UCLA v Arizona - Quarterfinals

Will Ben Howland’s recruiting class solve UCLA’s problems?

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Shabazz Muhammad had plenty to say during his national television appearance to announce his commitment to UCLA.

In addition to confirming earlier reports that he would be headed to UCLA, Muhammad said the reason he wanted to go to UCLA was the “challenge” of rebuilding the program after “how bad they were” in recent years. He said he wanted to get them back on top, he commented on their record 11 national titles and he talked with Kyle Anderson about what it would be like to team up for the Bruins.

But easily the most interesting comment that Muhammad made during the ESPN U broadcast was this: “Hopefully we can sell out Pauley.”

It’s not a secret that UCLA has had issues with attendance of late. That was the case prior to last season, when the Bruin’s attendance was dreadful thanks to renovations at their home court, Pauley Pavilion, that forced them to play home games at the LA Sports Arena 17 miles away. In a game against Pepperdine in late November, one of the nation’s blue-bloods only managed to attract 34 students.

If anything, that is the difference that this year’s recruiting class is going to make.

Howland has brought in two of the nation’s consensus top three recruits in Muhammad and Anderson. He also landed top 75 recruit Jordan Adams and is in the running to bring in top 30 big man Tony Parker, a haul that would, at worst, be the nation’s second best class. There are still question marks littering this roster. Can Kyle Anderson run the point on a full-time basis? How much will Howland have to rely on Larry Drew? Is there enough perimeter options on the roster? Will Joshua Smith be in shape? Are the Wears actually any good?

And while it may take some time to answer all of those question marks fully, what is clear is that this recruiting class will bring the excitement back to Westwood and, hopefully, help to sell the tickets. Before Muhammad’s commitment was even official, a hoops-loving friend from Southern California messaged me about how excited he was for this group and how he would be attending more than just one game next season.

That, more than anything, is likely the reason that Howland has received a stay of execution as the head coach of the Bruins.

Remember, were talking about a coach who, reportedly, was running a program where members of the team thought that he was allowing one of their teammates to intentionally injure them without repercussion. That’s not exactly high-praise for a head coach.

This group will, at least for one season, help to erase those memories and the fact that Howland’s been unable to build on the success his program had from 2006-2008, when they made three straight Final Fours. The question is whether or not  the wins last. Is this a turning point for the UCLA program or has Howland managed to recruit his way into a pair of one-and-done superstars that will be a temporary solution to a much bigger problem?

In other words, will Muhammad and Anderson buy Howland the time he needs to fix the issues within his program, or are they the bandaid used to mend a broken arm?

Whatever the case, it’s not crazy to think that Howland’s job depends on it.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

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.