Games of the Weekend: Join 35,000 in watching Georgetown-Syracuse

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Game of the Weekend: No. 11 Georgetown at No. 8 Syracuse (Sat., 4 p.m. ET, CBS)

The best rivalry in the prestigious history of the Big East will come to a close this season, as Syracuse is headed to the ACC while Georgetown will, eventually, become a member of the new Catholic 7 conference, whatever form it ends up being. The two teams will play again in a couple of weeks and John Thompson III has said that the two sides will try to keep the rivalry going when they are in different leagues, but this could end up being the last time the Hoyas visit the Carrier Dome. That’s why there will be a Syracuse record 35,000 people in attendance.

As far as the game itself is concerned, first place in the Big East will be on the line. Georgetown is the hottest team in the country right now. They can defend, they have enough length to match up with Syracuse, and their back court of Markel Starks and D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera (who went for 33 points against DePaul this week) has been playing great basketball. Otto Porter has a chance to be the Big East Player of the Year after the way he has played down the stretch of the season, but Syracuse looked like they finally found a rhythm on Wednesday with James Southerland back in the lineup.

Five more games you need to watch:

  • No. 16 New Mexico at No. 22 Colorado State (Sat., 4 p.m. NBC Sports Network): This is the biggest game in the Mountain West this season, as New Mexico has a chance to go into Fort Collins and all-but lock up the MWC regular season title. The Lobos currently hold a one-game lead over CSU, but winning on the road in the MWC is borderline impossible.
  • No. 4 Michigan State at No. 18 Ohio State (Sun. 4:00 p.m. ET, CBS): An ailing Michigan State teams heads into Columbus to take on Ohio State, who finally turned things around as they picked up a 26 point win over Minnesota on Wednesday night. The Spartans are a game behind Indiana in the Big Ten standings, and a loss would all but end any chance they have of getting the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament.
  • St. Louis at No. 15 Butler (Fri. 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU): I love when great basketball gets played on a Friday night. It’s been a bit uncommon this season. The Billikens have taken control of the Atlantic 10 with dominating wins over Butler and VCU this month, but the Bulldogs have a chance to get their revenge on Friday night. Butler is tied with VCU a game behind St. Louis in the league standings, and a loss would pretty end any chance they had of winning the league outright.
  • Illinois at No. 7 Michigan (Sun. 1:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): Illinois is the most confusing team in the country. They were dominant for stretches in the non-conference. They struggled to beat some mid-majors clubs as well. They blew out Ohio State to kick off conference play, then lost eight of their next 11. They beat Indiana and Minnesota, then struggled to hold off Penn State at home. Michigan has been reeling themselves, losing three of four in one stretched and getting manhandled by Michigan State. Expect a lot of threes in this one.
  • Creighton at St. Mary’s (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): Both Creighton and St. Mary’s have high-powered, efficient offenses paired with defenses that have their issues getting stops. The Bluejays don’t have anyone in the back court to match up with Matthew Dellavedova, while SMC will likely have to put Beau Levesque, who would be playing out of position, on Doug McDermott. This should be an entertaining watch.

Because I have to mention them:

  • South Dakota State at Murray State (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2): Nate Wolters vs. Isaiah Canaan. Need I say more?
  • Ohio at Belmont (10:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2): Two of my favorite teams in the country. DJ Cooper vs. Kerron Johnson will be worth the price of admission, while Ian Clark will actually be the best guard on the floor. Both teams can get up and down the floor and both teams play an entertaining style of basketball.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.

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.