Handicapping (way too early) the national scoring leader race

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Points are the way teams win games. You can argue defense, you can argue rebounding. But if you don’t put the ball in the basket, you don’t win.

I know, that’s expert analysis.

Now that we’re a few weeks into the season some players are starting to show how good they are at putting said ball into said basket. With that in mind, let’s check out the leaders among points per game in Division I basketball, and their odds for ending the season as the nation’s top scorer, with a few dark horses at the end.

Leaders

C.J. McCollum, Lehigh (25.8 ppg)

Why?: Scored 20-or-more in six of eight games, including three 30-point outings so far. He’s the main focus on a good team and can do it all. That means that teams will have to guard him for the pass and box him out, not just play him for the shot.

Future outlook: Games against VCU and Bucknell loom, but the rest of the seasonal competition within the Patriot League will be sub-par (outside of the Bison) compared to McCollum. He’s also averaged at least 19 points in his four seasons. There’s something to be said about that.

Odds: 5-to-2

Kyle Vinales, Central Connecticut State (25.6 ppg)

Why?: This guy is a name not a ton of people know, but should. Only a sophomore, Vinales led all freshman in scoring in Division I last season at 17.9 points per game, albeit for a pretty bad team. Through six games, Vinales has played a ridiculous 40.8 minutes per game and has eclipsed the 20-point mark in the last five. He’s hit 45.6-percent of his shots overall and 39.5-percent from three.

Future outlook: A game at Indiana on Saturday will be the true test. In-conference, games against Wagner, Quinnipiac and Long Island loom. Those will be the proving ground.

Odds: 8-to-1

Isaiah Canaan, Murray State (22.5 ppg)

Why?: He’s everybody’s All-American and it’s mainly because he’s one of the best scorers in the country. The senior is connecting on 49.5-percent from the field and a crazy good 42.6-percent from three  in 33.6 minutes per game through six games. He’s the main perimeter scoring option and has the tools around him to fend off double teams.

Future outlook: Games at Dayton and at home against Valparaiso loom, but it’s the Ohio Valley Conference slate that worries anyone thinking Canaan can top the scoring charts. Belmont, Tennessee Tech and Tennessee State know how to defend, especially the latter two, who have seen Canaan over the past four years.

Odds: 15-to-1

Doug McDermott, Creighton (21.2 ppg)

Why?: Because he’s D-Mac. Because he’s one of the top contenders for National Player of the Year. He’s got the outside game (46.9-percent), hits his free throws (87.8-percent) and the post game (53.8-percent overall) to be the efficient scorer that everyone expects, and do it well. He’s got Grant Gibbs and Greg Enchenique to taper the double teams, too. So that helps.

Future outlook: A game at Nebraska on Thursday, with games at California and at home against Tulsa will be challenging. But the Missouri Valley Conference brings the contest of Illinois State (Jackie Carmichael), Northern Iowa (Seth Tuttle) and Wichita State (Cleanthony Early). It’s going to be tough.

Odds: 18-to-1

Stan Okoye, VMI (20.8 ppg)

Why?: Because Okoye plays for VMI and VMI always has someone who contends for that title every season in Duggar Baucom’s system. They run, they score. The 6-6 senior is hitting 48.1-percent of his shots overall in 31.2 minutes per game through eight games.

Future outlook: Outside of Wright State and George Washington, the rest of the Keydet’s non-conference slate is Charmin soft. In the Southern Conference, the biggest defensive threats to Okoye are Winthrop, Coastal Carolina and UNC-Asheville.

Odds: 25-to-1

Other potential candidates

Lamont “Momo” Jones, Iona (23 ppg); Erick Green, Virginia Tech (24.8); James Kinney, San Jose State (22.8); Kevin Foster, Santa Clara (22.5); Ray McCallum, Detroit (21.1).

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.

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.