Weekend Preview: Nate Wolters, Indiana headline the Best of the Rest

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Sunday 1:00 p.m.: Marshall at Villanova (ESPN3): After a rough 2011-2012 season, Villanova looks to bounce back this season and make a push for the NCAA tournament. They’ll be tested immediately, as Deandre Kane and the Thundering Herd are the biggest challengers to Memphis for Conference USA supremacy.

Friday 9:00 p.m.: Montana at Colorado State: The Grizzlies will be playing without Will Cherry, but they are still a team that is good enough to be a threat come tournament time. Colorado State made the tournament last season and brings everyone back for new head coach Larry Eustachy.

Friday 9:00 p.m.: South Dakota State at Alabama (ESPNU): SDSU’s Nate Wolters is arguably the nation’s best mid-major guard, but he’ll have his work cut out for him against Alabama’s stingy defense.

Friday 7:00 p.m.: Bucknell at Purdue: Bucknell, along with Lehigh, is a heavy favorite to not only win the Patriot League, but they are a team than could pose a threat to someone come tournament time. This is a rebuilding year for the Boilermakers, but there is some talent on their roster. Keep an eye on breakout candidate Terone Johnson.

Friday 8:00 p.m.: Bryant at No. 1 Indiana (Big Ten Network): Cody Zeller and company kick off their season.

Friday 7:00 p.m.: Miami (OH) at No. 6 NC State (ESPN3): For the first time in what feels like forever, the Wolfpack are a legitimate contender in the ACC. But NC State has plenty of doubters given the way their season went in 2011-2012. Can Mark Gottfried’s club make a statement?

Friday 7:00 p.m.: Virginia at George Mason (MASN): The Cavaliers saw their tough road test get easier with the Patriots suspended Erik Copes and Vaughn Gray for the first three games of the year.

Friday 7:30 p.m.: Belmont at Lipscomb (ESPN3): Belmont’s inaugural season as a member of the Ohio Valley kicks off with the nation’s most underrated rivalry: the Battle of the Boulevard.

Friday 8:00 pm: Fresno State at Texas (Longhorn Network): The Bulldogs are a talented group, but they may still be a year away from truly reaching their potential. Regardless, this is a great chance for them to make a statement early in the season, as this young Texas team will be without Jaylen Bond and star point guard Myck Kabongo.

Friday 8:15 p.m.: Denver at Iona (ESPN3): Two of the nation’s best mid-major squads do battle in New York. This will be a terrific matchup stylistically, as the Pioneers are as methodical as it gets while Iona wants to run and run and run.

Friday 9:00 p.m.: Tennessee State at BYU (BYUtv): Perhaps the most underrated individual matchup of the weekend: Robert Covington going up against Brandon Davies. It will also be interesting to see what kind of shape Tyler Haws is in after serving a two-year mission.

Friday 9:00 p.m.: Oral Roberts at UTEP: ORU is the favorite in the Southland despite losing four key players from last season, but UTEP is a sleeper in Conference USA.

Sunday 6:30 p.m.: Duquesne at Georgetown (ESPNU): Duquesne is going to struggle this year after losing head coach Ron Everhart and star point guard TJ McConnell, but this will be our first chance to get a glimpse of a sneaky-good Georgetown team on dry land.

Sunday 8:00 p.m.: Loyola (MD) at Washington (Pac-12 Network): Loyola is one of the favorites to win a good MAAC this year and will be led by the always-entertaining Jimmy Patsos. Washington has a nasty habit of dropping non-conference games to teams they should be able to beat.

Friday 8:30 p.m.: Georgia Southern at Valparaiso: Another sneaky good individual matchup as GSU’s Eric Ferguson goes head-to-head with Valpo’s Ryan Broekoff.

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

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.