University of Kentucky's Anthony Davis dunks the ball against University of Georgia's Dustin Ware during the second half of play in their NCAA basketball game at Rupp Arena in Lexington

SEC conference tournament preview

Leave a comment

So how bad is the SEC?

The SEC’s answer: its actually not as bad as it looks. Yes, Kentucky steamrolled the conference, but I’m not sure that Kentucky wouldn’t have steamrolled any conference this season. The Wildcats are loaded with talent and are playing the best defense of the John Calipari era. Thank you Anthony Davis.

Then you also have to consider the fact that Alabama and Mississippi State, two of the league’s potential NCAA Tournament teams, have had all kinds of personnel issues this year. Alabama’s best player got the boot and they had four starters suspended for a handful of games. At Mississippi State, there is no leadership. Their five-game losing streak ended with in-fighting, and they have Renardo Sidney on their roster.

You can make the argument that top of this league has the potential to be as good as the top of any league in the country.

The real answer: Tennessee is the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament.

The Bracket

Where: New Orleans

When: March 8th-March 11th

Final: March 11th, 12:00 p.m. ESPN

Favorite: Kentucky

Right now, Kentucky is the heavy favorite to win the national title. They aren’t going to be the favorite to win a conference tournament when they won the conference regular season by six games?

And if they lose?: Vanderbilt

Call me crazy (seriously, do it) but I have a feeling that Vanderbilt turns things around this March. Their reputation precedes them when it comes to postseason success, but they are a senior laden group playing their final games as collegians. I think that matters. On paper, this group has everything you. Scorers on the perimeter, athletes up and down their lineup, a big man in the middle, an underrated (yes, Brad Tinsley is underrated) playmaker at the point. I have been as hard as anyone on Vandy this season. But I think they turn this thing around.

Other contenders?: Florida has the talent to win this thing. They do. I swear. Patric Young is big enough and physical enough to give Kentucky problems in the middle and with the amount of shooters they have on their perimeter, if the shots are going down, the Gators are going to be scary. You’ll notice one thing about that paragraph, however: “if, if, if”. Florida needs a lot to break the right way.

Mississippi State can also win this thing if they can ever figure out their issues. They have the perfect roster make up to knock off Kentucky: big, physical bodies inside, a talented point guard and a slew of shotmakers on the wings.

Sleeper: Tennessee

I have loved the way that the Vols played since I first saw them in Maui. They are a gritty bunch with more talent on the roster than you think. They do the little things well — defend, get loose balls, rebound. When you play with effort, eventually the shots will go down.

Deeper sleepers: I think Alabama has some potential, even without Tony Mitchell in their midst. Also keep an eye on Ole Miss. They are just 18-12, but they’ve beaten everyone they are supposed to beat.

Studs:

Anthony Davis, Kentucky: As his offensive game starts to develop, he just becomes scarier and scarier.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: He’s the last Kentucky player that I’ll mention, but he needs mentioning. No one in the country plays the game as hard as he does.

Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State: It’s a shame that Moultrie has to play on a team with so many issues. In any other league, he would be getting talked about as arguably the best big man in the conference.

John Jenkins and Jeff Taylor, Vanderbilt: Jenkins doesn’t miss when he gets a good look and Taylor is one of the best athletes in the country.

Erving Walker, Florida: Walker has been good this season. He’s limited how many dumb shots he takes and he’s become a solid playmaker at the point.

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)
Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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.