Late Night Snacks: Recapping the last day of the tourney’s first weekend

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After a relatively boring start to the NCAA tournament, Sunday provided us with enough fireworks.

We’ve got a No. 15 seed in the Sweet 16 for the first time ever. They are joined there by a No. 13 seed, a No. 12 seed and a No. 9 seed. We’re still without a true buzzer-beater or an overtime game in this tournament, but we did get two game-winners tonight that both came within the final 2.5 seconds of regulation.

We also saw two No. 1 seeds get all they could handle before advancing, as well as a No. 2 seed that needed some big shots to survive. And lastly, we saw two teams get a gift from the officials down the stretch that may have changed the outcome of a game.

Here’s a recap of the final day of the NCAA tournament’s first weekend:

TEAM OF THE DAY: Florida Gulf Coast

The Eagles are the first No. 15 seed to make it to the Sweet 16, and they did so in impressive fashion: running past and dunking over both No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed San Diego State. It’s not just the best story to come out of the NCAA tournament; it’s the best story in all of sports right now. It’s the best story we’ve had in college basketball since … well, I can’t come up with anything comparable off the top of my head, which should tell you how awesome this run is.

I’m not going to overload you with FGCU stuff here. We’ve written plenty about them this weekend already.

Who else was impressive?:

  • La Salle: The Explorers overcame a lack of front court depth against a bigger opponent for the second time this weekend, knocking off Ole Miss and canceling Marshall Henderson Show. Ramon Galloway had 24 points in the win, but Tyrone Garland is the MVP for his description of the game-winner he hit:
  • Kansas: I’m talking specifically about second half Kansas here, the one that absolutely ran North Carolina off the floor, outscoring them 49-28 in the final 20 minutes and doing so while getting absolutely nothing out of star Ben McLemore. Kansas will advance to take on Michigan in the Sweet 16.

PLAYER OF THE DAY: Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast

I know, I said I wasn’t going to inundate you with FGCU information, but there really wasn’t anyone that had a more dominating performance in a more influential role than Comer did on Sunday night. He doesn’t score like Sherwood Brown or Bernard Thompson and he can’t dunk like Eddie Murphy or Chase Fieler or Erik McKnight, but Comer is the engine that makes FGCU go. He finished with 10 points and 14 assists on Sunday.

Who else was good?:

  • Ramon Galloway, La Salle: Garland hit the game-winner, but Galloway was the best player on the floor for the Explorers on Sunday, finishing with 24 points on 8-13 shooting, hitting 6-10 from three.
  • Khalif Wyatt, Temple: Temple couldn’t pull out the win against Indiana, but it wasn’t Wyatt’s fault. He finished with 31 points on 12-24 shooting, doing everything he could to keep the Owls ahead.
  • Jeff Withey and Travis Releford, Kansas: Withey had 16 points, 16 boards and five blocks while holding James Michael McAdoo to 5-19 shooting and Releford had 22 points, eight boards and three steals as the Jayhawks overcame a dreadful first half to run the Tar Heels out of the gym.
  • Mike Rosario, Florida: Rosario finished with 25 points, hitting 8-12 from the field and 6-9 from three, in a 14 point Florida win.
  • Rion Brown, Miami: Brown had 21 points and hit 5-10 from three, including a pair of huge threes late in the game, as the Hurricanes knocked off Illinois and advanced to the Sweet 16.

FIVE THOUGHTS

1) Aaron Craft’s game-winner: What made it impressive wasn’t that he simply hit the game-winner, it’s that he did so after essentially choking away the game with missed free throws and turnovers. Not many people could have overcome those struggles.

2) Shane Larkin’s step-back three was more impressive: With minute left and Miami behind after having blown a seven point lead, Larkin hit a ridiculously tough, step-back three to put the Hurricanes up 57-55, a lead they would never relinquish.

3) The common bond?: Unfortunately, neither Larkin’s nor Craft’s shots will be the lasting memory to come out of those two games. Ohio State held on to beat Iowa State is large part due to a brutal charge called against Will Clyburn with Iowa State up 75-74 and about a minute left in the game. Miami may have won anyway, but with 42 seconds left and the score 57-55, the referees blew an out-of-bounds call that was blatantly off of Miami.

4) Duke is going to need more out of Ryan Kelly: Kelly had just a single point in Duke’s win over Creighton on Sunday night. Remember all that talk about how he was the best player on the Duke team? He did a great job on Doug McDermott, but he’s going to need to make an appearance offensively.

5) Julian Gamble is my hero: Yup.

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.