Notre Dame proves five is greater than one

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The knock on UConn this season is that they are a one-man team.

I believe the nickname of choice has been “The UConn Fightings Kembas”.

Its a pretty accurate assessment of the Huskies. Kemba Walker was the best player in the country — by far — for the first month and a half of the season, and when you combine that with the amount of youth and inexperience surrounding him on a team ranked in the top ten, its no surprise so much is being asked of him.

There isn’t anyone else on the team that can carry the load.

At the very least you can rest assured that Notre Dame felt that way, because their entire defense was geared around slowing down Walker in the Irish’s 73-70 win in South Bend on Tuesday night. While the Irish used a team approach to end Walker’s of 11 straight 20 points game (he finished with 19 points on 8-23 shooting), Ben Hansbrough — and to a much lesser extent, Eric Atkins — was the guy that drew the night’s toughest assignment.

When Walker had the ball in his hands, Hansbrough climbed all over him. He didn’t bite on pump fakes, he stayed home on Kemba’s step-back jumpers, and he was able to do it because he knew that his entire team was sloughing off their man in help-side. When Walker didn’t have the ball, Hansbrough played the exact same way, not giving the UConn guard an inch, making every cut difficult and trailing every time he went over a screen.

Notre Dame bumped every cut, hedged every pick regardless of whether it was on or off the ball, and knocked Walker down every time he got all the way to the rim. They did so while essentially ignoring the other four players on the floor, and it worked. Walker did the majority of his damage in transition — where he is virtually impossible to stop — and finished the game just 8-23 from the floor and 0-5 from three.

Hansbrough was the star on both ends for the Irish. Not only was he the guy guarding Walker for the majority of the game, but he also played 40 minutes and tallied 21 points and four assists while turning the ball over just twice.

That’s impressive.

Notre Dame is now 2-1 in the league with wins over Georgetown and UConn surrounding a loss at Syracuse. Notre Dame is always tough to beat at the Joyce Center and we all know how difficult winning on the road is in conference play, but the early returns on the Irish — including their title at the Old Spice Classic — all point to a top 15 ranking being legitimate.

More impressive still was that Notre Dame won tonight despite missing starting big man Carleton Scott with a slight hamstring tear, which left Mike Brey with essentially a six man rotation.

Scott is an important piece for Brey. He’s a 6’9″ forward that can knock down threes. His versatility in the front court is a large part of what makes Notre Dame’s offense effective. Notre Dame, in essence, is the anti-UConn. They are always going to have four or five experienced players on the floor that know how to play together. They aren’t necessarily the best one-on-one players, but they understand the correct pass to make and the correct times to attack the basket.

Its that ability to execute their team’s game plan that makes the Irish dangerous.

Believe it or not, this team may actually be better off without Harangody.

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.