Pregame Shootaround: Big Saturday of games highlighted by UCLA at Missouri

1 Comment

GAME OF THE DAY: No. 18 UCLA at Missouri (12:30 p.m., CBS)

A matchup of 8-0 teams headlines Saturday’s improved slate of college basketball games thanks to the end of the college football regular season. The Bruins are 8-0 under new coach Steve Alford and have yet to face an opponent the caliber of Mizzou as the Bruins own early-season wins over Drexel (when fully healthy), Nevada and Northwestern. Missouri will welcome the Bruins after a win over West Virginia in the Big 12/SEC Challenge earlier this week. Both of these teams can really score at times, so this one could turn into a shootout if both teams elect to play fast.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE DAY: Kansas at Colorado (3:15 p.m., ESPN2)

Kansas faces another nonconference test as they travel to former Big 12 conference opponent Colorado for a game with the 8-1 Buffaloes. Colorado has won eight straight games after losing its opener against Baylor and hasn’t faced a truly quality opponent since then, except for some decent wins over Harvard and on the road at a new-look Colorado State. But while the Buffaloes haven’t faced great competition lately, they have the talent to run with the Jayhawks. Spencer Dinwiddie is averaging 15.3 points per game and shooting at very good percentages (45%, 87% FT, 40% 3PT), and Josh Scott averages 12.2 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as well.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET? BYU at No. 21 UMass (1:30 p.m. CBSSN

This wouldn’t be a major upset as UMass is just appearing in the top 25 and BYU is a very strong opponent. This is another game that could quickly accelerate into triple digits, although UMass has slowed it down and kept it in the 60s in their last two wins over Clemson and Eastern Michigan. BYU, however, has a prolific offense at times and has the shooters to space the floor around their bigs like freshman Erik Mika. This will be an interesting matchup for both teams, especially if it gets really uptempo.

MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE DAY: New Mexico State at No. 19 Gonzaga, 11:00 p.m., ESPNU

I’m not sure which New Mexico State team to expect against their biggest test of the season at Gonzaga. Will we see the Aggies that beat UTEP twice or the team that has dropped two straight to Colorado State and New Mexico? Again, New Mexico State doesn’t have many chances to face competition like Gonzaga heading into the WAC and these next two games for them — Arizona follows — could determine how good they can be come March.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW

1) UNLV is off to a sluggish start at 3-3, but they have enough talent to scare No. 2 Arizona if they so desire. Or this game could get ugly if UNLV doesn’t show up. Can this Runnin’ Rebel team figure things out?

2) The Marquette and Wisconsin rivalry is one of the most underrated rivalries in the country and although the Golden Eagles struggle for points, if they can slow down Wisconsin’s potentially potent offense then they’ll make this a game.

3) An interesting slate of games in the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic as No. 17 Iowa State takes on Northern Iowa and No. 23 Iowa takes on Drake in a doubleheader in Des Moines. The Iowa in-state rivalries on neutral courts between high-major and mid-major programs is great for the fans and should make for some good games.

4) It was awfully tempting to put North Carolina’s home game against UNC Greensboro in the “Who’s getting upset?” column, after the Tar Heels bookended losses to Belmont and UAB following their upset of Louisville. Now that North Carolina knocked off No. 1 Michigan State at home, will they overlook another mid-major opponent?

5) Texas is off to a solid 7-1 start in a year where many media members — myself included — listed Rick Barnes on the hot seat. The Longhorns and their young nucleus will face a tough road test today at Temple for a chance at an 8-1 start.

THE TOP 25:

  • UNLV at No. 2 Arizona, 5:15 p.m., ESPN2
  • Binghamton at No. 4 Syracuse, 7:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Central Connecticut State at No. 5 Ohio State, 4:30 p.m., BTN
  • No. 6 Kansas at Colorado, 3:15 p.m., ESPN2
  • LA-Lafayette at No. 7 Louisville, 1:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Marquette at No. 8 Wisconsin, 2:15 p.m., BTN
  • Oral Roberts at No. 11 Wichita State, 8:00 p.m.
  • No. 14 Villanova at St. Joseph, 6:00 p.m., CBSSN
  • Northwestern State at No. 16 Memphis, 1:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • No. 17 Iowa State vs. Northern Iowa, 6:00 p.m.
  • No. 18 UCLA at Missouri, 12:30 p.m., CBS
  • New Mexico State at No. 19 Gonzaga, 11:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • BYU at No. 21 UMass, 1:30 p.m., CBSSN
  • Houston Baptist at No. 22 Michigan 12:00 p.m., BTN
  • No. 23 Iowa vs. Drake, 8:30 pm, BTN2
  • No. 25 Dayton at Illinois State, 8:05 p.m., ESPN3

NOTABLES:

  • Texas at Temple, 12:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • Tennessee Tech at Tennessee, 12:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Richmond at Wake Forest, 2:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Eastern Michigan at Purdue, 2:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • New Orleans at Minnesota, 3:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Marshall at Penn State, 4:00 p.m., ESPN3
  • Virginia at Green Bay, 5:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • UNC Greensboro at North Carolina, 7:00 p.m., ESPNU
  • Alabama at South Florida, 9:00 p.m., ESPNU

Middle Tennessee loses four returnees during the week

AP Photo
Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
1 Comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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?