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Dan Hurley lands first commitment as UConn head coach

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First-year UConn head coach Dan Hurley landed his first commitment in the Class of 2019 on Tuesday, as four-star guard James Bouknight announced that he will play his college ball for the Huskies.

A native of New York that has played in the prep ranks for the MacDuffie School and has been a member of the same PSA Cardinals AAU program that produced Cole Anthony and Mo Bamba, Bouknight is a 6-foot-4 off-guard that still has quite a bit of potential to grow into. He’s an athletic scorer with upside, exactly the kind of player that UConn is going to need in a year where they will be losing Jalen Adams while Alterique Gilbert continues to struggle with shoulder issues.

Much is expected from Hurley at UConn, and he has found himself in the mix for a number of high-profile recruits in and around the Northeast. Putting together a couple of strong classes at the start of his tenure is critical for a coach looking to bring the Huskies back to the heights they were at under Jim Calhoun.

And Bouknight is a terrific was to start that process.

Blue Ribbon releases college basketball preseason top 25

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Blue Ribbon, the preeminent college basketball preview publication, released their preseason top 25 on Tuesday afternoon, and Kentucky is the No. 1 team in the country, edging out Kansas, Gonzaga and Duke.

Personally, I would put Kansas above the Wildcats, but as long as Kentucky, Kansas, Gonzaga and Duke are in the top four — regardless of order — it is hard to disagree too much with any ranking this season.

Where I would disagree is with Villanova.

Blue Ribbon has the Wildcats sitting 21st, and while I understand the inclination to drop Villanova based on what that program has lost, my counterpoint would be that both Eric Paschall — who is in line for an all-american season — and Phil Booth return as fifth-year seniors, while a roster full of four- and five-star recruits will be coming of age. I have Villanova fifth, which is admittedly high and a bet on Jay Wright and this Villanova program.

That said, to me, Villanova is a clear top ten team.

Anyway, here is the rest of Blue Ribbon’s top 25:

  1. Kentucky
  2. Kansas
  3. Gonzaga
  4. Duke
  5. Tennessee
  6. Nevada
  7. Virginia
  8. Auburn
  9. Oregon
  10. Michigan State
  11. Mississippi State
  12. North Carolina
  13. Kansas State
  14. UCLA
  15. Florida State
  16. West Virginia
  17. Clemson
  18. LSU
  19. Purdue
  20. Florida
  21. Villanova
  22. Syracuse
  23. Michigan
  24. Virginia Tech
  25. TCU

Rui Hachimura scores 25 as Japan upsets Iran in World Cup qualifier

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Japan won their fourth consecutive FIBA World Cup qualifier on Monday, knocking off one of the powerhouses of Group F, Iran, by a score of 70-56.

Why is that relevant on a college basketball website?

Because Gonzaga star Rui Hachimura, an All-American heading into the 2018-19 season and a potential lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was the best player on the floor once again. Hachimura finished with 25 points while former George Washington star Yuta Watanabe added 18 as the Akatsuki Five moved to within striking distance of the top three in Group F.

Japan is currently fourth in Group F. The top three — and the best fourth-place finisher between Group E and Group F — qualify for the World Cup.

Japan has four qualifiers — one against Iran, one against Kazahkstan and two against Qatar — left to play. If they go 3-1, they will likely be headed to the World Cup.

Kansas lands first commitment in 2019 recruiting class

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Kansas landed their first commitment in the Class of 2019 as Christian Braun, a four-star guard from Overland Park, pledged to the Jayhawks.

Braun is from a basketball family. His brother, Parker, is a preferred walk-on at Missouri, where is mother, an uncle and an aunt all played collegiately. His father played college hoops at Saint Louis before going to Kansas for med school.

This is a nice pickup for the Jayhawks, as Braun profiles as the kind of four-year kid that Bill Self has had plenty of success with. Think Tyrel Reed or Brady Morningstar. He’s a good shooter and, at 6-foot-5, big enough to be able to defend a couple of positions on the perimeter. He’s not a program-changing talent, but he’s a good player that will be able to fill a role for Self for years to come.

Easier gambling has sports worried about fighting the fix

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OCEANPORT, N.J. (AP) — With dozens of states rushing to offer legal sports gambling in the wake of this spring’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court’ ruling, will fixed games — or parts of games — become more common?

The four major pro major sports leagues and the NCAA have argued for years in court that expanding legal betting will lead to more game-fixing. The pro leagues have sought, unsuccessfully so far, to get a cut of state gambling revenues to increase monitoring. Democratic U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York recently proposed legislation establishing federal guidelines aimed at “protecting the integrity of the game” as well as protecting bettors.

Supporters of legal sports betting say that bringing an already popular illegal activity out of the shadows will make it easier to detect illegal activity. They point to the Arizona State basketball point-shaving scandal in the late 1990s, uncovered after legal bookmakers in Las Vegas noticed unusually large sums wagered on Sun Devils games. Six people, including two players, pleaded guilty to crimes including conspiracy and sports bribery.

Legal sports betting has been part of the landscape for years outside the United States, as have gambling-related scandals.

Soccer, by far the most widely bet sport worldwide, has confronted widespread match-fixing scandals often orchestrated by organized crime groups. FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, estimated in 2013 that organized crime was taking in as much as $15 billion a year by fixing matches.

Perhaps equally as susceptible to fixing is tennis, with thousands of matches played annually at out-of-the-way venues featuring players on the sport’s lower rungs. A report published in April by an independent panel found “betting-related corruption and other breaches of integrity have taken firm root” in the sport. It cited a decision several years ago by pro tours to sell live scoring data, which allowed sports books to offer in-game wagering. During this month’s U.S. Open in New York, bettors were able to wager on who would win a specific point, match or set.

In the four months since the report was issued, several men’s players have been suspended, two for life, and authorities in Belgium detained more than a dozen people on suspicion of match-fixing as part of a criminal probe dating back to 2015.

The uncovering of illegal activity shows that legal betting safeguards are working, said Joe Asher, CEO of London-based bookmaker William Hill.

“The illegal bookie isn’t picking up the phone and calling the FBI, he’s just going to try to get on the same side of the bet,” Asher said. “That’s the difference between the black market and the legal market that exists today.”

Still, the prospect of easy, legal access to sports gambling for everyone, athletes included, has many concerned.

“They’re going to create a bigger pool for more kids, and for more money to get involved,” said Jamall Anderson, a running back on the 1996 Boston College football team whose players were found to have bet against their own team. “It’s really going to create a big mess, I think.”

Anderson recounted his experiences in a 2016 book, “The Best Bet.” In an interview, he described a culture in which gambling was part of the daily routine.

“You went to practice and you got your spreadsheet in the locker room,” he said. “It was nothing to sit there on the sidelines and say, ‘Who you got this week?’ That’s what you do.”

College athletes aren’t strangers to wagering: A 2016 NCAA survey of more than 22,000 college athletes found nearly one-quarter of male athletes violated NCAA rules by gambling money on sports in the previous year.

And of the male athletes who had gambled on sports, 13 percent had wagered on specific game situations with in-game bets.

NCAA rules prohibit athletes, coaches and other athletic employees from gambling on sports, and individual schools sometimes bring in law enforcement officials or former players to help them understand the rules.

Will it be enough as laws change?

“Do you remember back when you were 18 to 20 years of age?” asked Minnesota athletic director Bob Vecchione, head of the National Association of College Directors of Athletics. “When people told you something, how much did it sink in? That’s what causes some sleepless nights.”

With inside information heavily sought in gambling, any tidbit — say, a student telling friends that his roommate, the star quarterback, just had a fight with his girlfriend — can take on greater significance, highlighting the need for more education, Rutgers athletic director Patrick Hobbs said.

“We’ll educate on a variety of scenarios and hypotheticals, and say, ‘Hey look, this may have sounded like an innocent question in the past, but now you have to be careful with that information,'” Hobbs said.

In the Arizona State hoops case, Las Vegas bookmakers reported suspicious betting activity when gamblers wagered about $900,000 against Arizona State in an early season contest against Washington. The heavy action caused sports books to change Arizona State from a 10½-point favorite to a 3-point favorite.

“You might write $30,000 or $40,000 total on both sides of that game under normal conditions,” Jimmy Vaccaro, then-sports book director at Mirage Resorts, recently told The Associated Press. “We wrote $560,000 on that game. The people thought the fix was in and ended up blowing their money.”

North Carolina releases loaded non-conference schedule

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The Tar Heels released their non-conference schedule over the weekend, and it is about as difficult as any that you will find from the top of the college basketball world.

Let’s start with this nugget: Roy Williams will play his first two games of the season on the road against mid-major competition. He opens at Wofford — who, by the way, won in the Dean Dome last season — and he’ll follow that up by playing at Elon three days later. UNC’s first home game will come against former assistant Jared Haase and Stanford before finally playing a couple of cupcakes.

UNC is then off to Vegas to play in the Continental Tire Invitational, whether they get Texas in the opener and either Michigan State or UCLA the next night, before a road trip up to Ann Arbor to face off with Michigan in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

After another home date with another former assistant — UNCW and C.B. McGrath — the Tar Heels play three straight weekends against Gonzaga, Kentucky (in Chicago) and Davidson before wrapping up non-league play with Ivy League titan Harvard.

This is the kind of schedule that I love to see. Home-and-homes with other high-major competition and a couple road trips against good, local mid-major teams.

Kudos, Roy Williams.

Here is the full schedule:

Nov. 6: at Wofford
Nov. 9: at Elon
Nov. 12: Stanford
Nov. 16: Tennessee Tech
Nov. 19: St. Francis (PA)
Nov. 22-23: Continental Tires Invitational (Las Vegas)
Nov. 28: at Michigan
Dec. 5: UNCW
Dec. 15: Gonzaga
Dec. 22: Kentucky (Chicago)
Dec. 29: Davidson
Jan. 2: Harvard