Conference Catch-ups: Creighton is still on top, but the MVC is strong

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Conference play is right around the corner, so to help you get out of that post-holiday haze, we’ll be catching you up on all the happenings in the country’s top 12 conferences. Here’s our Missouri Valley Conference Catchup:

Favorite: Creighton

The Bluejays were the league favorite heading into the season, and despite the loss of Josh Jones to a heart condition, Creighton remains the MVC’s top team two months into the season. Doug McDermott has been as good as advertised, but the biggest reason that Creighton keeps climbing in the rankings is that the coach’s son has a slew of talented role players surrounding him. Gregory Echenique is a hoss in the block, Grant Gibbs may lead the most fundamental player in the country and Austin Chatman has done well to help fill the void left by Antoine Young.

The biggest improvement for Creighton is on the defensive end of the floor. Last year, they were 178th in the country in defensive efficiency. This year they are 32nd.

Contenders: Wichita State looked like they might actually be the best team in the conference earlier this month, but a rash of injuries means that we won’t be seeing the Shockers at full strength until halfway through league play. Illinois State has been quite impressive as Jackie Carmichael is asserting himself as a potential NBA draft pick. Northern Iowa has played one of the toughest schedules in the country, but they finally picked up a quality win by beating St. Mary’s.

Biggest Surprise: Indiana State

The Sycamores weren’t exactly supposed to be down this season — not with Jake Odum, arguably the league’s best point guard, teaming up with Gonzaga transfer Manny Arop — but I don’t think many people expected to became a sleeper to finish in the top three. But that’s exactly where they stand after a terrific performance in the Diamond Head Classic during Christmas break. ISU knocked off Ole Miss in overtime in their opener and, after losing by seven to San Diego State, followed that up win an overtime win against Miami. Throw in the game last month when the Sycamores came from 15 own to force OT against New Mexico, and a trip to Terre Haute is not going to be easy this season.

Biggest Disappointment: Missouri State

This is a bit unfair, as the Bears were expected to finish at the very bottom of the MVC this year and that’s currently where they are situated. And given the success of the rest of the league, Missouri State is really the only team that has been disappointing this year.. But the depths of their struggle this season is unnerving. MSU still has not beaten a Division I team this season. Their two wins are over Philander Smith and Malone University. They already have a loss to Alabama A&M. Yuck.

Player of the Year: Doug McDermott, Creighton

There really isn’t much contemplation that goes into this choice. McDermott got off to a slow start this season, but ever since Creighton went out of Las Vegas for a tournament over Thanksgiving, he’s been playing like the uber-efficient stretch-four we all know and love.

Best Freshman: Kaza Keane, Illinois State

Keane is currently second in the Missouri Valley in assists, which is nice and will almost make you forget about the fact that the 6-foot-1 point guard from Ontario is averaging just 3.5 points on the season. That may actually be a positive sign for Keane, however. When you are a freshman and you have scorers like Jackie Carmichael and Tyler Brown on the floor with you, you give up the rock.

Three Predictions:

  • Creighton goes farther in the NCAA tournament than they do in the MVC tournament. The Valley is as strong at the top — and, for that matter, as deep — as it has been in a long time. And if there is anything that we know about Arch Madness, it’s that bringing home the MVC’s automatic bid is really tough to do for the tournament favorite. Creighton’s improved defense will carry them to the second weekend of the big dance, but don’t be surprised if they get picked off in the first round of the conference tournament by a team playing for their postseason lives.
  • The MVC gets at least three bids to the tournament. It’s all going to depend on whether or not those four teams can separate themselves from the rest of the pack — which will be hard to do given how few easy games there will be in conference play — but thanks to some of the non-conference performances by the top teams in the MVC, their league RPI is currently sitting at ninth. That’s a good thing.
  • Missouri State wins three league games. I don’t care how poorly they have played this season. This is the Valley, and the road in the Valley is not a friendly place. Missouri State will pick a couple people off.

Power Rankings (* = tourney team):

1. Creighton*
2. Illinois State*
3. Wichita State*
4. Northern Iowa
5. Indiana State
6. Bradley
7. Evansville
8. Southern Illinois
9. Drake
10. Missouri State

Report: FBI wiretaps shows Sean Miller discussing payment for Deandre Ayton

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Sean Miller was caught on an FBI wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment for his freshman star Deandre Ayton, according to a report from ESPN.

The conversations that were intercepted were between Miller and Christian Dawkins, a former runner for ex-NBA agent Andy Miller, in with the pair discussed a $100,000 payment that would ensure Ayton’s commitment to and enrollment with Arizona.

According to ESPN, when asked by Dawkins if he should work through former Arizona assistant coach Emanuel ‘Book’ Richardson to finalize a deal, “Miller told Dawkins he should deal directly with him when it came to money.”

Richardson was fired by Arizona after he was caught up in the original FBI complaints in September. He had worked for Miller for 10 years at Xavier and Arizona. He was alleged to have accepted $20,000 in bribes to steer players to Dawkins and another financial advisor.

Ayton committed to Arizona in September of 2016. He is currently averaging 19.6 points and 10.9 boards for No. 14 Arizona and is considered by many to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft.

There has been speculation all season long that Arizona’s ties to this investigation could cost Miller his job.

CBT Podcast: Michael Porter Jr. is back, Duke and Kentucky might be back, Allonzo Trier’s gone

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Fun episode today. Rob Dauster was joined by one of the up-and-coming stars at ESPN, Dalen Cuff, to talk through the changes that Duke and Kentucky have made in recent weeks and whether or not that changes our perception of those teams moving forward. They also discussed Trae Young’s regression as well as the root of their soccer fandom, and all of that happened roughly 90 minutes before news broke that Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. was cleared by doctors to play while Arizona’s Allonzo Trier was once against ineligible for a positive PED test, so Travis Hines of NBC Sports jumped on the podcast to talk through all of that. The rundown:

OPEN: Should Michael Porter Jr. play this season?

10:05: Did Allonzo Trier get screwed by the NCAA?

16:55: Why did Dalen Cuff sully his name by becoming an Arsenal fan?

26:20: Why has Duke been better without Marvin Bagley III?

34:05: Is Jarred Vanderbilt the key to unlock Kentucky’s potential?

39:25: Have you changed your outlook on Duke or Kentucky in the long-term?

43:45: Texas Tech losing Keenan Evans was a bummer.

48:00: So let’s talk about this Trae Young slump.

Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky respond to report connecting players to agent payments

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Duke, Michigan State and Kentucky are the three most visible programs that have had their program connected to today’s report from Yahoo Sports that linked current players to potential NCAA violations involving ex-NBA agent Andy Miller and a former employee, Christian Dawkins.

According to the report, the mother of Duke freshman Wendell Carter had lunch with Dawkins at a Longhorn Steakhouse where Dawkins spent $106 on the meal. The parents of Michigan State sophomore Miles Bridges are alleged to have received a mean with $70 from Dawkins as well as a $400 cash advance. Kentucky freshman Kevin Knox or a member of his family is listed as receiving a meal from Dawkins, although his father has already denied that this happened.

All three programs have denied wrongdoing.

“Duke immediately reviewed the matter and, based on the available information, determined there are no eligibility issues related to today’s report,” read a statement released by Duke AD Kevin White.

“We are aware of the report in Yahoo! Sports,” Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said in a statement. “While we will cooperate with any and all investigations, we have no reason to believe that I, any member of our staff or student-athlete did anything in violation of NCAA rules.”

“I have no relationship with Andy Miller or any of his associates,” John Calipari’s statement read. “Neither my staff nor I utilized any agent, including Andy Miller or any of his associates, to provide any financial benefits to a current or former Kentucky student-athlete. We will cooperate fully with the appropriate authorities.”

Cal also said in a press conference that he believes Knox will play on Saturday against Missouri.

San Diego State suspends Malik Pope after reports of loan from agent

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San Diego State announced on Friday that they have provisionally suspended senior forward Malik Pope for allegedly receiving $1,400 from a former NBA agent.

He did not travel with the team for Saturdays game against San Jose State.

According to documents from the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball, documents that were obtained by Yahoo Sports and published on Friday morning, Andy Miller provided Pope with a loan of $1,400 that was to be repaid when Pope turned pro and signed with Miller.

Loans from agents are considered impermissible benefits.

Pope is the first player to be provisionally suspended by his team as a result of today’s news. USC’s De’Anthony Melton and Auburn’s Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy have not played this season having being referenced in the complaints released by the FBI in September. Alabama’s Collin Sexton as well as Oklahoma State’s Jeffery Carroll were initially suspended as their program’s attempted to get their eligibility reinstated.

Mark Emmert refuses to acknowledge NCAA’s fundamental issue: The sham of amateurism

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The concept of amateurism has been around for nearly two centuries.

It started back in the 1800s, when organized sport was first beginning in England. The upper class, the one-percenters of that time, lived a lifestyle that allowed them to do things like play rugby, or polo, or soccer, and succeed at it.

When you don’t have to worry about working six or seven days a week in a factory you have the time to practice kicking with your weaker foot. But those blue collar workers, the ones that spent six or seven days a week doing manual labor, they were the better athletes. Bigger, stronger, faster. Those rich guys didn’t stand a chance, which is why amateurism was born.

You cannot be paid to play sports, they said. You have to play sports for the love of the game, which those rich guys were able to do because they didn’t have to spend their days trying to work enough hours to put food on the table for their wives and children.

Amateurism, the core tenet of the NCAA, was quite literally created to keep rich English guys from getting their asses kicked by poor English guys.

Today, that concept, that farce, trumps all else in college athletics.

It’s why, in 2018, the NCAA has contracts that guarantees the association roughly $13.5 BILLION dollars over the next 14 years to broadcast a tournament that Duke’s Wendell Carter may not be able to play in because his mom allegedly had a $106 lunch paid for by a recruiter for an agent two years ago.

On Friday morning, hours after Yahoo Sports published a bombshell report that included documents and spreadsheets detailing the recruitment strategy of former NBA agent Andy Miller, NCAA president Mark Emmert released a statement addressing the evidence presented.

“These allegations, if true, point to systematic failures that must be fixed and fixed now,” Emmert, who made at least $1.9 million in 2015, began in the statement, and he is absolutely, 100 percent correct.

If, as Emmert put it, “we want college sports in America,” we need to do away with amateurism rules. We need to do away with the archaic notion that these athletes do not have any value. We need to do away with the idea that these athletes — athletes with the potential to earn, quite literally, hundreds of millions of dollars in their playing career, mind you — having access to professional representation before they turn 19 years old is some sort of problem.

The simple truth is this: If you do not allow players to access their fair market value without breaking NCAA rules, you are perpetuating the underground economy that is already flourishing. There is too much money in the game, and the numbers that you are seeing tossed around today are simply on the agent side, and from just one agent. Yahoo did not gain access to all of the evidence that the FBI has gathered during this investigation, and even if the did, the network built by Miller is a fraction of the black market created by the NCAA’s insistence that amateurism reign supreme.

Think about it like this: If basketball’s underground economy was a movie, then what we saw today was the shortened trailer that airs three weeks after the movie was actually released.

We’re just scratching the surface.

What you are not seeing now is the money that shoe companies spend to funnel players to certain schools that will help build their brand. Brian Bowen taught us that players that don’t reach the top 20 in a recruiting class can be worth $100,000 to a company like Adidas. If Brian Bowen is worth $100,000 to Adidas, what is a talent like Marvin Bagley III or Deandre Ayton worth to them?

What you are also not seeing is the money that flows from boosters to the players. You don’t think that a booster for, say, Big Tech would love to spend a few thousand dollars to land a player that will help keep them above Big State in the standings? Think about how much you love your favorite team. Now think about how much money you’d be willing to part with every year to help that team get the players they need to get to a Final Four if you had $30 million in the bank.

Say it with me now:

That.

Is.

Never.

Going.

Away.

It doesn’t matter how many smart people Emmert tries to put on a committee.

Boosters are never going to stop wanting their team to win. Shoe companies are never going to stop spending billions of dollars to help build their brand. Coaches are never going to stop looking the other way because getting those good players is how they win, and winning is how they get better jobs and longer contracts.

The fix is so damn easy, too.

Go to the Olympic model.

Schools don’t have to play the players. There won’t be any Title IX issues, which is the crux of the issue when it comes to the “schools should pay the players” debate; it’s not exactly a secret football and men’s basketball subsidizes the rest of an athletic department.

The athletes will be able to receive their fair market value because their ability to profit off of their own name and their own likeness will not be artificially capped by an association that wants to keep all of that money for themselves.

And therein lies the problem.

Think about it like this: Adidas currently has a deal with the University of Louisville that will pay the school $160 million over the next decade for all Cardinal athletes to be decked out head-to-toe in nothing but the three stripes. This deal is far from unique. Under Armour has a deal with UCLA worth $280 million. Nike’s new deal with Michigan is valued at roughly $173 million.

Lamar Jackson (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The goal there isn’t necessarily to get every player covered head-to-toe in their brand. The goal is to get, say, Lamar Jackson wearing Adidas while he’s at Louisville, or Josh Rosen wearing UA while he’s at UCLA. With basketball, it’s even more specific. Nike wants, say, Michael Porter Jr. wearing the swoosh in high school and college so that they can sign him when he gets to the pros and make billions off of his brand if he happens to turn into the next Kevin Durant, or LeBron James, or Kyrie Irving, or Steph Curry.

If amateurism didn’t exist, if Nike could go straight Porter or Adidas could go straight to Jackson when they were 15 or 16 years old, would the incentive to invest billions of dollars in sponsorship deals with the schools still be as strong? There would still be money there, but there wouldn’t be as much because a good chunk of it would be going to the players those companies actually want.

It works on a micro-level, too.

A car dealership in Lexington or a restaurant in Lawrence is going to advertise with the school — on the local broadcasts, with promotions at the game, on the coach’s radio show, etc. — instead of being able to put, say, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on a billboard to help sell Toyota Camrys or, say, Devonte’ Graham in a commercial touting a new Happy Hour special.

Let’s put this another way: If you let the labor get paid, then the profits of the company and the salaries of the decision-makers within that company take a hit.

Emmert ended his statement on Friday like this: “We also will continue to cooperate with the efforts of federal prosecutors to identify and punish the unscrupulous parties seeking to exploit the system through criminal acts,” blissfully aware that he and his cronies are the unscrupulous parties exploiting the system, without a f*** to give when that direct deposit hits this afternoon.