Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

College basketball is back, but does anyone actually care?

Leave a comment

College basketball is BACK, baby!

Starting in just a matter of hours, we are going to be playing the first games of the college basketball season, and at this point, I think the most pressing question that we need answered is … does anyone actually give a ****?

I love college basketball as much as, if not more, than anyone. on the planet, and even I am having trouble getting myself excited for a weekend of are just blah. The most interesting part of the next 72 hours is going to be finding out who is playing and who is being held out because of concerns about the FBI investigation.

Let’s start with this: Of the more than 250 Division I games that are being played this weekend, there are just five games that feature two high-major programs, and just one of those five actually pits two teams that are ranked in the top 25 – No. 25 Texas A&M takes on No. 11 West Virginia at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

In theory, this should be a terrific matchup, as Press Virginia takes on a team with arguably the best front line in college basketball. Potential Big 12 Player of the Year Jevon Carter vs. Potential Lottery Pick Big Bob Williams. But Williams won’t be playing, as he’s suspended for a violation of team rules. Two more starters, Admon Gilder and D.J. Hogg, were suspended for two games along with Williams, and that came a month after redshirt freshman point guard J.J. Caldwell, who might have started at the point, was suspended for five games.

In other words, the Aggies will essentially be playing without their starting lineup. That should go well.

It’s worth noting here that A&M is not the only program in that game that will be without a key player. Esa Ahmad, West Virginia’s second-leading returning scorer, is ineligible for the first semester.

So that game is a bust, as is the nightcap between Georgia Tech and No. 21 UCLA in Shanghai.

Josh Pastner is the happiest man in college basketball these days. Not eight hours after a story popped up on CBS Sports containing allegations that Pastner had helped funnel impermissible benefits to two players on his roster that are currently ineligible to play – Josh Okogie, his star guard, and Tadric Jackson, a starter for the Yellow Jackets – LiAngelo Ball and two of his teammates, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, went and got themselves arrested for shoplifting in China.

Pastner went from being the biggest story in college basketball to being a total and complete afterthought in his opening game thanks to the Big Baller Brand’s inability to keep their hands off of Louis Vuitton sunglasses. At this point, the most interesting thing about this game is going to be whether or not LaVar Ball actually says something insane that gets his son sentenced to three years in a Chinese prison.

Maybe bust is the wrong word for that game.

Because I’m certainly going to be staying up until 11:30 p.m. ET to watch it, and it will have nothing to do with the actual basketball being played.

The third-most intriguing game of the weekend might have been Alabama taking on Memphis in the Veterans Classic in Annapolis, but Memphis is a dumpster fire in Tubby Smith’s second season while Alabama is not only missing Braxton Key, last year’s leading scorer who is dealing with a knee injury, but will likely be playing without star point guard Collin Sexton.

Sexton, a top ten freshman and a potential lottery pick, is a casualty of the FBI’s probe into college basketball corruption, which is the story that had dominated college basketball headlines for the last six weeks. No one is going to care about the buy-games that the best teams in the country play this weekend, but everyone is going to be looking to see who sits out for teams like Arizona and USC, and if any other big time programs have unexpected players in street clothes.

The only ranked team that will be playing a true road game this weekend is No. 14 Notre Dame, but they will be paying a visit to DePaul, who has won all of 18 games the last two years. That’s not exactly going to move the needle.

What we’re left with is Iowa State and Missouri squaring off in Columbia.

On paper, this has potential. Iowa State has been one of the best programs in the Big 12 of late and Missouri has a potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft on their roster in Michael Porter Jr. But the Cyclones are very likely going to be terrible this season after losing everyone and everything to graduation, while Cuonzo Martin is trying to rebuild a program that has been dreadful for three years running.

That’s the most interesting game on college basketball’s opening night.

And this is what’s supposed to distract us from the scandals that have blanketed the sport?

Ay yi yi.

The Champions Classic can’t get here soon enough.

At least there will be a Law & Order marathon on somewhere.

MOST INTERESTING GAMES

1. Iowa State at Missouri, Fri. 9:00 p.m.: Our first glimpse at Michael Porter Jr. at the college level will also be a chance for us to see just how Cuonzo Martin is going to play this year. Big or small?

2. Elon at No. 1 Duke, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: The last time these two teams play, Grayson Allen tripped Steven Santa Ana and the season went absolutely haywire.

3. Georgia Tech vs. No. 21 UCLA, Fri. 11:30 p.m. (Shanghai): If LaVar Ball doesn’t make an appearance on national television explaining why it was OK for his son to go into an authoritarian country and try to shoplift $700 sunglasses then the production team on site isn’t doing their job right.

4. Northern Iowa at No. 9 North Carolina, Fri. 7:00 p.m.: If you;re looking for a major upset this weekend, look here. North Carolina is overrated this early in the season, particularly with the loss of Joel Berry II to a broken hand, and UNI has traditionally been one of the better teams in the Missouri Valley.

5. No. 25 Texas A&M vs. No. 11 West Virginia, Fri. 6:00 p.m. (Germany): Half of the players that should be starting in this game won’t be. But hey, I’m here for Huggy Bear in a track suit.

6. Utah Valley’s opening weekend: The Wolverines open the season playing at Kentucky on Friday night and follow that up with a trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium to play Duke on Saturday night. Good luck with that.

BUYER’S REMORSE

Campbell at Penn State, Fri. 4:00 p.m.

Mercer at UCF, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Louisiana at Ole Miss, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

Yale at Creighton, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

Yale at Wisconsin, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Princeton at Butler, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Belmont at Washington, Fri. 10:00 p.m.

Georgia Southern at Wake Forest, Fri. 7:30 p.m.

UNC Asheville at Rhode Island, Fri. 7:30 p.m.

Mount St. Mary’s at Marquette, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

Maryland at Stony Brook, Fri.7:00 p.m.

TITLE CONTENDERS IN ACTION

Elon at No. 1 Duke, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Utah Valley at No. 1 Duke, Sat. 7:00 p.m.

North Florida at No. 2 Michigan State, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

Northern Arizona at No. 3 Arizona, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

UMBC at No. 3 Arizona, Sun. 6:00 p.m.

Tennessee State at No. 4 Kansas, Fri. 9:00 p.m.

Utah Valley at No. 5 Kentucky, Fri. 7:00 p.m.

Vermont at No. 5 Kentucky, Sun. 3:30 p.m.

Columbia at No. 6 Villanova, Fri. 8:30 p.m.

UMKC at No. 7 Wichita State, Fri. 8:00 p.m.

Cal St.-Fullerton at No. 10 USC, Fri. 10:00 p.m.

George Mason at No. 16 Louisville, Sun. 2:00 p.m.

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?