Weekend Preview: Yet another Big Ten battle, two key Big East games, UNLV’s last chance?

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Game of the Weekend: No. 1 Indiana at No. 10 Ohio State (Sun. 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS)

Oh hey, look at that. The best game of the weekend is in the Big Ten. Who saw that coming?

Last Saturday, the Hoosiers beat Michigan in a thriller at Assembly Hall in Bloomington, but they turned around and lost to Illinois on Thursday on the road in Champagne. Ohio State, on the other hand, is coming off of an overtime loss to the Wolverines on Tuesday that just may have been the game of the year to this point in the season, dropping them a game behind Indiana, Michigan and Michigan State in the Big Ten race.

It will be interesting to see how these two teams matchup with each other. Does Aaron Craft guard the bigger, more athletic Victor Oladipo? Is Oladipo going to get matched up with Deshaun Thomas? Is this the kind of game where Indiana’s zone can be effective? How in the world will the Buckeyes keep Cody Zeller in check in transition?

The fascinating thing about the Big Ten this year is that all of the top five teams are so different. In college basketball, styles win the fight, and there is so much contrast between the way that the teams at the top of the Big Ten play that makes all of these games so intriguing to watch. At some point, the analysis stops and you simply have to sit back and watch the shot. This is one of those games.

Five more games you need to watch:

  • No. 11 Louisville at No. 25 Notre Dame (9:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): On paper, this looks like a great matchup for the Irish. They have plenty of shooters, they have a talented pair of veteran guards in the back court, they have a bruiser in the middle in Jack Cooley and they pass the ball extremely well. But the Cardinals seem to be getting back in stride after a three-game losing streak earlier this year. Anyone else excited to see Dickie V call a game featuring Russ Smith?
  • No. 15 New Mexico at UNLV (9:00 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network): This is the last chance for the Rebels. A loss at Fresno State dropped UNLV to 4-4, a full three games behind the Lobos in the Mountain West standings. Losing on Saturday puts them four back, an insurmountable deficit given the strength of this year’s MWC. UNLV is a flawed team, and while I’m not completely sold on New Mexico yet, they haven’t done anything to make anyone believe they are the favorite to win the league.
  • Memphis at Southern Miss (4:00 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): The Tigers got huge news on Thursday when they received word that Conference USA had overturned the Flagrant 2 call on Shaq Goodwin and ruled it a Flagrant 1, meaning that he wouldn’t be automatically suspended by the league for Saturday’s game. Because this is a huge game. USM lost this week, meaning that it is no longer a battle of the undefeateds in CUSA, but a loss to the Tigers on Saturday drops the Golden Eagles two games out of first place.
  • No. 23 Pitt at No. 17 Cincinnati (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN): You will never see a more prototypically Big East basketball game than this year’s Pitt team taking on this year’s Cincinnati team. Both play a slower pace. Both have really good guard play. Both have a big, physical, athletic front court that’s more raw talent than it is skill. The key to beating the Bearcats? Stifling Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. Tray Woodall and James Robinson will have their work cut out for them.
  • Iowa State at No. 13 Kansas State (6:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2): It’s time for the Wildcats to exact some revenge. Back in January, the Cyclones knocked off the Wildcats at home. Fred Hoiberg has his team playing well. They are versatile, they are athletic, their front court is a matchup nightmare and they love to fire away from three. They’re a fun team to watch. But Bramlage Coliseum isn’t a fun place to play.

And what about the mid-majors?:

  • Sacred Heart at Bryant (Sun. 4:00 p.m. ET)
  • Oral Roberts at Stephen F. Austin (7:00 p.m. ET)
  • Tennessee State at Murray State (8:00 p.m. ET)
  • Stony Brook at Hartford (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN3)
  • Illinois State at No. 16 Creighton (10:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Middle Tennessee loses four returnees during the week

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Middle Tennessee has been one of the best mid-major programs in the country over the last few years but now the Blue Raiders will be facing a major rebuild.

With former head coach Kermit Davis taking the Ole Miss job and new head coach Nick McDevitt coming over from UNC Asheville, the program experienced some major roster turnover this week as four returnees left the program.

Earlier in the week, junior guard David Simmons opted to transfer out of Middle Tennessee after he averaged 17.9 minutes per game for the Conference USA regular-season champions last season.

On Friday, the losses continued, as three more players left the team. Rising junior point guard Tyrik Dixon announced his intention to transfer while the program dismissed guard Antwain Johnson and forward Davion Thomas. Dixon was a valuable floor leader for Middle Tennessee the past two seasons while Johnson, a rising senior guard, would have been the team’s returning leading scorer after putting up 10.3 points per game last week.

Since so much of the successful core of the past three seasons is now gone from Middle Tennessee, it will be on McDevitt to bring in new talent to sustain the recent great stretch of play. The Blue Raiders made two Round of 32 appearances in a row before missing the NCAA tournament last season after winning C-USA’s regular season crown.

Now, with Western Kentucky making a power play by bringing in five-star big man Charles Bassey, and the power has shifted very quickly in one of the most competitive mid-major conferences in the country.

Report: One-and-Done rule could be eliminated for 2021 NBA Draft

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The NBA is reportedly exploring the possibility of ending the infamous one-and-done rule that forces many potential professional basketball players to head to college for at least one season.

According to a report from ESPN’s Zach Lowe, citing a league memo sent to NBA teams late this week, the league office is indicating that “eligibility rules” for the NBA draft could change as soon as 2021 or 2022 — but not earlier. The league is currently trying to figure out how the FBI’s investigation into college basketball will play out while also trying to navigate the player development changes that would be needed for high school players to once again potentially enter the NBA. Recently, the NBA has started to allow its teams and front-office personnel to attend elite summer high school events as the Pangos All-American Camp and the NBPA Top 100 Camp both had an NBA presence to watch elite Class of 2019, 2020 and 2021 prospects.

Lowe’s report mentions that the one-and-done rule is not mentioned directly by name, but the NBA is trying to warn its teams before the 2018 NBA Draft. These future changes could be on the horizon and teams need to understand what they are doing with future draft picks in potential trades.

The scenario of a 2021 NBA Draft in which high school players might be eligible is a fascinating subplot for college basketball, and the sport at-large, over these next few years.

As Lowe pointed out in his report, whenever the rule is eventually opened up, it will create one large mega draft in which two elite classes of high school players would be draft-eligible in the same year. With potentially double the lottery-level and first-round talent of a typical NBA draft, it would force a lot of elite college recruits to exam the possibility of reclassifying up in order to get ahead of that mega draft and be in a pool with fewer elite prospects.

It also gives the high school players themselves a unique decision with regard to their potential college futures. If an elite high school prospect is one year away from entering the NBA draft out of school, would some go to college or would they try to go for a postgrad year and follow in the footsteps of players like Thon Maker and Anfernee Simons?

The expanding presence of the NBA’s G-League is also a factor in all of this as salaries for the league are increasing and becoming more respectable — giving high school players a viable professional option in the United States instead of college for one year before moving on to the draft.

There are still way too many moving parts to truly speculate how this will all go down. But at least we know that the NBA appears to be viewing 2021 or 2022 as the potential change to the one-and-done rule. We’ll have to see how elite high school prospects start potentially adjusting to reclassify while colleges also might have to adopt some new and unique recruiting strategies if they rely on one-and-done players to fill out their roster.

Five-star guard Ashton Hagans enrolling at Kentucky after graduating year early

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Kentucky received additional reinforcements for the 2018-19 season on Friday as five-star guard Ashton Hagans graduated high school a year early with the intent to head to Lexington for next season.

The 6-foot-4 Hagans is considered by many recruiting analysts to be a top-ten national prospect in the Class of 2019 as he gives the Wildcats three five-star recruits at lead guard for next season. The Georgia state Player of the Year as a junior this past season, Hagans joins a crowded Kentucky backcourt that includes sophomore Quade Green and fellow incoming freshman and McDonald’s All-American Immanuel Quickley.

While the juggling of minutes is going to be a major storyline for head coach John Calipari this season, the addition of Hagans gives Kentucky even more lineup flexibility than they had before. Because Hagans has good size and defensive ability, he could be used to play alongside the smaller Green, giving the Wildcats a two-guard look that would have more defensive intensity. Playing Quickley and Hagans together would give Kentucky a bigger two-guard lineup that would have a chance to be pretty strong defensively.

And, of course, Calipari could opt to go with some three-guard lineups with other off-guards like Keldon Johnson or Tyler Herro to give Kentucky a tough perimeter attack.

Handling minutes and egos will be something to watch for in Lexington this season, but Calipari has handled this sort of situation with a Final Four appearance before. It’s hard to say if the Wildcats will try to play another platoon type of system like we saw in 2014-15, but if they end up getting graduate transfer forward Reid Travis, they might have the personnel to give it a shot.

Villanova lands late commitment from four-star prospect

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Villanova made a late addition to their 2018 recruiting class on Friday afternoon as they landed a commitment from four-star prospect Saddiq Bey.

Bey was originally committed to N.C. State, but he asked out of his Letter of Intent in mid-May as the Wolfpack ended up over the scholarship limit. The versatile, 6-foot-7 forward is a good fit for the way that Villanova likes to play, as he can guard different positions, plays with the toughness you expect out of a kid from Washington D.C. and is a capable scorer.

Bey is also a product of Sidwell Friends, the same high school that produced former Villanova star Josh Hart.

He will joined a recruiting class that also includes five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, four star prospects Cole Swider and Brandon Slater and Albany grad transfer Joe Cremo.

The news was first reported by 247 Sports.

Marvin Bagley III, a ‘Nike kid’, to sign endorsement deal with Puma

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In a somewhat surprising turn of events, Marvin Bagley III will reportedly sign an endorsement deal with Puma in the NBA.

It’s a five-year deal, according to reports, that will pay Bagley and his family quite a bit of money and will allow them to fund an AAU program for Bagley’s younger brother. That program will be coached by Marvin Bagley Jr., and that gets to the heart of what makes this decision so surprising.

Bagley III has always been considered a “Nike kid”. He played for Nike AAU programs throughout his high school career. The last two years, his father ran the program that he played for, originally called Phoenix Phamily but eventually changed to Nike Phamily. That meant that Nike was able to legally pay Bagley Jr. a significant amount of money to fund that program. Eventually, Bagley would up enrolling at Duke, one of Nike’s flagship college basketball programs.

This is not the way that it is supposed to go for a shoe company like Nike. The reason they spend as much money as they do in the youth ranks is to keep as many kids as possible loyal to the brand. It’s fairly easy to figure out who will end up having a chance at being an NBA player as early as 15 years old, but what’s harder to do is to predict who will actually be able to move product. Did anyone think James Harden or Damian Lillard would be worth a signature shoe? So these shoe companies will spend a relatively small amount of money to fly those kids around the country during their high school years, keep them decked out in their gear and hope that lottery ticket eventually pays off.

What is a couple hundred thousand dollar investment when the payoff is hundreds of millions of dollars in shoe sales? All you need to do is land one Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant to make the math work.

But that isn’t all that the shoe companies are looking for here.

With the amount of money that they have invested in sponsorship deals with these schools, they need to protect that investment. We saw it with Adidas and Louisville. They funneled $100,000 to Brian Bowen, a Nike kid, to get him to an Adidas school not because they thought he would end up being an uber-profitable spokesman but because they needed to protect their investment at the college level.

So while it’s easy to look at this and same that Bagley’s time spent at Duke helped him get a big, fat shoe contract, I think it’s the other way around. He helped Nike — without getting his market value — during his one season at Duke, and what it got him was a shoe contract worth roughly $1 million a year, according to Oregon Live.

Either way, the fact of the matter is that Bagley’s value to these brands is no different now than it was when he was playing for the Blue Devils.

Why is it only now that he’s allowed to cash in on it?