15 freshmen to love, this year and next

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Don’t go falling in love with freshmen like Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes and Baylor’s Perry Jones. They head the list of this season’s one-and-done players.

Also included: Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Kansas’ Josh Selby, N.C. State’s C.J. Leslie, Memphis’ Will Barton, Syracuse’s Fab Melo and Kentucky’s trio of Brandon Knight, Enes Kanter and Terrence Jones, among others.

If any of those guys return for their sophomore seasons, consider it a pleasant surprise for hoopheads.

Robin Scholz / AP

Who’s that leave? Fifteen talented guys you can watch this season and next.

Vander Blue, Marquette
The 6-3 guard was the Wisconsin player of the year and backed out of playing for Bo Ryan so he could suit up for Buzz Williams. Jimmy Butler will be the Eagles’ go-to guy, which means Blue can focus on doing what he does best – attacking the basket and playing multiple guard spots. You’ll spot Blue by the ink on his arms.

Reggie Bullock, North Carolina
Think Wayne Ellington, only taller. The 6-6 guard could start for the Heels, who need someone to stretch defenses with a reliable outside shot. The rest of his game needs work, which will be the only thing keeping him in school past his freshman season.

Joe Jackson, Memphis
Forget one or two seasons. Tigers fans are hoping the Memphis native sticks around four years. The 5-11 point guard is lightning quick, savvy and bound to make life easier for his young, talented teammates. Or he’ll just do it himself. There’s a little bit of Allen Iverson in Jackson.

Tobias Harris, Tennessee
This may be a stretch, but I can hope, right? The 6-8 forward is adept in the pain or on the perimeter and rarely slacks off. That’s perfect for Bruce Pearl’s Vols, who thrive with versatile, athletic players. Harris will overmatch nearly every defender he faces, which means he’s not long for the college game. But two seasons? That’s possible.

Ray McCallum, Detroit and Trey Ziegler, Central Michigan
What are a five-star prospect and a four-star prospect doing playing at mid-majors schools? They’re playing for their dads. If that’s not worth cheering, I don’t know what is. McCallum’s heady point guard, while Ziegler’s a shooting guard who could lead the MAC in scoring.

Ian Miller, Florida State
The latest in a series of top-flight talent in Tallahassee, Miller should vie for ACC freshman of the year honors. The 6-3 guard is a solid finisher and aggressive getting to the rim, a godsend for a ‘Noles team that struggles getting the ball in the basket.

Tyler Lamb, UCLA
The 6-4 Lamb is just what the Bruins were missing last season – an athletic guard who can hit from outside or get to the rim. He’ll play, too. UCLA coach Ben Howland’s been impressed by Lamb’s defensive effort.

Adreian Payne, Michigan State
A 6-10 center who thrives on defense, can block shots and rebound? Sounds like a Tom Izzo player to me. Payne figures to spell Spartans post players Delvon Roe and Derrick Nix this season, then step into a more prominent role the next few seasons as his offense develops.  

Phil Pressey, Missouri
The Tigers’ system is built around guards who can push the pace and pressure defenders. That’s perfect for Pressey, a 5-10 blur who also isn’t afraid of challenging taller foes at the rim. He and his brother, Matt, could be Missouri’s backcourt for years to come.

Jereme Richmond and Meyers Leonard, Illinois
Richmond, a 6-7 wing, and Leonard, a 6-10 center, are the gems of Illinois’ 2010 class and could step into prominent roles once Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale graduate this spring. If the freshmen pair can match the consistency and productivity of Davis and Tisdale, the Illini are set.

Terrence Ross, Washington
The early favorite for Pac-10 freshman of the year. The 6-5 guard should thrive thanks to Huskies point guard Isaiah Thomas, who excels at driving the lane and dishing to open teammates around the arc. That’s perfect for Ross, whose best asset is his sweet stroke.

J.T. Terrell, Wake Forest
Here’s all you need to know about the 6-4 guard, courtesy of Dave Telep: “Somebody told me he was shooting it from one step past half court off a ball screen,” Wake assistant Jeff Battle said. “Who would shoot that? They said he makes them, too. I don’t know if coach will let him shoot 50-footers, but he can do it.”

Dion Waiters, Syracuse
Someone’s going to have to pick up the scoring slack with Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins gone. That falls to Kris Joseph and Waiters, a tremendous talent who can step into Rautins’ role as the perimeter threat. Added bonus: Unlike Rautins, Waiters can get to the rim.

Patric Young, Florida
The solution to the Gators’ frontcourt issues. The 6-8 Young grabs rebounds, blocks shots and intimates foes with his imposing build. He’s not polished offensively, but that’s the main reason he’ll be in Gainesville more than one year. Guys with his athleticism are usually NBA bound ASAP.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.