Pregame Shootaround 1.11.13: Can Missouri State continue its improbable turnaround?

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Game of the Day: No. 13 Creighton at Missouri State (8:00 p.m.; ESPN3) 

After going 2-10 in non-conference play Paul Lusk’s team has proven to be a headache for their Missouri Valley foes, as the Bears are off to a 3-1 start. But tonight brings on an incredibly difficult task: slowing down Doug McDermott and a Creighton team that’s averaging 80.2 points per game. On the season Creighton is shooting 51.9% from the field and 44.9% from beyond the arc, and the many quality looks that the Bluejays find offensively make them one of the tougher matchups in the country. Guards Anthony Downing and Marcus Marshall lead the way offensively for Missouri State but it would be unrealistic for them to have any thoughts of winning a shootout with Creighton. Can they slow down the Bluejays? Doubtful, but few had them getting off to a 3-1 start either.

Who’s Getting Upset? Utah State (vs. San Jose State; 9:05 p.m. ESPN3) 

The Dee Glenn Smith Spectrum is one of the toughest environments for a road team to deal with, thanks not only to the fans but also the fact that Stew Morrill’s program is 219-19 during his tenure. Led by shooting guard Preston Medlin the Aggies have won 12 games in a row, but with San Jose State having a perimeter marksman of its own there’s a chance the Spartans can pull the upset. His name: James Kinney. Kinney, who casual fans may not have seen since he scored 30 in a loss at Kansas in late November, is averaging 20.6 points per game and has scored 20 points or more in eight of the 14 games in which he has played. If he can get hot don’t be surprised if San Jose State hangs around.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Fairfield at Loyola (MD) (7:00 p.m.; ESPNU) 

With wins over Rider and Saint Peter’s last week more than a few pundits were quick to make Loyola (MD) the clear favorite to win the MAAC. But the conference race is a wide-open affair and that’s something the visiting Stags hope to prove tonight. Fairfield (2-2) trails Loyola (3-1) by a game in the standings but they’ve won three of their last four games on the road, which includes wins at Saint Joseph’s and Canisius. The perimeter matchup between Fairfield’s Derek Needham and Loyola’s Dylon Cormier should be fun to watch, but the key for the Stags will be whether or not their front court can neutralize Loyola forward Erik Etherly (15.7 ppg, 7.1 rpg).

Five Things to Watch For 

1) Siena has lost 11 straight games entering tonight’s game against Canisius and at first glance it would be safe to assume that Billy Baron and company will make short work of the Saints. But Siena has won 13 of the last 14 games in the series and they own a 13-2 record against the Golden Griffins at the Times Union Center. Is this weekend a “last stand” of sorts for forward O.D. Anosike and company? It just might be.

2) Wright St. looks to move to 4-0 in Horizon League play tonight with a win at Loyola (IL). Billy Donlon’s Raiders are off to the program’s best start since the 1989-90 season and they’ve done so thanks in large part to their work on the defensive end. Opponents are shooting 39.7% from the field and 29.5% from beyond the arc, and junior forward Cole Darling leads the way offensively with an average of 10.6 points per game.

3) Northern Kentucky and Lipscomb meet for the first time since the 1971-72 season, and strangely enough all three prior meetings in the series took place during that season (Lipscomb winning two). Both teams are 1-3 in Atlantic Sun play, and if they’re to defend their home floor the Norse have to hold their own on the boards (minus-4.2 rebounding margin).

4) Niagara swept the season series with Saint Peter’s last season and have won eight of the last 12 meetings entering tonight’s game in Jersey City. With high-scoring guards Antoine Mason and Juan’ya Green at his disposal Niagara head coach Joe Mihalich will look to crack the Peacocks’ tough half-court defense.

5) San Jose State’s James Kinney is averaging 20.6 points per game on the season but he’s coming off of a 3-of-18 outing in the Spartans’ 71-64 win over New Orleans on Tuesday night. It’s safe to say that San Jose State can’t afford a similar performance if they’re to win at Utah State.

Other Notable Games 

7:00 p.m. Lipscomb at Northern Kentucky

7:00 p.m. Canisius at Siena

7:00 p.m. Niagara at Saint Peter’s

9:00 p.m. Wright St. at Loyola (IL) (ESPNU)

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.