NCAA Basketball Tournament - Xavier v Notre Dame

On surface, nothing changed for Xavier, Cincinnati

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Just moments after Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates landed a nose-crushing right hook on Xavier’s Kenny Frease, everyone had an opinion on how it would shift both programs.

Some thought the squeaky clean reputation of the Musketeers had been muddied, while others were sure that the Bearcats would take a step or two back in their progression under head coach Mick Cronin.

In the weeks ahead, the obvious angle was that everything had changed for both programs.

Xavier flat out stunk, losing  five of their next six games and finishing 10-6 in Atlantic 10 play. By February, it was easy to write this team off and label their season as a major disappointment.

Cincinnati suffered more severe suspensions, but kept winning. Mick Cronin took an incredible amount of heat for tough love followed by lenient suspensions, and questions abounded as to the best way to handle Gates, allegedly their most important player but someone who the Bearcats proved they could win without.

But with all that, if you fell into a coma on December 9th – when Xavier was undefeated and the Bearcats were 5-2 but clearly talented to be a tournament team – and woke up this past Monday morning to scan an updated bracket, you’d have absolutely no clue how tumultuous things were for both programs throughout the regular season.

But here they are, both through to the second weekend of the tournament. A place that, in retrospect, would have shocked nobody way back when the season started. The fact that their still standing feels perfectly normal.

Preparing for their fourth Sweet 16 appearance in five seasons, the Musketeers have essentially become the de facto two-seed of the South Region, a seed that was theirs to lose pre-brawl.

Think about it.

It’s the same team as December; same players, and same talent level. They’re a little banged up but hopefully will play with a normal rotation against Baylor, and should be treated as the top 10-type team that they were to start the season.

It’s cliché to say it, but whatever turmoil they went through in-house during the winter is completely in the past. Irrelevant, really.

For Cincinnati let’s not forget that they were named a pre-season top 25 team by some publications, returning their top four scorers from a season ago where they won their first NCAA Tournament game since 2005.

While December 10th, 2011 didn’t seem to have much of an effect in the standings for the Bearcats, who knows what sort of residual undetectable impact it had.

If anything, losing by 23 to your hated rival could serve as proper motivation to right the ship.

Both teams will be underdogs in their respective Sweet 16 match-ups, but both have validated themselves as worthy of serving as two of the only Division I programs still standing.  You shouldn’t be shocked that we’re still talking about both clubs.

We thought so much changed, but really everything is in line with what we originally anticipated heading into the second weekend of the tournament.

Xavier and Cincinnati are legit. We don’t need to fight over that.

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)
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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.