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Argument starter: A 2012-13 NCAA tournament projection

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As Big Blue Nation continues to celebrate its eighth NCAA championship, it’s certainly possible that UK will be a No. 1 seed again next March – depending on how many current Wildcats return. Even with some expected departures, coach John Calipari is bringing another Top 5 recruiting class to Lexington. So let’s go ahead and write in UK as a No. 1 seed in our very early look at the 2013 bracket.

A lot will change over the next week or so as players decide whether to enter the NBA Draft. In the months ahead we’ll also see how the final recruiting pieces fit together.

As of today, Indiana, Louisville, and Kansas join Kentucky as projected No. 1 seeds. Ohio State, Baylor, Michigan, and Florida are next in line.

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This far in advance the bracket is guess work – based on returning players, some realistic expectations, and a few potential surprises. We also have several teams changing conference affiliation in 2012-13. Notable teams include Missouri and Texas AM moving from the Big 12 to the SEC. Oral Roberts moves to the Southland and Belmont to the Ohio Valley. We’ll take a look at these and other changes in greater depth at a later date.

Expect Butler to return to March Madness next spring. Maryland makes the early bracket, too, as does Pittsburgh. And John Groce has the pieces to give the Illini a chance. Even Bruce Weber should return – with Kansas State. All in all, a lot of fun. November isn’t too far away.

FIRST FOUR PAIRINGS – Dayton (First Round)

  • Tulsa vs. Saint Mary’s | West Region
  • Oklahoma State vs. Northern Iowa | East Region
  • Ms Valley State vs. Savannah State | Midwest Region
  • Charleston Southern vs. Mercer | South

BRACKET PROJECTION …

MIDWESTIndianapolis   SOUTHDallas
Dayton   Dayton
1) Kentucky   1) Indiana
16) Savannah St / Ms Valley St   16) Charleston S’thern / Mercer
8) Minnesota   8) UCLA
9) Notre Dame   9) Florida State
     
Salt Lake City   San Jose
5) Creighton   5) Cincinnati
12) Drexel   12) Nevada
4) Texas   4) San Diego State
13) Ohio   13) Loyola-MD
     
Philadelphia   Kansas City
6) Butler   6) Tennessee
11) Massachusetts   11) VCU
3) North Carolina   3) NC State
14) Princeton   14) South Dakota State
     
Auburn Hills   Austin
7) Marquette   7) Wisconsin
10) Stanford   10) Villanova
2) Michigan   2) Baylor
15) Middle Tennessee St   15) UC-Santa Barbara
     
WEST – Los Angeles   EAST – TBA (not decided)
Kansas City   Lexington
1) Kansas   1) Louisville
16) Vermont   16) LIU-Brooklyn
8) Georgetown   8) Kansas State
9) Missouri   9) Alabama
     
San Jose   Salt Lake City
5) UNLV   5) Memphis
12) Purdue   12) Illinois
4) Arizona   4) Duke
13) Tulsa / St. Mary’s   13) Oklahoma St / No. Iowa
     
Austin   Auburn Hills
6) Gonzaga   6) Xavier
11) Colorado   11) New Mexico
3) Syracuse   3) Michigan State
14) Oral Roberts   14) Davidson
     
Lexington   Philadelphia
7) St. Louis   7) Pittsburgh
10) Murray State   10) Maryland
2) Ohio State   2) Florida
15) Montana   15) Lehigh

NOTES on the BRACKET: Kentucky is the No. 1 overall seed followed by Indiana, Louisville, and Kansas. Next in line are Ohio State, Baylor, Michigan, and Florida.

Last Five teams in (at large): Illinois, Saint Mary’s, Oklahoma State, Northern Iowa, Tulsa

First Five teams out (at large): Mississippi, West Virginia, Virginia, LSU, Iowa

Also considered: St. John’s, Vanderbilt, Iowa State, Temple, Washington, Oregon, Oregon State, Loyola-Marymount, Texas AM, La Salle, Arkansas, Valparaiso, Detroit, California, Wake Forest, Long Beach, Houston, Northwestern, George Mason, Iona, Fairfield, Miami-FL, Georgia Tech, BYU, Colorado State, Wyoming, New Mexico State, Kent State, Akron, Milwaukee, Duquesne, South Carolina, Marshall, Southern Mississippi.

Here is the team breakdown by Conference …

Big East (8): Louisville, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Marquette, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Villanova

Big Ten (8): Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois

SEC (5): Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Missouri

ACC (5): North Carolina, NC State, Duke, Florida State, Maryland

Big 12 (5): Kansas, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State

Pac 12 (4): Arizona, UCLA, Stanford, Colorado

Mountain West (3): San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico

Atlantic 10 (3): Xavier, St. Louis, Massachusetts

West Coast (2): Gonzaga, Saint Mary’s

Conference USA (2): Memphis, Tulsa

Missouri Valley (2): Creighton, Northern Iowa

Colonial (2): Drexel, VCU

Conference champions … Butler (Horizon), Murray State (OVC), Nevada (WAC), Loyola-MD (MAAC), Ohio (MAC), Davidson (Southern), Oral Roberts (Southland), South Dakota State (Summit), Princeton (Ivy), Middle Tennessee State (Sun Belt), Montana (Big Sky), Lehigh (Patriot), UC-Santa Barbara (Big West), LIU-Brooklyn (NEC), Charleston Southern (Big South), Vermont (America East), Mercer (Atlantic Sun), Mississippi Valley State (SWAC), Savannah State (MEAC)

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)
Jon Lopez/Nike
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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)
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.