University of North Carolina's Kendall Marshall goes to the basket against Duke University's Andre Dawkins and Mason Plumlee during their NCAA basketball game in Durham

ACC conference tournament preview

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The question we all had about the ACC in the preseason had to do with fourth place.

We knew Duke and UNC would be fighting for the regular season title, which they did. And we know that Florida State had the horses to make some noise in the league, which they did. What we didn’t know was who, out of the rest of the conference, would get their act together enough to be considered the fourth best team in the league.

And while Virginia staked their claim early on in the season, by the end of the year they seemed much closer to the pack than they did the leaders. What’s more is that the Cavs needed an overtime victory over Maryland in the last game of the regular season just to ensure that they wouldn’t be sitting on the bubble heading into the conference tournament.

The question that we need to ask here is whether or not this is a league capable of getting more than four teams into the tournament. And the way things seem now, that’s probably not all that likely of an occurrence.

Obviously, anyone can get hot and make a run to the tournament title. The more likely scenario is that either NC State or Miami wins a pair of games and makes their case to receive an at-large bid strong enough that they move past the likes of Texas and Northwestern and Seton Hall. That might take a trip to the semis and a strong showing once they get there.

The Bracket

Where: Atlanta

When: March 8th-March 11th

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

Favorite: North Carolina

Thanks to a 33 point whooping that UNC took at Florida State back in January, the Tar Heels have fallen a bit off of the national radar. While it seems weird to say that UNC isn’t getting the attention that they deserve, it seems like North Carolina gets left out when we discuss legitimate national title contenders more than they should. The fact of the matter is that North Carolina has as much talent on their roster as anyone in the country, and that includes Kentucky, and as they showed against Duke in Durham on the last day of the regular season, when they are clicking, they are going to be a scary, scary team to go up against.

And if they lose?: Duke

The Blue Devils are a flawed basketball team. We know this. But they are also one that can be dangerous. They have size inside in the Plumlees, they have a number of players on their perimeter that are knockdown three point shooters and they have a star in Austin Rivers that has proven himself capable of taking a game over. They struggle to defend on the perimeter and they don’t have a point guard capable of creating off of the dribble, but when their threes are going down and Austin Rivers is playing well, the Blue Devils are a good basketball team.

Other contenders?: I really think that Florida State has a shot of winning the ACC Tournament. If chalk holds, they’ll be getting matched up with a Duke team they beat in Cameron this season. Once they get to the title game, anything can happen. They’ve already beaten UNC once. Why can’t they do it again?

Sleeper: Miami

The Hurricanes are a confounding team. They have a trio of talented players in their back court, they have a hoss on the block in Reggie Johnson and they have one of the country’s most improved players in power forward Kenny Kadji. The problem? Everything has come together for the ‘Canes just once this season, when they won at Duke.

Deeper sleepers: I don’t think UVA has enough pieces to win this tournament, especially with Assane Sene dismissed from the team. And I don’t think that NC State is going to be able to make a run to the title. But Mike Scott is legit, as is the CJ Leslie-Lorenzo Brown duo for the Wolfpack.

Studs:

Kendall Marshall, UNC: Marshall might be the most irreplaceable player in the country.

Mike Scott, UVA: Basketball purists will love Scott’s game. He lives on his fadeaway jumper and he’s one of the most efficient scorers in the conference.

Michael Snaer, Florida State: Snaer is finally starting to show signs of being the player that was a McDonald’s all-american coming out of high school.

Austin Rivers, Duke: You know about him by now. He makes some bad decisions with the ball, but he’s a fearless penetrator with the stones to take and make a big shot.

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.