Villanova v Temple

Atlantic 10 conference tournament preview

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Early in the year, the Atlantic 10 was all Xavier.

With a lofty preseason ranking, an all-american anchoring a back court that could match up with anyone in the country and a pair of come-from-behind wins over Purdue and at Vanderbilt, it really shouldn’t be any wonder that the Musketeers were the talk of the conference.

But a Dec. 10th brawl with Cincinnati sparked a collapse for Xavier, one that would see them lose five of their next six games and eventually drop to 10-6 in league play, it became evident that this conference wasn’t going to be Xavier’s to lose. We probably never should have felt that way in the first place, because the A-10 has proven that, this season, they are as competitive of a league as you are going to find.

The problem?

There may actually be too much balance.

Temple is the class of the conference and St. Louis isn’t all that far behind them. There’s a noticeable gap between those two teams and the rest of the pack. But with six teams sitting within a game of third place, its quite obvious that the ‘pack’ has eaten itself alive. The A-10 is probably looking at a situation where they are going to get, depending on how the tournament plays out, three or four teams. But if La Salle and UMass, and even Duquesne and Richmond, hadn’t knocked off some of those other middle-of-the-pack teams, five and even six bids wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility.

Competitive balance makes for fun conference races. But a stockpile of good teams at the top of the league may actually lead to more of a postseason presence for teams.

The Bracket

Where: Campus sits and Atlantic City, NJ

When: March 6th-March 11th

Final: March 11th, 1 p.m. CBS

Favorite: Temple

Its hard not to love what Temple has done this season. The Owls won a competitive league outright, which is not an easy thing to do, particularly when you are playing a completely different style than you are used to. Fran Dunphy has become synonymous with tough, defensive-minded basketball in his time with the Owls, but this season they like getting up and down the floor. They win thanks to the ability of guys like Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez to score. With Michael Eric back, the Owls now also have the size to battle bigger teams in the paint.

And if they lose?: St. Louis

Rick Majerus has done a great job with the Billikens. They finished second in the Atlantic 10 despite being just one season removed from a rape allegation that resulted in their best player getting kicked off the team for a year. This group defends well, controls the pace and shoots it from the perimeter. And if you believe Kenpom, you might want to pick St. Louis. He’s got them 12th in the country. Overall.

Other contenders?: Its impossible not to put Xavier in on this list. When you have a back court of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, a glue-guy with the talent of Dez Wells and a front line with high-major size and talent, you expect victories. We’ll see if they can get back into that rhythm.

Sleeper: St. Joseph’s

I really like this group now and I’ve really liked them all season long. They have a terrific back court and an athletic front line that is capable of putting on a show for the folks at Sportscenter. The Hawks won five of six games in February to get themselves back into the bubble discussion, but stumbled down the stretch, losing two of their last three games.

Deeper sleepers: St. Bonaventure is playing well and has the league’s Player of the Year, Andrew Nicholson, anchoring the paint. La Salle and UMass have both won enough games this season to garner a mention here as well.

Studs:

Carl Jones and Langston Galloway, St. Joe’s: This back court duo averages 32.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg and 5.5 apg.

Chris Gaston, Forhdam: He may be the most productive player on the country, but he also plays for Fordham. Who is going to recognize him from there?

Ramone Moore and Khalif Wyatt, Fairfield: These two combine to average 34.9 ppg, 6.8 apg and 7.4 rpg.

Kevin Dillard, Dayton: The A-10 is loaded when it comes to back court players, but Dillard has stood out because he has been the catalyst and one of the lone bright spots for a confounding Flyer team.

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

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
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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.

VIDEO: Jim Boeheim makes TV appearance to talk Carmelo Anthony

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Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has drawn attention for some recent comments about former Orange star Carmelo Anthony.

After Anthony captured his record third gold medal with USA Basketball, his former college coach told Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard that Anthony didn’t have a great chance at winning an NBA title.

“He’s unlikely to win an NBA title,” Boeheim said of Anthony. “He’s never been on a team that even had a remote chance of winning an NBA title.”

Boeheim maintains that he was speaking of Melo’s legacy being about more than an NBA title and that he’s one of the game’s greats thanks to other accomplishments like the Syracuse title and gold medals. On SportsCenter, Boeheim made sure to stress where those comments were coming from, while also making sure his kids would stop being mad at him.

It’s much easier to understand where Boeheim is coming from in this instance and it clears up something that will probably go away now.