No. 1 Syracuse escapes again, moving its record to 25-0 (VIDEO)

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Another close game for No. 1 Syracuse, and another escape with an unblemished record.

The Orange did it again on Saturday night, with a C.J. Fair layup with 6.7 seconds remaining giving Syracuse a 56-55 win over an N.C. State team that didn’t reach New York until early Saturday due to travel issues. Of Syracuse’s 12 ACC victories six have been by six points or less, and on Saturday night N.C. State went blow for blow with the Orange.

T.J. Warren (23 points) and Kyle Washington (14) led the way offensively for much of the night for the Wolfpack, with both taking advantage of the high post and Warren scoring from other areas of the floor as well. But they needed help in the second half, and that came in the form of two Ralston Turner three-pointers within a 90-second stretch to give N.C. State a 50-45 lead with 6:27 remaining.

With Fair, Tyler Ennis and Trevor Cooney all struggling offensively, this had the appearance of a game that N.C. State would win and bolster their NCAA tournament resume in the process. Fortunately for Syracuse Rakeem Christmas and Jerami Grant picked up the slack, with Christmas reaching double figures (14 points) for the first time since January 18. Fair’s basket may have won the game, but without the contributions of Christmas and Grant Syracuse isn’t in position to take advantage of two Wolfpack turnovers in the final 22 seconds.

Of course there was controversy, with some arguing that a foul committed by Trevor Cooney on Warren with 13.7 seconds remaining should have been a shooting foul. Had that been the case Warren would have been at the line with a chance to put N.C. State up four. But with the foul being called on the floor the Wolfpack had to inbound the ball underneath, and the ensuing turnover led to Fair’s game-winner.

The Orange may have escaped but their shooting struggles need to be addressed with the schedule getting even tougher. Syracuse shot just 35.2% from the field and 2-for-12 from three, with their advantages in points from the foul line (16-7) and second-chance points (14-7) helping to make up for the off night from the field. But that isn’t going to be the case every night, and with their (for the time being) six-man rotation Syracuse is operating with a slim margin for error.

The most important aspect is the result, and Syracuse has found ways to win all season long. Will that continue? That remains to be seen, but these nail biters are a dangerous way to live.

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.