What are the Round of 32 and Sweet 16 matchups to root for?

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Round of 32

No. 7 Creighton-No. 2 Duke (Midwest)

Doug McDermott has been one of the most dominant players in the country this season and will now be able to play on a national stage against a universally recognizable program in the NCAA tournament if the Bluejays and Blue Devils meet in the Round of 32. McDermott would likely go head-t0-head with Duke’s Ryan Kelly. Both Kelly and McDermott have proven themselves to be the quintessential stretch-power forward, able to pull the defense away from the basket and hit shots out to the three-point line.

But McDermott-Kelly isn’t the only matchup to watch. We would also see Gregory Echenique and Mason Plumlee down on the block, as well as Grant Gibbs vs. Quinn Cook in a matchup of high-level offensive facilitators.

(CLICK HERE: To browse through the rest of our 2013 NCAA Tournament Previews)

No. 4 Michigan- No. 5 VCU (South)

Michigan-VCU would pit one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the country against one of the most agile and frenetic defenses. Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway, Jr., and Glenn Robinson III against coach Shaka Smart’s “Havoc” defense would be one of the best pairings in the Round of 32. Michigan has won all season in part because it is able to control pace and speed teams up. VCU  has the ability to speed teams up past even where the Wolverines would be comfortable. There could be a mid-major/high-major upset brewing.

No. 1 Kansas-No. 8 UNC (South)

North Carolina has been a different basketball team since switching to a smaller lineup and freeing up space for James Michael McAdoo down low. A Kansas-North Carolina pairing in the Round of 32 would make for a good test of how the Tar Heels’ new approach holds up. McAdoo would have one of his toughest tasks on the block against Kansas’ Jeff Withey, while North Carolina would have to contain Ben McLemore and the point guard duo of Elijah Johnson and Naadir Tharpe.

Sweet 16

No. 3 Florida vs. No. 2 Georgetown (South)

This matchup would feature two of the country’s best defenses going head-to-head. Perhaps it’s not going to be the offensive beauty many would like to see in the NCAA tournament, but it would be a good one. Otto Porter has proven himself to be a National Player of the Year candidate and against the stifling Florida defense, he would be Georgetown’s biggest scoring weapon. The biggest concern for Florida, though, is if they can make it to this point or beat Georgetown (if it came to it) considering the Gators’ difficulties closing out games late.

No. 11 Bucknell vs. No. 2 Miami (East)

In an NCAA tournament that is all about matchups dictating who will advance, this would be the perfect example. Earlier in the season, Miami proved that it could play at different paces and still win games. Bucknell wants to slow teams down and work the ball inside to All-Conference center Mike Muscala. At the same time, Bucknell could be run out of the gym in this hypothetical matchup, depending on how aggressive Miami is in setting the pace in the opening minutes. Bucknell does not have an easy road to get to the Hurricanes, though, if it were to happen. The Bison would have to beat Butler and the winner of Marquette/Davidson.

 No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 12 Ole Miss (West)

This is likely the most far-fetched because of the road Ole Miss has to go through, but it’s worth rooting for. Marshall Henderson against the region’s No. 1 seed for a chance to go to the Elite Eight? Sign me up. Henderson had some choice words for a number of critics after the Rebels won the SEC tournament title. Do you think those rebuttals would stop if Ole Miss kept advancing in the NCAA tournament?

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

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.