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As season comes to close, nothing certain for Ivy favorites Harvard

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CAMBRIDGE, MASS. – Coming into the season, the general consensus was that the Ivy League was Harvard’s to lose.

With their entire roster returning from a year ago, the Crimson were in the enviable position of boasting continuity and talent – plus a little nudge from Linsanity – to break down the door and earn the program’s first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament in the modern era.

That can still happen. In fact, the odds are that it will happen, but the road to March Madness is now anything but a sure thing, as the Crimson now find themselves tied for first in the Ivy with just a pair of games to play, following the Penn’s come-from behind victory on Saturday night.

“I mentioned to our kids before that we have a lot of basketball to be played,” Crimson head coach Tommy Amaker said after the loss to the Quakers. “There are many games to be played. Right now, I don’t think my kids are able to digest all that. But we’ll get there in our practice next week leading up to our travel.”

“All that”, in this situation, is Harvard’s two remaining road games against Columbia and Cornell, and Penn’s three remaining games against Brown, Yale and Princeton. If both teams win out, the two will play for the third time this season to determine the league’s automatic berth recipient. The Bulldogs and the Tigers, currently third and fourth in the conference, respectively, also have an outside shot at creating a mini-playoff to determine the definitive league champion.

Some claim that Harvard’s non-conference victories over Florida State, St. Joseph’s and Central Florida is enough to yield an at-large berth, but there’s no way that’s a discussion being had amongst the Crimson’s personnel.

Instead of a week of premature celebrating and discussing the inevitable history-in-the-making angle, there’s a sizable amount of leg-work remaining.

Additionally, because of the focus on academics nearly all Ivy League games are played on Friday and Saturday — a scheduling quirk allows for a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking, a lot of time to think about what went wrong before getting a shot at redemption.

This elongated pondering has extended into the student body.

“In general, I think people here are a bit nervous,” said Scott Sherman, The Crimson men’s basketball beat writer. “Every road game in the Ivy League is tough and there is a lot of travel involved in going to Columbia and then to Cornell.”

“The Crimson came as close as you could come last season without actually winning it. There were really high expectations coming into the season.”

Asked what his primary focus will be at practice this week, Amaker kept focusing on “us”.

“There’s no question that we need to make sure that our psyche and our spirits are right,” he said. “It’s not like the sky is falling…but now we get to fully and honestly evaluate things and figure out where we are.”

By next week, Harvard will know if they’re going dancing for the first time since 1946.

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.

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)
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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
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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.