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So who cuts down the nets? That’s easy — Kentucky

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Kentucky.

I know that’s a cop out and I know that’s the way to ingratiate myself with Big Blue Nation and I know that makes me kind of boring and cliche and whatever. Kentucky is the best team in the country. No one can match their talent level. I’ve been saying it since January, and there is no reason for me to change my mind at this point.

So Kentucky it is.

How do they get there?

Well, they’re not losing to Western Kentucky, that’s for sure. I think Kentucky’s draw might be actually a bit more difficult than I originally believed. Whoever they end up facing in the round of 32 — be it UConn or the Iowa State Fighting Royce Whites — is going to be a tough matchup, but the ‘Cats aren’t losing in Louisville. In my bracket, I have Wichita State getting to the Sweet 16, and they could end up giving Kentucky some trouble there as they have size, experience and a talented perimeter attack, but the key to beating Kentucky is being able to attack Anthony Davis offensively, and I don’t see Garrett Stutz doing that.

Regardless of who makes it that far, I don’t see issues for the Wildcats in the Elite 8. Duke can’t beat them. I don’t think Baylor can either. UNLV? Notre Dame? Xavier?

Welcome to New Orleans.

And the way I see it, UK will be the only No. 1 seed that makes it that far.

Obviously, without Fab Melo in the lineup, Syracuse is more vulnerable. This is not a secret. I still think that with their guard play and the inevitable switch by Jim Boeheim to a more uptempo style and a more pressuring defense, that the Orange will be able to make some noise this month. You’ll need play-making guards and a quality big to beat them even without Melo, and I don’t think K-State has enough back court firepower and I’m afraid Brad Tinsley will be eaten alive by Dion Waiters.

So that opens up the East Region for Ohio State, who I think will end up playing Kansas in the Final Four. I think the Jayhawks just matchup up with North Carolina too well. Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey can nullify any advantage UNC’s big men have and Tyshawn Taylor will be going up against one of the worst defensive back courts in the country.

I took Kansas over Ohio State to make the title game, where I see them playing Kentucky, who will beat Missouri in the other semifinal. Why do I have Missouri in the Final Four? Well, as risky as it is to bet against Tom Izzo in a tournament situation, I think the injury to Branden Dawson is going to hurt them more than people think, especially if/when they go up against physical teams like Memphis and New Mexico. I have the Lobos in the Elite 8, getting beaten by Missouri.

So Kentucky and Kansas.

Wouldn’t that be fun?

Kentucky already owns a win over the Jayhawks this season, having playing in the Champion’s Classic in NYC. More interesting, however, is that the last time a John Calipari team played Kansas in the title game, this happened.

You ready for the ride? It may get a bit bumpy, so I hope you buckled up.

(Click here to a larger version of Rob’s bracket)

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Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

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.