far as the Tigers are concerned, they are a known quantity at this point. You can’t match up with their perimeter attack, Marcus Denmon has proven himself to be lethal in the clutch and their guards are just tough enough that they can hang with the Big 12’s best bigs on the glass.

Other contenders?: Baylor is obviously a contender. They are a contender for the Final Four as well. When you have as much talent as the Bears do, there really isn’t you aren’t capable of. But if they don’t play hard or play with heart, they’ll lose. Iowa State should also be thrown into the mix here. The Cyclones have the league’s most versatile and unique talent in Royce White and surround him with guys that can either jump out the gym or knock down threes from press row.

Sleeper: Kansas State

I just love the way Frank Martin teams play. They are tough, they are relentless and they always play hard. The difference is that this season the Wildcats don’t have quite as much natural ability as in years past. They are also pretty young, especially in the back court. When Will Spradling and Angel Rodriguez are playing well, they are a sneaky-good team.

Deeper sleepers: Texas is still a year away, but they are a talented group led by a star in J’Covan Brown. Can he carry this team?

Studs:

Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas: Both will be all-americans.

Royce White, Iowa State: He leads ISU in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. And he’s a 6’8″, 270 lb point guard.

Mike Dixon, Missouri: I’ll give Dixon the love here as he as been the most under-appreciated member of that back court. He makes things happen off the bench almost every single game.

Pierre Jackson, Baylor: Jackson has quickly become Baylor’s most important player. He had 35 points the last time out.

Rodney McGruder, Kansas State: Nothing about McGruder’s game is overwhelming, but he does everything well and can go for 25-30 in a given night.

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

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.

A record $439 million was bet on basketball in March in Las Vegas

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The month of March was quite friendly to Las Vegas.

According to ESPN, more money was bet on basketball during the month of March than in any month in the state’s regulated sports betting history.

And while the numbers produced by Las Vegas books don’t separate college and professional basketball betting, the money coming in on college hoops is pretty clear: $439 million was bet on basketball in March, more than double the $213 million bet on the sport in February.

It was profitable, too.

Those Vegas books kept more than $40 million dollars of the money that was gambled on basketball, which shattered the previous record of roughly $28 million in winnings.

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.