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Jackson’s 28 points lead No. 22 Maryland past Minnesota

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Maryland still has more freshmen in the starting lineup than losses this season.

The teenage Terrapins, with age-defying poise, have begun to display the potential to top the Sweet 16 trip for last year’s team.

Justin Jackson had a career-high 28 points and 10 rebounds, making all five of his 3-point attempts, and No. 22 Maryland beat Minnesota 85-78 on Saturday for its sixth straight win.

“We don’t call them `freshmen.’ We call them `young guys,”‘ Terrapins coach Mark Turgeon said. “They’re good players. They don’t think about the stage. They’re just playing basketball. They’ve done it their whole lives.”

Kevin Huerter went 5 for 7 from 3-point range and finished with 19 points, and Anthony Cowan added eight points, five assists, no turnovers and tight defense on Minnesota’s leading scorer Nate Mason. Cowan, Huerter and Jackson have played well enough in their first season that junior star Melo Trimble said he sees a resemblance in their performance to his as a freshman.

“They’re just playing with no second thought,” said Trimble, who had 13 points, nine assists, seven rebounds and no turnovers. “They’re just shooting the ball, playing basketball. They’re not worrying about foul calls or missed shots or anything like that. I’m really proud of them.”

Minnesota entered the afternoon with the Big Ten’s lowest 3-point shooting percentage allowed, but Maryland was undaunted and more than willing to engage in a long-range launching contest as the Terrapins (19-2, 7-1) kept pace with Wisconsin in a tie for first place in the Big Ten.

“We believe in ourselves, and we believe in each other,” Jackson said. “I always say that our chemistry off the court spills on the court.”

Akeem Springs led the Gophers (15-7, 3-6) with a season-high 23 points, but they lost their fifth consecutive game despite a 41-31 rebound advantage and a 21-10 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Coach Richard Pitino gave his on-the-ball defense an `F’ grade, with Maryland making more than half of its field-goal attempts (30 for 59), including an 11-for-18 performance from beyond the arc. Trimble and Cowan penetrated with the dribble and consistently kicked the ball out to open teammates on the wing.

“That’s just on us, man,” said a downcast Springs, who buried his face in his hands at the podium between postgame questions from reporters.

FIRST HALF EDGE: MINNESOTA

The Terrapins were four-point underdogs, wary of last year’s 68-63 flop at Minnesota that gave the Gophers their first Big Ten victory after starting 0-13 in conference play, and the Gophers got their crowd going with a 19-1 run sparked largely by Springs that gave them a 21-9 lead past the midpoint of the first half.

Four of their first six made field goals were dunks, further enhancing the energy in the 89-year-old arena. Amir Coffey, who has produced most of his best rookie performances against Minnesota’s toughest opponents, swished a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 44 seconds left before halftime for a 33-26 lead. He scored each of his 11 points in the first half.

TURTLE POWER

Trimble’s twisting, foul-drawing layup, after which he glared at the Minnesota student section for emphasis, put the Terrapins in front 58-56 for the first time since 9-8. Trimble gave them the lead again at 73-71 with a similar, gravity-defying move that drew a foul on Springs for a three-point play with 2:49 left.

Mason answered with a 3-pointer and tied the game at 76 with a pair of foul shots with 1:47 remaining, but Huerter hit a 3-pointer from the corner to quiet the crowd and help the Terrapins inch toward the finish.

“I feel for our guys,” Pitino said. “We’ve got to break through.”

BIG PICTURE

Maryland: Trimble got to double-digit points for the 19th time in 21 games, but the sharpshooting freshmen carried most of the load for the Terrapins. Proving they can win in a raucous environment on the road without a major impact by Trimble was an important accomplishment.

Minnesota: Pitino picked an odd time this week considering the losing streak to talk to his players about the NCAA Tournament, but his urging of the Gophers to keep their confidence came with a reminder of their strength of schedule that’s a significant factor for the selection committee come March. They’re well past time for a win, though, if they’re going to make it.

“We’ll circle back with the optimism in a couple days,” Pitino said.

UP NEXT

Maryland: The Terrapins stay on the road for a game on Tuesday at Ohio State.

Minnesota: The Gophers have a full week to prepare for a trip to play at Illinois on Feb. 4.

For more college basketball coverage: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

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?