Weekend Preview: Iowa-Iowa State highlights a rivalry-heavy weekend slate

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GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 23 Iowa at No. 17 Iowa State, Fri. 9:30 p.m. (all times eastern)

It’s been a while since this in-state rivalry game held as much meaning as it does this season. The Cyclones enter the season as one of the nation’s most surprising teams, a group that Fred Hoiberg has kept quite relevant despite the fact that they’ve lost a number of key pieces over the course of the last couple of seasons. This year, it’s been the arrival of Deandre Kane and the impressive play of guy like Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Naz Long that have made the difference.

The Hawkeyes are a different story. They’ve been on the brink of a breakthrough for a couple seasons under Fran McCaffery, and it looks like this is the year that it’s finally happened. Iowa is deep, they are balanced, and they are talented. Most importantly, both teams play a fun style of basketball to watch, which can only mean good things for Friday night’s marquee game.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 11 Kentucky at No. 18 North Carolina, Sat. 5:15 p.m.

Kentucky’s in trouble, right? As many issues as North Carolina has this season, they’ve knocked off both Louisville and Michigan State already. The Heels can’t handle the likes of Belmont or UAB, but if you entered the season as a Final Four favorite, the last thing you want to do is go up against these Heels.

I’m mostly joking, because I think Kentucky’s size actually nullifies a lot of what North Carolina is going to try to do. The Heels picked up those two wins because of the play of their big guys, specifically Kennedy Meeks, on the interior. What happens when Meeks runs into Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein? What will be interesting to keep an eye on, however, is Kentucky’s defense. They’ve struggled with the pick-and-roll and defensive rebounding the last couple of games.

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 1 Arizona at Michigan, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This game had a lot more intrigue before Michigan’s flaws early on this season became so readily apparent. That said, the Wolverines may actually have more individual talent than the Wildcats. Nick Johnson vs. Nik Stauskas will be fun.
  • Tennessee at No. 12 Wichita State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: A football game on a basketball court. The Vols handed the Shockers their first loss last season, and WSU will look to return the favor.
  • Notre Dame vs. Indiana, Sat. 3:15 p.m.: Interesting contrast of styles here. Notre Dame has a ton of shooters and guard play but lacks the length and athleticism to be tough defensively. Indiana? Well, they’re the exact opposite.
  • St. Mary’s at Boise State, Sat. 6:05 p.m.: Two of the nation’s better under-the-radar teams this season. Both need the win to make a statement and help bolster their league’s non-conference resume. Brad Waldow for St. Mary’s is the truth; he should have a big game.
  • No. 2 Syracuse at St. John’s, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: An old school Big East reunion at the Garden! St. John’s has been a bit of a disappointment this season, and they certainly won’t be more athletic than the Orange.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • Eastern Kentucky at No. 4 Wisconsin, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: I know how good Wisconsin is this season and I know how good they are at home, but EKU is a good team this season.
  • No. 7 Oklahoma State at Louisiana Tech, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Louisiana Tech likes to pressure, and the knock on Marcus Smart this season is that he has been a bit turnover prone.
  • New Mexico at No. 13 Kansas, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: The Lobos might be getting the Jayhawks at the wrong time, as they’re coming off of two losses, but they matchup well with Bill Self’s team. Keep an eye on Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow.
  • La Salle at No. 10 Villanova, Sun. 2:30 p.m.: Big 5 hoops. Guards on guards on guards. Games like this never seem to disappoint.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) West Virginia at Marshall, Sat. 7:30 p.m.: The Friends of Coal rivalry is intense. Last year, five players were ejected after a scuffle late in the game. The basketball isn’t great, but games where a fight could break out at any moment are fun. I’d love to see Bob Huggins and Tom Herrion get into a ring.

2) Cincinnati vs. Xavier, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: The Crosstown Shootout, which is no longer called the Crosstown Shootout. Everything I said about the Friends of Coal game could be said about this rivalry. Remember this?

3) North Dakota State at No. 3 Ohio State, Sat. 8:15 p.m.: North Dakota State is good. They just beat Notre Dame at Notre Dame. Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorklund are legit. Plus, they calmly slop pigs in the middle of the day.

4) Illinois at No. 15 Oregon, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: Illinois really needs to pick up a marquee victory. For the Ducks, this will be the last time they have to play without Dominic Artis and Ben Carter. It’s also the last chance for Johnathon Loyd to prove he deserves playing time along side — or ahead — of Artis.

5) BYU at Utah, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: More in-state rivalry games. This may be the last time that the Cougars head to Salt Lake for a while.

 

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.

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.