Peyton Siva  D.J. Cooper

MAC tournament preview

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The MAC is a perfect example of why divisions within a conference in college basketball don’t always work.

The Eastern Division of the MAC is where all of the power resides. How unbalanced is it? The six teams in the east went 30-6 against the six teams in the west. 30-6! By comparison, the SEC East, which was considered the much weaker division in 2010-2011, went 24-12 against the SEC West.

There’s more.

Unlike the SEC last season, the MAC seeds their conference tournament by overall conference record, not by where they finish in their divisions. That’s why the top four seeds and five of the top six seeds in this year’s tournament are from the east. Those five teams went a combined 27-3 against the six teams in the west. Only one team — Kent State, the No. 4 seed — had more than one loss. Even Miami OH, the MAC’s No. 10 seed, went 3-3 against the west while winning just two of their ten intra-division games. Toledo and Eastern Michigan both went 2-4 against the east, which was the best record for a western division team.

Competitive balance. Its glorious.

The MAC also happens to have the strangest conference tournament bracket. The bottom eight teams whittle themselves down to two teams. The survivors advance to the quarterfinals where they take on the three and the four seeds, who got double-byes. The winners of those two games advance to play the one and the two seeds, who get triple-byes, in the semifinals.

The Bracket

Where: First round games are hosted by the higher seeds, before the final eight head to Cleveland, OH.

When: March 5th-March 9th

Final: March 9th, 9:00 p.m., ESPN2

Favorite: Akron

The Zips started the year off on a good note, winning their season-opener at Mississippi State, but proceeded to drop five of their next six games against (good-but-not-great) Division I competition. But once conference play started, Akron was able to turn things around. They started out the year 11-1 before hitting a hiccup in the season’s final stretch, losing three of their last five games and having to beat Kent State on the road just to hang on to the outright regular season title. The Zips don’t have a star, per se, but they are as balanced as any team in the country. Their rotation goes nine-deep, with all nine averaging at least 4.8 ppg and the top six scoring between 8.1 ppg and 10.3 ppg.

And if they lose?: Ohio

If you live and die by Kenpom’s numbers, than Ohio may actually be the favorite to win this tournament as they are the highest-rated team in the conference at 74th, four spots above Akron. The Bobcats are led by the talented back court of DJ Cooper (who, as a freshman, led OU to an upset of three-seed Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament) and Ohio State transfer Walter Offutt. The Bobcats have the best defense in the conference largely because they are so adept at forcing turnovers. They are second in the country in defensive turnover percentage and fourth in steal-rate.

Sleepers: Buffalo, who finished second in the conference, and Kent State, who was a preseason favorite that beat West Virginia in West Virginia, are less “sleepers” than they are other contenders. The problem? Its tough to find a reason that anyone else in the conference will be capable of winning five straight games — seriously, if you’re not in the top four, you need to pull a Kemba — and stealing the automatic bid.

Studs:

– DJ Cooper, Ohio: Cooper is one of the best kept secrets in the country if you aren’t a Georgetown fan. He averaged 14.1 ppg, 5.6 apg and 2.5 spg.

– Mitchell Watt, Buffalo: Javon McCrea is the player that got all of the publicity early in the season, but Watt is the guy that has been Buffalo’s star. He averaged 16.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 2.5 bpg and 2.3 apg. McCrea was good as well. His numbers: 15.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 1.7 bpg. That’s a good front line.

– Julian Mavunga, Miami OH: Mavunga doesn’t get much attention because the Redhawks are only so-so, but he had a great year, leading the conference in both scoring (16.6 ppg) and rebounding (9.1 rpg) while averaging 3.3 apg.

– Rian Pearson, Toledo: Pearson finished the year with averages of 16.4 ppg and 8.3 rpg while standing just 6’4″.

– Zeke Marshall, Akron: His 10.3 ppg and 5.4 rpg aren’t overly inspiring, but he anchors a good Akron defense as a seven-footer that blocks 2.9 shots per game.

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.