Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: Top 10 showdown highlights ‘Black Friday’ slate

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 4 Arizona vs. No. 6 Duke (6:00 p.m., ESPN) 

This one’s an easy choice, as two teams with hopes of winning a national title face off at Madison Square Garden. One thing to watch: how both teams defend on the perimeter. Duke’s issues have been well-publicized to this point in the season, and while Arizona has improved defensively the Blue Devils represent their biggest test to date (by far). The freshmen, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon and Duke’s Jabari Parker, will receive a lot of the pregame hype but the veterans for each team will be key as well.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: No. 20 Creighton vs. San Diego State (9:30 p.m., ESPN2) 

Both teams advanced to the semifinals of the Wooden Legacy with impressive efforts on Thursday night, as Creighton whipped Arizona State and SDSU took care of the College of Charleston. To borrow an old boxing saying, “styles make fights,” and in this one there’s are two questions to consider. One, how will Creighton deal with San Diego State’s length? And two, will SDSU be able to knock down enough shots to keep up with one of the nation’s best offenses? Creighton’s Doug McDermott will be a difficult matchup for San Diego State, but don’t ignore junior guard Devin Brooks either. SDSU will counter with versatile forwards J.J. O’Brien and Winston Shepard III.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 15 Florida (vs. Florida State, 7:30 p.m. ESPN2)  

The powers that be have moved this rivalry back to the day before the two football programs meet, with the two prior meetings taking place in December. Florida’s won the last four meetings in the series, but the combination of Gator injuries and Seminole interior depth make an upset possible. Scottie Wilbekin is back, which is a positive for Florida, but FSU has the big men (led by Okaro White and Robert Gilchrist) to give the Florida front court trouble. Five Seminoles are averaging at least 10.5 points per game, and leading scorer Ian Miller should bounce back after scoring just two points in their win over Northeastern.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: Green Bay vs. Harvard, Midnight (CBS SN)

If capable it would be wise to stay up for this one, as the Crimson will be tested by the Phoenix. Green Bay has four players averaging double figures with high-scoring guard Keifer Sykes (21.5 ppg) leading the way, and in Alec Brown they’ve got one of the Horizon League’s best big men. Harvard certainly doesn’t lack for depth, and forward Steve Moundou-Missi has been much-improved. Given their non-conference schedule Harvard may need to win the Great Alaska Shootout from a resume standpoint, but it won’t be an easy feat to pull off.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW: 

1) Villanova is off to a 5-0 start and Jay Wright’s team will have the opportunity to show just how much they’ve improved in their matchup with No. 2 Kansas. The question for the Wildcats is a simple one: can they keep the Jayhawk big men from dominating the glass? If so, Villanova has a shot at the upset?

2) Another team off to a good start is 5-1 SMU, and the Mustangs take on Virginia in the Corpus Christi Challenge. Junior college transfer Yanick Moreira has received high praise for his play thus far, but the task of slowing down Virginia’s Joe Harris will be a difficult one for the SMU perimeter players.

3) No. 1 Michigan State is back in action, as they host a struggling Mount St. Mary’s squad. So what’s there to watch? Michigan State’s approach. Elite teams take care of overmatched opponents quickly and efficiently, and after the Spartans’ struggles with Columbia and Portland it will be interesting to see if they show improved focus against the Mountaineers.

4) Butler’s game against No. 5 Oklahoma State will be an interesting one given the Bulldogs’ ability to frustrate opponents with their defense. Kellen Dunham and Khyle Marshall combined to score 62 points on Thursday, and a similar effort may be needed to knock off Marcus Smart and co.

5) Memphis may not be facing a ranked team in LSU tonight, but the Bayou Bengals have the size needed to test the young Memphis big men. Memphis may have dominated an overmatched Siena team on Thursday but they were inconsistent on the glass, and a similar effort will get them beat by LSU.

THE TOP 25: 

  • Mount St. Mary’s at No. 1 Michigan State, 1:00 p.m. (BTN)
  • Villanova vs. No. 2 Kansas, 9:30 p.m. (NBC SN)
  • No. 6 Duke vs. No. 4 Arizona, 6:00 p.m. (ESPN)
  • Butler vs. No. 5 Oklahoma State, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN)
  • North Florida at No. 7 Ohio State, 5:00 p.m. (BTN)
  • Southern Miss at No. 9 Louisville, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
  • Pacific at No. 14 Oregon, 3:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network)
  • Florida State at No. 15 Florida, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Northwestern vs. No. 19 UCLA, 11:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • San Diego State vs. No. 20 Creighton, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • LSU vs. No. 21 Memphis, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • Coppin State at No. 22 Michigan, 3:00 p.m. (BTN)
  • UTEP vs. No. 23 Iowa, 7:00 p.m. (NBC SN)
  • George Washington vs. No. 25 Marquette, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

NOTABLES: 

  • Xavier vs. Tennessee, 1:00 p.m. (AXS)
  • Alabama vs. Drexel, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN2)
  • USC vs. Wake Forest, 3:30 p.m. (AXS)
  • Georgia Tech vs. Ole Miss, 4:30 p.m. (NBC SN)
  • Northeastern at VCU, 7:00 p.m.
  • Penn State vs. St. John’s, 7:00 p.m.
  • SMU vs. Virginia, 7:30 p.m. (CBS SN)
  • IPFW at Illinois, 8:00 p.m. (ESPN3)

Gonzaga lands their first post-Final Four commitment

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Gonzaga capitalized on their run to the national title game by landing a commitment from French point guard Joel Ayayi, who announced the news on twitter.

Ayayi is an interesting long-term prospect, according to Draft Express. He has the size and the frame to eventually be a significant contributor in the college game, but he’s raw. His handle needs work, as does his ability to create off the dribble and find teammates off of the bounce.

That said, he’s 6-foot-4 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan and the ability to shoot it from the perimeter, and if Gonzaga can do anything, it’s develop players that enter their program.

VIDEO: Zion Williamson, top three prospect in 2018, breaks defender’s ankles

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Zion Williamson, one of the most sought-after recruits in college basketball, had himself a highlight-worthy moment at the Adidas Gauntlet event in Dallas over the weekend, breaking a defender’s ankles before hitting a three.

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.

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.