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UNC doing just fine, even with Harrison Barnes’ bum ankle

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Bum ankle or not, Harrison Barnes wasn’t about to let North Carolina lose another game on the road. Endure another Florida State setback with Duke looming? No way.

So Barnes shook off the ankle pain lingering from a sprain suffered earlier in the week, scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half and even played a little defense in as UNC rallied from a nine-point deficit for an 83-74 win Saturday vs. Maryland. The 6-7 sophomore didn’t have the greatest body language in the first half, but that changed when the Heels started to get serious.

“I didn’t tell him, but I said to myself if I saw him limping around again on the defensive end I was going to take him out,” Heels coach Roy Williams said. “Maybe he picked up on my vibe because he stopped limping.”

Not that Barnes was faking. He re-injured the ankle early in the second half. From the Raleigh News & Observer:

“It was a lot of pain,” Barnes said. “It was like somebody shot me in the ankle. I think that’s about how much pain there was. Because it was already hurt. Then you do the same thing again to it, it (was) a lot of pain.”

He spoke on a padded table outside the Tar Heels’ locker room, surrounded by reporters, going through postgame stretches with a trainer. He said he entered the game feeling about 60 percent healthy, but when asked if there was a chance he’d miss it, Barnes didn’t hesitate with his answer.

“Thought never crossed my mind,” he said. “I was always going to try to go out there and do as much as I could.”

Barnes didn’t do it alone. Tyler Zeller continued his All-America type season (22 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) and John Henson notched a double-double, while Kendall Marshall had 16 assists.

Also notable? Reggie Bullock’s 11 points and five rebounds in 34 minutes. The 6-6 sophomore wing’s playing well as a new starter in the three games since Dexter Strickland’s torn ACL cost him the rest of the season. His scoring’s up and his defense has been better than expected, both in one-on-one situations and with the team overall.

In three games without Strickland, UNC’s scoring 1.12 points per possession and only giving up .951.In the five ACC games before that, the Heels managed 1.02 PPP and allowed .964. They’ve also played three of the ACC’s worst teams (Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Maryland), but it’s worth noting with a crucial game coming up.

Yes, it’s Duke-UNC week. Barnes better get to work on icing that ankle.

He’s the one player on the Heels’ roster who presents a serious matchup issue for Duke, because of his mix of size and quickness. If his ankle’s anywhere near 100 percent, it bodes well for UNC’s chances to stay atop the ACC. And if not, things could get interesting.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

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)
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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)
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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.