Pregame Shootaround 12.20.12: McCollum vs. Mitchell matchup one to watch

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Each day, CollegeBasketballTalk brings you the “Pregame Shootaround,” which will 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: Lehigh at North Texas (8 PM) 

With the pickings slim following an action-packed Wednesday slate, two players that NBA draft gurus have had their eyes on will be on the same floor in Denton, Texas. Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum is currently leading the country in scoring with an average of 24.9 points per game, and the Mountain Hawks have done little to invalidate the preseason chatter that they would be right there with Bucknell atop the Patriot League.

The same cannot be said for either Tony Mitchell or North Texas, as the Mean Green limp into tonight’s game with a 5-6 record and the “man child” has been rather inconsistent thus far. Mitchell’s averaging 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game but his field goal percentage has dropped ten points from last year’s mark of 56.7%, and in a 45-40 win over Southeast Louisiana the preseason Sun Belt Player of the Year shot 1-of-9 from the field (eight points). Given their start this is a big game for North Texas; can they deliver?

Who’s Getting Upset?: Arkansas (vs. Robert Morris; 8 PM) 

With this game sandwiched in between games against Alcorn State and Alabama A&M for Arkansas, there’s a chance that the Razorbacks could get caught looking ahead to Christmas with the Colonials in town. To do so would be a mistake, as Andy Toole’s squad is capable of pulling off the upset. Robert Morris averages just over 67 points per game and they aren’t the best rebounding team either, but the Colonials are forcing an average of 16.9 turnovers per game. With guards Velton Jones and Karvel Anderson leading the way RMU has the experience needed to avoid folding in such an environment.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Day: Iona at La Salle (7 PM)  

The Gaels will finally have the services of junior college transfer David Laury, who is expected to give Iona a much-needed scorer in the frontcourt. But the best action in this one will come on the perimeter, as Iona’s Sean Armand and Lamont Jones will face La Salle’s Tyreek Duren and Ramon Galloway. The Explorers will also have a mid-year addition of their own, as Virginia Tech transfer Tyrone Garland gives Dr. John Giannini another perimeter piece to rely on.

Six Things to Watch

1) In a preparation for the quick turnaround they’ll see in March, top-ranked Duke is playing its second game in as many nights as they host Elon. After a slow first half against Cornell the Blue Devils caught fire in the second half, closing the game on a 60-21 run.

2) The other ranked team in action is No. 2 Michigan, who hosts Eastern Michigan in their final game before Christmas. The Eagles are limiting opponents to 57.5 points per game thanks in large part to their zone defense, but with Michigan having shooters such as Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway Jr. EMU has to identify the shooters if they’re to have any chance of pulling off the upset.

3) With three key players out of the lineup Wichita State looks to move to 10-1 as they host Charleston Southern. Carl Hall (broken thumb), Ron Baker (stress fracture in foot) and Evan Wessel (broken pinky) are all sidelined for this one, and the Shockers enter hoping no one else goes down just as much as they’re hoping for the win.

4) USC takes on another Big West opponent tonight, hosting a UC Irvine squad that will give them a far stiffer challenge than UC Riverside did on Saturday (70-26). Irvine, who took UCLA to overtime earlier this season before losing by one, is limiting opponents to 35% shooting from the field.

5) Boise State is back on the floor for the first time since their 89-70 whipping of LSU, taking on Idaho. Stephen Madison and Kyle Barone have the ability to challenge the Broncos inside, but it won’t matter much if their guards aren’t capable of slowing down Anthony Drmic and Derrick Marks.

6) Decision day for Jabari Parker. Many have Duke and Michigan State leading the way for his services, with BYU, Florida and Stanford rounding out his final five. He’ll make his announcement at 4 PM EST.

The Top 25 

Elon at No. 1 Duke (7 PM)

Eastern Michigan at No. 2 Michigan (8:30 PM)

Other Notable Games

Rider at Princeton (7 PM)

Lipscomb at Memphis (8 PM)

Pepperdine at Tulane (8 PM)

Cal Poly at Washington (9 PM)

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

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.