Late Night Snacks: No. 2 Syracuse, No. 15 Kansas win key conference battles

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 15 Kansas 80, No. 9 Oklahoma State 78

At the conclusion of last season’s meeting at Allen Fieldhouse Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart pulled off a celebratory backflip. While both teams stated that last year’s finish would have no effect on Saturday’s meeting, it was clear that these two teams are too fond of each other. A Frank Mason strip of Le’Bryan Nash in the final seconds preserved the victory for the Jayhawks, who received an outstanding performance from center Joel Embiid.

Embiid finished the game with 13 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks, helping the Jayhawks navigate a quiet afternoon from Andrew Wiggins. For the Cowboys it was Phil Forte III who picked up the slack for a struggling Marcus Smart, hitting seven three-pointers and scoring 23 points.

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

1) No. 2 Syracuse 59, No. 22 Pittsburgh 54

After years of this being a big matchup in the Big East the Orange and Panthers met with first place in the ACC on the line, and freshman point guard Tyler Ennis was the difference-maker in the end. Ennis, who finished the game with 16 points and three assists, scored six points late to ensure that the Orange would remain undefeated. Pittsburgh dropped its first ACC game, but if anything the Panthers likely proved to the skeptics that they are an ACC contender.

2) Michigan 77, No. 3 Wisconsin 70 

Since Mitch McGary was ruled out for the remainder of the season John Beilein’s team has won seven straight games, the most recent being a seven-point win in Madison. Nik Stauskas, who’s expanded his game since last season, put up 23 points, four rebounds and four assists to lead the way. The win is Michigan’s first in Madison since 1999.

3) No. 25 Oklahoma 66, No. 12 Baylor 64

The Sooners didn’t play well in the first half, shooting 23% from the field in Waco. The good news for Lon Kruger’s team at the half: they only trailed by six points. In the second half Buddy Hield scored all 19 of his points and Cameron Clark added ten of his 14 to lead Oklahoma to a solid resume-building victory.

STARRED

1) Andrew Rowsey (UNC Asheville)

The freshman scored 35 points on 10-for-16 shooting in the Bulldogs’ 80-76 win at Charleston Southern.

2) Sam Dower (Gonzaga) 

28 points, 14 rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots in Gonzaga’s 82-72 win over Loyola Marymount.

3) Richaud Pack (North Carolina A&T)

Pack scored 30 points, dished out eight assists (one turnover) and grabbed five rebounds in the Aggies’ 88-82 win over NJIT. NJIT’s Damon Lynn scored 34 points in a losing effort, shooting 9-for-18 from three.

STRUGGLED

1) N.C. State

The Wolfpack shot just 8-for-16 from the foul line and committed 21 turnovers in their 95-60 loss at No. 23 Duke.

2) Branden Frazier (Fordham) 

The Rams’ second-leading scorer (19.0 ppg) ran into No. 24 Saint Louis’ stingy defense and the results weren’t good, as he went scoreless and shot 0-for-10 from the field.

3) Yogi Ferrell (Indiana)

Ferrell shot 2-for-14 from the field, finishing with nine points and just one assist in the Hoosiers’ 54-47 home loss to Northwestern.

NOTABLES

  • Styles make fights, and in the case of Florida State and Virginia this may simply be a bad matchup for the Seminoles. The Cavaliers won 79-66, sweeping the season series with both wins being convincing.
  • No. 13 Kentucky rebounded from a slow start to beat Tennessee 74-66 in Knoxville. Andrew Harrison led the way with a career-high 26 points.
  • No. 23 Duke looked like the team many expected them to be on Saturday afternoon in their 95-60 win over N.C. State. Jabari Parker scored 23 points and five other Blue Devils scored at least nine points.
  • Utah picked up a huge win for its program on Saturday afternoon, beating No. 25 UCLA 64-59 in Salt Lake City. Jordan Loveridge led four Utes in double figures with 17 points (and nine rebounds).
  • No. 5 Wichita State moved to 19-0 with a 68-48 win over Indiana State, with Ron Baker leading four Shockers in double figures with 16 points.
  • Toledo made a nice statement within the MAC, winning 75-61 at Akron in a matchup of two of the early favorites to win the conference. Julius “Juice” Brown scored 25 points and J.D. Weatherspoon added 20 and 14 rebounds for the Rockets.
  • Georgetown’s in trouble, as they fell to Seton Hall at home 67-57. Prior to this year the Hoyas hadn’t lost to the Pirates and Providence in the same season since the 2003-04 campaign.
  • Speaking of the Friars they won their third consecutive game, beating No. 20 Creighton, 81-68. Bryce Cotton led five Friars in double figures with 23 points.
  • No. 18 Louisville picked up an important resume-building victory, winning 76-64 at UConn. UConn head coach Kevin Ollie wasn’t around for the finish, and Russ Smith scored 23 and Montrezl Harrell added 18 and 13 rebounds to lead the winners.
  • Jonathan Holmes scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead Texas to an 86-76 win over No. 8 Iowa State.
  • Casey Prather made his return in No. 7 Florida’s 68-61 win at Auburn and he played well, scoring 21 points and grabbing six rebounds off the bench.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

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.

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.