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PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: No. 15 Oregon, UNLV take center stage

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GAME OF THE DAY: No. 15 Oregon vs. UNLV, 11:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

For the second straight day the college basketball schedule is relatively light, and there’s no denying that the matchup between the Ducks and Runnin’ Rebels is the most intriguing contest. While the game will be played in Las Vegas it will be played at the MGM Grand Garden Arena as opposed to the Thomas & Mack Center, which is being used for the National Finals Rodeo.

The Ducks, despite not having Jordan Bell or Dylan Ennis, have played well and have the look of a Pac-12 contender thanks to players such as Dylan Brooks, Elgin Cook, Chris Boucher and Tyler Dorsey. On the other side UNLV has just one loss, and with a Mountain West POY candidate in sophomore guard Patrick McCaw leading the way this group has the the depth and talent needed to get back to the NCAA tournament. This game will provide a nice résumé boost for the winner.

THIS ONE’S GOOD TOO: Pittsburgh vs. Duquesne, 7:00 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)

The Panthers will look to rebound from their loss to No. 11 Purdue with a win against the 6-1 Dukes, who are off to their best start since the 2007-08 season. Guards Derrick Colter and Micah Mason are combining to average nearly 37 points per game to lead the way for Jim Ferry’s team, which will need strong efforts on the glass from L.G. Gill and Darius Lewis if the Dukes are to beat Pitt. Pitt has won all five games in the series that have been played at the CONSOL Energy Center, and their rotation led by forwards Michael Young and Jamel Artis and point guard James Robinson will be a test. Look for this edition of the “City Game” to be tight one.

SIX THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. No. 2 Maryland returns to action for the first time since their loss at No. 9 North Carolina, hosting Saint Francis (PA) in College Park. If there’s one player the Terrapins would like to get going its senior forward Jake Layman, who struggled in Chapel Hill. He’s still adjusting from being a mismatch at the four as he was last season to spending most of his time at the three, but he’s talented enough to make the transition.

2. The celebrations put forth by the Monmouth bench have been great, but don’t ignore the fact that King Rice’s Hawks are a pretty good team. Monmouth opens MAAC play with a game at Canisius, and a deep team led by point guard Justin Robinson will need to be at its best against the Golden Griffins. Jim Baron’s team has lost two straight, but they have five players scoring in double figures led by high-scoring guard Malcolm McMillan (23.6 ppg). The western New York swing can be a tough one in MAAC play, so Monmouth’s focus will be key.

3. Wake Forest hosts Arkansas in a matchup of teams hoping to work their way into the conversation in their respective conferences. The Demon Deacons managed to finish third at the Maui Invitational, and they’re off to a 5-2 start despite not having injured guard Codi Miller-McIntyre. Freshman Bryant Crawford has played well in Miller-McIntyre’s absence, and forwards Dinos Mitoglou and Devin Thomas can be a tough matchup in the front court. Arkansas had a lot to replace from last season’s NCAA tournament team, and while they’re still turning teams over the half-court defense has been a struggle.

4. Two of the best players whose highlights don’t garner major attention amongst casual fans will be on the same court in New York City, as DeAndre Bembry leads Saint Joseph’s up against Maodo Lo and Columbia. But this won’t be a one-on-one kind of game, with the Hawks boasting an improved Isaiah Miles (who is leading the team in scoring) and Columbia having three other players averaging double figures led by guard Alex Rosenberg.

5. Northern Illinois hasn’t played the most rigorous of schedules to this point, but they’ll put their 7-0 record on the line at Missouri. Mark Montgomery’s team has been successful thanks in part to their offensive balance, with five players averaging at least eight points per game (Aaric Armstead leads at 13.0 ppg) and forward Marin Maric (10.6, 7.9 rpg) having posted double-doubles in each of the last two games. That balance will be key on the road against a Missouri team led by freshman Kevin Puryear.

6. After managing to hold off UT-Arlington in overtime earlier this week Texas hosts 6-2 Samford. Scott Padgett’s team opened the season with a loss at No. 24 Louisville but have won six of their last seven with the lone defeat being by just one point at Austin Peay. Texas hasn’t been all that good on the defensive glass, as opponents have grabbed more than 42 percent of their misses, and it’s an area Shaka Smart’s team needs to address. Samford’s ranked 301st in adjusted offensive efficiency, which should benefit Isaiah Taylor and company.

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

  • Iona at Marist, 7:00 p.m.
  • Manhattan at Siena, 7:00 p.m.
  • Kansas State at Georgia, 7:00 p.m.
  • San Francisco at Montana, 9:00 p.m.
  • UC Davis at Saint Mary’s, 10:00 p.m.

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?