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Former Ohio State great Mike Conley is not daunted by pressure from his new contract

With the largest contract in NBA history comes a lot of pressure, but Conley isn’t buying into it.

NBA: Washington Wizards at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

“There’s gonna be a lot of talk about it all season, no question. But it’s already here. I almost look forward to playing on the road, for that very reason.”

-Mike Conley Jr., via Mitch Lawrence, SportingNews

Though Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley Jr. has a “big target on your (his) chest,” according to his former coach Lionel Hollins, the former Ohio State Buckeyes standout is using all of the animosity being thrown at him as motivation heading into the NBA season. Over the summer, Conley signed the largest contract in the history of the league, valued at $152.6 over five years. Though many of the NBA’s biggest stars got their payday in recent months, owing to a massive increase in the salary cap, none seem to be under as much of a microscope as Conley.

Conley was limited during the Grizzlies’ loss to the Knicks Saturday, where he was berated with heckles from the crowd. And while he knows that the jeers will only get tougher down the road in rivalry games and tough arenas, Conley says that the criticism pushes him to be better, even to the point where he is looking forward to those challenging road games later in the season.

But Conley is, perhaps, the player in the NBA best equipped to handle such talk. He has been one of the top scorers for the Grizzlies since his arrival in Memphis in 2007, and has been a key factor in the team making the playoffs each of the last six seasons. Ed Stefanski, the Grizzlies’ VP of player personnel, said “I wish I had 15 Mike Conleys on the roster...He’s the real deal, on and off the court.” He has been solid, but never considered a superstar of the likes of Lebron or Kobe, never even having made an All-Star game. But, in many ways, Conley’s massive contract is what was needed to keep him in Memphis, and will also provide the often-underrated point guard the chance to prove himself with all eyes on him.

“What made Smith so adept at being a deep-ball guy was his combination of track speed and ball-tracking skills. Ohio State’s receivers have plenty of speed, but seem to lack those inherent skills that make an elite deep-ball catcher.”

-Bill Landis, Cleveland.com

The first few games of the season aside, a major component of the Ohio State offense has been distinctly lacking over the course of the past two years: the vertical passing threat. Ever since the departure of Devin Smith for the NFL following the Buckeyes’ 2014 national championship, the Ohio State coaching staff has been searching for someone to fill the void, but to no avail: the current receiver rotation for the Buckeyes simply does not have that downfield threat.

While Meyer has said that Ohio State should be a “shot” team, making downfield throws consistently, the only season where this was actually the case under his tenure was in the 2014 season, with Smith leading the charge. In that season, the Buckeyes recorded 32 passes of 30 or more yards--one of the top-teams in the country in that category--but have not hit more than 18 in any of Meyer’s other seasons in Columbus. Ohio State is sitting at nine-such completions this year, with just four games left on the season.

Even those big passing plays that do turn into significant yardage, such as K.J. Hill’s 34-yard reception Saturday against Northwestern,was really just a 15-yard pass followed by a 19-yard run. J.T. Barrett has acknowledged that defenses are effectively covering the downfield passes, but that the short and intermediate routes remain options to gain smaller chunks of yardage. It is a credit to the offense to be able to make those adjustments and continue to move the ball, in spite of not having their preferred method of passing open.

The problem seems to be a combination of defensive coverage and the receiver’s individual talent. While defenders are playing tight and not allowing for separation on passing plays, the receivers have been unable to make the necessary adjustments to their routes to make the catch--which is, perhaps, the biggest differentiator for Devin Smith, who had both the speed and the ability to adjust and make the reception.

“The ACC and Big Ten are tied for having the most ranked teams with five apiece. The Big 12 has four, while nine conferences have at least one team ranked.”

-Brendan F. Quinn, M Live

There are high expectations for the Big Ten as a conference heading into the 2016-17 men’s college basketball season. While no school in the conference cracked the top five, five Big Ten teams were ranked in the AP’s preseason poll, with two others receiving votes:

  • No. 9: Wisconsin
  • No. 11: Indiana
  • No. 12: Michigan State
  • No. 15: Purdue
  • No. 25: Maryland

Ohio State earned 18 votes, while Michigan came in with eight. The ACC was the big winner in the early poll, with Duke (No. 1), North Carolina (No. 6) and Virginia (No. 8) all cracking the top 10. Louisville (No. 13) and Syracuse (No. 19) also made the list.

Last year, seven Big Ten schools made the NCAA Tournament. Wisconsin, who made it to the Sweet 16 last year despite head coach Bo Ryan retiring midseason, returns all five of last season’s starters.

“Dude is a Great Hooper, but I don’t respect a snitch.”

-Brandon Jennings, via CBS Los Angeles

Former Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell’s rookie season was riddled with drama that just won’t end, though the second-year Laker’s on-court play has at least seemed to improve from last season through three games. Already this year, Russell made waves by stating that he has found “freedom” without shooting guard Kobe Bryant in the mix in L.A., acknowledging that the Lakers are able to play as a team now rather than focusing on one individual. Last season, Russell was widely criticized for inconsistent play on the court, as well as his attitude and behavior off the court, which included a video of Russell asking teammate Nick Young about his potential infidelity with (at the time) fiance Iggy Azalea. Azalea ultimately broke off their engagement in June, citing the infidelity scandal which Russell was inherently tied to.

Unfortunately for Russell, his actions last year have earned him a certain reputation which has continued on into this season. When asked if Russell could be an all-star, the Knicks’ Brandon Jennings acknowledged that, while Russell is a “Great Hooper,” he is still a snitch.

On the court, Russell has taken on more of a leadership role this season following the departure of Bryant and the introduction of new head coach Luke Walton. Though inconsistent shooting and poor defensive play marred much of his rookie year, he actually put up strong numbers for a rookie, including hitting 130 three-pointers on the season. This year, he is expected to continue to improve under Walton’s system and, alongside Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, help to improve the Lakers into a winning squad.

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