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Weekend Preview: Kansas-Missouri highlights the best games

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Game of the weekend: Sat. No. 3 Missouri @ No. 4 Kansas, 4 p.m. (CBS)

I’m giddy just thinking about this game. Seriously. I’m writing this sentence with a huge smile on my face. Games like this are what makes this sport incredible. Two top five teams playing their final regular season game for the foreseeable future in what is one of the most intense rivalries in college athletics with the Big 12 title on the line. If I could change anything, I would make this game, which could be the final regular-season matchup in the 105-year history of the Border War, played on the last day of the regular season. It feels like this is for all the marbles. It would be even better if it actually was.

The biggest difference between these two teams now as opposed to the last time these teams got together is Jeff Withey. He went scoreless in 22 minutes against Missouri. Since then, he’s played like an All-American. It’s not a  stretch to say that in the last five games, all wins, Withey has been as good as, if not better than, Player of the Year candidate Thomas Robinson. Kim English was matched up on Withey the last go-round. Withey needs to make that mismatch go in the Jayhawks’ favor on Saturday.

The Tigers are coming off of a loss to Kansas State at home on Tuesday in which Phil Pressey played his worst game of the season and everything that has been mentioned as a potential issue for this team — perimeter defense, interior size, shot selection — became an issue. I am as high on Missouri this season as anyone, but it almost looks like teams have figured out the blueprint for beating the Tigers. Winning in Phog Allen is not going to be an easy thing for Missouri to do, so I’m not going to come down too hard on them for a loss. But I do want to see them but up a fight.

My pick: I’m going with Kansas. I think the duo of Withey and Robinson will be too much, and the fact the game is in Lawrence will make a difference. I do, however, think it will be just as close and entertaining as their last matchup.

Five more games you can’t miss

Sat. Vanderbilt @ No. 1 Kentucky, 12 p.m. (CBS): The last time these two teams got together, Vanderbilt tore apart Kentucky’s defense for much of the second half, erasing a 13 point deficit and coming as close as anyone to knocking off the Wildcats. But that was in Nashville. This is in Rupp, and that makes all the difference in the world. John Calipari as yet to lose in Lexington as the head coach of Kentucky, and I don’t see it happening on Saturday. That said, if Kentucky comes out like they did in the first half against Mississippi State and Vanderbilt’s shooters get going, we may have ourselves a ball game.

Sat. Iowa State @ Kansas State, 1:30 p.m. (ESPN3): Both Iowa State and Kansas State have all-but punched their tickets to the dance barring a late-season collapse. What makes this game so intriguing to me is that a) it is essentially a battle for who is the fourth-best team in the Big 12 and b) a terrific matchup of styles. The Wildcats are your typical Frank Martin club — tenacious defensively and on the glass, big up front and with a couple of talents in the back court. Iowa State, on the other hand, is a team that plays their 6’8″ power forward at the point (Royce White) and likes to spread the floor and let the threes fly.

Sat. No. 7 UNC @ Virginia, 4 p.m. (ESPN): Back in January, UVA got torched by the Tar Heels in the Dean Dome, losing by 18 points and getting manhandled in the paint by Tyler Zeller and John Henson. And frankly, its tough to picture something different happening on Saturday. I think the Cavs are a terrific team when they are healthy, but I think that until they get Assane Sene — their seven-foot center — healthy, this is a group that is going to continue to struggle. With Sene, they had lost one game since Thanksgiving, and that was by three at Duke. Without him, they are 6-4 with losses to Virginia Tech and Clemson.

Sat. No. 22 Temple @ St. Joseph’s, 7 p.m. (ESPNU): Temple is as underrated as any team in the country right now. With Michael Eric back, they have size up front and as much talent in the back court as you will find this season. They are playing at a much faster pace than we usually expect from a Fran Dunphy coached team. That said, St. Joe’s is probably a bit better than their record indicates. Like Temple, they have some size and athleticism up front and a very good perimeter attack. I can’t be the only one expected to see Juan Fernandez, Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt go up against Carl Jones and Langston Galloway in a Big 5 game were one team is playing at home with their backs up against the NCAA Tournament bubble, can I?

Sun. No. 16 Wisconsin @ No. 8 Ohio State, 4 p.m. (CBS): Thanks to Wisconsin’s inability to deal with Matt Gatens and Iowa, this game has lost a bit of its luster. The Badgers have lost three of their last five games and currently sit all alone in fourth place in the conference with almost no chance of actually making a run at the league title. That said, the Buckeyes aren’t exactly playing well, either. It was nice to see William Buford get back on track a bit for Ohio State against Illinois, but that was also against Illinois. He struggled against Michigan and Michigan State in recent weeks. Without Buford performing consistently, the Buckeyes are very beatable.

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

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.