A Viewer’s Guide to the Tip-Off Marathon

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ESPN’s annual Tip-Off Marathon begins tonight at 7:00 p.m. (all time Eastern), so in an effort to get you prepared, we at CBT will be giving you a handy guide to help you schedule out the next 29 hours of your life.

You’re welcome.

ONLY MISS THESE GAMES FOR THE BIRTH OF YOUR FIRST CHILD:

The Champions Classic, Tue. 7:30 p.m.  (ESPN): Don’t know what the Champions Classic is? Have you been living under a rock?

The last two years, Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas have participated in an event during the first week of the season where the four teams will show up in a city and play a double-header. The matchups rotate every year, and this season, they are just ridiculous, and the perfect way to cap the Tip-Off Marathon.

No. 1 Kentucky takes on No. 2 Michigan State at 7:30 p.m., which is obviously awesome since it pits No. 1 against No. 2. But there’s more intrigue here. Kentucky is obscenely talented, but they are chock full of freshmen and sophomores. The Spartans aren’t quite as talented, but they have veterans up and down their lineup. Who wins out?

It wouldn’t be fair to call that game the undercard, but the nightcap will just about match the first game in terms of hype. No. 4 Duke takes on No. 5 Kansas, which is thrilling in its own right before you consider that Jabari Parker will be returning to him hometown to take on Andrew Wiggins, the freshmen who usurped his standing as the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2013.

DVR IS ACCEPTABLE, BUT MAKE SURE YOU WATCH LATER ON:

No. 14 VCU at No. 25 Virginia, Tue. 7:00 p.m. (ESPN2): Talk about a contrast of styles. VCU is notorious for their Havoc defense, a 40-minute full-court assault on opposing ball-handlers. The Rams abused Illinois State in their opener, but they’ll have a much tougher task with the Cavs on Tuesday night. Virginia is a sleeper in the ACC, a team with two of the most underrated players in the country in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. The issue is that Virginia is working through incorporating a new point guard into their rotation after Jontel Evans graduated. That won’t be an easy gig against Shaka Smart’s boys.

No. 11 Florida at No. 20 Wisconsin, Tue. 9:00 p.m. (ESPN2): Florida gets their first real test of the season, but the Gators will once again be short-handed as they deal with suspensions and injuries early on this season. The Badgers certainly challenged themselves early this season, as they already knocked off St. John’s on Friday night. As good as these two programs are, the stars from Friday’s openers were relative no-names: Casey Prather popped off for 28 points against North Florida while Duje Dukan had 15 big points for Wisconsin.

BYU at Stanford, Mon. 11:00 p.m. (ESPN): BYU has one of the nation’s best scorers in Tyler Haws, who is a pleasure to watch if you are a hoops snob like your truly. A 6-foot-3 off-guard, Haws is one of the best players in the country at running off of screens and moving without the ball. The Cougars are a fun team to watch in general as they love to get out and run the floor. Stanford actually has a chance to be a contender in the Pac-12 this season, as they returned a balanced and talented roster from a season. The combination of big man Dwight Powell and lead guard Chasson Randle have yet to churn out the wins that Cardinal fans expected.

FIRE UP ESPN3 AT WORK FOR:

LSU at UMass, Tue. 11:00 a.m. (ESPN2): One of the most sneaky-good games of the first week of the season. LSU should be much-improved this season, with Anthony Hickey and Johnny O’Bryant being joined by a talented recruiting class for Johnny Jones. UMass is an Atlantic 10 contender, however, led by Chaz Williams, who is one of the most entertaining guards in the country.

N.C. State at Cincinnati, Tue. 5:00 p.m. (ESPN): The Wolfpack are an intriguing team to keep an eye on this season. A slimmed-down T.J. Warren could end up being the ACC’s leading scorer this season, and Cat Barber and Tyler Lewis make up for a fun-to-watch back court. But can Mark Gottfried get this group to win games? They’ll have a tough test at Cincinnati, a team that is led by Sena Kilpatrick and has become known for their physicality and toughness.

MAKE A POT OF COFFEE SO YOU CAN STAY UP FOR:

Colorado State at No. 18 Gonzaga, Mon. 9:00 p.m. (ESPN): Colorado State was a contender in the Mountain West the past couple of seasons, but they’ll be rebuilding this year after losing their top six players to graduation. The Zags lost Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, but with Kevin Pangos back and Sam Dower finally getting a chance up front, this group could surprise some folks.

Western Kentucky at No. 13 Wichita State, Tue. 1:00 a.m. (ESPN): The Hilltoppers have been to back-to-back NCAA tournaments and return enough talent that they should compete for the Sun Belt title. But the Shockers are coming off of a run to the Final Four and enter the season with a ton of hype. Can Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker impress in their reintroduction to the nation?

NCAA TOURNAMENT DARLINGS ON DISPLAY:

Wichita State isn’t the only team coming off of an NCAA tournament run to be playing a showcase game during the marathon. Florida-Gulf Coast gets a visit from Hartford at 7:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, a game that will be followed up by Quinnipiac tripping to Philly to take on La Salle at 9:00 a.m.

NAPS ARE ACCEPTABLE DURING:

  • Kent State at Temple, Mon. 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Akron at Saint Mary’s, Tue. 3:00 a.m. (ESPN)
  • New Mexico State at Hawaii, Tue. 5:00 a.m. (ESPN)
  • West Virginia at Virginia Tech, Tues. 1:00 p.m. (ESPN)
  • South Carolina at No. 23 Baylor, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN)

Illinois lands important commitment from four-star Class of 2017 guard Mark Smith

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Illinois landed a very important Class of 2017 commitment on Wednesday as guard Mark Smith pledged to the Illini.

The 6-foot-4 Smith was previously a Missouri commit for baseball, but some issues with his arm caused him to look back into basketball last summer. A native of Edwardsville, in the St. Louis metro area, Smith came out of nowhere to win the Illinois Mr. Basketball award as a senior this season as he averaged 21.9 points, 8.4 assists and 8.2 rebounds while becoming a consensus national top-100 prospect.

Rivals rates Smith as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 as he could come in and earn immediate minutes at Illinois next season at either guard spot.

This is a very important commitment for head coach Brad Underwood and the Illini as the new head coach was able to hold off some elite programs like Kentucky and Michigan State for Smith’s services.

Northwestern gets commitment from Boston College transfer A.J. Turner

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Northwestern landed a transfer on Wednesday as former Boston College wing A.J. Turner pledged to the Wildcats, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-7 Turner just finished his sophomore season with the Golden Eagles as he averaged 8.4 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. A well-rounded wing who also shot 37 percent from three-point range, Turner will have to sit out one season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more years of eligibility.

With Scottie Lindsay and Vic Law only having limited time left in Evanston, Turner provides a bit of insurance on the wing for the Wildcats for the future as he’s a proven rotation player coming from the ACC.

Oakland’s Greg Kampe hosting charity golf event with big-name coaches

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Oakland head coach Greg Kampe hosted a successful charity event for cancer research two years ago by allowing people to bid online to play a round of golf with some of college basketball’s best coaches.

Kampe is back again this year as he’s hoping to eventually raise $1 million for the American Cancer Society.

According to a report from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press, Kampe has 11 high-profile names that fans can play with this year.

  • Tom Izzo, Michigan State
  • Frank Martin, South Carolina
  • Rick Barnes, Tennessee
  • Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
  • Chris Holtmann, Butler
  • Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
  • Greg Kampe, Oakland
  • Stan Van Gundy, Detroit Pistons
  • Steve Lavin
  • Fran Fraschilla
  • Bill Raftery

Fans can find more details about the auctions and all of the details here.

The minimum bid is $15,000 per coach. A “buy now” bid of $24,000 is also available.

Each round includes the following, according to the event’s website:

Up for auction will be 11 spectacular packages, featuring a private dinner with elite basketball coaches and VIPs, a one night stay at MotorCity Casino Hotel on Sunday, June 4, and an afternoon of golf on Monday, June 5 at Oakland Hills Country Club on the South Course. The winning bidders and their two guests will round out the foursomes with their selected VIP: Rick Barnes, Mick Cronin, Fran Fraschilla, Chris Holtmann, Tom Izzo, Greg Kampe, Steve Lavin, Frank Martin, Bill Raftery, Stan Van Gundy, or Kevin Willard.

There are a lot of great selections to choose from for this sort of thing, but I can’t imagine a better afternoon than playing golf with Bill Raftery and a few friends. There are some other tempting choices on this list, but that’s the one I would have to jump at.

If you think 137 players declaring for the draft is stupid, you’re probably stupid

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The NBA Draft’s full early entry list came out on Tuesday afternoon, and there were 137 underclassmen listed on it.

137.

For 60 spots in the NBA Draft, only 30 of which guarantee you a contract in the NBA.

And that’s before you factor in the 45 international players that also declared for the NBA Draft, as well as the crop of seniors — Josh Hart, Monte’ Morris, Jaron Blossomgame, Alec Peters — that are going to end up hearing their names called. All told, there are going to be roughly 200 players competing to be one of the 60 people that end up getting drafted on June 22nd, and you don’t have to be any good at math to realize that 200 is a much, much bigger number than 60.

This unleashed a torrent of bad takes on the decision of these players.

And bad may not be doing those takes justice.

Because the bottom-line is this: You cannot paint the decision on whether or not to go pro with a broad brush.

For some players, making money of any kind is something they need to do to support their family, whether it’s what they’ll get with a first round guarantee, the $75-100,000 they’ll get for making a training camp roster to subsidize their time in the D-League while teams develop them or the money they can make in the D-League or overseas. You don’t know what their financial situation is. Maximizing their ability to capitalize on every available dollar they can make off of their athletic gifts may be more important than working towards a degree.

And it’s worth noting here that a guaranteed contract isn’t the only way to make a living in professional basketball. To say nothing of the money that can be made overseas or the number of second round picks and undrafted players that make guaranteed money — which is more than you probably realize — it needs to be noted that D-League salaries are getting a bump this year with the new CBA.

The NBA has also instituted something new called a “two-way contract”. Without getting into the legalese, it’s essentially a retainer worth well into the six figures that they will be able to give to two players that will allow them to retain that player under contract while sending them between the D-League and the NBA roster. In a sense, it creates an extra 60 NBA roster spots for players that have 0-3 years worth of professional basketball on their résumé.

Some players are simply declaring without signing with an agent because they want to get feedback directly from NBA personnel on what their professional prospects. Some will hear that they need to return to school to work on their body, or work on their jumper, or mature as a person to be able to handle everything that comes with being a professional. Others will be told they’re going to make a lot of money by staying in the draft, or that they need to go back to school because, frankly, they are not professional basketball players. Not getting invited to the NBA combine is a pretty good indication of where you stand in the eyes of NBA teams.

Still other players are putting their name into the draft to leave their options open should they be recruited over by the program they are a part of. Take Frank Jackson, for example. If he can return to school and thrive as Duke’s point guard, maybe he turns into a top 20 pick. But what happens if Trevon Duval, the best point guard in the Class of 2017 and a top five pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, picks Duke? Would it be in Jackson’s best interest to come back to Duke when he won’t be playing the position that he needs to learn to play to turn himself into a lasting NBA player?

Jackson, like the roughly 100 underclassmen that have declared without an agent, has until May 24th to make his decision on whether or not he will keep his name in the draft. Until then, he can return to school without damaging his eligibility.

The entire reason that the NCAA changed their rules to allow players to test the waters is so that they can make the most important decision of their lives with as much information as humanly possible. This thing exists for the sole purpose of allowing the kids to have as much knowledge about their options as possible.

And that is exactly what these kids are doing.

So the idea that this rule, or players taking advantage of that rule, however high that number may be, is a bad thing is stupid.