Conference Catchups: Can Ohio State or Wisconsin hold off Michigan State?

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College basketball is now almost two months old. League play will be kicking off in the next week. Let’s get you caught up on all you need to know with some of the country’s best conferences. 

To read through the rest of our Conference Catchups, click here.

Midseason Player of the Year: Keith Appling, Michigan State

The Big Ten is the toughest conference to pick a midseason Player of the Year as there are six or seven legitimate candidates for the award as of today. I didn’t even has space to mention Gary Harris or RayVonte Rice (or Aaron Craft or Frank Kaminsky or Roy Devyn Marble) below, and all of those guys can put together a strong enough performance in league play to be deserving of the award.

But for now, I’m going with Keith Appling for a couple of reasons. For starters, I think he’s been the most valuable player on the Michigan State roster this season. He’s finally embracing his role as a point guard, distributing when needed and taking over in crunch time in some of the Spartan’s biggest wins. His numbers (15.9 ppg, 5.0 apg, 1.9 t/o’s, 47.7% 3PT) speak for themselves, but it’s been his presence that has been just as important.

All-Big Ten First Team:

  • Nik Stauskas, Michigan
  • Tim Frazier, Penn State
  • Keith Appling, Michigan State
  • Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
  • Adreian Payne, Michigan State

Midseason Coach of the Year: Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

I think we all expected Wisconsin to be good this season because Wisconsin is good every season. But I don’t know how many people had the Badgers entering Big Ten play as a top five team with one of the nation’s strongest non-conference resumes. Before the season started, I said that it was going to be exciting to watch how Wisconsin plays out this season, and it sure has been. Sam Dekker has become the star we all expected him to be, Frank Kaminsky has become the latest in a long line of sharp-shooting Wisconsin big men, and the three-guard lineup Ryan has used has been a nightmare for opponents to match up with. This may be end up being Ryan’s best coaching job of his career.

Favorite: Michigan State Spartans

Michigan State has not been as dominant as many expected they would be during the non-conference part of the season, but much of that has to do with the fact that they have yet to get fully healthy. Adreian Payne and Keith Appling have dealt with nagging injuries, Gary Harris can’t seem to get his ankle back to full health and Matt Costello is still battling mono. That’s four starters. Once this team gets fully healthy? Does anyone really want to bet against a Tom Izzo-coached team with three guys talented enough to be all-americans and win Big Ten Player of the Year? Because I don’t.

And three more contenders: 

  • Ohio State has the nation’s most efficient defense, and the ever-enigmatic LaQuinton Ross has been playing fantastic the last month. After a slow start, Ross is averaging 17.1 points and shooting 48.5% from three in his last eight games.
  • We’ve already been over Wisconsin. I would not be surprised in the least to see them atop the Big Ten standings come March.
  • I may be in the minority here, but for my money, the fourth-best team in the Big Ten is Iowa. See below.

source:  Most Surprising Team: Iowa Hawkeyes

Surprising may be the wrong word to use here because a lot of people were predicting Iowa to make the jump this season. But I’m not sure how many people saw this team having a shot at finishing in the top four of the conference. The Hawkeyes are talented, they are deep, they have size, they have multiple ball-handlers, they are well-coached, they can score, they’re capable defensively. There is a lot to like about this group. Oh, and it’s worth noting that Aaron White and Roy Devyn Marble are two of the best players in the conference.

Most Disappointing Team: Michigan Wolverines

Calling this team disappointing is a little unfair given the fact that the biggest reasons they’ve struggled early on this season are that Mitch McGary’s back has kept him from being healthy at any point this season and that Derrick Walton is a freshman point guard trying to replace Trey Burke. As good as Nik Stauskas has been and as talented as Glenn Robinson III is, having limitations at the point guard and center positions has been killer. That said, this is a four-loss team with multiple NBA draft picks that was in the preseason top ten. There’s no two-ways around that.

Most Important Player (in league play): Nik Stauskas, Michigan

Derrick Walton is not ready to be the guy that facilitates Michigan’s offense. Mitch McGary will probably never be at 100% this season. But the Wolverines could still end up being a top four team in the Big Ten if they allow Stauskas to be the guy that initiates everything. He’s a lights-out shooter, that we know. But he’s much better off the dribble than you realize and a much-improved creator. Putting the ball in his hands will be the best thing that John Beilein can do.

Coming in a close second? Ohio State’s LaQuinton Ross.

Who will slide?: Illinois Fighting Illini

I’m not quite yet ready to buy Illinois as a contender in the Big Ten. As of now, they are a borderline top 25 team being kept afloat by a pair of scoring guards in Tracy Abrams and Rayvonte Rice. I like Joseph Bertrand, and I think Jon Ekey and Nnanna Egwu are tough for opposing bigs to matchup with, but I’m not convinced this team will be able to hang with the best in the Big Ten.

Who is the sleeper?: Indiana Hoosiers

It seems like everyone is ignoring Tom Crean’s club this season, doesn’t it? That’s what happens when you have a young roster and lose the only three notable games that you play during the non-conference. But the Hoosiers have one of the better point guards in the Big Ten in Yogi Ferrell and a roster that works with the uptempo, defensive-minded style that Crean wants to play. Noah Vonleh’s development as a low-post scorer and the emergence of perimeter shooters will determine just how good Indiana ends up being this year.

New Power Rankings

1. Michigan State
2. Wisconsin
3. Ohio State
4. Iowa
5. Michigan
6. Indiana
7. Illinois
8. Penn State
9. Minnesota
10. Purdue
11. Nebraska
12. Northwestern

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.