2014 Mid-American Conference Tournament Preview: Toledo, WMU look to end East Division’s reign

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In recent years the East Division has dominated the MAC, with the last nine winners of the automatic bid coming from that division. But the power was in the West this year, with Western Michigan and Toledo finishing with matching 14-4 conference records. As a result those two get byes to the semifinals, with three-seed Buffalo and four-seed Akron getting byes into the quarterfinals. The other eight teams begin play on Monday, and there could be a few surprises along the way to determining the league’s NCAA tournament representative.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 10, 12-15, 2014

Where: Higher seeds (March 10); Quicken Loans Arena, Cleveland, Ohio (March 12-15)

Final: March 15, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Toledo

The Rockets made some noise during non-conference play, winning their first 12 games before dropping a tough 93-83 decision at Kansas on December 28. Four starters are averaging double figures led by guards Julius “Juice” Brown and Justin Drummond and forward Rian Pearson. Toledo’s a very good offensive team but if there’s a concern entering the conference tournament it’s the fact that they’re 11th in the MAC in field goal percentage defense and tenth in defensive efficiency.

And if they lose?: Western Michigan

Few expected Steve Hawkins’ Broncos to grab the top seed in the conference tournament, but WMU managed to do just that. Shayne Whittington is one of the MAC’s best front court players and senior guard David Brown’s scoring 19.1 points per game. Western Michigan enters the tournament playing well, as they’ve won ten of their last 11 games with the lone defeat coming at Toledo on March 1. A possible concern for WMU: rebounding, with the Broncos ranked 11th in defensive rebounding percentage.

Sleepers:

  • Buffalo: Senior forward Javon McCrea’s been one of the MAC’s best, and they’ve won five of their last six games.
  • Ohio: The Bobcats finished third in the MAC East, but they pick up a 66-50 win at Akron on February 22.
  • Akron: You can’t count out Keith Dambrot’s Zips, who have reached the last seven MAC tournament title games.

Studs: (three or four best players)

  • Javon McCrea, Buffalo: The preseason pick to win Player of the Year, McCrea’s averaging 18.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game.
  • David Brown, Western Michigan: Brown’s averaging a MAC-best 19.1 points per game, and he also leads the conference in made three-pointers per game (2.7).
  • Demetrius Treadwell, Akron: Treadwell’s averaging 16.1 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in conference play, and he’s also posted ten double-doubles against MAC foes this season.

CBT Prediction: Toledo outlasts Akron in the title game, avoiding what would be an excruciating wait to see if they can get into the NCAA tournament field as an at-large.

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.

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.