Pregame Shootaround 12.7.12: Light Friday as finals approach for many schools

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will be posted at 2 p.m. ET and lay out a preview for the slate of games that night. We’ll take a look at some key match-ups and important games, as well as make some predictions and point out what you need to watch for. Take a look below at today’s edition:

Note: The weekend editions of Pregame Shootaround will be published half an hour prior to tip-off of the day’s first game.

Game of the Day: Harvard at Connecticut (7 PM) 

Tommy Amaker’s Crimson have made a habit out of beating Boston College on a consistent basis, but the same can’t be said of their recent history with UConn. The Huskies have won all three meetings during Amaker’s tenure and own a 15-2 edge in the series. The Crimson are young but talented, with sophomore forward Wesley Saunders and freshman point guard Siyani Chambers leading the way. With the loss of Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey many ruled the Crimson out of the Ivy League race, but even with just two upperclassmen in the rotation (junior Laurent Rivard and senior Christian Webster) Harvard shouldn’t be overlooked.

And that goes for UConn tonight, as the Huskies have struggled in the paint this season. Enosch Wolf did score 12 points in their loss to NC State on Tuesday night, but Kevin Ollie’s team will only go as far as guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier take them. Harvard doesn’t have much in the way of size but they’ve been the better rebounding team of the two (Harvard grabs 69.8% of opponents’ missed shots while UConn corrals just 60.3%). If the Crimson can take advantage of UConn’s issues inside while keeping Napier and Boatright in check, they have a shot.

Who’s getting upset?: Manhattan vs. Marist (7 PM) 

The light schedule means that a team with two wins (Manhattan) is the pick to be upset by another team with just two wins. Steve Masiello’s Jaspers are one of the favorites to win the MAAC, but this week has already seen both Iona and Loyola (MD) go on the road and drop league games. Devin Price leads the way for the Marist team that’s averaging just 54.1 points per game, and to be frank the Red Foxes were beaten like they stole something the last time they took the court (91-57 loss to Army). The Jaspers haven’t been much better offensively (56.8 ppg; and missing George Beamon certainly doesn’t help matters), and if they continue to struggle Marist has a shot.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: VCU at Old Dominion (9 PM; NBC Sports Network) 

Don’t consider the Rams to be a mid-major personally (especially with the move to the Atlantic 10), but they are on the road playing what should be an emotional game against Old Dominion. The Monarchs have struggled mightily in their final season before leaving the CAA for Conference USA, so maybe the sight of an old rival can fire up Blaine Taylor’s group. ODU is averaging 15.1 turnovers per game, and with VCU forcing nearly 19 turnovers per contest things could get out of hand if the Monarchs don’t take better care of the basketball. But look for ODU to come out with a little more fire and make things tough on VCU in Norfolk.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Iowa State looks to make it four straight wins over Iowa, but the home team has won seven of the last eight meetings in the series (ISU’s win in 2010 being the exception). Forward Will Clyburn leads the Cyclones in both points and rebounds, and Fred Hoiberg’s team has been one of the nation’s best teams when it comes to hitting the boards. Iowa has to keep the Cyclones off the offensive glass if they’re to defend Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

2) South Carolina made just 35.9% of their shots in losses to St. John’s and Clemson. With Jacksonville in town the hope is that the Gamecocks can get going offensively, with Brenton Williams and Bruce Ellington leading the way.

3) Siena’s looking to snap a five-game losing streak as they host Rider in the MAAC opener for both. Mitch Buonaguro’s team has won eight of the last 11 meetings in the series, and Siena’s going to need players other than O.D. Anosike to step up if they’re to make it nine of 12. Guard Nurideen Lindsey  leads four Broncs in double figures with an average of 14.3 points per game.

4) Two slumping teams meet in Milwaukee as the Panthers host Northern Illinois. The Huskies are averaging just 54.3 points per game, which is only two touchdowns more than what their MAC champion football team has averaged (40.8 ppg).

5) Ed DeChellis’ Navy Midshipmen have won three of their last four entering tonight’s game at Mount St. Mary’s, and despite not having a player averaging double figures offense may not be an issue tonight. While Mount St. Mary’s is forcing an average of 19.0 turnovers per game what happens when foes take care of the ball hasn’t been good, as teams are shooting 57.2% from the field.

Other Notable Games 

Jacksonville at South Carolina (7 PM)

Canisius at Fairfield (7 PM)

Iowa State at Iowa (8 PM)

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

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.

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.