Five underappreciated college hoops rivalries

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On Saturday afternoon, the final installment of Syracuse and Georgetown’s Big East rivalry will come to a fitting close: final day of the regular season played in front of a packed house on ESPN’s Gameday with a conference title on the line.

This isn’t the first great rivalry to get crushed during the Expansionocalypse Paper Chase. West Virginia and Pitt won’t be having anymore Backyard Brawls. Kansas and Missouri have seen their Border War come to an unfortunate truce. Even football has seen one of their longest-standing rivalries fade into darkness, which is why you won’t ever see Johnny Football running roughshod in Austin.

But that doesn’t mean all the great rivalries are dead. Duke and North Carolina play on Saturday as well, and I’m not sure that rivalry can compare with the bitterness that exists between Kentucky and Louisville. The ferocity of the Crosstown Shootout between Cincinnati and Xavier was headline news when they exchanged punches last season. And now that Michigan is good again, the rivalry between the Wolverines and Tom Izzo’s Spartans is thriving.

Here are five more rivalries (plus five extra, since we love ya!) that are must-see TV:

The Sunflower Showdown: Now that Missouri is in the SEC and Kansas State is good at basketball, we must all hope that the attention of the Jayhawk fan base gets turned onto the Wildcats. There’s nothing better than a fierce, in-state rivalry between two powerhouse programs — they are currently tied for the Big 12 lead — that happen to reside in the same conference, and that’s precisely what we have here. Throw in the fact that these are two of the best home court environments in the country and you have everything you need in a rivalry.

The Black & Blue Classic: The battle for the city of Richmond is your classic beef between a large, public school (VCU) and a small, private school (Richmond). This quote from former Ram guard Brandon Rozzell when both teams made the 2011 Sweet 16 sums it up just right:

“We consider ourselves the real Richmond school,” Rozzell said. “We’re in the middle of the city and the heart and soul of everything. They’re more of an elite school, nice campus and all. I like to be where everything is at, not out in the middle of the woods and covered by trees.”

They play twice-a-year as members of the Atlantic 10.

The I-94 Rivalry: Over the last decade or so, in-state rivals Wisconsin and Marquette have seen their feud get ratcheted up a couple of notches. It helps that Bo Ryan and Tom Crean/Buzz Williams have built the two programs into perennial contenders built more-or-less on the same premise: talent development over three or four years, hard work and effort. Recent recruiting battles (looking at you, Vander Blue) have helped fuel the fire as well.

Gonzaga and St. Mary’s: If there was ever a rivalry that needed an awesome nickname*, this is it. The two best programs in the WCC, the Zags and the Gaels have spent the better part of the last decade competing for conference superiority. St. Mary’s finally claimed it last season, but that may be gone now that Gonzaga has climbed to the No. 1 ranking in the country.

Utah, Utah State and BYU: Outside of Indiana and Kentucky, there isn’t a more hoops-mad state in the country that Utah. These are the three biggest programs in the state, and while none of them happen to reside in the same conference anymore — USU will be heading to the Mountain West next season, which Utah and BYU both left in recent years — that doesn’t change the spite that’s felt between the two programs. These rivalries have been played more than 200 times and, with the exception of a couple of recent ugly seasons from the Utes, draw sellout crowds that are rowdy and loud.

Five more worth tuning in for:

  • Indiana and Purdue: It feels weird putting the two biggest schools in Indiana on this list, but it probably belongs. The Indiana-Kentucky rivalry is the one that makes headlines. The Indiana-Butler rivalry is the one gaining traction thanks to Brad Stevens. It’s been a while since both schools were relevant at the same time, but when they are, this is fierce.
  • The Big 5: I shouldn’t have to explain the Big 5, but I will. St. Joe’s, Villanova, Penn, La Salle and Temple — five schools located in Philly — play a round-robin every year. The folks in Philly care a lot. Seeing a Holy War (St. Joe’s vs. Villanova) should be on every hoop fan’s bucket list.
  • The Battle of the Boulevard: Lipscomb and Belmont. No longer league rivals, but that doesn’t take away from the spirit of this rivalry, which once drew 16,000 people to a tournament game when both were NAIA schools in the early ’90s.
  • Rio Grande Rivalry: Featuring New Mexico and New Mexico State, this rivalry is unique in that it’s a non-conference matchup, but the Lobos and the Aggies play twice a year.
  • Penn and Princeton: The two most storied programs in the Ivy League. Harvard may headline the conference these days, but even in a down year, this game is intense.

What do you think is the best rivalry in the country that doesn’t get enough attention?

*(Now accepting applications for nicknames for the Gonzaga-St. Mary’s rivalry. Leave ’em in the comments. The winner gets endless props from me.)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

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.