Perimeter shooting, quiet days from role players cost No. 3 Arizona

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No. 3 Arizona (28-3, 15-3) entered the weekend one of three teams thought to essentially be a lock to receive a one-seed in the NCAA tournament, with No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Wichita State being the others. A win over Oregon certainly would have been nice, but on Saturday afternoon the Wildcats fell short against a team looking to solidify its status as an NCAA tournament team. Oregon won 64-57, with their superior three-point shooting being the biggest reason why.

Oregon made ten of its nineteen attempts from deep, with Arizona shooting just 2-for-11 from beyond the arc. For the season Arizona hasn’t been the best perimeter shooting team, making just 35.7% of its three-pointers and 34.2% of its two-point jumpers per hoop-math.com.

The perimeter shooting, and the lack of a consistent perimeter shot-maker has been an issue all season long, but to their credit the Wildcats have managed to account for this deficiency in other areas. From an offensive standpoint Arizona’s ability to attack the offensive glass, even in the games following the season-ending broken foot suffered by forward Brandon Ashley, has factored into a number of their wins this season. That, along with their valuing of the basketball, are two reasons why the Wildcats have been one of the Pac-12’s most efficient offenses in league play (ranking third in offensive efficiency).

But what happens when Arizona can’t take advantage of those strengths? That was the case against Oregon, with the Ducks committing to protecting the defensive glass and limiting Arizona to an offensive rebounding percentage of 26.5% and also forcing 14 Arizona turnovers. Also of note on Saturday was the advantage Oregon enjoyed off the bench, with their reserves scoring 26 points (Jason Calliste: 18 points) to Arizona’s four.

For all the discussion about the perimeter shooting and what could happen against a team that can keep them off the offensive glass, the play of two key role players was also an issue on Saturday. Rondae Hollis Jefferson has performed very well in the majority of his outings, but he accounted for two points, five rebounds and three turnovers against Oregon. Both he and Gabe York, who failed to score, struggled against Oregon and that’s something the Wildcats can’t afford as the games get bigger.

Not having that extra option off the bench is something that Arizona’s adjusted to in the majority of their games following Ashley’s injury, with Hollis-Jefferson and York both contributing to the success. But if Arizona is to win the program’s second national title, those two underclassmen have to be consistent factors. If they are consistent, the Wildcats are more than capable of compensating for their lack of a perimeter marksman.

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.