Pregame Shootaround 2.19.13: MSU-IU, VCU-St. Louis highlight loaded slate

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Game of the Night: No. 1 Indiana at No. 4 Michigan State (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

We already gave this game the full-post preview treatment. Get your popcorn ready.

Who’s Getting Upset? No. 5 Florida at Missouri (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

If you look at Kenpom’s numbers, Florida has been the best team in the country this season. But there are two factors in that equation that must be accounted for: 1) Their two best wins were blow-outs that came at home back in November; 2) Their only two notable road performances have been a 25 point win at Florida State, who isn’t a tournament team, back on December 5th and the torching they took at Arkansas earlier this month.

Now, Florida heads off to Columbia where they’ll be taking on a Missouri team that has Laurence Bowers back, is playing better basketball than they were a few weeks ago, and has proven to be a much better team at home than on the road. The Tigers desperately need a big win, not necessarily for their tournament chances but for their confidence and to keep the doomsday theorists at bay.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: No. 24 VCU at St. Louis (9:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net)

The Atlantic 10 isn’t a mid-major league, so spare me the angry comments. But this is the kind of matchup that deserves some extended discussion. You’d be hard-pressed to find two teams that play more opposing styles, but nonetheless, these two teams are essentially sitting in a tie for first place in the conference. (Technically, VCU has a one game lead in the win column.) The Rams like to press, thriving on their ability to force turnovers and turn those turnovers into layups and three-pointers. St. Louis is a is more of a halfcourt team, one that can be downright stingy defensively.

They execute in the half court and are a nightmare to try and score on when their defense gets set. VCU cannot score when forced to go against set defenses. This should be a fun battle.

Five Things to Watch For

1) Utah State heads to BYU to take on the Cougars in a game that was postponed due to the heart attack suffered by Danny Berger of USU in a practice earlier this season. This is an intense rivalry — as they all are in the state of Utah — but some of the luster as been lost as Kyisean Reed and Preston Medlin’s injuries have had an effect on how good the Aggies are. (9:00 p.m. ET)

2) Wichita State and Indiana State square off in a huge battle in the Missouri Valley. ISU won at Wichita State by 13 points earlier this season and hasn’t lost at home since Dec. 1st. But the Sycamores have also struggled of late, losing their last two games and falling into a position where they are nearly out of the bubble pictures without a win over the Shockers. WSU currently leads Creighton by a game and ISU by two games in the MVC standings. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

3) San Diego State has dropped two in a row and five of their last nine in Mountain West play. They are all but out of the MWC race, but beating Wyoming at home would help keep them out of the bubble picture. (10:00 p.m. ET)

4) There are four notable bubble battles in the ACC tonight. Florida State at NC State (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2), Maryland at Boston College (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3), UNC at Georgia Tech (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3), and, most importantly, Virginia at No. 2 Miami (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU).

5) Southern Illinois has been the ultimate spoiler in the MVC race this season. The travel to Omaha to take on Creighton tonight. (8:05 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Top 25

  • No. 1 Indiana at No. 4 Michigan State (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • Virginia at No. 2 Miami (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
  • Duquesne at No. 15 Butler (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • No. 17 Marquette at Seton Hall (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • No. 24 VCU at St. Louis (9:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Net)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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 between $250,000-$275,000.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that will pay players with less than three years of professional basketball experience 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 $250,000 that a two-way contract will 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 chasing 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.

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.