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Real issues in college basketball overlooked in recent USA Today article

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It’s no secret that college basketball has been struggling lately.

What was maybe a faux pas to actually publicize five years ago has turned into something so obvious it can’t be ignored any longer.

Ardent fans and the media are frequently disappointed in the quality of play projected onto our TV screens, and the casual fan seems to just tune out until March, with some of the those people treating the tournament like the Olympics or World Cup. They know next to nothing when it comes to the best teams or players, but watch because of the moments the Tournament can create.

Unfortunately, because the talent level has become frighteningly shallow the overall interest level has waned. Now, almost an entire generation of  adolescents have grown up since college basketball was on par or above college football in interest, and today’s young Americas prefer to run around with the pigskin instead of learning how to dribble with their left hand.

With overall attendance in college basketball declining, what better time than to rip the sport than entering their post-season!

Courtesy of USA Today’s Steve Wieberg, whose article appeared front-and-center on page A1 of the paper’s weekend addition:

Total attendance a year ago hit a five-year low despite an expanded field and one additional session. Regionals in Newark, New Orleans, San Antonio and Anaheim drew 77.1% of capacity, the lowest since the NCAA started tracking those numbers in 1989.

The attendance dip has been particularly notable during the regular season, with average Division I crowds dropping each of the last four years. The NCAA won’t release numbers for 2011-12 until after the tournament, but USA TODAY’s calculations show another slight dip across the six biggest-name conferences — the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and Southeastern. Their collective average is down almost 6% in four years.

Wieberg is no doubt correct, but in the piece he completely neglects to get to the root of the problem: college basketball simply is nowhere near as cool as college football right now.

Football is king in this country, and no where is that more true than on our college campuses (save for roughly a dozen major universities), whose lifeblood is a handful of  home games each fall.

Why is football king?

Sparing you the dissertation, the simple answer because basketball isn’t approached as the ultimate weekly event communities plan their week around.

Think about it.

Tailgating breeds socializing, socializing breeds drinking, drinking breeds female sports fans, and female sports fans jumping on the bandwagon of a sports team makes sports more fun.

Welcome to the ESPN College Football Gameday era, where it’s hardly even about the game.

The excitement of having pride in your school and enjoying a sunny autumn afternoon works perfectly for someone who isn’t even really that interested in sports. It’s just an excuse to get out and rage!

Now don’t get me wrong, I love college football. I watch it every Saturday. I watch Gameday every Saturday, too,  and by no means do I broach this touchy issue with jealousy or anger. But the week’s worth of hype and build up that culminates with spirited revelry anyone aged 18-78 can get up for is something that just cannot be replicated in college basketball. And that bums me out.

With multiple games a week played at different times in the day, and with the weather predominately chilly outside, the idea of throngs of friends and family gathering to celebrate college basketball the way they celebrate football just isn’t going to happen.

It’s hard to say at this point whether this is cyclical nature or a serious concern the NCAA needs to address. But even if college basketball needs an intervention, it would take years to get back to the success it had in the early to mid 90s.

Right now, you have to really love basketball to be a true college basketball fan and the game is currently losing that battle.

Follow Nick Fasulo on Twitter @billyedelinSBN

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.