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Pitt proves what we have all been saying — UConn was not a top five team

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UConn needed this loss. UConn needed an experienced Pitt team to beat them up, execute to precision, and win going away. And the Panthers did it, knocking off the Huskies 78-63 on Monday night at the Peterson Events Center.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now, but this is not the No. 4 team in the country.

Sure, they won the Maui Invitational. Yes, they came into this game undefeated. And you’re right, they have Kemba Walker. But anyone that has actually watched this team play will tell you that these Huskies are closer to the edge of the top 25 than the top five.

After that terrific performance in Maui, UConn jumped way up in the rankings. With nothing but cupcakes between their return from Maui and their jaunt to Pittsburgh, UConn continued to win games. And with the teams ranked in front of them losing game after game, UConn slowly climbed in the polls.

All the way up to fourth.

That ranking led to unnecessary and unfair expectations for a team that has four freshman, two sophomores, and a Kemba as their top seven scorers.

UConn never led against Pitt. They never got closer than six after the 15:38 mark, when Brad Wanamaker found Gilbert Brown for a thunderous alley-oop to make the score 14-7. They never got any closer than seven in the second half, and that seven-point deficit lasted for all of one possession. The Huskies shot 31.9% from the game, and the non-Kembas shot a dismal 9-33. While Walker went off for 31 points, he did it on an inefficient 10-27 shooting performance while also getting to the line 11 times.

Nothing defined UConn’s game more than the two minute stretch after Walker had cut a 15 point Pitt lead to seven with 5:31 remaining. On the ensuing Pitt possession, Wanamaker drove the lane and scored on a layup over an out-of-position Alex Oriakhi. At the other end, Niels Giffey missed an open three in the corner. After getting a stop, both Walker and Oriakhi missed layups. UConn got another offensive rebound, but Jeremy Lamb bricked an open look from the top of the key. Walker stole the outlet and found himself wide open for a three from the corner that wasn’t even close. Following a Pitt timeout, the Panthers ran Ashton Gibbs off of two screens which freed him for a wide open three with 3:24 left.

Buckets.

Dagger.

Despite playing this poorly, its too early to fully sound the alarm on this UConn team.

This is a young group. There are six freshmen in their 11 man rotation. They opened Big East play two days after Christmas on the road against a very good Pitt team that is damn near unbeatable at home. This win moved the Panther’s record to 142-11 and 8-0 against top five teams at the Peterson Events Center.

Give Pitt the credit they deserve. Walker had very few driving lanes tonight. The Panthers collapsed every time he put the ball on the floor, daring him to kick the ball out to UConn’s shooters. The Pitt offense was a thing of beauty. Gibbs runs a clinic every time he comes off of a screen. Wanamaker may not be the best decision maker in the country, but he played like it tonight. UConn’s bigs could not handle Gary McGhee’s brute strength or Nasir Robinson’s versatility.

Combine that with a physical and intelligent brand of defense, and what shone through tonight more than anything was Pitt’s experience and ability to execute.

Its tough to imagine Oriakhi playing as poorly as he did tonight all season long. Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith, and Lamb will get better as they become accustomed to Big East play. They will beat the teams at the bottom of the Big East, get some wins against the other middle-of-the-pack squads, and maybe even land a win or two against one of the Big East heavyweights.

UConn should get to 10-8 or 9-9 in the Big East. They should have enough on their non-conference resume with their wins in Maui to get into the tournament.

Its not what you would expect from a top five team in the country, but UConn is not one of the top five teams in the country.

And tonight should be enough to prove that to the voters.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

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.

Arizona and Texas headline Lone Star Shootout

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Head coach Sean Miller of the Arizona Wildcats reacts in the first half against the Wichita State Shockers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
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Another marquee, early season event is on the books for the college basketball season as four potential tournament teams will be squaring off at the Toyota Center in Houston on Dec. 17th.

The highlight of the double-header, which has been dubbed the Lone Star Shootout, will probably end up being Arizona vs. Texas A&M. The Wildcats are a Pac-12 contender and a borderline top 10 team as we enter the season, and while the Aggies will have work to do replacing the seniors they lost off of last season’s roster, they’re a borderline top 25 team.

The other matchup will feature a pair of former Southwest Conference rivals facing off in Texas and Arkansas. Texas will be talented but young while Arkansas may actually have the best player on the floor in Moses Kingsley. What will make this matchup interesting is that both Mike Anderson and Shaka Smart are known for being coaches that prefer a full court pressing system.

“We are extremely excited about the opportunity to play in front of our fans at the Toyota Center in Houston,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said in a statement. “It is one of the most important areas in this state as it relates to our recruiting and fan base.

Five-star 2017 guard Lonnie Walker cuts list to five schools

Men's U18 trials head shots and team photo on 6.15.16
Bart Young/USA Basketball
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Five-star shooting guard Lonnie Walker is coming off of a very good summer as he trimmed his list to five schools on Thursday night.

The 6-foot-4 native of Reading, Pennsylvania is still considering Arizona, Kentucky, Miami, Syracuse and Villanova, he announced on Twitter.

Regarded as the No. 26 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, Walker played with Team Final in the Nike EYBL this spring and summer as he averaged 16.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Walker shot 45 percent from the field, 39 percent from three-point range and 72 percent from the free-throw line.

An efficient scorer who is learning to drive with both hands, Walker is very talented and the type of guard who might also be able to handle a bit as well.