Pregame Shootaround 2.28.13: Six leagues will determine champ tonight

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Game of the Night: No. 3 Duke at Virginia (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Virginia only has so many opportunities left to try and play their way into the NCAA tournament, and there may never be a better chance than knocking off the No. 3 team in the country. The Cavs are in an awkward spot. They have a number of good wins this season, but thanks to some horrendous losses, their computer numbers are to the point that they need every win that they can muster.

Virginia’s style of play is a difficult one to prepare for. They are a lot like Wisconsin in their style of defense and the way they like to control the tempo of the game. Virginia dares teams to shoot threes over their pack-line defense, which could backfire against a team like Duke, who has a number of quality three-point shooters along their perimeter. But the ‘Hoos are tough at home. A win here and Virginia should all but count on a tournament bid.

Who’s Getting Upset?: No. 2 Gonzaga at BYU (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

BYU’s at-large chances are essentially gone, but that doesn’t mean that the Cougars are a bad basketball team. They have two of the best players in the WCC on their roster in Tyler Haws and Brandon Davies, and they play an uptempo style than can generate a lot of points. If there is a knock on this Gonzaga team, it’s that their defense leaves something to be desired. Throw in the added advantage of playing in front of a tough, rowdy Marriott Center crowd, and BYU should have a shot at pulling off the upset.

Mid-Major Matchup of the Night: Utah State at No. 25 Louisiana Tech (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

It’s a shame that Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed ended up getting hurt this season, because a matchup between that USU team and this Louisiana Tech team would have been a lot of fun to watch. More than anything, this should be a chance for you to watch LTU play. They are the overwhelming favorite to win the WAC’s automatic bid, and if they do go dancing, you’ll want to know who you’re picking, won’t you?

Five Things to Watch For

1) It’s the SWAC, so people won’t pay much attention to it, but with two games left, Southern and Texas Southern — the two teams tied for first place in the SWAC with just two games left in the regular season — square off tonight for a share of the league’s regular season title. The game is at Texas Southern, who lost the first matchup on the road. (9:00 p.m. ET)

2) Five other league titles are on the line tonight:

  • Stony Brook could win the outright America East title by beating Boston U. on the road tonight. They have a two game lead over the Terriers with two games left in the regular season. (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Robert Morris currently holds a one game lead over Bryant in the NEC standings. There are two games left. Tonight, Bobby Mo will head to Rhode Island to take on the Bulldogs. (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Mercer visits Florida-Gulf Coast tonight. The Bears hold a two game lead over FGCU with two games left in the regular season. (7:30 p.m. ET)
  • Niagara can clinch a share of the MAAC title tonight by beating Rider at home. They Purple Eagles hold a one game lead over Loyola (MD) with two regular season games left. (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • South Dakota State has one regular season game left. Western Illinois has two. SDSU holds a half-game lead — one game in the win column — over WIU. Both are in action tonight.

3) Dominic Artis returns to the floor tonight for No. 24 Oregon as they host Oregon State. The Ducks are tied with UCLA for first in the Pac-12 standings. (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

4) Missouri’s road struggles have been well-documented this season. They visit South Carolina tonight. (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

5) Will we see another ranked Big Ten team lose on the road tonight? No. 16 Ohio State visits Northwestern. (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Top 25

  • No. 2 Gonzaga at BYU (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
  • No. 3 Duke at Virginia (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • No. 16 Ohio State at Northwestern (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
  • Oregon State at No. 24 Oregon (11:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
  • Utah State at No. 25 Louisiana Tech (8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Notable Games

  • North Carolina at Clemson (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • Detroit at Temple (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • Drexel at Old Dominion (7:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network)
  • Utah at California (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPNU)
  • Missouri at South Carolina (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.

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.