Indiana-Michigan, Duke-UNC, Syracuse-Georgetown, four autobids = loaded weekend

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Game of the Weekend: No. 2 Indiana at No. 7 Michigan (Sun. 4:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Well, here we are, five months into college basketball season we’ve come down to the final game of the regular season as we try to parse out just who, exactly, will be the Big Ten champion. If the Hoosiers win, they’re the outright champs, as they currently hold a one game lead over three teams, including the Wolverines. But if Michigan can pick up the W in Crisler Arena, it sets up a weird situation where the Big Ten could have as many as four teams share the Big Ten title.

The key matchup, obviously, is going to be Trey Burke. How does Indiana slow him down? Do they use Victor Oladipo on him and hope that Jordan Hulls and Yogi Ferrell can matchup with Nik Stauskas and Tim Hardaway Jr.? Do they risk sitting back in that zone that has gotten them into trouble at times this season?

The key for the Wolverines won’t be Burke, however; it’s going to be his supporting cast. Glenn Robinson III has had a nasty habit of disappearing in big games. Nik Stauskas has been a bit more consistent, but he hasn’t been as effective late in the year as he was early in the season. Throw in the fact that Michigan’s defense has been awful far too often late in the year, and this turns into a very dangerous basketball game.

What else should you watch this weekend?

No. 17 Syracuse at No. 5 Georgetown (Sat. 12:00 p.m. ET ESPN): The final installment of the best rivalry the Big East has to offer has brought out plenty of terrific remembrances (you can find our’s here), but this is an example of what made the rivalry so great: once you dig past all the nostalgia, you’ll realize that there is a lot on the line besides pride and revenge. Georgetown can win a Big East regular season title. Syracuse can climb their way into the top four in the Big East tournament and get themselves a double-bye.

No. 9 Kansas State at No. 13 Oklahoma State (Sat. 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3): Oklahoma State took themselves out of the running for a share of the Big 12 regular season title when they went and lost at Hilton Coliseum on Wednesday, but that doesn’t mean they won’t impact the race for the top. If the Pokes can knock off the Wildcats and Kansas beats Baylor, than the Jayhawks will win the outright Big 12 title. If Kansas State can go into Gallagher-Iba Arena and get a win, they’ll at the least earn a share of the league title.

No. 24 Notre Dame at No. 8 Louisville (Sat. 4:00 p.m. ET, CBS): Aside from potentially being the final game that the Irish play as a member of the Big East conference, there is plenty at stake here. Like Syracuse, Notre Dame needs to win if they want a chance at being a top four seed in the Big East tournament. Like Georgetown, a home win for the Cardinals will give them, at the least, a share of the Big East crown. Oh, and the last time these two tangoed, it went five overtimes.

No. 3 Duke at North Carolina (Sat. 9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): If this isn’t the best rivalry in all of college hoops, it is right up there. UNC has been a completely different team over the last month of the season, as they have gone to a small lineup that creates mismatches all over the floor and allows them to get out and run more often. It has also brought about a change in Marcus Paige, who is playing his best basketball of the season. Can the Heels pull out a statement victory at home?

There are four automatic bids to be earned this weekend:

Saturday:

  • Atlantic Sun (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN)
  • Ohio Valley (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

Sunday:

  • Big South (12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
  • Missouri Valley (2:05 p.m. ET, CBS)

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.