No. 18 UConn knocks off Boston College, Eagles losing margin for error for at-large

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — Deandre Daniels finished with 23 points and Shabazz Napier added 19, 11 of which came in the second half, as No 18 UConn survived upset-minded Boston College 72-70 in the opening round of the 2K Sports Classic at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

Daniels scored 15 of his 23 points in the first half to help the Huskies build a lead that reached 11 on a number of occasions, but BC’s stars Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson brought the Eagles back down the stretch. Napier missed a free throw with less than a minute left that gave the Eagles life, but Hanlan missed at the rim on the ensuing possession and Boatright was fouled during the scrum for the rebound. His two free throws put the Huskies up four.

The knock on BC coming into this game was their ability to defend on the perimeter. They had been torched by the likes of UMass, Toledo and Providence, all of whom have quality guards. That also happens to be UConn’s strength with the likes of Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun. But BC actually held their own. Napier had 20, but it was a quiet 20; he made some big shots down the stretch, but he certainly didn’t dominate the game and he struggled getting to the rim at times. Boatright had just nine points on the night, and combined the duo shot 8-for-26 from the floor.

“They were doubling on the pick and rolls,” Napier said, “and when we penetrated the paint they played great help defense, we weren’t knocking down our shots. ”

The issue for Steve Donahue’s club on this night was on the offensive end of the floor. No one on the UConn can guard Anderson, yet the Eagles couldn’t — or wouldn’t — get him enough touches on the block in the second half. There were multiple possessions where he had Phil Nolan or Amida Brimah sealed and the BC guards simply didn’t give him the ball. He still finished with 22 points, on just eight shots, while going to the line 11 times. That would have been less of an issue if Hanlan went off for 38 points again, but he didn’t. He struggled for most of the first 35 minutes of the game.

“It was not only me and Ryan, the whole team, we had all five guys looking at him,” Napier said of Hanlan.

Hanlan’s a talent, however, and he was at his best in the final minutes. But at this point, BC is really just a two-man show. Anderson and Hanlan combined for 39 of their 68 points, and when going up against a team that is as talented as the Huskies are, that’s not going to cut it, even when they have an off-night.

UConn moves to 5-0 on the season, while BC drops to 1-4.

I can safely say they are the best 1-4 team in the country, and while I still think this group is good enough to win a game or two in the tournament, the hole that they have dug themselves may be too much to work their way out of. The only two relevant games left on their non-conference are VCU on the road and Harvard. Then it’s the ACC schedule, which certainly won’t be easy.

BC will have plenty of chances to build a resume that is strong enough to earn an at-large bid, but November’s not yet over and they are already to a point where their margin of error is very slim.

“All these failures are going to make us tougher, stronger,” said Donahue. “We have to stay the course. I think we’re going to be a good basketball team.”

If the Eagles want to avoid being forced into having to win the ACC’s automatic bid, they’re going to have to turn their season around in a hurry.

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.