College Hoops Week in Review: Villanova, Xavier Thames shine in holiday tourneys

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Xavier Thames, San Diego State

This was supposed to be a down year for San Diego State. This was supposed to be their rebuilding season, the in-between season where Winston Shepard and Dakarai Allen mature into stars while the Aztecs try to learn how to survive the loss of Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley. And while that is still very much the case with this group, this week proved that it’s anything-but a rebuilding year for the Aztecs, as they knocked off Charleston, Creighton and Marquette to take home the title in the Wooden Legacy.

The best player on the floor for Steve Fisher’s club was senior guard Xavier Thames, who looks like he’s ready to slide into that starring role. Thames averaged 22.0 points in the three wins, shooting 18-for-32 from the floor and 11-for-15 from three. In the wins over the Bluejays and the Golden Eagles, Thames had 26 and 29 points, respectively.

They were good, too

  • Ron Baker, Wichita State: Baker has been sensational through the first months of the season, and that was no different this past week as he averaged 22.0 points, 5.0 boards and 2.3 steals in wins over DePaul, BYU and at Saint Louis.
  • Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant will get the attention, but Ennis was awesome in Maui. He averaged 17.0 points, 6.0 assists and 4.0 steals while turning the ball over just twice in 109 minutes.
  • Chad Frazier, UAB: The Blazers have been one of the biggest surprises in the country this season, and Frazier has been their best player. He averaged 21.0 points and 4.5 assists in wins over Florida A&M and UNC.
  • Lamar Patterson, Pitt: We got to see Patterson’s full arsenal this week: 21.7 points, 4.7 boards, 5.3 assists, 4.0 steals, 8-for-17 threes.
  • Sidney Sanders Jr., Fairleigh Dickinson: The Knights shocked both Rutgers and Seton Hall on the road this week, and it was Sanders that did the majority of the work. He averaged 22.5 points, 9.5 assists, 5.5 boards and 2.0 steals in the two wins.

source:  TEAM OF THE WEEK: Villanova Wildcats

Villanova was expected to be an improved team this season, but I’m not sure anyone expected the kind of start that the Wildcats have gotten off to. After rolling through Kansas and Iowa in the Battle 4 Atlantis, Villanova is now 7-0 on the season and ranked in the top 15.

The most impressive part about this start is that their best player, Ryan Arcidiacono has yet to really hit his rhythm. He hit the game-winner against Kansas, but he did not play well in that game. Jay Wright has gotten back to his roots with this team: deep, talented back courts surrounded by physical, blue-collar front court guys. This is a tough group with enough talent that they just might be the best team in the wide-open Big East.

They were good, too

  • Arizona: The Wildcats won the Preseason NIT, knocking off Duke in the title game on Friday.
  • Dayton: The Flyers beat Gonzaga and Cal out in Maui this week, with their only loss coming by a single point to Baylor in a game that Dayton led for much of the second half.
  • Memphis: The Tigers earned themselves a massive victory by knocking off Oklahoma State in the finals of the Old Spice Classic.
  • San Diego State: The Aztecs won the Wooden Legacy by picking up wins over both Marquette and Creighton.
  • Syracuse: The Orange have looked like the best team in the ACC through the first month of the season, and taking home a title in Maui isn’t going to change that perspective.
  • Wichita State: The Shockers notched three nice wins this week, including beating BYU in the finals of the Legends Classic and knocking off Saint Louis on the road.

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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 between $250,000-$275,000.

That means there are an extra 60 jobs this season that will pay players with less than three years of professional basketball experience 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 $250,000 that a two-way contract will 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 chasing 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.

A record $439 million was bet on basketball in March in Las Vegas

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The month of March was quite friendly to Las Vegas.

According to ESPN, more money was bet on basketball during the month of March than in any month in the state’s regulated sports betting history.

And while the numbers produced by Las Vegas books don’t separate college and professional basketball betting, the money coming in on college hoops is pretty clear: $439 million was bet on basketball in March, more than double the $213 million bet on the sport in February.

It was profitable, too.

Those Vegas books kept more than $40 million dollars of the money that was gambled on basketball, which shattered the previous record of roughly $28 million in winnings.

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.