Tony Wroten, Mike Ladd

Pac-12 conference tournament preview

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There’s not need to even dance around the subject: the only thing that anybody is going to be paying attention to heading into the Pac-12 tournament is whether or not this league is capable of sending more than just their automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. So in lieu of actually writing something worth while in this space, who wants some bubble watch goodness?!?

– Cal: They have a strong RPI and a decent strength of schedule. They’ve gone 3-0 against Washington and Oregon. But their loss to archrival Stanford on the last day of the regular season could end up being a killer is they lose in the quarterfinals to Stanford again? What about to Oregon in the semifinals? They might want to make the finals to be safe.

– Washington: Watching Washington play, this team is certainly talented enough to make the Sweet 16. But they backed into the outright league title when Cal lost on Sunday, went just 4-8 against the top 100 and have wins over Oregon and Arizona. And that’s it. They probably want to make the finals to be safe.

– Oregon: The Ducks are the most interesting team in the Pac-12. Their resume is ‘meh’, but they have been the hottest team in the conference down the stretch — they won six of their last seven, including a 25 point win over Washington — and finished tied for second in the regular season. They are also a much different team with Devoe Joseph in the mix. How will the committee judge that?

– Arizona: Yeah, no. Win the auto-bid or make NIT plans.

The Bracket

Where: Los Angeles

When: March 7th-March 10th

Final: March 10th, 6 p.m. CBS

Favorite: Washington

The Huskies may not be the most consistent team in the conference, but they are the regular season champions and the most talented team in the league. And Lorenzo Romar always gets his teams peaking late in the season. It feels like each of the last four or five years, Washington has been underwhelming during the regular season before making a run in both the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments. Without fact-checking I can tell you that’s probably false, but that just goes to show you the reputation that Romar has developed with his program. I think they live up to it again.

And if they lose?: Cal

Jorge Gutierrez is the league’s Player of the Year, Allen Crabbe is one of the league’s most dangerous scorers and Justin Cobbs has turned out to be a pretty good option at the point. The only issue for Cal has been interior play. Harper Kamp is banged up and Richard Solomon is out for the year because of academics.

Other contenders?: Oregon has been a completely different team with Devoe Joseph in the mix. He’s averaging 16.9 ppg and the Ducks are 18-6 with him in the lineup. Over the last seven games, they are 6-1 and Joseph is playing as well as he has all season long. He’s not alone, either. EJ Singler and Garrett Sim both had good years and Olu Ashaolu and Carlos Emory have been big inside.

Sleeper: Arizona

The Wildcats are just a young group right now, and its cost them some games. That said, they are a talented group, and while they are probably still a year or two away from really being a factor nationally, they are good enough that stringing together a run in March isn’t out of the question.

Deeper sleepers: I picked Oregon State to win the conference at the midseason break. So I’ll pick Oregon State as the deeper sleeper in the conference tournament. See what I did there?

Studs:

Jared Cunningham, Oregon State: Aggressive driver, terrific defender, convicted posterizer.

Jorge Gutierrez, Cal: The best compliment you can give a player is that he is miserable to play against. Gutierrez is miserable to play against. He’s a leader, a defensive presence and the toughest kid in the country.

Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten, Washigton: Wroten has been putting up the biggest numbers for the Huskies, but Ross is probably their most talented player.

Devoe Joseph, Oregon: He’s been the difference-maker for the Ducks this year.

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)
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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.