Marquette/Ohio State preview: Season kickoff in the Carrier Classic

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It’s finally here, folks.

The first full day of college basketball games (that actually count) is upon us, with one of the feature games being Marquette versus No. 4 Ohio State in the Carrier Classic at 7 p.m. EST on the NBC Sports Network. The two teams will get down to business aboard the flight deck of the USS Yorktown in Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

Ohio State enters the seasons with very few holes. Maybe none. Gone is Jared Sullinger, but DeShaun Thomas could’ve easily been an NBA draft pick, but he and his 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game returned for his junior season. The nation’s best on-ball defender in Aaron Craft comes back to terrorize any guard he mans up on. He’s probably going to be assigned to make Junior Cadougan and Arizona State transfer Trent Lockett’s nights a living hell.

Marquette has to replace two of the toughest players in the Big East last season, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder. The aforementioned Lockett (13 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists with the Sun Devils last season) and Cadougan (5.4 assists per game in 2011-12) will anchor the backcourt, with Vander Blue in the mix. Chris Otule anchors an the front line.

It’s going to be tough-against-tough in this one. Thad Matta’s bunch pride themselves on a half-court attack offensively, where they work the ball from inside-out. Defensively, it’s all about swarming defense that starts with Craft on the perimeter and his 2.5 steals per game. LaQuinton Ross (6.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and 6-11 Amir Williams (29 games played in 2011-12) will do their best to fill the void left by Sullinger. Buzz Williams always has a bunch that’s not shy about being in the opponent’s face, leading the Big East last season by giving up only 65.9 points per game.

Also, watch how the outdoor conditions alter the playing style of both teams. The coastal winds will affect how much these team shoot and if that’s the case, the Buckeyes have the edge over the Golden Eagles with the size of Williams, Ross, Thomas and Co. This game is more about honoring our military — Williams has previously said this is “one of the top five things I’ve ever done in my life” — so a crowd of around 5,000 won’t affect the game much.

This should be a lot better than last season, organizationally, being that last season’s game between Michigan State and North Carolina had its kinks. We should all enjoy this one. After all, it’s time to start the season, what’s there to be upset about?

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David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

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.

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.