College Basketball Talk’s latest top 25

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What do we do with Villanova and Louisville this week?

The Wildcats lost on the road to Syracuse, the nation’s No. 2 team, by 16 points in a game that was closer during the second half than the final score would indicate. That’s a game Villanova is supposed to lose. The same can be said for the Cardinals, who went into Rupp Arena and lost by seven to Kentucky, arguably the nation’s best team playing with their backs against the wall.

Again, that’s a game Louisville is supposed to lose. How much can you punish teams that lose games they are supposed to lose? How much does the way they lose — Villanova blowing an 18-point lead and getting outscored 71-37 in the final 30 minutes, Louisville getting dominated without Julius Randle on the floor — factor into those rankings?

Here’s my line of thinking: I think that Louisville’s had a flaw exposed. They don’t have enough of a supporting cast for Russ Smith and Chris Jones. Until Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear are scoring from the perimeter and Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan are effective in the paint, the Cards are going to be completely reliant on Jones and Smith for points when they don’t force turnovers.

Villanova, on the other hand, was on the wrong end of a bad matchup. They thrive on their ability to create mismatches with their guard-heavy lineups, but that was nullified by the Syracuse zone.

In other words, the way I see it, Louisville’s loss was the result of an issue with their roster makeup. Villanova picked the wrong day to struggle against a team they didn’t matchup well with. That’s why I dropped Louisville from sixth to 14th while keeping Villanova slotted at 10th.

THE TOP 25

1. Arizona (13-0, LW: No. 1): The Wildcats picked up another blowout, non-conference win last week. They’ll kick off Pac-12 play with a visit from the Washington schools next weekend. The biggest concern for Arizona right now? Finding some depth. With Gabe York struggling, this team basically goes six-deep.

2. Syracuse (12-0, LW: No. 2): The Orange made quite a statement on Saturday afternoon, putting a whipping on Villanova despite digging themselves a 25-7 hole. Villanova is a good basketball team, and Syracuse made them look like they didn’t belong in the same gym for the last 30 minutes.

3. Wisconsin (13-0, LW: No. 3): The Badgers continued rolling along, smacking around Prairie View A&M to end their non-conference season. Wisconsin kicks off league play next week with a trip to Northwestern.

4. Ohio State (13-0, LW: No. 4): Over the course of his last eight games, LaQuinton Ross is averaging 17.1 points and shooting 48.5% from three. Let’s see how that works out in league play.

5. Michigan State (11-1, LW: No. 5): The Spartans won by 53 points on Saturday thanks to a career-high 27 points from Keith Appling. Michigan State look like it’s getting healthy.

6. Duke (10-2, LW: No. 7): Rasheed Sulaimon followed up last Thursday’s breakout performance against UCLA with 13 points, three assists and two steals in 22 minutes against Eastern Michigan.

7. Florida (10-2, LW: No. 8): The Gators, now at full strength, look more impressive every time out.

8. Oklahoma State (11-1, LW: No. 9): Wins over Colorado and Memphis stand out, but the Cowboys are going to be tested in Big 12 play. There may not be a tougher conference, top-to-bottom, than the Big 12.

9. Kansas (8-3, LW: No. 13): I know Villanova beat Kansas, so please don’t remind me. But I also think that Kansas is better than Villanova, and the Jayhawks are only getting better as they learn that their best option this season will be to pound the ball into Joel Embiid and Perry Ellis.

10. Villanova (11-1, LW: No. 10): I still like the Wildcats, loss at Syracuse or not.

11. Wichita State (13-0, LW: No. 11)
12. Oregon (12-0, LW: No. 12)
13. Kentucky (10-3, LW: No. 16)
14. Louisville (10-2, LW: No. 6)
15. Baylor (10-1, LW: No. 14)
16. UConn (11-1, LW: No. 15)
17. Memphis (9-1, LW: No. 17)
18. Iowa State (11-0, LW: No. 18)
19. Iowa (11-2, LW: No. 19)
20. North Carolina (9-3, LW: No. 20)
21. San Diego State (10-1, LW: No. 21)
22. Illinois (11-2, LW: No. 22)
23. Missouri (11-1, LW: No. 23)
24. Colorado (11-2, LW: No. 24)
25. UMass (11-1, LW: No. 25)

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.