Tennessee’s balanced offensive makes them a different team

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Both Tennessee and Virginia had something to prove entering Monday’s non-conference clash in Knoxville.

The Volunteers and Cavaliers were both seen as underachieving teams with a final chance at a solid non-conference win — and a momentum boost — heading into conference play.

After the way Tennessee came out and thoroughly dominated Virginia on Monday, they should be very pleased heading into SEC play. The Volunteers held Virginia to 32 percent shooting and 16 percent shooting from the three-point line as they cruised to an 87-52 win.

But while the Tennessee defense was obviously impressive, head coach Cuonzo Martin has to be excited about the balanced offensive effort that the Volunteers had against Virginia. Earlier on Monday, I broke down Tennessee’s reliance on its top three players — Jarnell Stokes, Jeronne Maymon and Jordan McRae — on offense and how the Volunteers had struggled to find scoring elsewhere against marquee opponents.

In its last two losses against high-major programs, Maymon, McRae and Stokes combined for 43 of Tennessee’s 61 points in a loss to Wichita State and followed that up the next game with 48 of the team’s 58 points in another loss to North Carolina State. No other player on Tennessee’s roster had more than six points in either game.

That changed dramatically on Monday.

Josh Richardson (20 points) got the Vols going early, as the junior had a 15-point first half in which he confidently knocked in jumpers and moved well without the ball. After going scoreless in losses to Wichita State and North Carolina State, senior Antonio Barton put up 14 points on 5-for-6 six and 3-for-4 from the three-point line.

Even with freshman reserve guards Robert Hubbs III and Darius Thompson not giving much of an offensive boost, Tennessee was able to easily control the game against Virginia because their offense among the starting lineup was so balanced and tough to defend.

McRae (21 points) and Stokes (20 points) continued their solid production, but with the added bonus of Richardson and Barton knocking down shots, they won comfortably and made a usually solid Virginia defense look awful.

I don’t expect Tennessee to shoot nearly as well as they did on Monday every game out, but even if Richardson and Barton miss a few of those shots, Tennessee has to be happy with how confidently and aggressively their starting five played on both ends of the floor.

Tennessee thoroughly outplayed an opponent that had something to prove — on both ends of the floor for 40 minutes — and Martin has to like that heading into the SEC.

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.

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.