Rob Dauster

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Kansas releases an unimpressive non-conference schedule

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Kansas released their non-conference schedule for the 2017-18 season over the weekend, and frankly, it leaves something to be desired.

To be clear, this schedule is passable. The buy games on the Kansas schedule are against good mid-major programs — Tennessee State, South Dakota State, Texas South, Oakland — and they play seven games against high-major competition, but it doesn’t change the fact that there really is just a single must-see game that the Jayhawks will play outside of the Big 12.

That’s the Nov. 14th date with Kentucky in the Champions Classic, which is annually one of the best non-conference games in college basketball. But the problem with playing Kentucky in the Champions Classic is that it means that Kansas gets someone else in the SEC/Big 12 Invitational. This year, it’s former Big 12 foe Texas A&M, who might be good enough to sneak into the NCAA tournament this season.

That’s probably the second-best non-conference game that Kansas will play, unless you’re super-impressed with a Syracuse team that will be looking to replace Tyler Lydon, Andrew White and John Gillon. Washington lost Markelle Fultz from a team that won nine games. Arizona State and Stanford are both better than Washington and still unlikely to be in the tournament. A trip to Nebraska is always tough, but the Cornhuskers went 12-19 last year.

That’s the only road game Kansas will play outside of the Big 12.

We’ll see much worse non-conference schedules than this from power conference programs, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s disappointing that Kansas, a top five team heading into the preseason, will play just a single marquee non-conference game.

Here is the full schedule:

Oct. 31 – PITTSBURG STATE (exhibition)
Nov. 7 – FORT HAYS STATE (exhibition)
Nov. 10 – TENNESSEE STATE
Nov. 14 – vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic, Chicago)
Nov. 17 – SOUTH DAKOTA STATE
Nov. 21 – TEXAS SOUTHERN (Hoophall Miami Invitational)
Nov. 24 – OAKLAND (Hoophall Miami Invitational)
Nov. 28 – TOLEDO (Hoophall Miami Invitational)
Dec. 2 – vs. Syracuse (Hoophall Miami Invitational, Miami, Fla.)
Dec. 6 – WASHINGTON (Jayhawk Shootout, Kansas City, Mo.)
Dec. 10 – ARIZONA STATE
Dec. 16 – at Nebraska (Shelter Insurance Showcase, Lincoln, Neb.)
Dec. 18 – OMAHA
Dec. 21 – vs. Stanford (Sacramento, Calif.)
Jan. 27 – TEXAS A&M (Big 12/SEC Challenge)

St. John’s lands commitment from South Carolina transfer Sedee Keita

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St. John’s landed a commitment from Sedee Keita, a 6-foot-9 power forward and former four-star prospect that spent his freshman season with South Carolina.

Keita averaged 1.1 points and 2.0 boards in less than 10 minutes a game for the Gamecocks, who made a run to the 2017 Final Four. He will sit out the 2017-18 season but have three years of eligibility remaining.

This is the third major addition for Chris Mullin this spring. St. John’s recently added Quinnipiac transfer Mikey Dixon and a commitment from four-star prospect Sid Wilson, who was originally a member of the 2018 class but reclassified into 2017.

Changing the NBA’s age limit will have repercussions, but to evaluate we must stop calling one-and-dones ‘students’

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We’re never going to solve the problem of the one-and-done rule if we don’t stop thinking of the best college basketball players as students.

Because they aren’t, at least not in the way that we typically think of a person being a ‘student’.

There is no tangible academic benefit that these kids are receiving by enrolling in, at most, a year of introductory college courses. Freshman year is college is for you to figure out exactly what academic path it is that you want to follow, and — *GASPS* — these one-and-done caliber players learn quite quickly that being a basketball player is the path they want to follow.

I know it. You know it. They know it. The coaches recruiting them know it. The owners drafting them know it.

And Adam Silver knows it.

On Wednesday, Silver, the Commissioner of the NBA, went on ‘The Herd’ with Colin Cowherd and let the world now that he, along with the NBA bigwigs, are reconsidering their position on the one-and-done rule, an age limit that essentially forces high school graduates to spend one season playing college basketball instead of leaping directly to the draft out of high school.

“Even the so-called one-and-done players, I don’t think it’s fair to characterize them as going to one year of school,” Silver said. “What’s happening now, even at the best schools, they enroll in those universities — some great universities — and they attend those universities until either they don’t make the tournament, and the last game therefore of their freshman season, or to whenever they lose or win in the NCAA Tournament, that becomes their last day. So in essence it’s a half-and-done, in a way.”

He’s right and wrong — without getting too into the nitty gritty of it all, the APR is a formula that prevents this from happening by requiring players to leave in good academic standing, but depending on how cynical you are, you may not believe that these players are doing their own online coursework — but he’s also totally missing the point.

We need to stop thinking about players of this ilk, basketball prospects that are good enough for NBA team to consider drafting them in the first round as 19-year olds, as students.

So let’s be adults about this, shall we?


Packed house for the NBA D League finals. (Photo via NBA D League)

The NBA’s position, since before Silver took over as commissioner, has been that they do not want to get rid of the age limit, which is why it was eye-opening for many to hear him say, “It may surprise you. I’m rethinking our position.”

“I think we all agree that we need to make a change,” Silver then said during Thursday’s press conference before Game 1 of the 2017 NBA Finals. “My sense is it’s not working for anyone.”

It begs the question: What is he rethinking? That high school kids should be allowed to enter the NBA Draft, or that they should be forced to spend more time in college.

The one-and-done rule exists because NBA owners were tired of drafting high school kids that they couldn’t properly evaluate. They also didn’t want to give an 18-year old millions of dollars and let him loose in America’s best party cities with NBA celebrity attached to his name. But, perhaps most significantly, they didn’t want to pay a seven-figure salary to develop these kids as players only to see them bolt for greener pastures when they hit their prime. By delaying things for a year on the front end they are able to keep those players under contract and reap the benefits of their investment for an extra year on the back end. In other words, instead of paying an 18-year old to learn, put on weight and ride the bench, you send them to college for a year and then pay them to, hopefully, help your team win a lot of games as a 27-year old.

Silver uses Ben Simmons, who was a notoriously apathetic student during his one season at LSU, dropping out of classes as soon as LSU’s postseason-less season came to an end, as an example of all that’s wrong with the one-and-done rule.

But what Silver may not realize is that Simmons intentionally and actively made the decision to make himself susceptible to the NBA’s one-and-done rule. Simmons is Australian. He left the Outback in 2013 to enroll at Monteverde Academy in Florida, a decision that essentially delayed his chance to enter the NBA Draft for a year. Had he remained an international, he would have been eligible to enter the 2015 NBA Draft. But Simmons realized the branding potential available in college, so he spent a year at LSU and was taken No. 1 in the 2016 draft.

These kids spend a year playing every game on national television. They get profiled by media outlets such as College Basketball Talk. They develop a following and a fanbase and, if they’re good enough, start to build their own brand. Don’t believe me? At this point a year ago, did you know who LaVar Ball or Lonzo Ball was? That’s good for the teams drafting them, and as Simmons showed us, there’s a benefit for the players themselves.

At the highest level of basketball, the players make more money off of endorsements — off their ‘brand’ — than they do from the NBA team that they play for. They know who is their employer and what is their side-gig.

There is no downside to this for the owners of NBA teams. The longer they spend in college, the better it is for those billionaires, I’d argue, and if we’ve learned anything about America in the last two years it’s that when a group of billionaires want something to happen, it happens. See: Trump, Donald.

The other side of this is the NBA Players Association, who must agree to any decision that the owners want to make. The NBPA is made up of players currently in the NBA, players that could end up losing their job, or their chance at a bigger/longer contract, when some of these young stars make their way to the league. Put another way, there is a larger pool of money and more available longterm contracts for the guys that currently make up the NBPA voters.

Do you think they’re going to vote to eliminate the age limit and double the number of talented potential stars entering the league in one year?


Kentucky Wildcats fans (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

 


This is where it gets complicated.

The mitigating factor in all of this is the D-League, which, beginning next year, will be known as the G League.

The G League is growing. There are now 26 teams, each of which is affiliated with one of the 30 NBA teams. With the exception of the Portland Trailblazers, there seems to be movement in the direction of having every NBA team affiliated with a G League team. The new collective bargaining agreement also created a new kind of player contract — a two-way contract — that allows two designated G League players per organization to get paid between $75,000 and $275,000, depending on how much time they spend with the NBA team; the point of this is to keep the most talented players that are not yet NBA players stateside, to allow them to develop within an organization as opposed to jumping overseas for, potentially, more money.

Put another way, the G League is trending up, and there is clearly an investment from the NBA in creating another avenue for development beyond the NCAA.

In fact, 18-year olds are already allowed to enter the G League, playing a year at that level before becoming draft-eligible, but it hasn’t taken root. That’s because salaries are so low. Terrance Ferguson and Emmanuel Mudiay went pro in Australia and China, respectively, instead of going to the G League.

But other than that duo, there really hasn’t been a push from elite prospects to skip college altogether.

Why?

(We’re still talking like adults here, right?)

Because they can make more money in college. L

et’s not be naïve here. Let’s stop talking about these ‘student’-athletes as anything more than what they are: basketball players. The NBA has a long way to go before G League salaries are more than the going rate for an elite prospect in college basketball, and that’s before you factor in what life is like being a celebrity in a place like Lexington or Lawrence or Tucson.

Out of principle, I hate the fact that the NBA creates barriers of entry into an industry for kids that clearly have a marketable skill. They should be allowed to capitalize on their talent. The NCAA’s amateurism is even worse, and if you’ve read this space before you know my feelings on that. It’s criminal.

That said, from the girls to the dorms to the workout facilities to the private jets to the insanity of a packed college arena to the tax-free handouts, life is pretty good as a one-and-done college basketball player, and it almost certainly is better than riding a bus from Fort Wayne to Erie to play in front of 100 people while your parents watch on a YouTube livestream.

It will be a longtime before the G League is able to match what the college basketball institutions can match.

What that means is that there are two questions here that need to be answered:

  1. What do the shoe companies want? There is an inherent value in brand development by having a potential superstar spending a year playing for a school like Kentucky, whose fans are as loyal as they come even for guys that spend seven months on campus. Does Nike want the next LeBron or Kevin Durant to lose that year of free publicity? It’s worth noting here that shoe companies are trending away from the monster contracts for rookies, instead investing in established stars in the NBA.
  2. Would the NBA be willing to change how rookie contracts work? Think about a situation like this: If NBA teams could draft a player out of high school — even a junior in high school — and pay him $1 million annually to play in the D-League until he gets called up to the NBA, at which point the NBA’s rookie scale contract gets activated, is that something that would be appealing to both sides? Even if that exact situation isn’t the answer, there are ways to ensure elite prospects get paid like elite prospects in the G League without doing damage to the NBA team’s salary cap or starting their rookie contract clock a year early.

Regardless of what college coaches and ADs will tell you, college basketball has been a beneficiary during the one-and-done rule.

There have been some definitively great players that have come through the collegiate ranks, putting together memorable seasons and tournament runs.

College basketball will survive. It’s not a star-driven sport. Fans root for Arizona or UCLA, Kentucky or Louisville, Kansas or Wichita State. They don’t root for specifically for the players that arrive each fall, and the NCAA tournament is and always will be the most exciting sporting event — and the absolute best event for gambling — in the country.

But if we do reach a point where the best basketball players in the world never again set foot on a college court, it’s a net-negative for the game.

Coach K says Wendell Carter, Marques Bolden ‘will play together’

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Duke was considered by many to be the leader in the clubhouse to receive a commitment from top ten prospect Kevin Knox largely due to the fact that Knox was built in the small-ball four mold that the Blue Devils have had so much success with in recent years.

Jabari Parker, Justise Winslow, Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, even Kyle Singler.

You have to go all the way back to 2013 to find a Duke team whose best lineup included two big men, and that would have been Ryan Kelly, who was a stretch four through and through. Other than the nine games in which Amile Jefferson was healthy in 2016, the last time Duke played two paint-locked big men together was when they won a national title back in 2010.

Mike Krzyzewski missed on Knox, who ended up at Kentucky, meaning that he doesn’t have that small-ball four this season, and yesterday, he confirmed to reporters that his team is going to feature a two-big lineup this season, with Wendell Carter and Marques Bolden at the four and the five.

“We’ll actually be a pretty big team. Those two guys will play together,” K said. “It’s a big year for Marques. He’s been training, he’s going to tryout for the U19 team.”

Bolden struggled with injuries early on in his freshman season and then looked like he was two steps behind the action down the stretch of the year. He never made it into Duke’s rotation consistently. Carter is a top five prospect in the Class of 2017 and should, in theory, be able to replace the low-post scoring that is gone with Jefferson’s graduation.

Arizona State bucks graduate transfer trend

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The current trend in college basketball centers on graduate transfers, veteran players who are eligible and can contribute immediately.

Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley is taking a more long-term approach as he tries to rebuild the Sun Devils’ program.

With a solid core led by three senior guards and some much-needed frontcourt help on the way, Hurley opted to sign three transfers who will have to sit out a season instead of finding graduate transfers who could play right away.

“We try to evaluate the needs of our team and how we can continue to build and take the next step this year,” Hurley said Wednesday. “We have all these guys who I think can help our frontcourt this season and then we have these three guys who can step in and have proven that they can be impact players.”

Arizona State made a splash three years ago with the high-profile hiring of Hurley, the fiery former Duke and NBA guard who had turned Buffalo into an NCAA Tournament team in two seasons.

Hurley has had a tougher go of turning around the Sun Devils, winning 15 games each of the past two seasons.

Some of it has been playing in the tough Pac-12, a conference filled with bigger, stronger players than the Mid-American Conference and no easy games on the schedule.

A lack of depth, particularly in the frontcourt, has been the bigger culprit.

Hurley pulled in solid recruiting classes each of his first two seasons, but the Sun Devils were long on perimeter players and short on length. They could score, get out in transition, hit 3-pointers, but when it came to playing defense and rebounding, the Sun Devils were often overmatched inside.

The lack of size — and a few injuries — forced Hurley to shift his roster around, forcing players into roles they weren’t accustomed to. With no real inside presence last season, Hurley often had 6-foot-5 guard Kodi Justice playing post defense against players that were often six or more inches taller and 40 pounds heavier.

Arizona State will get frontcourt help this season with two eligible transfers and a pair of returning players coming off redshirt seasons.

With no need for immediate help, Hurley decided to build for the future, adding three players who will not be eligible until the 2018-19 season: Carlton Bragg from Kansas, Zylan Cheatham from San Diego State and Rob Edwards from Cleveland State.

The three veteran players will not only set the foundation for Arizona State’s future after seniors Justice, Tra Holder and Shannon Evans II graduate, but give the Sun Devils three veteran players who can help shape this year’s team.

“The one thing I can promise is our practices are going to be wars in there this year,” Hurley said. “I couldn’t really say that last season and the three guys we’re going to have sitting out and the other rotation guys added to those three, it’s going to create great competition in practice.”

Arizona State should be better this season than the previous two, thanks to the veteran leadership by the senior guards and the incoming help up front.

In addition to the three transfers, Hurley brought in De’Quon Lake, a 6-10 junior forward from Iowa Western Community College who will give the Sun Devils size inside.

Mickey Mitchell, a 6-7 mid-season transfer from Ohio State, is expected to be eligible sometime in December, perhaps by Arizona State’s game at Kansas on Dec. 10.

Ramon Villa, a 6-8 forward from Spain, returns this season after playing 33 games as a reserve last season. Arizona State also will add 6-8 Romello White, a player who loves to rebound, and 6-9 Vitaliy Shibel after both redshirted as freshmen last season.

Those players should help the Sun Devils shore up their frontcourt this season and the addition of the three transfers in 2018-19 should help solidify the foundation Hurley is setting in the desert.

“Coach Hurley has done a great job of building this program from where it was at to where it’s about to go,” said Evans, who averaged 15 points per game last season after sitting out 2015-16 as a transfer from Buffalo. “I feel like every year it’s getting better and better and better.”

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Follow John Marshall on Twitter @jmarshallap

Brackets for 16-team PK80 Invitational honoring Phil Knight revealed

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The brackets for the one-time-only PK80 Invitational Tournament, a celebration of Phil Knight’s 80th brithday, in Portland in November have been released.

Well, I guess I should phrase that as “tournaments”, because the event will feature two eight-team brackets that don’t crossover. It’s kind of stupid, I know, but teams from the same conference are not allowed to be in the same early season event. This was the only way to get 16 teams into the event without having to mine the likes of the Horizon League and the Summit League to fill the field.

Anyway, here are the brackets, and there are some intriguing games here. Texas-Butler should be good, UConn-Oregon has some potential and Arkansas-Oklahoma will feature two teams that are better than you realize.

The biggest takeaway from all of this?

These fields seemed a lot more impressive when the tournament was announced way back when than they do now. I guess that’s what happens when the likes of UConn, Ohio State and Georgetown fall off while Oregon and Gonzaga enter something of a rebuilding year.