Amir Williams, Thomas Robinson

Final Four Previews: Sully vs. T-Rob a clash in the post

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Back on December 10th, then-No. 2 Ohio State heading into Lawrence to take on then-No. 13 Kansas, pitting arguably the two-best low-post scorers in the country in Jared Sullinger and Thomas Robinson up against one another, was supposed to be the highlight of a solid slate of college basketball.

Alas, the battle we all had hoped for wasn’t in the cards as Sullinger’s balky back kept him out of the lineup. Fortunately for Sullinger, this storyline was quickly forgotten as the college basketball world was taken over a scuffle you might have heard about and a buzzer-beater you may have seen replayed a time or two.

The good news is that the battle we missed will be seen on a much bigger stage this weekend in New Orleans.

The only thing that remains to be seen is just how much time those two will spend matched up against one another, because while both rely heavily on their strength on the block, they have very different back-to-the-basket games.

Sullinger’s offensive game starts with his ability to establish position. He’s got the hindquarters of a Kentucky Derby champion and he knows how to use it to create space. Combine that strength and that size with his low-center of gravity, and it is borderline impossible to move Sullinger once he seals off a defender in the paint.

But that is where Sullinger’s reliance on his physical tools ends. He is a very skilled and fluid scorer on the block. He has terrific footwork, a litany of moves in his arsenal and a soft touch around the rim. You’ll probably see him bank in a jump hook from about 10-12 feet at some point during this Final Four. Trust me, he called it. And don’t be surprised when he steps out and knocks down a three. He only attempted 38 this season, but he is shooting 42.1% from deep.

Robinson is similar in that he is just as good as establishing position on the block, but that is pretty much where the similarities in their post game end. Robinson is a physical specimen. His body looks like the mold of an action figure doll and he is as athletic and explosive as anyone at the power forward spot in the country. It’s rare to find that combination anywhere, let alone at the collegiate level; he overpowers defenders that are lankier and athletic but he simply jumps over the big men that can match up with his strength level.

The issue is that Robinson, right now, is not the most skilled post scorer. His back-to-the-basket game is developing and he has shown promise with his jump hooks and turn-arounds, but right now most of his damage is done through the sheer power of his game. Fluidity is not yet a strength.

The irony with that last statement is that Robinson is actually fairly dangerous as a face-up option. He handles the ball well for his size, which, when combined with his quick first step, means that he is able to get to the rim off of the dribble.

So who wins out? Who is the more effective post scorer?

Here’s to hoping that Bill Self and Thad Matta allow us 40 minutes to find out on Saturday.

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.