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Five things we learned from college basketball’s opening weekend

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1. THIS CROP OF FRESHMEN BIGS ARE THE REAL DEAL: We, as media, have a tendency to overhype freshmen each and every year in college hoops.

That’s just the way that this works. When there is something new and exciting on the horizon, we gravitate towards it. There’s something about the unknown and untapped potential that gets everyone excited. Sometimes, that hype pays off. Sometimes, it doesn’t. The early returns are in, and while there is still a very long way to go, it looks like this group of freshmen are going to be as good as advertised.

Deandre Ayton was fantastic in two games for Arizona. His size, his length, his presence in the paint reminds me of Greg Oden, and while Ayton is a different player – Oden was a better defender, Ayton is more of a new-age, stretch-five – there seems to be little doubt that he is going to spend this entire season being awesome. The same can be said for Marvin Bagley III, who averaged a cool 24.5 points and 10 boards in two games this weekend. Bagley isn’t the only star freshman big man on that Duke roster, either, as the high-low partnership that he is going to have with Wendell Carter this season has the potential to be game-changing.

Jaren Jackson has been an under-discussed member of this freshmen class, but he fits perfectly at the four in Michigan State’s front line and has a shot to prove to everyone just how talented he is on Tuesday, as the Spartans and the Blue Devils face off in the Champions Classic. UNLV’s Brandon McCoy went for 25 points and 18 boards in their opener. Villanova’s Omari Spellman had a double-double. Iowa’s Luka Garza looked like a steal.

And we haven’t even seen Michael Porter Jr. play yet. as he went out after two minutes in Missouri’s win over Iowa State.

Then there is Mo Bamba …

2. THE TEXAS ADDITION OF DYLAN OSETKOWSKI CHANGES THEIR CEILING: … who was terrific in his own right in the opener against Northwestern State, but who may not even be the most important addition that the Longhorns made this offseason.

Bamba is a defensive menace. He is 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-9 wingspan and will be the single-best rim protector in college basketball this season. He’s Rudy Gobert, only with a last name that makes you want to sing a Ritchie Valens song. He changes what Texas can do defensively. Having him in front of the rim will allow Shaka Smart’s ‘Havoc’ style of play to take more chances knowing that missing on a steal may not actually lead to a layup or a dunk.

The addition of Matt Coleman helps as well. Andrew Jones isn’t exactly a point guard, and playing two lead guards together is the lineup du jour in college basketball.

But if you talk to people around the Texas program, they’ll tell you that Osetkowski is the best basketball player on the team. Not the best talent. Not the best prospect. Not the best playmaker. The best basketball player. He is 6-foot-9, he rebounds the ball, he makes threes, he can score in the post but, perhaps most importantly, he can handle the ball and facilitate offense. He takes the pressure off of the Texas playmakers offensively the same way that Bamba takes the pressure off of Texas perimeter defenders.

There is a different between being a facilitator and being a playmaker. Jones and Coleman are both playmakers. They thrive in transition, they can get an open shot for someone off the dribble or in ball-screen actions. They’re very good Big 12 guards. But they’re not exactly the kind of facilitator that can get Texas into a set or run offense. Osetkowski can do that. He will let Smart run offense through him while getting Coleman and Jones into spots on the floor where they can make a play.

At the risk of overreacting to three days’ worth of games, I think that the Longhorns are the second-best team in the Big 12.

3. BUT LET’S NOT WRITE-OFF WEST VIRGINIA JUST YET: Yes, they were bad. Yes, they got blown out by a team that didn’t have their starting point guard who was a freshmen anyway. Yes, they deserve to drop out of the top 25 for that.

And to a point, I think we may have overrated the Mountaineers entering the season. They lost a number of critical program and system guys this offseason. I actively overlooked that because they’ve lost a number of program and system guys in past seasons and improved. When Jonathan Holton graduated, Nathan Adrian stepped up. When Jaysean Paige graduated, Jevon Carter stepped up.

Maybe that well has run dry. I’ll admit as much. But there are two reasons I’m not ready to waive the white flag yet.

1. West Virginia is a team that thrives on energy, and they played a game in Germany that tipped at midnight local time, which is a nine-hour flight away if you can find something direct. This wasn’t a home environment. This wasn’t a game played in a gym like Hilton Coliseum or Phog Allen Fieldhouse. This was on a German Army Base. I don’t know how much of a role that played, or if jet lag contributed, but I can’t pretend those factors don’t exist.

2. It’s also important to note that so much of what West Virginia does is built on actually being able to score. That sounds simple, but with the way that the Mountaineers play defense – Press Virginia and all – they cannot get into their defense if the ball doesn’t go through the basket. Against the Aggies, they shot 40 threes out of 70 field goal attempts. They only made 12, meaning that they were only able to get into their press on 30 percent of those possessions. They also only grabbed 11 offensive rebounds, posting an offensive rebounding rate of 22.9 percent. They finished no worse than sixth-nationally in offensive rebounding rate the last three years, twice cracking 40 percent.

Not having Esa Ahmad really hurt them. Ahmad is not a great offensive rebounder, but he’s pretty good. He’s not great scoring around the rim, but he’s pretty good. He’s the one guy on the roster that they might be able to look to offensively in the paint. His presence allows them to score on more possessions, and that is what matters for West Virginia.

It’s been proven that shooting threes well is the most efficient form of offense. But for the Mountaineers, the way that they play, it’s more important to score on the highest number of possessions possible, even if they’re scoring in a less-efficient way.

Kevin Knox (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

4. KENTUCKY HAS A LONG WAY TO GO, BUT WE KNEW THIS: Kentucky is a long, long way from being a finished product.

On Friday night against Utah Valley, the issue they had was on the offensive end of the floor. They just couldn’t find a way to get good shots in the half court. On Sunday, it was defensive that killed them. They looked lost trying to defend Vermont’s ball-screen actions.

They started two different lineups in those two games, and both lineups featured five freshmen.

It showed.

We know the Wildcats were going to take some lumps early on this season. The issue isn’t how they’re playing now. It’s whether or not they get better as the season moves along.

5. TUESDAY NIGHT IS GOING TO BE UNBELIEVABLE: I am more excited for the Champions Classic than I have been for this event in years.

Maybe ever.

It starts with No. 1 Duke taking on No. 2 Michigan State in a battle of front courts that should make every NBA scout – both amateur and professional – get excited. Then there is the battle between point guards that need to prove themselves, and that’s before we talk about how their are two first-team preseason all-americans on the floor in Grayson Allen and Miles Bridges.

And that’s just the opener.

The nightcap will feature a Kentucky team that may end up starting a team with no one shorter than 6-foot-5 against a Kansas team that has been playing small-ball lineups that feature four guards 6-foot-6 and below. This will be the real test for the Wildcats, playing a veteran team that has national title aspirations, but it will be a good gauge game for Kansas as well. Kentucky may not be great yet, but they are big, and if there is any question about these Jayhawks, it’s how they are going to handle size.

Grand Canyon earns two more high-major transfers

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Grand Canyon has done a great job of attracting high-major transfers as the program landed two more former Big Ten players this week.

Forward Michael Finke, a former Illinois big man, will join the program as a graduate transfer while former Northwestern guard Isiah Brown also committed to the Antelopes.

Michael Finke made 50 career starts for the Illini, as he joins younger brother Tim Finke on the Grand Canyon roster. The floor-spacing big man could help Grand Canyon on offense if he shoots like he did a few seasons back as he could be a valuable addition to the rotation. Finke put up 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game at Illinois last season.

Brown, who just finished his sophomore season as Northwestern, will have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. The duo of Brown and Finke join Washington transfer Carlos Johnson (also sitting out next season) as high-major transfers that head coach Dan Majerle and his staff have pulled in this offseason.

Last season at Northwestern, Brown averaged 3.9 points per game after his minutes dipped a bit.

With Grand Canyon making a major push towards an NCAA tournament, these are the types of moves that could pay off the next few seasons for an emerging mid-major program.

Nebraska lands Robert Morris transfer Dachon Burke

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Nebraska landed a coveted transfer on Thursday as former Robert Morris guard Dachon Burke pledged to the Cornhuskers during an official visit, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com.

The 6-foot-4 Burke will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations before getting two more seasons of eligibility. Burke averaged 17.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game last season for the Colonials in a breakout sophomore campaign. Also putting up 2.1 steals per game, Burke should be a major contributor for Nebraska when he becomes eligible.

Nebraska was able to pull in Burke even though he was coveted by other high-major programs as he’s a solid addition for the program. If Burke can improve his perimeter shooting (33 percent last season from three-point range) then he could be a major weapon for the Huskers.

 

Report: Arizona State adds 7-foot-1 center

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Height has been something of an issue in recent years for Bobby Hurley and Arizona State. The Sun Devils took a step to remedy that Thursday.

Uros Plavsic, a 7-foot-1 center from Serbia has signed with Arizona State to become the fourth member of the program’s 2018 recruiting class, according to a report from 247 Sports’ Evan Daniels.

Plavsic, who is attending high school in Tennessee, originally committed to Cleveland State, but backed off that commitment last month before visiting Tempe this week.

“It was a great experience,” Plavsic told Scout. “They really took good care of me these past few days. Their campus is so, so big. The people here are nice. I met two guys I really liked and were important for a basketball team. Their facilities are crazy. Everything is in the same area.”

The Sun Devils ranked in the bottom half of the country in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage last year while ranking 265th in average height, according to KenPom.

“They were short the past two seasons,” he said about Arizona State. “They really needed a big guy and they can use me inside or can pass outside. They really need a big guy and I think I can help them out a lot next season.”

 

NCAA begins work of implementing complex basketball reforms

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The most difficult part of the NCAA’s attempt to clean up college basketball begins now.

Hours after former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented the Commission on College Basketball’s sweeping recommendations for reforming a sport weighed down by corruption, NCAA leaders set in motion the process for turning those ideas into reality.

The NCAA Board of Governors, a group of 16 university presidents and the association’s highest ranking body, unanimously endorsed all the commission’s recommendations Wednesday. Now it’s up to various subcommittees, working groups and college administrators to dig into a mountain of work over the next three months as the NCAA attempts to change NBA draft rules, create a new enforcement body, toughen penalties for rules violations, revamp summer recruiting and certify agents. All while trying to get buy-in from organizations that might not be motivated to help.

“It’s going to be a challenge to say the least,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “This is a pace of decision making that the association’s really never done on this kind of scale before.”

The Division I Council, comprised mostly of athletic directors and headed by Miami AD Blake James, has the job of turning the recommendations into rules. That requires feedback from schools, then council votes with some conference votes counting more heavily than others. Each proposal then goes to the Board of Directors, where a majority vote is needed to send it to the Board of Governors for final approval.

It’s a winding path — crossing 351 Division I schools with varied priorities and concerns — and requiring consensus building and compromise for measures to pass. NCAA rule changes can sometimes take a full calendar year to sort out.

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t let the good fall victim to the perfect here,” Emmert said. “Nobody believes we’re going to get everything perfect the first time through.”

The independent commission Rice led released a much-anticipated and detailed 60-page report , seven months after the group was formed in response to a federal corruption investigation that rocked college basketball. Ten people, including some assistant coaches, have been charged in a bribery and kickback scheme , and high-profile programs such as Arizona, Louisville and Kansas have been tied to possible NCAA violations.

“They believe the college basketball enterprise is worth saving,” Rice told the AP of commission members in an interview before addressing NCAA leaders. “We believe there’s a lot of work to do in that regard. That the state of the game is not very strong. We had to be bold in our recommendations.”

The proposals were wide-ranging, falling mostly into five categories: NBA draft rules, specifically the league’s 19-year-old age limit that has led to so-called one-and-done college players; non-scholastic basketball such as AAU leagues and summer recruiting events; the relationship between players and agents; relationships with apparel companies; and NCAA enforcement.

“Some people like some of (the recommendations) more than others, which is human nature, but as a board we’re unanimous in the endorsement and the acceptance of these recommendations for the NCAA,” said Minnesota President Eric Kaler, chairman of the Division I Board of Directors.

It’s not yet clear how the governing body would pay for some of the proposals, though the NCAA reported revenues of more than $1 billion dollars for fiscal year 2017 in its most recent financial disclosures.

The commission offered harsh assessments of toothless NCAA enforcement, as well as the shady summer basketball circuit that brings together agents, apparel companies and coaches looking to profit on teenage prodigies. It called the environment surrounding hoops “a toxic mix of perverse incentives to cheat,” and said responsibility for the current mess goes all the way up to university presidents.

It also defended the NCAA’s amateurism model, saying paying players a salary isn’t the answer.

“The goal should not be to turn college basketball into another professional league,” the commission wrote in its report.

The commission did leave open the possibility that college athletes could earn money off their names, images and likenesses , but decided not to commit on the subject while the courts are still weighing in.

Rice called the crisis in college basketball “first and foremost a problem of failed accountability and lax responsibility.”

ONE-AND-DONE

The commission emphasized the need for elite players to have more options when choosing between college and professional basketball, and to separate the two tracks.

The commission called for the NBA and its players association to change rules requiring players to be at least 19 years old and a year removed from graduating high school to be draft eligible. The one-and-done rule was implemented in 2006, despite the success of straight-from-high-school stars such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett.

“I’m confident they are going to be very supportive,” Emmert said of the NBA and NBAPA.

The NBA and players union praised the recommendations on enforcement and expressed concerns about youth basketball. On draft eligibility rules, however, there was no commitment.

“The NBA and NBPA will continue to assess them in order to promote the best interests of players and the game,” they said.

The commission did, however, say if the NBA and NBPA refuse to change their rules in time for the next basketball season, it would reconvene and consider other options for the NCAA, such as making freshmen ineligible or locking a scholarship for three or four years if the recipient leaves a program after a single year.

“One-and-done has to go one way or another,” Rice told the AP.

ENFORCEMENT

The commission recommended harsher penalties for rule-breakers and that the NCAA outsource the investigation and adjudication of the most serious infractions cases. Level I violations would be punishable with up to a five-year postseason ban and the forfeiture of all postseason revenue for the time of the ban. That could be worth tens of millions to major conference schools. By comparison, recent Level I infractions cases involving Louisville and Syracuse basketball resulted in postseason bans of one year.

Instead of show cause orders, which are meant to limit a coach’s ability to work in college sports after breaking NCAA rules, the report called for lifetime bans.

“The rewards of success, athletic success, have become very great. The deterrents sometimes aren’t as effective as they need to be. What we want are deterrents that really impact an institution,” said Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, who was a member of the Rice commission.

AGENTS

The commission proposed the NCAA create a program for certifying agents , and make them accessible to players from high school through their college careers.

AAU AND SUMMER LEAGUES

The NCAA, with support from the NBA and USA Basketball, should run its own recruiting events for prospects during the summer , the commission said, and take a more serious approach to certifying events it does not control.

APPAREL COMPANIES

The commission also called for greater financial transparency from shoe and apparel companies such as Nike, Under Armour and Adidas. These companies have extensive financial relationships with colleges and coaches worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and Adidas had two former executives charged by federal prosecutors in New York in the corruption case.

 

ODU graduate transfer Trey Porter headed to Nevada

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Nevada is adding an immediate impact big to its roster.

The Wolf Pack received the commitment of Old Dominion graduate transfer Trey Porter, they announced Wednesday.

The 6-foot-10 Porter averaged 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.3 blocks for ODU last season. He announced his decision to finish his career elsewhere last month.

“We are so excited about Trey Porter joining our Nevada Family,” Wolf Pack coach Eric Musselman said in a statement. “Trey is an incredible athlete, has tremendous length, and has huge upside. He is a great rebounder who can score the ball in the post and face up. He has phenomenal speed for his size and will really fit in our uptempo style on both ends of the floor.”

Porter, who began his career at George Mason, shot 58.8 percent from the field last season and registered four double-doubles.

“I am very excited about the opportunity to play at a program like Nevada,” Porter said in a statement. “As soon as I stepped on campus, I could tell how invested the coaching staff, program, and university were to my success and how I would fit in with the team. I am ready to get back to Reno and get to work on next season.”

Nevada upset Cincinnati and Texas in the NCAA tournament last season to reach the Sweet 16. They finished 29-8 overall. The Wolf Pack have uncertainty with their roster with Jordan Caroline, Caleb Martin and Cody Martin all testing the NBA draft waters.