Late Night Snacks: Recapping the tournament’s first REAL day

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PLAYER OF THE DAY: Andrew Smith, Butler

Smith finished with 14 points and 16 boards in the Bulldog’s win over No. 11 seed Bucknell. He also hit a three midway through the second half that not only was Butler’s first on the afternoon (they were 0-14 from distance up to that point) but also helped stem the tide of a Bucknell run that had erased Butler’s double-digit lead.

But that wasn’t Smith’s most important contribution. Mike Muscala, the 6-foot-11 center for the Bison who just so happens to be a potential first round draft pick, finished with just nine points and 10 boards on 4-17 shooting, stymied by the defense of Smith and the rest of the Butler front line. That’s why the Bulldogs were able to win a tournament game on an afternoon where they, frankly, shot the ball horrendously from the floor.

Who else was good?:

  • Derrick Nix, Michigan State: The biggest player on arguably the biggest team in the tournament played like it, going for 23 points and 15 boards in a win over No. 14 seed Valparaiso.
  • Malcolm Armstead, Wichita State: Armstead finished with 22 points and five assists and helped hold Tray Woodall to 1-12 shooting and five turnovers as the Shockers beat No. 8 seed Pitt 73-55.
  • Dwayne Evans, St. Louis: Evans led the way with 24 points and six boards as the Billikens beat No. 13 seed New Mexico State.
  • Dorian Green, Colorado State: Green scored 17 of his 26 points in the first half as the Rams ran past Missouri.
  • Glenn Robinson III and Tim Hardaway, Jr, Michigan: The Wolverines put No. 13 seed South Dakota State away easily on Thursday despite the fact that Trey Burke was 2-12 from the floor. GR3 and Hardaway finished with 42 points combined, shooting 16-21 from the field and 8-10 from three.

TEAM OF THE DAY: Harvard Crimson

You have got to feel good for the Crimson at this point. After losing their two best players in the preseason to an academic scandal, Harvard backed their way into the NCAA tournament when Princeton surprisingly lost a pair of games on the road on the final weekend of Ivy League play. But they managed to earn a 14 seed, and then pulled off a stunning upset of No. 3 seed New Mexico in the opening round of the tournament.

The Lobos were projected as a team that could make a run to the Final Four. They had the size to take advantage of Harvard’s smaller front line. They had the talent and the resume for most bracket analysts to simply look past that first round games. And Harvard still managed to beat Steve Alford’s team to pick up the first NCAA tournament win in the history of the program.

Who else was impressive?:

  • Oregon: I’m sorry I ever doubted you, Oregon. The No. 12 seed Ducks dominated a good Oklahoma State team from start to finish and made everyone realize just how silly their seeding truly was. The most important note? Dominic Artis finished with 13 points in 17 minutes, easily the best game he’s played since he returned from a foot injury. He had some explosive and confident moves in the mix.
  • Southern: I know they lost, but hats off to the Jaguars for giving No. 1 seed Gonzaga everything they could handle.

GAME OF THE DAY: Marquette 59, Davidson 58

This one  is going to sting for a while:

FIVE THOUGHTS:

1) So the Pac-12 is good again?: Two No. 12 seeds (Oregon and Cal) knocked off No. 5 seeds. No. 6 seed Arizona beat the trendy upset pick, No. 11 seed Belmont, in decisive fashion. That puts the Pac-12 at 3-0 in this year’s tournament with two very winnable games for No. 6 seed UCLA and No. 10 seed Colorado tomorrow. After being the laughing stock of college basketball for a couple of years, that has to feel good, especially when the Mountain West is now 1-3 in the tournament, with the two best teams heading how already.

2) Defining performance?: The defining moment of the first day of the NCAA tournament was probably Harvard’s win over New Mexico, but Davidson’s collapse and Marquette’s game-winner are definitely in the mix. But who had the defining performance? When the Player of the Day wins for the work he did on the defensive end, that should tell you something.

3) Sad to see seniors leave: What makes it worse is when they leave after a terrible performance. Matthew Dellavedova was not himself as Memphis stormed over St. Mary’s. Tray Woodall played one of the worst games of his career in Pitt’s loss to Wichita State. Both were in tears after the game.

4) Shaka’s ruthless: He was playing the team of the first guy to give him a DI job. Up 40 with eight minutes left, he was still pressing. Havoc never sleeps.

5) More excitement tomorrow?: Today turned out to be kind of a dud, but it seems like that happens with one day of the round of 64 every year. Where will the crazy come from on Friday?

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.